For several days, I've been corresponding with a 22-year-old Donald Trump supporter. He is white, has a bachelor's degree, and earns $50,000 to $60,000 per year.
He lives near San Francisco.
"I recently became engaged to my Asian fiancée who is making roughly 3 times what I make, and I am completely supportive of her and proud she is doing so well," he wrote. "We've both benefitted a lot from globalization. We are young, urban, and have a happy future planned. We seem molded to be perfect young Hillary supporters," he observed, "but we're not. In 2016, we're both going for Trump."
At first, we discussed Bill Clinton.
Last week, I wrote an article asking why Trump supporters aren't bothered that their candidate called Clinton a shameful abuser of women who may well be a rapist. After all, Trump used to insist that Clinton was a victim of unfair treatment during his sex scandals. Either Trump spent years defending a man that he believed to be a sexual predator, even welcoming him as a guest at his wedding, or Trump is now cynically exploiting a rape allegation that he believes to be false.
The young man explained why he was willing to overlook that behavior. Afterward, he was willing to keep our conversation going. And over the course of several emails, he fleshed out something I've been thinking about since last summer, when I published notes from 30 Trump supporters explaining their support. A backlash against "political correctness" loomed large in those accounts. And today's correspondent expounds on that subject in illuminating ways.
We discussed immigration policy, too.
He allowed me to reproduce our conversation on condition of anonymity, out of concern for how the views he expresses might be used to deny him future opportunities. Here's a lightly edited version of our conversation, picking up near the beginning.
Trump Voter: We are young, urban, and have a happy future planned. We seem molded to be perfect young Hillary supporters. But we're not. Both of us voted Libertarian in 2012, and ideologically we remain so. But in 2016? We're both going for Trump.
For me personally, it's resistance against what San Francisco has been, and what I see the country becoming, in the form of ultra-PC culture. That's where it's almost impossible to have polite or constructive political discussion. Disagreement gets you labeled fascist, racist, bigoted, etc. It can provoke a reaction so intense that you're suddenly an unperson to an acquaintance or friend. There is no saying "Hey, I disagree with you," it's just instant shunning. Say things online, and they'll try to find out who you are and potentially even get you fired for it. Being anti-PC is not about saying "I want you to agree with me on these issues." It's about saying, "Hey, I want to have a discussion and not get shouted down because I don't agree with what is considered to be politically correct."
In my first job, I mentioned that I enjoyed Hulk Hogan to a colleague who also liked the WWE. I was not aware at the time, but Hogan had recently made news for his use of some racial or homophobic slur. I was met with a horrified stare. By simply saying I liked his showmanship, I was lumped into saying I too was racist or homophobic.
I feel like I have to hide my beliefs.
I cannot say openly that I identify with Republicans, lest I see friendships and potential professional connections disappear with those words. When I see Hillary Clinton, I see the world becoming less and less tolerant of right-leaning views.When I see Facebook censoring conservative outlets and then see The Atlantic defending the practice, that worries me. When I see the fear that reddit users have about admins banning subreddits because of political beliefs, that worries me.
Normally, I would be very concerned with the throwing of the potentially false accusations of rape. I am in the camp of "comfort the accuser, but don't get ready to hang the alleged criminal until we've had due process." I am concerned with some of Trump's reversals, but this is not one of them. Why? If false, Bill Clinton will not suffer any real consequences from this. There will be no risk of jail for Bill, which is what the biggest worry is for false accusations. If Trump knew that these allegations were true, I'm not going to defend his conduct. But I will accept it.
This is a war over how dialogue in America will be shaped. If Hillary wins, we're going to see a further tightening of PC culture. But if Trump wins? If Trump wins, we will have a president that overwhelmingly rejects PC rhetoric. Even better, we will show that more than half the country rejects this insane PC regime. If Trump wins, I will personally feel a major burden relieved, and I will feel much more comfortable stating my more right-wing views without fearing total ostracism and shame. Because of this, no matter what Trump says or does, I will keep supporting him.
