“Those who work with ideas increasingly vote for the Democrats, while those who work in physical reality with their hands or machinery increasingly vote Republican.”
he 2020 general election in the United States was meant to sweep former Vice President Joe Biden to victory over President Donald Trump, atop the crest of a blue tidal wave of Democratic victories in congressional and state legislative races. This did not happen. There was no landslide. There was no blue tsunami.
Instead, around 66,000 voters across Wisconsin, Arizona, Georgia, and Nebraska’s second congressional district decided the outcome in an election that saw the highest turnout since 1900. Both sides received more votes than then-Senator Barack Obama did in 2008, with President Trump receiving at least 72 million and former Vice President Biden at 78 million or so. As an external observer from the United Kingdom, here is what I see, particularly when it comes to the future for American conservatism.
What we saw, as Oren Cass argues at American Compass, was that—in coming close to winning—President Trump potentially remade the Republican Party into a multi-ethnic, working-class party that could win in the future, should GOP politicians, activists, and donors seize this chance to ride the realignment into office.
President-elect Biden’s Democrats have seen their moral worldview elevated to the highest seat of power. However, at the state and local levels, the Democrats are in serious trouble. This is due to many factors: educational polarization, geographical separation, and the condemnation of broadly popular conservative values.
This has meant that the Democrats are the party that politically represents and metaphorically symbolizes the urban aristocracy or Overclass (served by a supplicant clerisy), the class that controls the means of cultural production. They preside over a proletariat of poor and justifiably resentful serfs. This underclass is exploited as electoral capital, to be used every four years to further entrench the Overclass in its feudal positions of power, receiving in return bread in the form of welfare and circuses in the form of political spectacle, trash entertainment, and porn in place of love.
Is it any surprise, therefore, that there were millions who rejected this offer from those “enlightened” exemplars of the best this culture had to offer?
Increasing sections of the population are entertained to spiritual and, indeed, physical death—the emptiness of their bank accounts mirrored in the emptiness of their spiritual lives. As Christoper Lasch wrote in 1979, this “culture ‘educates’ the masses into an unappeasable appetite not only for goods but for new experiences and personal fulfillment. It upholds consumption as the answer to the age-old discontents of loneliness, sickness, weariness, lack of sexual satisfaction.” Death by opioid consumption followed the failure of materialist consumption to fill the void of purpose, community, and meaning.
Is it any surprise, therefore, that there were millions who rejected this offer from those “enlightened” exemplars of the best this culture had to offer? Why should the supposedly most educated be shocked that those in the middle have had enough of anarchy at the bottom, tyranny for the middle, and liberty-as-license for the top? And the supreme irony is that they chose someone in President Trump who epitomized the malady they longed to cure. But perhaps, on the other hand, it is not so surprising. Maybe it took someone who came from this world to understand it and to act as a vehicle for those who wished to repudiate it.
For this is what we saw in the 2020 election: a repudiation of the fruits of neoliberalism, not just by older white men, whose vote share for President Trump actually declined but, rather, by a mixed coalition of a multi-ethnic working class, allied with a middle-class yeomanry, each resisting the proletarianization of their economic fortunes and the destruction of their cultural ideals. It is ironic, again, that they should use such a low tool for purportedly high ends. Nevertheless, the GOP has seen its voters change from the business class to shop-class Republicans. Those who work with ideas increasingly vote for the Democrats, while those who work in physical reality with their hands or machinery increasingly vote Republican.
As Michael Lind argues, this was a law and order election, with issues of crime and safety listed as second most important to those who voted for President Trump, at 71%. These voters are sick of an anarcho-tyrannical regime that claims peaceful protests in front of burning buildings (and damages in excess of $2 billion) and whose ideologues proclaim police defunding and abolition in the name of racial justice, while violent crime in minority communities skyrockets. The ultimate injustice of murder by drive-by shooting and gang violence has cut a swathe through those the Left claims to care about. Funnily enough, Hispanic, Asian and black voters are as interested in seeing their communities policed and secure as anyone else.
What does this rise in support for President Trump among minorities look like? Well, the presidential candidate whom our intellectual and moral betters spent four years assuring us in ever shriller tones heralded the arrival of a Fourth Reich saw these results: President Trump received 36% of the vote of Latino men (32% of Latino women), 12% of the black vote (including 18% of black men), 34% of the Asian vote, 35% of the Muslim vote, and 27% of the LGBT vote. President Trump also received 34% of the self-described “moderate” vote and 41% of the independent vote. In total, President Trump received 26% of the ethnic minority vote.
To repeat in a different way: President Trump, the man whom his critics have decried as something of an Orange Hitler, earned the highest ethnic minority vote as a Republican presidential candidate since 1960. As Democrat polling expert David Shor states, “the joke is that the GOP is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of.” Again, the person to achieve this was President Trump. The fates are currently unavailable for destiny weaving; they are paralyzed with laughter at the irony.
And do not think that those ethnic minority Trump voters voted for the President in spite of his racism. Musa al-Gharbi wrote before the election that—actually—many of the comments President Trump makes in regards to crime, immigration, and terrorism that liberal whites hyperventilate over have not been of much concern to those ethnic minorities who voted for him.
