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Politics & Policy

Understanding Trump Voters and Ourselves

Courtesy of Genius

Far-right conservatives and Trump voters seem to have no problem believing that liberals are a bunch of socialist morons and parasites. They don’t waste their time asking questions like “Why do liberals say this and do that?” They generally don’t care. Liberals are the Other, and the Other is the enemy, period. Who cares how they think?  Meanwhile, liberals are constantly asking exasperated questions like, “How can you be Pro Life and anti-birth control?” or “How can you oppose immigration when you’re immigrants?” and so on. Why don’t conservatives act in an intellectually consistent manner? How can you support Trump? What’s going on?

I feel your pain, so let me answer this once and for all so we can stop repeating the same questions on social media and get down to fixing the country. The answer is; they’re being entirely consistent at the level that matters to them. You’re just not listening.  So, let’s simplify things.

I’ve long had a simple way of looking at how conservatives and liberals look at the world, and neither group ever agrees with me (so I’m either totally right, or totally wrong). This viewpoint is that at a very fundamental level conservatives are people who believe there is a natural hierarchy in which they play a leading role, and liberals believe no such hierarchy exists. Before your head explodes, here’s a terrible illustration:

I used to think of this almost purely in terms of empathy — that conservatives have compassion (care for their tribe) but little empathy (care for others), while liberals have an almost lethal dose of empathy that often amounts to self-loathing. And while I continue to think this is a useful framework, it fails to allow for liberal hatred of conservatives.

In slightly simpler terms, far-right conservatives believe they’re at the center of everything (and rightly so), and liberals believe they are at the center of nothing (and righteously so). I don’t really think this way; it’s just a useful construct, like estimating Pi as 22/7. It’s not right, but it’s eerily close to social and practical reality.

Without offering proof of any kind, here are the some basic rules to far-right conservatism with regard to the natural order of things:

  1. There is a natural hierarchy established by a higher power.
  2. This hierarchy is perfect, unchanging and infallible. *
  3. They (individually and tribally) are near the top of the hierarchy, and central to its purpose.
  4. All others are near the bottom of the hierarchy (see below), and peripheral to its purpose.
  5. Challenges to the hierarchy are threats not just to them, but to their place in the order and to the higher power that created the framework.
  6. Any degree of force or violence is justified to repel these threats.
  7. The hierarchy is built on exponentially increasing orders of importance, meaning that those lower on the hierarchy are in no way equivalent to those higher, and thus those higher are not subject to criticism from their lessers.
  8. Those lower on the ladder are meant to serve, glorify and enrich those higher than themselves; that is there only purpose.

There’s nothing new here, of course. These ideas have been thrown around in political circles for years. So, how is this helpful? Well, let’s just take a look at one visual representation of the hierarchy and then we’ll get to Trump. If you pick up any 1950s Catholic catechism, you’ll probably find an illustration something like this:

Hierarchy according to the Baltimore Catechism

Look carefully at this image, and then throw out the Bible and everything else you think drives far-right thinking. Because nothing else matters. This one image encapsulates absolutely everything the far right has ever done, explains Trump, and can even help you predict future elections. It’s like magic. The only thing missing is that after “girl” should come “pets” and then “nature” and then “rest of the material material world.” A generalized hierarchy looks something like this:

  1. Absolute Highest Authority (AHA) – God or the Natural Order
  2. Representatives of the AHA – Popes, Priests, etc.
  3. Men
  4. Women
  5. Boys
  6. Girls
  7. Pets and Possessions
  8. Living Nature (Plants and Animals)
  9. The Rest of the Material Universe

It should also be understood that this is not the most basic hierarchy. Far right thinking is entirely compatible with a female-first hierarchy with the gender roles reversed (and where AHA is feminine). It is also compatible with any race (where AHA is of that race) in other countries or times when other groups are dominant. So the simplified universal hierarchy is:

  1. Absolute Highest Authority (AHA)
  2. Primary Gender then Secondary AHA Representatives (if allowed)
  3. Corporate Persons (Just sneaking this in here)
  4. Primary then Secondary Gender Adult
  5. Primary then Secondary Gender Child
  6. (Other Tribes)
  7. Pets and Possessions
  8. Everything Else

And that’s it; that’s the natural order of things from a US conservative perspective, always. Note that (a) the deeper underlying purpose of this hierarchy is to legitimize themselves at the center of all things; (b) the hierarchy is always as tribally narrow as possible, as inclusion dilutes and distributes authority, power and wealth; (c) the hierarchy is always gender binary because implying gender fluidity breaks the hierarchy or at least makes it more complicated, and neither is acceptable; (d) morality is indistinguishable from the hierarchy, constraining only those lower than yourself; and (e) there is no ethical or logical framework that can challenge the hierarchy, and anything that appears to do so is false and thus immoral and ridiculous.

