Michael Massing's cover story in the August 13 Nation is surprisingly critical of the anti-Trump media, given its placement in one of the most anti-Trump magazines. Massing isn't out to defend Trump himself, but makes a reasonable argument against demonizing or gratuitously insulting the President's supporters. He's not the first writer to offer such a critique, and he recognizes that he risks the same backlash for making it that other writers have experienced merely for suggesting, as Nicholas Kristof did, that "Trump voters are human, too." Kristof and Massing agree that electoral success for liberals or progressives in the immediate future still depends on winning over some non-compete whites in "fly-over country." Those people have to be persuaded that they've made a mistake by supporting Trump, but as Massing notes, calling them stupid bigots is virtually guaranteed not to work. He recommends consideration of the economic vulnerability this demographic still feels after the 2008 recession, on the assumption that they can be convinced that Trump isn't acting in their economic interests. The problem with this recommendation is that the liberals and progressives Massing criticizes are not convinced that economics were the primary motivator for any Trump vote by non-compete whites in 2016. You can see why they would think that. Unless these voters embraced Trump specifically so he could institute protectionist trade policies, you would have to conclude that they voted for the same standard Republican policies that did not work for Mitt Romney in 2012. Was there a critical mass of protectionist sentiment in the 2016 swing states? Exit polls might confirm that, but it's easier for progressives to believe that swing-state voters were won over by Trump's reactionary nostalgia, which progressives find inseparable from some sort of white supremacism.
Did racial thinking (or misogyny disguised as distrust of Hillary Clinton) decide the 2016 election? What if it did? Massing, I suspect, would still argue for persuading Trump voters that they were wrong on that front, but many progressives seem to regard that task as beneath them. They act as if it's up to Trump voters to renounce whatever bigotries motivate them before dialogue can even begin. They may believe that anyone who thinks that minorities has anything to do with what ailed America in 2016 is hopelessly irredeemable, even if thinking so condemns them to defeat at the national level. Obviously there's no convincing people who think non-white races or women to be inherently inferior beings, or those with a simple atavistic loathing of diversity. But what if some Trump voters don't hate blacks or others for what they are, but for what they (are thought to) do, or think. I don't mean perceptions of criminality, but a belief that blacks or other minorities, as a bloc, have mistaken ideas about the national interest or the common good due to their association with the Democratic party, the liberal media, etc. Can liberals address such perceptions without making it an existential debate about group identity? Can they answer the charge that, for instance, black people in general are wrong on this or that issue without falling back on a some claim that blacks are entitled to their own beliefs without whites judging them? If we aren't going to let any group of self-conscious white people have their own beliefs without challenge, then the same rule must apply to everyone. Before there can be persuasion, it may prove, there must be recognition of an actual debate, not a demand for unconditional surrender. Again, that's not the case if your antagonist's argument is simply that black people are disgusting, but where there is disagreement along demographic lines about political ends and means, neither side should have to acquiesce in the other's entitlement to its own ideology. In short, before you can change anyone's mind you have to hear what's actually on his mind without automatically branding him a heretic or a retard. Progressives may be too wedded to a civil-disobedience model that depends on breaking an antagonist's will by means other than debate to recognize this. They may need to see that model fail a few times more before trying something else, but let's hope not.