2020, Politics, Psychology, Society

70 Million Americans Voted to Re-Elect a Con Man to the Presidency [Updated]

In August of 2016, before his election to President, I wondered whether or not Donald Trump was the Greatest Con Man of All Time. (The GOAT-Con? The Con-GOAT? The GCMOAT?)

A year and a half later, still mystified by his support, I wondered how people continue to trust him, as he burns one after the other.

And now, as Joe Biden is the President-Elect, I can’t help but wonder why approximately 70,000,000+ Americans think Trump deserves another term.

There are many reasons why Trump shouldn’ be re-elected. Attempting to list them all would derail this piece.

You can categorize them though, and whole books could be written about each:

All of those could have their own article here and have been covered ad nauseam by other people.

I can come up with only so many reasons why 70+ million Americans think this man should have another chance/term:

  • “All I care about is lower taxes right now and literally nothing else”
  • “All I care about is [one specific issue that I think Trump is actually good on] and literally nothing else”
  • “My life isn’t any worse than it was in 2016 so I vote for the incumbent”
  • “I always vote Republican and nothing has changed”
  • “Trump is Pro Life”
  • “Trump is like me”
  • “Cancel Culture”
  • “Socialism” / “Freedom!”
  • “Black Lives Matter” / “Defund the Police”
  • “Liberal hypocrisy with masks”
  • “Trump is doing the best he can”
  • “Trump is doing a good job”
  • “I want someone to actively harm our federal government and Trump did”
  • “The Democrats never told me why I should vote for them” or “The Democrats don’t care about people like me”
  • “Joe Biden is senile [or too old]”
  • “Drain the swamp!”
  • “Trump fights against child-trafficking”
  • “Trump will cause a second Civil War”
  • [insert some biblical prophecy nonsense here]
  • [Insert some crazy QAnon shit]

I’m very interested if you have other possible reasons. Please comment.

“All I Care About is Lower Taxes”

This is an argument I struggle with for numerous reasons but here are two reasons:

  1. There are things far important to me (and, I hope, to most people) than my net annual income.
  2. Lower taxes right now likely mean higher taxes later, either for you or for your children. (I don’t have children so I shouldn’t care about The Debt so much. But you should.)

I am not rich but I cannot claim to be poor either. Much of that has nothing to do with me, and maybe that’s one reason why I don’t understand the “income taxes above everything else” argument.

But putting aside whether or not you think income tax rates should always be the deciding issue in an election, a bigger question is “What are you willing to accept to get lower taxes today?”

Because supporting Trump suggests you’re willing to accept all sorts of awfulness (everything listed at the beginning of this) just so you can have somewhat more take-home pay. And so many of the 70 million people who voted for Trump will not have materially higher taxes under a Democrat administration.

This is selfish, it’s short-sighted and, frankly, it’s bizarre. After all, “taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

And right-wing tax reform is so financially irresponsible lately you can no longer appeal to the old fiscal responsibility trope. Adding approximately USD$1 Trillion to the debt is not fiscally responsible.

So what exactly is the argument here? Is it “I want mine!”?

“All I Care About is [something Trump is good for]”

My question with this argument, in any form, is “Why do you think he’s good for [this policy]?”

For instance:

I’ve heard Democrats are bad for US National Security for decades now. But 9/11 happened on the Republican’s watch. And a Republican administration began the completely unnecessary and terrible Iraq War, which created ISIS/ISIL.

From my perspective, the Democrats haven’t been great either, but they haven’t (recently) invaded a country which then created a massive terrorist group.

Where I get lost here is how Trump is better for US National Security than Obama was. If I take the perspective that US hegemony is a good, then Trump is worst, right? And if I take the perspective that the US should have less of a role internationally, is Trump consistent enough to be better than a Hawkish Democrat? By what measures?

If you have another policy area in which you believe Trump is better than Biden will be or than Clinton would have been, by all means, comment.