Courtesy of the Hierarchy

That’s it. That’s why Nixon could claim that his acts couldn’t be illegal, and why Trump thinks he can pardon himself. At or near the top of the hierarchy, morality and law are just constructs used to control those beneath you.

So, how does this help us answer questions about apparently irrational behavior of Trump voters and defenders? Let’s look at a few of those questions:

Why does the far right oppose abortion and birth control at the same time?

You think “Pro Life” has something to do with the preservation of life, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Abortion is about control. And the best way to control women is to strip them of reproductive power. If you remove birth control and access to abortion, how can they possibly work or have the resources to threaten the currently male-gendered hierarchy? This is not a new thought, but I’m astonished by how many liberals don’t get this and then ask “But what about the unwanted children?” Are you kidding? Unwanted children absent a good social network are another burden and thus suppressant on women. Crap out all the babies you want, especially if you’re poor, because then you’ll never crawl your way out of poverty. This is not an inconsistency in the Pro Life message; this is the stupidity of people thinking Pro Life has anything to do with life.

Eugenic (Racial and Class) Sterilization Courtesy of PBS

The only problem here is if the children are, well, black or more generally POC. Because the purpose of reproduction in the hierarchy is to breed more members of the hierarchy. If you have too many POC children, even if they are individually supporting the cause by dragging women down, they are collectively a threat to the system writ large. Thus, the desire to sterilize poor women and women of color. It’s all part of the same system. The only question is which rung of the hierarchical ladder is being threatened or protected.

How can Evangelical Christians Support Trump?

You’re confusing or agreeing with Trump with voting for him. Trump is a member of the tribe (white) and higher gender (male). He opposes policies like abortion, regulation and social welfare that threaten the law that lessers exist to glorify their betters. Trump is the embodiment of the hierarchy, a man who lives above others and glorifies himself at their expense. He understands the allegedly natural order and defends it, whereas liberals of any gender, race or political perspective do not. But all of that is secondary. Evangelicals believe fervently in the hierarchy, and specifically their Biblical version of it, and the greatest threats to that hierarchy are (a) scientific and materialist belief systems that undermine the absolute authority of God/AHA (b) a liberal supreme court that defends such threats and (c) feminism and reproductive rights (i.e., this is a patriarchal hierarchy). Trump is allied with evangelicals on every one of these points. Why would they vote for anyone else? Remember,  morality = hierarchy. They are the same thing.

One (Non-Evangelical) Manifestation of the Hierarchy

How can conservatives oppose immigration when they’re mostly immigrants?

Because immigrants threaten the current, dominant white US hierarchy. I don’t really even understand this question. Is this just something you say in liberal circles so you can high-five each other? All related questions have the same answer. For instance:

How can you be Pro Life and Pro Family while imprisoning children?

Because they’re Other children, and Other families, and thus so low on the hierarchy their pain has almost no meaning or value. Remember the comment about empathy? There is none. My grandfather gleefully used immigrant Mexican labor on his land while voting against immigrant rights and schooling. To him this was not hypocrisy; their service to him was morally required by the hierarchy.  He had no such obligation to them.

I say this as if members of the far right are all Cruella de Vil, but this is absolutely not true. Almost no one’s sitting around and cackling about the glory of dalmatian coats (though the Dalmatian Coast is very nice); the hierarchy is usually subconscious, subliminal and insidious. It infects thought rather than informing it. This manifests not as delight in the plight of immigrant children, but in an unassailable belief that they must have done something to deserve it. The system cannot be wrong, by definition, so those who attack it are flawed, broken and criminal. They had it coming. No amount of evidence will shake this core belief.

Courtesy of Burnt Finger Forge?

How can you be fiscally conservative while cutting taxes and driving up debt?

In all due deference to conservatives who used to care about responsible spending, the answer to this question is obvious. First, cutting taxes takes money from the poor and middle class (in the long term) and funnels it to the upper class (in the short term) and thus ensures that those lower on the hierarchy continue to enrich those higher up. Second, this drives up the debt and and that justifies cutting any and all programs that threaten the hierarchy or help Others.