Conor Friedersdorf: If you're willing to keep the conversation going, here's the biggest question I have: Why do you think Trump being elected would have a salutary effect on political correctness? It isn't as if the behavior of illiberal college students or workmates responding to a Hulk Hogan comment depends on who is in the White House. In fact, President Obama has repeatedly criticized political correctness. Through what mechanism would change come if Trump is elected? And for context, what are those "more right-wing views" you feel unable to share openly?
Trump Voter: Having Trump in the White House would both give me more confidence to speak my own opinion and more of a shield from instantly being dismissed as a racist/xenophobe/Nazi (all three things I have been called personally).
Under President Obama, our national dialogue has steadily moved towards political correctness (despite his denunciations), but with President Trump, I think our national dialogue will likely move away from being blanketly PC. Even though, as you pointed out, Obama has criticized PC speech, he doesn't exactly engage in un-PC speech like Trump does. I don't expect a President Trump to instantly convert people, but when you have someone in the Oval Office giving decidedly un-PC speeches and announcements, I think that would change the discourse, don't you?
As for mechanisms, I think Trump would likely do what he can to protect free speech. That could include vetoing bills, instituting laws preventing social media posts from costing people jobs (I never post on Facebook for fear of even a neutral post being interpreted negatively), overruling university speech policies. I'm unsure of whether or not Trump would pursue these policies, but I don't think he'd oppose them if a Congressional rep or Senator proposed them and got the votes.
For context, my right wing views include:
- Lower taxes for all, and with it a reduction of various benefits.
- Reduction or an end to affirmative action in favor of a pure merit-based system.
- Support for law and order, and an intense dislike of disruptive protests.
- A temporary ban on Muslim immigration.
- In favor of "melting pot" culture instead of multiculturalism.
- Isolationist war policy and anti-NATO, in favor of improving relations with Russia.
For further context, I have left-wing views that precluded Rubio and Cruz from getting my vote:
- Pro access to birth control
- Pro universal healthcare (despite the taxes this requires, it's the only realistic way to combat rising prices)
- Pro LGBT rights
- I favor the absolute separation of church and state. (I'm a Christian who believes very strongly that my religion should not be pushed onto public policy.)
One thing I fear is that if Trump loses, it may be seen as the reverse of what I just said: that America rejected a non-PC candidate (especially if he loses overwhelmingly). Clinton's victory could be seen as a further vindication for the PC crowd that there is no tolerance for Trump's type of views, and I fear it will hit other right-wing views.
A question for you! While you don't support Hillary necessarily, you do indicate the better anti-establishment vote would be for the Libertarians, which would hand Hillary the election. Why to you is Hillary Clinton the lesser evil than Trump?
Friedersdorf: You're right that while I prefer Gary Johnson, or for that matter Bernie Sanders, to Hillary Clinton, I prefer Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. This is so for a few reasons:
1) Donald Trump is deliberately stoking anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican animus to bolster his support. That is a deal-breaker for me. I truly believe that the civil liberties of Muslim Americans and Hispanic Americans will be unusually threatened if Trump is elected, and that his rhetoric is contributing to ethnic balkanization.
2) Trump's authoritarian tendencies are alarming to me. There's his admiration for Vladimir Putin, his suggestions that he'll rein in the free press, his embrace of torture, his threat that he would kill the family members of terrorists, and his intention to round up 12 million illegal immigrants, which would necessarily require loosing a vast force of armed federal agents in American communities, just for starters.
3) The United States has problems, but as serious as some of them are, this country is among the most prosperous, free places to live not just in the world today, but in all human history. Why risk that by electing an unknown quantity with no policy knowledge or foreign affairs experience—all but inviting stress tests by other countries—when the consequences could be catastrophic, and the alternative, for all her flaws, is a known quantity who will govern much as her husband did in the 1990s? Trump poses enormous unknown risks; Clinton poses none. To me, preferring him to her betrays a failure to appreciate what we've got and a failure to imagine how bad things could get. There's simply no reason for people with good lives in a country like America to take such a big risk on a wild card like Trump.