“My Life Isn’t Any Worse Than it Was in 2016…”

Here’s one I actually sympathize with…well, a little bit.

I get it. This is how I view Canada’s Liberal Party.

I should point out that I haven’t actually voted Liberal in 20 years, but I tolerate them when they are in power because a) they do not actively make my life worse and b) they are better than at least one alternative.

But I still don’t vote for them.

I have trouble seeing that with Trump’s version of the Republicans. (McConnell’s version as well.) But I can imagine people who exist who believe this: their lives are just as good or even better than they were in 2016. So why not vote for the incumbent?

My issue is that I couldn’t live with myself in those shoes.

So my life is fine. There is plenty of evidence – one might say mountains of evidence – that the lives of many others have not improved during Donald Trump’s presidency. There is also the question of 250,000 dead Americans, whose lives have definitely not improved. (If the US was keeping pace with the rest of the world, the death toll would be approximately 50,0000 dead Americans due to the pandemic…)

“I Always Vote Republican…”

If there is one thing that makes me crazy, it’s party loyalty.

My grandfather voted Republican in every election he ever participated in. My dad describes him going to the polling station and pulling a lever, not knowing much about most of the people on the ticket, beyond their party affiliation.

This is nuts.

Parties change over time, sometimes really dramatically. And, especially in a system like the US political system, the person can sometimes matter much more than party affiliation. (Though this is obviously far less true now than it was when my grandfather was voting all Republican.)

Anybody who has only ever voted for one party their entire life is an unthinking automaton.

Okay, that’s far less true in a stupid two-party system, but it’s still worth thinking “why do I vote [Republican/Democrat]?” if that’s all you’ve ever voted in your entire life.

And it’s important for the future because, as many people have noted, Trump’s Republican Party is not your father’s Republican Party. It’s not even Bush Jr.’s Republican Party.

Is “I always vote Republican” a good reason to re-elect Trump?

“Trump is Pro Life”

I have strong opinions about women’s rights. I have a really hard time with this one, for many reasons, some of which relate to the “pro life” movement and some of which relate to Trump himself.

But let’s stick to Trump:

Isn’t a more outwardly moral Republican better than Trump? (In 2016, anyway.)

I can’t really argue with re-electing him, though. Despite Trump’s rampant immorality from a Christian perspective, he did pick the judges many on the Religious Right wanted. And if that’s all that matters to you, I guess I can see why you would vote for a man who has very clearly paid a mistress to get an abortion at some point in his life.

No, I can’t prove he did that.

But, seriously: He pays porn stars not to talk about their arrangements with him. You think he’s never paid a woman to get an abortion? That strikes me as very naive.

“Trump is like me”

Trump is not like you, unless you inherited hundreds of millions of dollars from a real estate mogul. But anyway…

A less charitable version of this is “Trump makes small people feel big.”

To put it more charitably:

“But Trump’s great insight was understanding and accepting that the GOP’s base didn’t care all that much about the party elite’s core ideology: taxes, small government, free trade. Rather, they connected with the cultural signifiers the party had so cleverly carved out: guns, political incorrectness, anti-abortion sentiment, etc. Trump won the GOP primaries by giving the people what they wanted.”

I think this explanation really hits the nail on the head. There’s something about Trump’s faux nouveau riche brashness and buffoonery that many Americans must see as mirror images either of themselves, or the people they would be if they were as rich as Trump. (And they will be soon, right? It’s the American Dream.)

If I had to divide the 70+ million voters for Trump in 2020 into these many categories, I would put the plurality here, I think. For me, it has the most explanatory power.

“Cancel Culture”

I’ve heard this explanation floated in a few circles, that people voted for Trump because they don’t like “Cancel Culture”. The implication is that the Democrats either support “Cancel Culture” or are way too accommodating to SJWs.

