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Last active Feb 25, 2016
What would you like to do?

I was wrong about Donald Trump. I thought he couldn't be the Republican nominee. He could. He very likely will be, given the available evidence. Even if Donald Trump is not the Republican nominee, I will still have been wrong about how and why Donald Trump is not the nominee. I have been wrong about a great many things this election cycle. I am probably still wrong about a great many things, but I think a fair amount less than I was before. I, at least, know a lot more now about what I do not know.

So, I think there's a lot I don't know about this election. But... when I read Facebook, when I read Twitter, when I see articles people link to and read blogs and newspapers that are talking about the election, I think there's others who know a lot less than me, and in fact I think that MOST others know a lot less than me. Mostly I think they don't know what they don't know (not to get too Beat Poet Rumsfeld on y'all).

So... maybe I'm wrong about Trump being the nominee? I don't really want to talk about that. Not because I don't want to talk about me being wrong, but because I sort of want to lay the groundwork on why I think everyone so clearly misunderstands Trump. And maybe afterwards, you won't know and I won't know what's going to happen this election, but maybe we can at least kinda sorta understand what HAS happened this election, and we can come to grips with the boundaries of our knowing and unknowing of the future.

I'm going to quote two examples of what I mean. The other is from a few days ago, where Matt Walsh from The Blaze wrote an open letter to Trump supporters about their desire for a candidate who "tells it like it is":

Well, in similar fashion, I'm not calling you stupid, I'm just saying that other people call you stupid. You should therefore defend me against any accusation that I've called you stupid, just as you would Trump. But the difference is that I'm not being coy here. I really don't think you're stupid. I certainly don't think I'm any smarter than you. I subscribe to the second theory: I don't believe you're really all that angry.

Your anger, to whatever extent it exists at all, is surface level. It's a purely emotional experience, fed by a mob mentality. You're angry in the way a rioter or looter is angry. Your temper might be flaring and your heart rate jumping and you might be filled with the uncontrollable urge to break a window, but underneath that anger is really something much closer to boredom and apathy. You don't feel a real, intense, profound, deep and meaningful disgust at the corruption and malfeasance in Washington, because if you did there is simply no way you would support a man like Trump.

Unless, like I said, you're stupid. But you aren't stupid, and a non-stupid person, a serious person, who truly, deeply, intensely loathes the current state of affairs, who genuinely desires that his country be revived for the sake of his children, would not be turning to a blustery, boorish reality TV character with a catchphrase and a fake tan for answers.

I'm just telling it like it is here, friend. I'm telling you what's on my mind. I'm being completely and painfully honest with you. I don't believe your anger. I think you want a spectacle, not a solution. A celebrity, not a statesman. A circus performer, not a leader. I think you want to be entertained. I think you're not taking this seriously enough. I think you're intellectually lazy so you've accepted authoritarianism as a stand-in for strength. I think you're following the trend of the day. I think you're wrapped up in media hype.

In other words, I think your anger, if it exists, is misplaced. You should be angry at yourself, because if this country falls finally and irrevocably into despotism, it'll be your fault. You'll have chosen it. You'll have elected it and applauded it. That, my friend, is what makes me angry.

And what makes me angry, Matt Walsh, is how very unseriously you take Trump and his supporters. But more on that later. Bill James, the noted baseball writer, takes the other fork:

I don't think that Trump can win, frankly, because I don't think there are enough morons to elect him. A certain percentage of the American public is just morons; that's the way it is. When you divide the public in two then divide the voters in one of those halves among five candidates or more, a candidate can win by dominating the moron vote because it only takes about one-seventh of the total population to take the "lead" under those circumstances.

But when you're talking about needing 51 percent of the whole population, rather than needing 30 percent of half of the population, you run out of morons. I hope we will. I hope Trump will lose, because I hope he runs out of morons to vote for him.

Okay. So Trump supporters are morons. Or they're not morons, or they're not taking this seriously enough and just want their reality TV star to get a new show, The Apprentice Election Edition. What they are not, in the eyes of people I see on Twitter, Facebook, the media, everywhere I look, is people who have made a sensible and rational decision that they would prefer a Donald Trump presidency to all the other options placed in front of them. I think this is a crucial mistake. And so, what I really want to address is two things:

  1. The sort of cognitive biases that would enable someone to prefer a Donald Trump presidency, and
  2. The sort of cognitive biases that would cause someone to not take seriously those who would prefer a Donald Trump presidency.