4) You see Trump empowering people who aren't very PC. That doesn't alarm me. But I see him empowering folks who are much farther right than any view you've expressed: white supremacists and anti-Semites who already seem emboldened by his rise.
I could sketch out some additional reasons, but that's a lot to chew on already. Are you persuaded by any of those concerns? If not, what do you think I have wrong about Trump?
Trump Voter: I'd also sign up for a Gary Johnson presidency. Unfortunately, the world we live in does not make that possibility likely. To answer your questions! Maybe this comes from being in the white group, but I never saw Trump as race-baiting. I don't have a problem necessarily with Mexicans who come here legally, obey our laws, and eventually learn to speak English. I do have a problem with those who look at our immigration laws and say, "Nah, I'd rather not obey those." This is one of my biggest issues with Hillary Clinton and her policy of amnesty.
As for Muslim Americans, I think they have so far been very cooperative with counter-terror efforts, and Trump's policies do not target them. Trump is targeting those who live outside of the U.S., such as the Middle East (where you have a few wars going on that are generating quite a few extremists), and Europe, which is having such an integration issue that they have a major flow of fighters into said wars.
Race is something in general that I see Trump losing people on. In fact, for my fiancee, it took her a long time to come over to Trump, in part due to fearing that his ideology was more rooted in a sort of "America for Whites" (that and her fear of Trump being rooted in an "America for Men"). But I think that Trump, messaging problems aside, wants any race to be successful in America, be it black, white, Latino, or Asian. I do not want a Trump presidency to turn into a racist administration. Non-PC, non-affirmative action is great, but actual discrimination?
That is not something I would be okay with.
I agree with your fears for the free press. Whether Trump would or would not do it, using libel laws to shut down media outlets could be misused, by him or a successor. Even if I trend slightly more authoritarian than average, I don't want to live in a dictatorship.
Killing terrorist family members has been something I've wondered about for a long time. While the idea seems horrible initially, sometimes when you have these attacks, you wonder what can we do to stop them? If we knew that this policy would stop terrorist attacks, would we go down that road? It's a worrying thing to wonder for one's soul. In any case, Trump seems to have disregarded the idea, which I think shows that he can shy away from his most authoritarian ideas, but also that he's willing to discuss ideas that would be instantly dismissed otherwise.
His intention to round up 12 million illegal immigrants does not bother me; these people are criminals, are they not? They illegally entered or overstayed their visas. And who says they need to be federal agents? Local police could absolutely do the job. I don't know whether or not you reside in a sanctuary city, but San Francisco prohibits cops from working with immigration enforcement, even with criminals. Why should people who should not be here be allowed to stay after committing another crime?
I am concerned about the potential economic blowback, and I understand the need to have immigrants do the jobs Americans are unwilling to do, particularly in agriculture.
Riskiness is the issue where I have the most difficulty with Trump. If you were going to convince me to not donate money to Trump, it would be on this point. Part of me thinks that we'd be mostly fine, because presidents do not have a ton of influence on the economy in the first place, our economy doesn't seem tied up in any one sector that could be particularly prone to collapse; U.S. debt is still a pretty low percentage of GDP, the U.S. is still a very stable presence internationally.
My biggest concern is if Trump tries to write off part of the debt. At this time we cannot have a balanced budget, but that's ok! Having a national deficit when you're the U.S. is fine because we can borrow money at comically low interest rates.
If Trump did something to change that, it could spell disaster.
Finally, I feel that white supremacists and anti-Semites are a tiny faction that shouldn't be a reason to dismiss Trump's speech of empowerment. I do see feeling that white culture is under attack in many ways when being called a "white male" is an attack, where white history is decried by the left as a history of rape and pillage. But white supremacy and anti-Semitism is not the answer for most Trump supporters.
