I drafted this in September, but never posted it. I think much of the analysis remains spot on, so I will revel in the confirmation of my preexisting biases.
Tyler Cowen offered a number of hypotheses, but none of them seem quite right to me. This is why I would vote for Trump, if I voted, and if I were to vote for Trump. This is not an endorsement, just the most charitable account of why one would vote for Trump.
Trump is at worst a buffoon, but maybe that’s a good thing. For most people, government has become more of a hindrance than a help–rarely does one interact with government and come away with the impression “well, that was a worthwhile expense of time, money and effort.” Put it this way: Trump may be a shoot-from-the-hip blowhard, but at the very least he won’t leave us with a pointless, metastasizing and intricately planned disaster like the Affordable Care Act. (Yes, pointless–if coverage was the goal, then create a subsidy and move on. See Megan McCardle at bloomberg for more details.)
Trump says he wants to build a wall. I don’t think he’s going to do it, it sounds like an enormous waste of money. Plus he’s sneered often enough at immigrants that if I were Mexican, I’d want to take a %$#! in his pillowcase too. [Update: this is actually not true.] But even if he does build the wall, at least it won’t interfere with my commute, make me apply for four different permits, create more forms for me to fill out, force me to hire a compliance consultant, or lead me to call an accountant twelve times to figure out if I’m going to be penalized for not having coverage or whether I’m actually entitled to a subsidy depending on whether I list my cousin’s puppy as a dependent on my Form 1218T (not to be confused with the Form 1218T-1). Trump may pointlessly waste some of my money and be a jerk to boot, but at least he’s not going to also complicate my life anymore than it already is. Trump’s impotence is comforting. [Note, that I think idiot-jerk Trump is unlikely to reflect his actual character, so much as the confirmation bias and prejudice of his critics, but that’s the subject for a different post.]
Plus, it would be nice to see Beltway elites taken down a notch. They breathlessly proclaim on this policy and that issue as though the fate of the world turns on their plans for OUR future. Trump is terrible because he didn’t hire me or anyone I know to tell him how to govern! But here’s the thing: if this hapless goon wins the election and the world-saving new government program never comes to fruition, most people aren’t going to notice, care or remember. Mr. and Ms. Beltway might notice because they’ll need to set aside their superhero costumes for regular work clothes like the rest of us shmoes, but that seems like a good thing. They might actually be able to make a dent against inequality, unemployment, discrimination, microaggressions and global warming by starting a business, hiring whomever they want, paying whatever they want and polluting just as little as they see fit. Or they might start thinking about what the rest of America thinks about, instead of what they personally think is important. In other words, a vote for Trump tells the know-it-alls to “GET %$#-ING A JOB!” Is that nice? No, but it’s cathartic. And they ought to know that despite having a national platform, the nation does not depend on them quite as much as they think. In fact, people prefer a spray-tanned foulmouth to the gold-plated turd sandwich that someone earnestly prepared during their summer internship on the Hill.
Don’t get me wrong–I care about the poor and the sick and the oppressed as much as anyone else. When I look around, though, I don’t see a shortage of government programs “helping” the poor. I do see huge amounts of government incompetence. And I too am outraged that people can get gunned down just by sitting in their front yard (and I’m persuaded that that kind of stress can have longterm effects). But that seems to happen exclusively in democratically controlled cities–literally controlled by democrats, at every level of government, for decades–that are brimming with public policy goodness. Voting for Trump won’t necessarily solve that problem, but it might persuade the Hillary camp to focus on cleaning up their own mess before moving on to fix someone else’s.
Trump may actually help some of the problems caused by monoculture, thought-policing and unyielding focus on raising/lowering relative stature of certain group at the expense of others. Over the last eight years, we have been forced to confess our [blank]-ism and wage war on “discrimination” by assiduously discriminating on the basis of race, creed, gender and sexual preference. If there is anyway to make the black guy in accounting feel like part of the team, it’s too remind us daily that he’s a person-of-color with a laundry list of grievances against his white colleagues who are too white to ever understand, but lord knows they will once HR is through with them. To put it mildly, insisting that [blank] people are (uniformly) different and therefore we must adhere to a strict, government-approved code of speech, actions, thoughts, hobbies, clothing, food, rituals and politics–upon threat of legal and professional sanction–is not conducive to healing and togetherness. To the contrary, it’s oppressive, offensive and divisive, and no, I’m not a [blank]-ist for saying so, no matter how shrilly and repeatedly you make the accusation.
A vote for Trump says, “stop the witch hunts and shame campaigns, stop politicizing my day-to-day existence and stop turning my life into your hashtags–your thought-policing is not welcome here, and frankly we think the best way to fight discrimination is to stop discriminating quite so much.” A vote for Trump also says that with all due respect to the trans community, their pronoun-choice is not high on the list of nationwide priorities–I see why it’s important to them, but that doesn’t make it important for all of us. A vote for Trump also says that Progressive virtue-signalling doesn’t matter all that much: I may not like that Trump says crass and boorish things, but I don’t view them as disqualifying, or necessarily definitive of his character as a whole, and frankly I find the MSM fixation on those issues to be annoying and distracting. Even if he’s as bad as everyone says that he is, Trump is not going to issue guidelines on the correct way to mock the disabled. Trump could build ten gold-plated monuments to himself to surround the White House and I would prefer that to another “Dear Colleague” letter from the Justice Department. I’m confident that Trump will not stop me from criticizing his manners; I can’t say the same of Hillary. Plus, Hillary’s multi-million dollar career as a public servant does not impress me, so much as worry me a good deal.
Trump does scare me a bit on foreign policy and trade (where executive power is most leveraged). It makes sense to have someone a little tougher than Obama (and Hillary likely is), but no one likes to play basketball with the kid that argues every foul. The nuclear holocaust stuff is overblown–I’d be more concerned that Obama would fail to prevent a nuclear holocaust than Trump would start one–but tit-for-tat trade disputes (and Trump is a litigious fellow) could do serious long term damage to international cooperation and trade. But on the other hand, is Hillary really going to be any better? It’s a little unfair to judge her based on her predecessor (since they seem to disagree), but she was the SOS and it is her party. On the other hand, while there’s no question the world seems a lot more f-ed up than it did before, Obama’s non-interventionism may be the better bet in the long run. Still, it’s not like Trump is calling for robust regime-changing foreign policy either. Trump’s trade and spending ideas are pretty awful (but likely to be quite popular), although they are shared by many in the Democratic party. If they can be bundled with cuts to corporate taxes and deregulation, however, then there still may be a net upside.
In the end, I suspect that boogeyman Trump is a bit of a myth. Democrats seem to deal exclusively in character attacks these days (more on that in other posts), and Trump is catnip in that regard. OHMYGOD he’s the monster we’ve all be warning about! Save the women and children! To my mind, Trump has been successful for too long to be stupid, mean, or crazy (although that will be little comfort to those that believe success is because of stupidity, meanness and craziness). Trump doesn’t talk good, but that doesn’t mean he lacks judgment or leadership. He may be ineffective in ways that all presidents are, but his ineffectiveness will be far less harmful. And if he’s really a crazy mean coot, then our institutions and general dislike of crazy-meanness will shut him down more ruthlessly than they shutdown a wildly popular president passing his signature healthcare bill.