I... honestly care more about the second than the first? But I think I need to talk about both of them. And I think I need to talk about the Trump supporters first. But before I do that, I need to talk to you about your brain.

Thinking about thinking

Okay, so, you have a brain. You think with it. Why do you have a brain? How do you use it? How much time do you spend thinking about thinking?

Your body comes with certain autonomic functions -- you breath without conscious thought about it, your heart beats without conscious thought about it, vasomotor activity (which is what controls the dimension of your blood vessels) happens without conscious thought about it. You also sneeze, cough, swallow and vomit without having to think about them -- they're reflexes.

I understand that no biology textbook would describe it this way -- this is metaphor, not science -- but thinking is also a sort of autonomic process. You don't have to think about thinking in order to think. It just happens. Your body is continually taking in sensory input about the world around you -- sight, sound, taste, touch and smell -- and your brain is constantly filing it away in memory, forming conclusions about it, remembering other things you've experienced before it thinks is relevant. And it does this without you ever thinking about it.

And it doesn't always do so in a way that makes sense, does it? You've gotten a song stuck in your head before, right. Unbidden, without any obvious context for why it does so, a song you haven't heard in forever starts being reenacted by your brain. You aren't actually hearing yourself, but your brain is basically tricking you into thinking that you're hearing it and letting you in on the deception so that you know you really aren't. Why does it do that? How does it do that? You don't know! I don't know! Pretty sure actual brain scientists don't really know. I mean, at a certain level (and I'm not sure there's any other level that matters), what we are as Persons is our thoughts and our memories and our experience. And all of that -- who we really are -- is trapped inside a prison of meat and sinew and bone and bound up in a lump of lipids that we call our brains, and even then we seem to have to share the throne of our souls with this Other, this thing that is in control of us more than we are in control of it, this thing that makes us hear songs that aren't there and that we don't want, that can make us feel feelings unrelated to our immediate surroundings and circumstance (hello, depression), can make us think we're fat when we're incredibly malnourished (hi, anorexia!)... just, if all we have are our thoughts, and we can't trust our thoughts, what are we and what can we possible be for?

Oh, right, Trump. Yeah, I'm getting to it. Having said that, it's going to be a while.

So, you have a brain. What for and why, right? All vertebrates and most invertebrates have one, of course. And it's useful for actually being a living creature that can move about and gather food and survive (most creatures without them tend to be rather simple and of the "food comes to me" variety). But you may have noticed something: human brains are different than brains of all the other animals.

But as different as they are, originally what they were for is the same thing as all other animal brains: finding food. Eating food. Not being food. Pair bonding. Mating. Child rearing. All those biological imperatives that we feel being creatures of biology.

And it turns out that what thinking is is a survival adaptation. Thinking means we can figure out how to use tools to make it possible to kill prey and predators we couldn't otherwise. Thinking lets us spot animals who have natural camoflague as one of their survival adaptations. Thinking lets us remember what plants are good for us and which aren't. Thinking lets us remember where they are. Thinking better than all the other animals lets us outcompete them for the resources we need or even the ones we want. And in terms of pure resource competition, we clearly have a survival adaptation other animals don't, and it isn't "having hair all over but not anywhere near enough to provide meaningful protection from the elements."

But what kind of thinking does our survival adaptation consist of? It really isn't the sort of "pure reason" that philosophers think of. It's much more autonomic than that. Let's consider "seeing a tiger hiding in tall grass." Ancient man was not sitting there trying to reason about the presence of tigers given the available evidence from first principles. We're still not at the point where we fully understand how our brain does that. We have a very hard time teaching computers to recognize various objects visually:

xkcd Tasks

And we've made great strides in it, but most of the work in the field of computer vision involves having humans mark down what's in an image and having the computer learn to recognize what an image most resembles. And this process is only as good as it's training data; if you train a photo recognition system based on the personal photos collected from a bunch of Silicon Valley engineers, you may end up with a computer program that mistakenly identifies black people as gorillas.