Personally, I think that people need to be able to say these statements, even if they are hurtful. What must be done, though, is a dialogue, where ideas are put to the test, where people have the opportunity to hear and reject truly disastrous ideologies.
Look who PC culture does empower. Yesterday's "Google doodle" was a racial separatist who admired Osama Bin Laden. I think she is just as hateful as white supremacists, but she is celebrated by Google. I don't think Google would celebrate a white separatist with a fun drawing and a place of honor on its front page! I have a problem that it celebrated someone who denounces America, but I'm willing to debate why she should have no place of honor instead of just denouncing Google.
I do have some worries about Trump. I really do. If I lived in Ohio or a swing state, I might even be more worried. But I see this overwhelming PC culture, especially online. I get frustrated by the dialogue of letting immigrants into the country without control, letting Black Lives Matter protest without consequence, watching qualified Asian and White students lose places in universities and companies in the name of diversity. I worry about how companies are taking on the rallying cries of these causes, particularly the monopolies that Google and Facebook have.
This may be something of me being 22 and feeling that we have time and can take risks. With Hillary Clinton, we have a stable America, sure, but one where we have to police what we say in fear of being fired by an overly liberal manager. With Trump maybe we can restore some sanity to this country and fight back against this PC craze.
Friedersdorf: I'm intrigued that you voted libertarian in 2012, would sign up for a Gary Johnson presidency in 2016 if you thought it was a realistic electoral possibility, but also describe yourself as "slightly more authoritarian than the average person." Can you tell me more about your respective thoughts on libertarianism and authoritarianism?
Trump Voter: I have supported the Libertarian party specifically for the policies (military non-intervention, ending war on drugs, low taxes, etc.), and the fact that, if successful, it would significantly undermine the Democrat-Republican duopoly.
That said, I do not identify with the libertarian preference for a weak federal government. My ideal government would be strong enough to take on massive projects (such as the illegal immigration question) only when necessary, would prevent mass exploitation by the elites ( conservationist efforts to protect the environment, for example,) but would try not to regulate people's personal and economic lives. The authoritarian aspect comes from the fact that I think we have a lot of issues that need to be fixed. An authoritarian president needs to be able to initiate major policies that may go against party and elite orthodoxies, and I don't want some senator speaking for hours to prevent needed policies. If something needs to be done, it cannot be stalled by senators whose only interest is serving the elites.
Friedersdorf: On immigration, set aside whether illegal immigrants "deserve" to be deported in some moral sense—maybe we can return to that question. For now, it seems to me that you're not thinking through what it would mean, practically, to deport 12 million people, or even a sizable fraction. New York City has a population of 8.4 million. To police the city requires 34,000 uniformed officers patrolling the streets and 51,000 NYPD employees overall, despite the fact that most of those 8.4 million are law abiding and have zero interaction with the criminal-justice system. You're talking about identifying, arresting, and deporting 12 million people, most of them in cities where the local police forces are not only already overburdened with existing duties, but controlled by city councils—and beyond that, voters—who will forbid them from assisting any mass deportation.
So you're talking about dispatching federal law enforcement, all of whom already have their own duties. How many new federal employees will have to be hired and trained?
Then they'll be sent out into America.
How will they identify the illegal immigrants? After all, Americans aren't required to carry their papers on the streets. Will that be required now? Either you've got to start forcing all Americans to prove their citizenship, or else target people who "look like illegal immigrants," meaning you'll impose a tremendous burden on American citizens and legal immigrants of Hispanic background. That racial profiling would be illegal.
Would that change?
It's illegal to stop and search people without reason to suspect that they committed a crime.
Would that change?
There would be massive street protests in opposition to this effort; significant civil disobedience; significantly less cooperation between illegal immigrants and their family members with the police and other government authorities on unrelated matters; and a massive new unionized workforce of federal law enforcement. How efficient and competent and respectful of peoples right's you think folks who take that job are going to be? If by some miracle they achieve anything resembling success, do you think the new police force just goes away, melting back into unemployment? For those reasons and more, it seems obvious to me that mass deportations would prove a logistical and civil-liberties disaster, one that would do more to divide the country and spark riots and violence than anything since the Vietnam War. Can you give me a realistic version of how it might play out differently?