I never actually wrote my piece on the whole “Cancel Culture” debate, as I got tired of it. (Imagine!) But the idea that something that amounts to a giant Twitter argument could have moved thousands of people to vote for Trump over Biden strikes me as an allegation to be proved, rather than a fact to be entertained.

Of course, if that’s why you voted for Trump, I’d love to hear from you.

“Socialism” / “Freedom”

The more believable version is that some Americans voted for Trump over Biden because they are sincerely afraid that the Democrats will reduce freedom (through public health initiatives!) and turn America socialist.

The first thing that jumps to mind is, “How successful was Obama at turning the US socialist?”

He didn’t for many reasons, the principal one being he wasn’t trying to. (Obama disappointed many on The Left by governing like a moderate Republican, though many Americans on The Right appear to be oblivious to this.)

What makes you think Biden is going to be different than Obama?

You survived 8 years under a Democrat president, 2 years with a Democrat Congress. What existential threat is there from Democrats that Trump is a better option?

What existential threat is there from Biden? He’s as establishment as it gets.

“Black Lives Matter” and “Defund the Police”

When I first wrote this, it honestly didn’t occur to me how much some on The Right were bothered by the protests this summer. Sure, I encountered a few people like that online, but I assumed it was a fringe believe.

Moreover, support for BLM went up in the initial stages of the protests.

I struggle with the concept that people who believe they are ostensibly on the side of “Freedom” do not support protests. It’s a complicated relationship, but I think we can mention a few reasons why protests are unappealing to the personal freedom-loving on the Right:

  • Protesting feels like a demand for attention (it is)
  • Most people on the Right just want to be left alone – they want “freedom from” not necessarily “freedom to”
  • Protests in your town are inconvenient or worse
  • If you’ve never been the victim of systemic injustice it’s hard to imagine systemic injustice and even harder imagining marching in the street to protesting
  • The media nearly always portray protestors in a negative light, when they can – they focus on vandalism, violence and the overall inconvenience of the protest whenever possible.

Those are just some reasons why I think people on the Right regularly get confused by protests from the left. (I have theories as to why some on the Right would be okay with right wing protestors but let’s leave that for a different time.) And the more often the protests, the larger and, especially, the more apparently violent, the more likely those who just want to be left alone lose sympathy.

This is a long way of saying that I can see how this would be something that could cause someone to vote Republican – if not for Trump. I don’t agree – the protests during Trump’s reign were not lessened by Trump’s words or actions or those of other Republican’s – but I can at least imagine watching this stuff on TV and thinking that we’re back in 1968 and we need “law and order”. (And, of course, the Republicans are the party of Law and Order.)

As for “Defund the Police”, I am starting to become convinced it’s a bad slogan. To too many Americans, it sounds like “Abolish the Police” which, to them, sounds crazy. And I guess there’s a world in which you might actually believe Biden would try to accomplish this. I don’t know what reality that is, as it isn’t this one, but I guess I can imagine someone who, say, gets all their news from Fox, believing that reality exists.

“Liberal hypocrisy”

What I suspect was a bigger reason to vote against the Democrats – as opposed to for the Republicans – was what happened with the masks during these protests. And I must say I paid just about zero attention to this at the time.

I guess it came across as utterly bizarre – perhaps insane – when many public health officials said things like “systemic racism is a greater public health threat than COVID” and then either implicitly or actively endorsed large outdoor gatherings during a pandemic after telling everyone to wear masks.

I wasn’t really super aware of these statements, but I knew they were made. I didn’t pay much attention to them for a couple of reasons:

  • People say stupid shit all the time, I tend not to pay attention to most of what gets people outraged in the US when it is just words
  • I can think for myself and don’t need someone to tell me whether or not people should protest police shootings
  • I don’t think wearing a mask in stores is any kind of infringement on my personal freedom
  • I am a white man who has had only, like, one or two negative interactions with the police in my life and who am I to tell others what to do.