Or what of chucking a spear? Or even simply the act of walking after prey? Just yesterday, Boston Dynamics announced that Atlas, their bipedal robot, can get up off the ground on its own if it's knocked over. That's two-year-old shit, man. And it's sort of the pinnacle of several fields of scientific inquiry acting together in concert so that we can have a robot do a more awkward version of what toddlers have been able to do since before writing was invented.

We don't really think about everything to do with what we're thinking about. We think about the bare minimum required to make a decision or come to a conclusion about something. And we do this by using heuristics, shortcuts, all kinds of tricks that manage to take everything that relates to what we're thinking about and boils it down to a manageable set of information.

Richards J. Heuer, Jr. wa an analyst working for the CIA. Heuer took an interest in the question of how do we get things wrong, particularly after the CIA mistakenly believed Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko was in fact a Soviet double-agent; eventually, the agency decided that Nosenko was a genuine defector, released him, and paid him as compensation for his interrogation and imprisonment. Heuer went on the write a book, The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis (PDF). It's a handbook for intelligence analysts to improve their predictive ability by recognizing and hopefully improving upon their innate cognitive biases.

One question that intelligence analysts face is, why do foreign leaders behave in ways that seem unpredictable, even crazy? Heuer says:

To see the options faced by foreign leaders as these leaders see them, one must understand their values and assumptions and even their misperceptions and misunderstandings. Without such insight, interpreting foreign leaders' decisions or forecasting future decisions is often nothing more than partially informed speculation. Too frequently, foreign behavior appears “irrational” or “not in their own best interest.” Such conclusions often indicate analysts have projected American values and conceptual frameworks onto the foreign leaders and societies, rather than understanding the logic of the situation as it appears to them.

Both the analyst and the foreign leaders the analyst is studying have worldviews that shape how they view events, how they understand things, how they filter all of the sensory input both from their immediate senses and from their innumerable memories and reduce a problem down to a cognitively managable set. And when those worldviews do not reconcile, the actions of someone from a different worldview can seem to be anything but rational.

Saying that Trump supporters are "morons" or that they "want to be entertained" is reducing them to something irrational, something that we don't NEED to understand, rather than grappling with the idea that they might be acting rationally! That they may know things we don't know or don't think are important enough to remember. They see the world from a different perspective than us.

That does not make Trump supporters right, of course. And I rather think that Trump supporters are very much not right. But treating them as idiots, or morons, or crazy... it reduces them to some unknowable other. It makes them something we can't hope to understand, and thus we have no tools to reason with them or to oppose them. It grants them a power they should not wield and do not deserve. And if you actually care about doing anything about Trump -- about opposing him, about convincing others to abandon supporting him, or even just to understand why he has the support he does and how likely that support is to win him the nomination or the election -- you need to abandon the idea that these people are just knuckledragging morons and try and grapple with the ideas at issue.

In G.K. Chesterton's book "The Thing," he tells a parable about a reformer and a fence:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

We are, all of us, tiny, insignificant creatures huddled up for protection against a world of irreducible, terrifying complexity, and our biggest weapon against this world is a confusing, traitorous sack of electrical impulses and lipids that is geared towards reducing complexity at nearly any cost short of "geting eaten by tiger." Any amount of time spent truly and objectively considering the odds against us must do nothing but conclude that the odds are very nearly hopeless.

And yet. If you're reading this right now, I would wager that you're warm. You're clothed in fabric to provide you with the insulation that evolution robbed you of by giving you incredibly useless body hair instead of fur like any other fucking primate. You can remember your last meal and you have an inkling of where and when your next one will come from. You and your ancestors have overcome many of the most basic struggles of survival to where you hardly consider them on a daily basis, all with the power of the brain you have.

So, have faith. Your brain has moved beyond a mere survival adaptation to an instrument with which you can alter, however modestly, the world, and to some extent, understand it. It is unruly and disobedient, but there are tools you can use to seek to understand yourself, and thus to better understand the world around you.

Start by asking about the fence.

##What worldview produces a Trump?

So, what sort of a worldview do you need to have to be a Trump supporter? Let's do a quick history lesson. It'll be brisk, it'll be more than a little flippant, and it's likely to be at BEST no more accurate than the Wikipedia pages it cribs from. I think it'll be fit for purpose regardless.

