The Media Keeps Trying to “Understand” Trump Voters Because They Don’t Want to Accept the Truth About Them
If someone keeps choosing an authoritarian and likes the authoritarian even more when he does authoritarian stuff, then maybe they just . . . like authoritarianism?
Over the weekend the New York Times ran Part #937 in its continuing attempt to understand Trump voters. It’s a gorgeous, premium package filled with portrait photography and earnest quotes. The Times wants you to know that they’re not just hearing these patriotic Americans, they’re listening to them.
For example, Jan Altena is voting for Donald Trump because “he’s got principles, that’s the key feature there.”
That is a very real statement that the Times accepts and presents to readers.
Then there’s Jesse Gutierres, whom the Times identifies as “a 52-year-old musician and economist.” Here’s how the Times presents Mr. Gutierres’s expert opinion on economics:
[Gutierres] spends much of his time advising local governments on how to prepare for economic shifts. But he is also preparing his family, and blames Democrats for what he sees as shrinking opportunities. He is eager for a second Trump administration.
“The world changes so fast, we’re in a different world now,” he said. “When Trump was in office, the economy was in absolutely terrific shape. There was more competition, more freedom.”
Along nearly every measurable vector, the economy is better today than it was on Election Day in 2020. But the New York Times has nothing to say about any of that. They just sent a photographer to the Gutierres home, took a handsome picture, and acted as his stenographer while amplifying his feelings.
Because we must understand why all of these people support a man who wrecked the American economy, attempted a violent insurrection, is under 91 felony indictments, and has been disavowed as a threat to the country by a large number of the high-level Republicans who worked directly for him.
This package does nothing to help readers understand the motivations of Trump voters. It merely amplifies their fact-free feelings.
Let’s stipulate that every voter is different. I’m sure that no two Trump voters support him for exactly the same matrix of reasons. We’re all God’s children and we’re all unique and special.
That said, if you want to get an actual insight into why some people support Trump, you should listen to Sarah’s Focus Group pod with Ann Selzer. Like in the NYT, there is lots of testimony from The People. But at the 16:40 mark, Selzer drops the following piece of context:
In our December poll we pulled out some things that [Trump] had said with quotation marks around them . . . we wanted to be very careful in quoting things he had said or things he had said he would do. And for most of the items that we tested—and these were designed to be on the inflammatory side, the thing that might give [voters] pause—they were more likely to say that it made them more likely to support than less.
That’s right: When Selzer gave Republican respondents Trump’s most extreme statements, they liked him more.
I am sorry, but some Trump voters are not merely misunderstanding “the economy,” or imagining his “principles,” and they don’t think that the “mean tweets” are regrettable. Some of them want the authoritarianism.
And somehow the New York Times never seems to notice any of those people.
There’s also another group of voters the NYT seems oblivious to: Biden voters. You may recall that in 2020 Joe Biden received more votes than anyone in American history.
No one is terribly interested in what makes those people—who comprise a flat majority of the population—tick.
The Bulwark is not like the New York Times.
We try to understand reality and the world around us. That’s why Sarah’s Focus Group Podcast is so valuable.
We don’t mindlessly amplify falsehoods. And we don’t stick our heads in the sand hoping that unpleasant realities will disappear.
And we don’t default to bothsidesism and pretend that there’s no difference between liberals and illiberals.
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Many months ago I told you that we’d get to a point where Trump would start talking about a third term.
Please understand that if Joe Biden had said this, the New York Times and every other media outlet in America would have a heart attack. Joe Biden is so addled he doesn’t even know that he’s term limited!
Or: Joe Biden is an aspiring dictator!
But when Trump does it, no one even notices.
Over the weekend I got a note from a reader, J.S., who went even darker than I’m normally willing to go. His point, which I hadn’t really thought of before, is that “the guardrails” didn’t actually work in 2020—the only reason Trump didn’t overturn the results of the election is because guys with guns stopped their violent attempt.