But, if you do believe that wearing a mask is an infringement on your personal freedom and you think that the calls to wear a mask are some kind of attempt to steal some of your freedom – how, I don’t know – then I can see a world in which protestors – some of whom were not wearing masks – seemed like hypocrites. I the public health officials would seem only worse than the protestors as far as I can figure.

Do I think that this hypocrisy is a reason to vote for Donald Trump over someone who might actually try to end the pandemic and not turn the US federal government into a kleptocracy? No. But, evidently, some of you feel this strongly about it.

“Trump is doing the best he can”

I actually heard a Trump supporter say this about the 250,000+ pandemic deaths in the US. (Well, it was closer to 230,000 deaths when she said it.)

All I can say to this one is, if this is your bar, it is an incredibly low bar. (One that most Republican candidates in 2016 would have exceeded, not just Hillary.)

“Trump is doing a good job”

I’m incapable of having enough empathy to imagine what it is that makes anyone think Trump is going a good job.

To me, the person who believes this denies objective reality.

Or they are extremely rich and lucky. Or they want to be extremely rich and like to pretend that they will one day be so rich they will hate paying taxes too.

Well, that or they want something else from their President:

“I want someone to actively harm the federal government”

If this is the goal then voting for Trump makes sense.

As much as we may not want to admit it, we need governments. Especially in extremely complex post-industrial societies.

The question is, what is the adult thing to do: Vote for someone who will do a bad job on purpose (ort so you can own those Libs) or grow the fuck up already and accept that the important thing is effective government?

If this is how you vote, please stop voting. (On a more serious note, I’m not sure there are many people who actually voted who feel this way.)

“The Democrats never told me why to vote for them”

Now, this strikes me as one of the real cruxes of the problem.

The Democrats and their Never Trump Republican backers were so concerned in beating Trump that they have, at times, forgotten to tell certain people (former Democrats supporting Trump and many others) why they should vote Democrat.

The Democrats supposedly have a plan for making the US a better place for everyone who is not filthy rich but I’m not sure enough Americans know what that is.

“Drain the Swamp!!!”

This is a 2016 explanation that was suggested to me as an explanation for 2020, as well.

In the intervening 3.75 years, Trump somehow lowered the bottom of The Swamp as low as he possibly could while the muck was still in it. I don’t know how that would work physically in the real world, so this metaphor is very clunky. But things are far more swampy than they were in 2016.

Lobbying in the US is already basically legalized bribery. But if you think it’s better now that you can do it merely by holding a conference at a Trump hotel or by getting yourself appointed to lead the department or agency that regulates your own industry, then I have a bridge to sell you. Please post your personal information in the comments so we can work out a deal.

“Trump fights against child trafficking”

Echoes of QAnon.

And I have so many questions:

How serious a problem is child trafficking, really?

Let’s say that it’s a really serious problem: what has Trump done as President that is an improvement on previous federal government attempts to limit child trafficking?

“Trump will cause a Second Civil War”

I think that a real small minority of people want this, and I don’t know how many of these people actually vote, but I know at least one person who talks to people who think this, so here we are.

I think this explanation is overblown, though I don’t know what would have happened if Trump had actually somehow managed to throw the election despite losing both the popular vote and the Electoral College. (Would secession be an actual possibility?) People say things on the internet they would never do in real life. I’m not sure how many people who might claim in a forum that they want a Second Civil War are willing to stand behind such claims when push comes to shove.

Does this capture the views of 70 million plus Americans who voted for Trump?

I doubt it, but it’s the best I can do without having my own research firm or devoting too much time and energy to this.

What it doesn’t do, for me, is to satisfactorily tell me why this many people want that man to run their country. I’m still at a loss.

I mean, folks, he’s taking the money you are giving to him to fight the election and using it to pay off his campaign debts.

He’s a con man, a grifter. He’s just inexplicably good at it. (I mean, it helps he was born rich.) Why not vote for someone who is not trying to rip you off?

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