The Democratic Party dates back to 1828, although you can trace it's roots back to Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party from the 1790s, and the Republican Party dates back to 1954, mostly founded by people coming from the Whig and Free Soil parties. There's basically two formative events from which you can start to recognize the modern Democratic and Republican parties.

The first was the Great Depression, World War II and FDR's New Deal coaltion. The Democratic Party had been historically libertarian, which befits their Jeffersonian heritage. After FDR, the Democrats where the party of "big government," fairly or unfairly. Democrats became the party of the people in urban areas. They became the party of African-American voters.

The next was the 1960s. Republicans picked up Southern voters, who up until this point had held the baggage of the Republican role in the Civil War against the party in large numbers. But after northern Democrats pushed through the Civil Rights Act, they bolted for the Republican Party. "Values voters," who cared about issues like abortion and other socially conservative issues, also shifted to the Republican party -- in the process shifting some Catholics, who up until then had been predominantly Democrats, to the GOP.

As it turns out, there have been some rather substantial changes in America since those two events. After World War II, returning servicemembers basically asked how the government was going to cut them in on all the peace and prosperity they had assured through their sacrifice. The government answered thusly:

  • Through the GI Bill, we'll give you a chance at a college education.
  • Through home loan subsidies, we'll give you a chance at owning your own home.

I don't think they really understood the sort of slow burn they were setting up at the time. They had bought themselves time.

At the time, American manufacturing was dominant, at least in America itself. Blue-collar jobs provided many people stable, life-long employment -- you signed up at the factory, worked on the assembly line, earned a good wage, and when you retired, you drew upon a considerable retirement benefit -- but no more than you were promised in exchange for your labor. You were a member of the union. For the most part, what was good for your company was good for you -- the union saw to that. The American Dream was a house, a wife, a car, and a pension to look forward to in retirement.

So what's happened to all that?

The American middle class is being squeezed out. The middle class is no longer the majority, either in terms of poeple or in terms of income (middle class income has fallen from 62% of the aggregate household income in 1970 to 43% in 2014). The median income of middle-income households has fallen 4% since 2000. Their total wealth has declined by 28% from 2001 to 2013. And the recovery from the Great Recession has only deepened, not ameliorated, the growing gap between the middle class and the wealthy.

How did this happen?

First, the US labor force has shifted, significantly. In 1977, the US had an estimated population of just over 220 million people. The US population has swelled to an estimated 320 million in 2015. Meanwhile, the labor force participation has actually dropped to the lowest level in 38 years:

labor force participation

The total number of people in the labor force is still greater than it was in 1977. But the jobs people are doing are markedly different:

where America works

Despite the labor force having grown, there are declines in mining, manufacturing, and retail. What makes up the difference? Service jobs. Transportation. America is sort of basically drifting towards being a two-caste country, where there are people who have money and people paid to serve the people with money.

Why is this happening? There's two basic trends we can blame for this:

  • Increasing automation of the means of producing things, and
  • The increasing viability of manufacturing in countries with standards of living far below the US, which entails labor costs far lower than American workers, especially well-paid American manufacturers.

American workers are increasingly competing with machines and workers from other countries for jobs. And they're losing. The jobs they aren't losing require presence and not much else. And the bipartisan consensus for most of the past sixty years (if not longer) has encouraged that.

And what are the consequences of this? People doing agribusiness like to say that the difficult work of harvesting crops. What they mean is they won't do it for the wages that they want to offer, in the conditions they want to offer, with the intensity they want:

Hamilton Growers has been cited, repeatedly, for its treatment of its mostly Mexican workforce. Even as the farm was accused of casting off American workers, government investigators found that it failed to pay foreign employees all they were owed and that it housed them in often deplorable conditions. Hamilton Growers vigorously denies that it mistreated workers.

Americans are far less isolated than foreigners on H-2 visas, many of whom cannot speak a word of English. U.S. workers often know at least some of their rights and how to complain about abuses. They frequently have family nearby whom they can turn to for support. And, perhaps most importantly, they can't be threatened with deportation. But the guest worker program can still have a devastating impact on their jobs, their families, and their entire communities.