This is a personal pain point for me. I used to call myself a social liberal and fiscal conservative, but I never meant what the right means or meant by the latter term; I just mean that fiscal responsibility is key to any viable government, and I still believe this. But I do not believe that cutting taxes is ever the right answer in the absence of balanced spending, nor do I believe the military somehow deserves infinite resources at the costs of education and social programs. I just believe that progressive goals can be met without bankrupting our children; which, to me, is immoral. This comment is only salient in context because I don’t think today’s “fiscal conservatives” are anything more than social conservatives in sheep’s clothing — meaning that a core Republican economic belief went right out the window when it no longer served the hierarchy.

How can you vote for someone who is acts contrary to your own economic interests?

Easily. Trump represents the hierarchy, and the hierarchy is more important than short-term economic gains. The hierarchy is where conservatives gain intrinsic value and self worth. They have a place in the universe, and it’s far, far above anyone else. Holding onto that is far more important than a job created by a commie feminist president who threatens everything they believe in.

And so on. Now you understand Trump voters. There are of course many who voted for Trump because they cared about the emails, or they were concerned about guns, and so on. But in the absence of another clear reason, it’s the hierarchy. You’ll also find that general hierarchical and specific policy positions have a weird and magical way of aligning.

Why does this matter?

I’m honestly not trying to make a caricature of anyone. There are good people and psychopaths on both ends of the political spectrum. I could be equally biting and critical of many aspects of liberalism, but that’s for another day. The point I’m trying to make is that it is important to understand your enemy not just because you want to win, but so that you can reduce the cost of victory. Or maybe even so we can get past being enemies.

It doesn’t matter to the white supremacist on the far right, for instance, if blacks are inferior to whites. The racist construct of black inferiority is secondary and derivative to their tribal otherness; it’s just a way to justify the underlying hierarchy. You can spend the rest of your life telling a white supremacist that blacks are just like whites, or Mexicans are people too–and thus both deserve to be treated like human beings–but you won’t get anywhere until they surrender the foundational belief in the tribal hierarchy. When you say “black is equal white” they hear “I have lost my place on the ladder and am no longer central to the universe”. You think you’re making a moral argument, but you’re making an existential one. And until you get this, you’ll keep being confused by the resulting violent reaction.

You can of course just dismiss all this as people holding onto their privilege, or racism, misogyny, or patriarchy, etc., but all of those terms imply something unique to another group — they are attempts by the left to categorically dismiss the right and thus free themselves from trying to understand them. It’s just as lazy and dangerous as conservative dismissal of Other humanity. The belief system intrinsic to the Trump voter hierarchy is not a Nazi plot, it’s a vital existential worldview — and one which many liberals hold in their own way. You could take the exact same model, flip the genders, call it a matriarchy, and a lot of modern feminism would fit just fine. They just aren’t the ones in power today. We all hold onto a core set of beliefs that define who we are and how we fit in the world. And we all fight when someone directly attacks those beliefs.

So, how is this helpful? It’s a thought exercise. When looking a across the table at another group of people, people who might have hurt you, people you might hate, it’s at least worth making a genuine effort to understand them as human beings and not two-dimensional objects. When that fails. as it often seems to, then how do you get what you want while invoking the least violent reaction? The frontal assault is fun and emotionally satisfying, but does it work? I doubt it. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, which easily leads to escalating war.

We have to figure out, collectively, where we’re going. What’s the new hierarchy, or the new system, in which all of us can live? Does such a thing even exist? If it does, or can, how do we get there together? I have some thoughts on this, but that’s enough words for today…


* There are several corollaries to the perfection of the hierarchy, most of which can be encapsulated in the statement that, “Any system that perpetuates the hierarchy is also perfect and infallible.” So:

  • Capitalism is Perfect and Infallible. It funnels money to those who have capital, and are thus higher on the parallel class hierarchy. The only thing wrong with capitalism is regulation, and the solution to all problems with capitalism is more capitalism.
  • Guns are Perfect and Infallible. Guns protect with power from the Others. The only thing wrong with guns is regulation, and the solution to all problems with guns is more guns.
  • The Military is Perfect and Infallible. The military protects those with power from the Others overseas. The only thing wrong with the military is civilian oversight, and the solution to all problems with the military is more military (e.g., Space Force).
  • Etc.

It’s also worth noting that once this thought process is locked in, it can be applied to anything with the same lack of (and denial of) evidence. Is global warming a threat to the system? Then it’s a liberal plot, the evidence is a lie, and your Suburban is a metallic act of patriotism.

Courtesy of Facebook

Rejection of reality in this context is not the final sign of capitulation, as Orwell asserts (see image above), it is merely the first step to accepting the purity and infallibility of the hierarchy.


1 Comment

  1. Comment by post author


    A friend of mine sent me a great link about the hierarchy:

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