When it came to policies to do with tougher stances against crime and immigration, statements by President Trump taken as racist “dog-whistles,” were just as warmly received by blacks as whites. Meanwhile, it turns out that Latinos are even more receptive to strong stances against immigration and crime. Who would have thought that those who arrived in the United States legally would not be overly thrilled about illegal immigrants skipping all the processes to undercut their wages, while bringing problems from back home along with them?
The upshot of this, as al-Gharbi reports, is that “on balance, these ‘racist’ messages seemed to resonate more strongly with minorities than whites! Across racial groups, most did not find the messages to be racist or offensive—despite researchers viewing these examples as clear-cut cases of racial dog whistles.”
Finally, despite all claims to the contrary, as Shor points out in an interview with Politico, the United States has witnessed a racial de-polarization since 2016: “Racial [political] polarization had been steadily increasing from 1992 up until 2016; 2016 is when it reversed course, and a lot of people thought that was an aberration. But 2018 and 2020 show it’s not. It is very strange, in some ways, that Donald Trump kicked off an era of racial depolarization.”
So, what does this all mean? In some respects, the result of the general election has similar lessons as does the 2019 British general election. Both saw historic turns towards conservative parties by constituencies that traditionally voted for left-wing parties. In the United Kingdom, it was the Red Wall of traditional Labour Midland and Northern working-class heartlands that went for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, delivering the Tories an 80-seat majority. In the United States, it was supposedly Democratic areas of Texas, Florida, the North-East and the Midwest that swung heavily in President Trump’s direction. The President’s performance among Texan Latinos is as astonishing as the implosion of the Labour Red Wall. This move away from uniform support for left-wing parties among old left-wing bases has now happened on both sides of the Atlantic.
Why should someone be assumed to vote a certain way just because of immutable characteristics?
Why might this be? Well, how about this: The voters who chose Prime Minister Johnson over Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn (and President Trump over President-elect Biden) are normal people who have the right to vote how their conscience and worldview encourage them to. Both sides of the Atlantic were witness to the fact that voters despise being taken for granted and treated with disdain while being assumed as a safe bet for electoral power. Condescension, the attitude of metropolitan liberalism to everyone not like itself, is not a recipe for political success. Why should someone be assumed to vote a certain way just because of immutable characteristics?
The arrogance of the Democrats was to assume that demography was destiny and that non-whites would always vote Democratic, meaning an increasingly non-white America would mean an increasingly Democratic America. The arrogance—or delusion—of Labour was to assume that class was destiny and that the working class would always vote for their party because, hey, where else could they go?
This disdain was the attitude of both Labour and the Democrats, and they were given the shock they deserved for their compassion-as-contempt, for treating voters like electoral clients, who owed them electoral loyalty based on their race, sexual orientation, gender, or class. This attitude almost cost the Democrats an election that they should have blitzed, given President Trump’s woeful record this year. That this did not happen and that the election rested on a few tens of thousands of votes across several states demonstrates their divorce from reality.
What about the Republicans? Can they exploit this potential realignment and build something capable of winning convincingly in 2024? This remains to be seen. Already the bad old ways are making themselves felt, with calls to engage in yet more endless wars that apparently do not exist—because there is nothing that more nation-building by bombing-run will not fix. Spending-hawk libertarianism is also sensing an opening, while “Never Trumpers” burrow further into fantasy land by claiming that the forces of Trumpism have been crushed.
Who knows what the future holds? It is important to note that the chaos of populism is not itself sufficient to create a viable governing coalition able to exercise political power effectively to pursue the political agenda that is desired. The GOP needs both the energy of the populists and the technique of the boring procedure men and women with grey faces who actually make the machinery of state work. However, going back to a form of zombie-fusionism that helped create the conditions that saw President Trump elected in the first place would be a disaster.
As Michael Lind lays out in The New Class War, using data from political scientist Lee Drutman, 40.3% of the American electorate are “populist,” who lean right on culture and left on economics. This section of the electorate is central to any winning coalition. By contrast, those neoliberals/business conservatives and political conservatives whom the Bush, McCain, and Romney Republicans answered to—together—comprised a total of 6.2% of voters. It is this ideological and economic vanguard, which pushed the neoliberal economics of offshoring, one-sided free trade and globalization through the labour movement, that created the phenomenon of President Trump.
Going forward, the GOP is going to be more working class, whether these kleptocons like it or not. The idea that President Trump almost won because the GOP voters of 2020 long for supply-side economics, corporate tax cuts, spending cuts, open borders, free trade and foreign wars is, frankly, stupidity born of solipsism. This means a reorientation away from the policy obsessions of the donor class, which embody the enchantment of the world through capitalism that Eugene McCarraher describes in his 2019 book The Enchantments of Mammon.
The aim should be a vision of political economy that serves the good of the families and communities that comprise America. Throwing the sop of social conservatism to GOP voters is delusional when the material basis that anchors and sustains the moral worldview centered on stable families and communities is torn apart. It is not either/or: Both the economic and social ties that bind need reweaving. Whether the GOP can rise to this occasion is the question.
Henry George is a freelance writer from the U.K., focusing on politics, political philosophy, and culture. He has also written at Quillette, Arc Digital, Reaction, The University Bookman, and Intercollegiate Review.