Migrant farm works, be they illegal immegrants or legal immegrants under the H-2 visa program, are treated woefully badly. They are paid wages well below what most Americans are wiling (or even legally allowed) to work for and expected to work hard for their meager pay.

It's not just low-skill jobs that this happens to. Titans of America's technology industry like to proclaim that America suffers from a shortage of "STEM" workers -- Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There's just one problem -- we don't:

A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more. Were there to be a genuine shortage at present, there would be evidence of employers raising wage offers to attract the scientists and engineers they want. But the evidence points in the other direction: Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.

According to the Census Bureau, only one in four graduates with a STEM degree is able to get a job in a STEM occupation. What America suffers from isn't a labor shortage, it's a concerted effort to replace skilled American laborers with cheaper foreign laborers under the H-1B visa program.

Meanwhile, more and more manufacturing jobs are moving to countries like China. Foxconn is a Chinese company that assembles tons of consumer electronics; the iPhone is just one of many iconic pieces of "American" engineering assembled at Foxconn. Working conditions at Foxconn are so brutal that the company asks employees to sign a promise not to kill themselves. Workers at Foxconn can make less than $17 a day for this kind of labor, less than a senior entry-level workers at Ford make in an hour.

And what is the response of the two main parties to this? Free trade is about the only item of bipartisan agreement in modern American politics this side of war in the Middle East -- NAFTA is about the only policy that carries on untouched as we pass from Bush to Clinton to Other Bush to Obama, and it's likely to survive if we end up in a second Clinton administration or a Rubio administration.

So what about the three pillars of that post-war promise -- a house, a college education and a retirement?

Let's start with housing. Homeownership has hit a 48-year-low, and it's pretty obvious why this is. The crash of the housing bubble has administered a correction to the housing market. Home values have recovered somewhat from the collapse of the market, but adjusted for inflation, we're still well under peak home values. And for many people, their homes are their primary if not only source of wealth.

College is similarly precarious. Just over half of employed college graduates from 2014 are working in jobs that don't require a degree. Not THEIR degree, any degree at all. 31% of recent college graduates weren't employed at all six months after graduation, and while for some of them this may have been voluntary it's certainly not universal. And there is incredible amounts of student loan debt. $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, with 70% of people with bachelor's degrees graduate with debt. One in four student loan borrowers are either delinquent or in default.

What about retirement? It turns out that the average retirement age has been starting to rise. The age at which Americans expect to retire is also growing. People have lost retirement savings in the Great Recession. Social Security isn't keeping pace with the actual costs of living faced by retirees, who are experiencing little benefit from falling gas prices and are being squeezed by rising medical prices. Congress has passed a law allowing certain pension plans to cut benefits for workers, and this follows years of pensions being in jeopardy or cut as companies and local and state governments try to balance budgets.

What is the solution the Republican Party proposes to this slew of issues?

Tax cuts.

I want you to just sit there and think about that for a moment. Just sit there and think about how tax cuts are going to provide jobs. Houses. Retirement income. Because they aren't.

In that context, do you start to understand the appeal of Trump's rallying cry to "Make America Great Again?" Do you understand what sort of American greatness these people imagine America had, and why they might want it back, and why they don't imagine that the clown car of Republican establishment candidates that were fielded this cycle could or cared about such greatness?

The Republican Party has made one of it's defining policy goals the rolling back of Obamacare. Trump? He wants to replace Obamacare with "something terrific." He has actually said "I don't want people dying in the streets" and "I don't want people dying because they have no money.". The extent to which "I don't want people dying because they have no money" falls out of the current Republican consensus on health care is so drastic I don't even have the words for it. And that's the power of Donald Trump - he has no support in the Republican Establishment and no obligation to them. He can say whatever he wants. There's power in that freedom. Trump is following in the footsteps of Pat Buchanan, but unlike Buchanan, he's free to cut loose the shackles of pretending fealty to "conservatism" and can just tell people what they want to hear:

Imagine giving this advice to a Republican presidential candidate: What if you stopped calling yourself a conservative and instead just promised to make America great again?