Trump Voter: Rounding up 12 million is going to rely on a strategy of both new policies to ensure the illegals do not want to stay, and a new force to ensure that those who do remain are rounded up. You'd have mandatory E-Verify for ALL employers: This would help ensure that illegal immigrants cannot work in this country with stiff penalties for not using it. For personal maids or gardeners even, you would need to go through a service to hire them to ensure you are hiring people that can legally be here. To open, or to keep, your bank account, you must show that you are legally able to stay in the United States or do business here. Schools can no longer protect their students and their illegal identity: In fact, schools will no longer be able to take any student who cannot prove they are here legally.
You'd impound all payments to Mexico: This will have a two-fold effect. Illegal immigrants will no longer be able to send ill gotten gains to Mexico, and the Mexican government will be forced to take a more active role in preventing immigrants from going into the United States. You'd end of sanctuary cities: Cities will no longer have the power to defy federal law. And you'd end birthright citizenship. If you are born to two illegal immigrants, you will not be given U.S. citizenship. If you are born to people here temporarily, you will not be given U.S. citizenship.
To borrow Mitt Romney's term of "self-deportation," I think these policies would encourage many illegals to decide it's not worth to stay it if their kids cannot get an education and they cannot get work. In terms of rounding up those who do remain, you can give local police additional resources in terms of money and manpower. If they're already overwhelmed, then they could use the new officers even after the immigration problem is finished or at least reduced. I do see the need to prevent the rise of an SS sort of force, so you could try using the military to assist, especially those trained as MPs, or various private-security contractors that would not be unionized and could be disbanded after the crisis and find new employment. But this would mostly be to process the illegals and send them back to Mexico or other Central American states, and less about checking individual American ID cards.
Do you feel the policies I listed would be able to significantly dent the illegal immigration problem? If not, what would you feel be the best solution to illegal immigration?
Friedersdorf: I believe that the best solution is to aggressively deport people who've perpetrated serious crimes and to grant legal residency to everyone else, so long as the folks who snuck across the border or overstayed visas as adults pay a small fine into a fund used to expedite the processing of folks waiting in line to come here legally.
Like the 1986 amnesty, this would get a whole lot of people who live here operating inside the system. And it would avoid destroying the lives of countless people with deportations that needlessly separate families, lovers, friends, and acquaintances. If a border wall would make this more politically palatable, that's fine. I dislike the symbolism of a wall, but the status quo, where we have large swaths of a wall, death-trap gaps in parts of the desert that are particularly dangerous to cross, and armed guards on patrol, many of them corrupt, isn't exactly a symbol of welcome! It may have more costs than a barrier that decreased instances of agents and migrants meeting. Either way, so long as the War on Drugs continues, there will be drug-smuggling routes that double as human smuggling routes.
I am not for totally open borders. While I can't tell you exactly how many immigrants I favor, I can say with confidence that America can easily accommodate the people already living here and the levels of both legal and illegal immigration we're seeing now. It can do so without imposing significant costs on native born Americans. In fact, for the vast majority of native born Americans, the costs that their ancestors imposed on the existing population when migrating legally were much greater than the costs today's immigrants impose on anyone.
The policies you sketch would, I think, lead to some "self-deportations." But they would also increase regulatory costs for all businesses; introduce new barriers and bureaucracies into even the smallest economic transactions; create an underclass of non-citizens who were born here, leading to the sort of disaffected ethnic enclaves seen in France; make criminals out of American citizens who just want to, say, keep the nanny who has helped raise their kids for their whole lives; expand federal power at the cost of localities; spark disruptive protests and riots in many major American cities; make impoverished people who rely on remittances even poorer, sometimes with deadly consequences; make our southern neighbor less stable as a second-order effect; and make the lives of millions significantly worse with small or non-existent benefits for the policy's ostensible winners.