When it came to the election in 2020, we had to beat him at the polls. But that wasn’t enough. The election officials had to do the right thing, but that wasn’t enough. The judges had to do the right thing, but that wasn’t enough. Congress and the vice president had to do the right thing and it still came down to the Capitol Police resisting an armed mob.
Every guardrail had to hold and it still had to be backed up by a willingness to resist with physical force.
I’m not suggesting anything like ditching the rule of law and skipping straight to force.
Just that we face an adversary for whom statements and propositions only have to be personally advantageous and not true or logically consistent and that his supporters have accepted and blessed this tactic and that no legal or political process has any legitimacy to them except as it is useful against his enemies and that the only thing they respect is force.
At the end of the day, there probably isn’t anything clever or counterintuitive to do. There is just getting more votes, getting the processes to work and backing it up with the power of the state.
Ugh. When you look at it through this lens you realize that “the guardrails” actually only constrain the forces of democracy.
To wit: The courts ruled against Trump in 2020 and after that, he attempted his insurrection.
But what if the courts had found in Trump’s favor? Let’s just pretend for a moment that the Supreme Court had taken an insane stand and, say, ruled in favor of the Texas lawsuit, which had then invalidated a bunch of other states’ votes, and thrown the election to House.
What would have happened then? Well, Donald Trump would have stayed president. Because “the guardrails” only limit the side that adheres to the rule of law.
Like J.S. says, there’s nothing to be done about this—the belief in the sanctity of the rule of law is what makes one side the good guys and the other side the bad guys. This is why the people who are seeking to remove Trump from the ballot via the application of the Fourteenth Amendment will accept a ruling from the SCOTUS that goes against them while the forces of illiberalism merely promise violence and chaos if they don’t get the verdict they want.
But it does mean that we should not be sanguine about what’s going to happen in November. No matter how many “guardrails” Trump and the Republican party bump up against, they are unlikely to take no for an answer until the power of the state is invoked to uphold the final guardrail.
So gird yourselves for a prolonged struggle.
This piece in the Verge does a nice job of explaining how the fact of Google search creates a strong influence on web design—to the point where websites are often optimized for Google and not for their actual users.
Law firms across different fields — family law, personal injury, employment lawyers — have blogs full of keyword-addled articles being churned out at a surprisingly fast clip. The goal for firms is simple: be the top result to pop up on Google when someone is looking for legal help. The searcher might just end up hiring them.
Many of these blog posts are written by people like E., a self-employed content writer who juggles law firm clients that want Google-friendly content. E. does not have a legal background; they’re just a competent writer who can turn in clean copy. They trawl health department records, looking for nursing homes that get citations for neglect or other infractions. Then E. writes a blog post about it for a firm, making sure to include the name of the offender and the wrongdoing — keywords for which concerned patients or families will likely be searching. (E. requested anonymity so as to not jeopardize their employment.)
“My bosses, they all don’t want anyone else to know that they use me or that we have the specific process that we have,” E. says. Their name is nowhere to be found, but their writing is often the first thing a searcher will see. The pages were made to be found by people like me. . . .
Google’s outsized influence on how we find things has been 25 years in the making, and the people running businesses online have tried countless methods of getting Google to surface their content. Some business owners use generative AI to make Google-optimized blog posts so they can turn around and sell tchotchkes; brick-and-mortar businesses are picking funny names like “Thai Food Near Me” to try to game Google’s local search algorithm. An entire SEO industry has sprung up, dedicated to trying to understand (or outsmart) Google Search.
One of the many things about The Bulwark that makes me proud is that we have resisted this influence. Every design choice we make is about making the experience as good as possible for you guys, the end user.
We don’t put ads on our pages and we’re willing to sacrifice search-engine optimization and shareability, even, if it makes reading The Bulwark better for you.
And we have the luxury to take this approach because you’re the ones who support us. Our Bulwark+ members make it possible.
Thanks, guys. You’re the best.