What if you dropped all this leftover 19th-century piety about the free market and promised to fight the elites who were selling out American jobs? What if you just stopped talking about reforming Medicare and Social Security and instead said that the elites were failing to deliver better health care at a reasonable price? What if, instead of vainly talking about restoring the place of religion in society — something that appeals only to a narrow slice of Middle America — you simply promised to restore the Middle American core — the economic and cultural losers of globalization — to their rightful place in America? What if you said you would restore them as the chief clients of the American state under your watch, being mindful of their interests when regulating the economy or negotiating trade deals?

After winning in New Hampshire, Donald Trump said that the officially-reported Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate of 5% is phony, and that the real unemployment rate is closer to 20%, with the "highest figure" he had heard at 42%. Do I think Trump heard someone say unemployment was at 42%? With allowances for off-the-cuff speaking, yeah, I'm sure he did (like, maybe it was 41% instead of 42% and he misremembered), there's all sorts of nutjobs out there who love to report crazy unemployment figures compared to the conservative BLS number.

Here's the thing, though -- the nutjobs may be shooting high, but the BLS is almost certainly shooting low, even if you consider U-6 (which is around 10%) instead of the more commonly-reported U-3 figure, which is around 5%. There's really six unemployment measures the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. U-3 is the most common, and I don't know and don't honestly care what U-1 and U-2 is (I think U-2 is the measure of how employed Bono is). U-4 adds discouraged workers, who are "persons not in the labor force who want and are available for a job and who have looked for work sometime in the past 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but who are not currently looking because they believe there are no jobs available or there are none for which they would qualify." I would really love to hear the justification for not including them in the most common unemployment figures, incidentally. U-5 unemployment adds the rest of the "marginally attached workers," who are "Persons not in the labor force who want and are available for work, and who have looked for a job sometime in the prior 12 months (or since the end of their last job if they held one within the past 12 months), but were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey." I'm not really clear on what makes them different from discouraged workers. U-6 adds anyone who has a part-time job because they cannot get a full-time job ("part time for economic reasons").

Okay, but U-6 is the highest unemployment figure that anyone can plausibly claim, right? Well, no. Let's talk about that 42% figure. You can get 40% out of the BLS report if you want to, and it's not really hard -- take the count of anyone that BLS considers of working age (16 and up) and count of everyone who has a job. So, roughly 60% of the working age populace is employed. The other 40% are... what? 10% are officially unemployed. What are the other 30%?

Well. A fair amount of them are on Social Security disability insurance. And that makes sense to exclude them, right? If they can't work because they're disabled, their lack of employement isn't connected to the economy and it makes sense to exclude them, right? Well. All the figures I'm going to quote next come from [Forbes] ( If you look at the disability rate in 1990, it was around 4%. As of 2011, it was 8%. Does anyone plausibly think that workplace accidents got WORSE in the intervening two decades? (They got better, actually.) You know what DID happen in the intervening two decades? Welfare reform. We cleared people off the welfare roles and, because those people were not about to just lie down in the gutter and die, some of them rolled right onto SSDI. So some of the people who are on Social Security Disability Insurance are in fact people we would have considered simply chronically unemployed in the 1980s. So if you want to compare unemployment figures across decade, the decision to exclude people on disability insurance actually does matter.

What are the other categories that make up that 30% of people who are neither officially unemployed or working? Well, there's college students, retirees, and stay-at-home parents (and most of them are moms). Now, here's the question -- would all of them have chosen to not be in the labor force if there were jobs available for them? And I don't think that's so. There are people going to college so they can live off their student loans. There are people who were pushed into early retirement by their employers. There are people who are stay-at-home parents because it's all that's available to them, not because it's what they would've chosen to do if they actually had a choice. Are all of the college students, retirees and stay-at-home parents "unemployed?" I don't think so. So if you want to come up with a binary yes/no answer to the 42% unemployment claim, it's no. But this is why I hate the purportedly objective "fact-check" school of journalism, because it leaves out any room for nuance and discussion, and because it treats official statistics as inherently authoritative -- unemployment is at 5% because the BLS says it is, and we can windage up from there based on different caveats, but we accept the basic premise of the BLS figures and just noodle around at the margins. The BLS figure is very unreflective of the way that most Americans feel about the economy. (The BLS unemployment rate is lowever than it was in January of 1960, and I doubt you can find many people who feel as secure about their job prospects as they would have in 1960.) And to bring this back to where we started -- this is what people mean when they tell pollsters they're voting for Trump because he tells it like it is. It's not that they believe the cavalcade of lies Trump tells about things like caring about the Bible. It's because Trump is willing to utter facts, or at least half-truths, about the American economy that no other Republican candidate is willing to even concieve of.