Given your income and where you live, it seems unlikely that illegal immigration has harmed you personally in any way, and it is probable that you've benefitted from it. What explains the relative importance that you give it relative to other issues?
Trump Voter: You make some excellent points. Your thoughts on the potential harmful effects in regards to stability in Mexico could admittedly just make the problem worse in the short term, and could drive even more illegal immigration. The end of the war on drugs is one of the most important aspects of Johnson's platforms I agree on.
Admittedly, I do not focus on the human cost either.
There are a few things I disagree with about the premise of amnesty. One is how frequent these are going to be; you point out the 1984 amnesty, a little more than 30 years ago. This doesn't do anything to solve the issue of the next generation of illegal immigrants, though. Are we going to have another amnesty in the 2040s? And this puts people who are trying to come here legally at a significant disadvantage.
I probably have benefitted from illegal immigration more than I have been harmed, true. Even legal immigration has benefits for me; my fiancee is a second-generation immigrant (her parents came here legally). I think most of my opposition comes from what I feel is a loss of the patriotic American identity and the advancement of multiculturalism and political correctness. The rhetoric of today feels so different than where we were back in 2008, or even in 2012. One issue I have is that many of these illegal immigrants will go over to the Democratic Party. I feel that the Democrats have become a party that I am almost completely opposed to and I have no desire to give them any further political power.
I also fear that, as increased automation comes to the workplace, we are going to see fewer and fewer job opportunities for low-skill workers. We could be in a position where either illegal immigrants will need heavy government assistance, OR current Americans will lose jobs and see the few remaining ones (such as in retail, services, sanitation, etc.) taken by illegal immigrants, so they would need heavy government assistance. Long term, illegal immigrants will have children who will compete against my children for university spots and job opportunities. It's admittedly very selfish, but I do want to ensure the greatest advantages I can give them.
I don't know how to describe it, exactly, but I feel in a lot of ways that my identity as a white man is shamed. I am in zero ways a white nationalist or supremacist, and I consider myself a feminist. I will likely sacrifice my career goals, either with fewer hours or relocation as needed, so that my fiancee can pursue her ambitions and goals. But I do not want to be shamed or held back or attacked for just being what I am.
* * *
My correspondent has come to believe that political correctness is transforming American culture in a way that puts his interests at odds with activists who are pursuing social justice and Hispanic immigrants who might benefit from affirmative action. His perception of these changes is causing him to engage in zero-sum thinking. If identity-based tribalism is America's lot, he intends to vote his group interests, whereas he was previously inclined toward a more individualist ethic.
That shift alarms me.
Neither the pursuit of social justice nor immigration policy nor relations among people of different ethnicities are inherently zero sum in nature. Quite the contrary, if sound policies and social norms are in place. If there is an uptick in white people shifting from a liberal mindset to a tribal mindset, something has gone very wrong.
The correspondent's words track concerns I've aired before.
In The Federalist, David Marcus argues that anti-white rhetoric is fueling white nationalism. I've previously warned that "encouraging a focus on white identity is a dangerous approach for a country in which white supremacy has been a toxic force," an admonition that applies to the right and left in different ways. And on the subject of "political correctness," I've posited that citizens who oppose Trumpism should "take a careful look at everything that falls under the rubric of political correctness; study the real harm done by its excesses; identify the many parts that are worth defending; and persuade more Americans to adopt those norms voluntarily, for substantive reasons, not under duress of social shaming or other coercion."
Today's correspondent is just one voter. Future opinion polls will say much more about how typical Trump supporters relate to political correctness and white identity. If it turns out that there are a significant number of people who are reacting to social-justice shaming and rhetorical anti-whiteness by shifting from supporting campaigns like Gary Johnson 2012 to campaigns like Donald Trump 2016, what then?