And you can go back and reread almost all of this and apply it to why so many young people are turning out to support an unreconstructed socialist from the 1970s who seems to have almost time traveled here straight from some university sit-in. You can mock them for wanting free college all you want, but college is both turning out to be a really bum deal for them and it's an expensive one at that. Bernie and Trump are the ones who have their pulse on a lot of anxieties and concerns that people have that aren't reflected in the agenda of the establishment candidates from either party.

Would either of them be good presidents? No. Can either of them address these concerns? Not with their backwards-looking policies. You can't get housing prices back to their peak because the houses were never really worth that much, housing prices were driven artifically high by speculation and easy credit. You can make college free but you can't rearrange the economy so that there's enough jobs for college graduates that call upon their degrees. You can end free trade (maybe, but neither Trump nor Sanders have anything resembling a coalition of support in Congress), but you can't roll back the progress in robotics and automation 50 years. The campaigns of Sanders and Trump are premised around rolling back changes in technology and the industrial revolutions in Asia through sheer will. The campaigns of everyone else running for president are premised around ignoring them.

But that is the worldview of Trump supporters -- the American economy is shifting in directions that the middle class is deeply uncomfortable with, and some of them are deciding to vote for the person who is (falsly) promising that he can fix it, rather than the people who won't admit there's a problem. They're not stupid. They don't have a really great option to choose from, and they're choosing a sort of weird, orange, bullying hope.

So what's the worldview of the people who think Trump supporters are idiots?

##The view from the top of the world

Let's be clear from the outset. Trump is incredibly nativist and xenophobic, and if he's not overtly racist he's at the very least willing to tolerate openly-racist supporters, and quite possibly to outright encourage them. There are plenty of reasons to vehemently oppose Trump and his supporters.


What we're really looking at right now is pretty much the middle of the end for the Republican Party, already weakened by the Tea Party, a loose coalition of Ayn Rand loving libertarians and barely reconstructed John Birch Society types. The Tea Party thought they represented a coalition of voters who believed what they preached about tax cuts and crippling the size of the Federal government. They did not. They represented a coalition of voters who was angry at an establishment that betrayed them and seized upon an opportunity to lash out. Trump has walked right past the Tea Party establishment without so much as a "by-your-leave" and has plucked many of them out from under the Tea Party. And it is thus that a multiple-time divorcee who famously said "I've said if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her" and thinks Two Corinthians is a book in the Bible is the one to unite the angry middle class with the heartland evangelical votes, not Ted Cruz, who can quote the Bible and the Constitution with fluency and radiates about as much compassion as a Doberman wearing an Adolf Hitler mask.

On the other side of the aisle, things do not look markedly better. The Democrats have controlled the White House for two straight terms, and with a surprise death of Justice Scalia they seem poised to considerably shift the balance in the judicial branch as well if they can get an appointment through an incredibly hostile Senate. But only 18 of the nation's 50 governors are Democrats. State legislatures are similarly tilted Republican. And that Republican control of state government has led to increased gerrymandering, which means that the Republican Party dominates the House of Representatives out of proportion to their support among the public, and the number of safe House seats means that Tea Party insurrectionists are increasingly making up the Republican congressional delegation.

So you have one major political party that's increasingly fractured and unable to organize itself on a national level to put forth a Presidential candidate that can beat one self-financed billionare. And you have another one that has a strong national coaltion but is withering away at the state level and is unable to take back the legislature as long as the Republicans wield their advantage in state government to their benefit. And the Republicans in the House are seemingly uninterested in actually governing -- as Batman's butler put it in the really good Chris Nolan film, "Some people just want to see the world burn."

This situation cannot continue as it is indefinitely. And things that cannot persist, surprise, end up not persisting. Something will change. What? I no longer even pretend to know.

But dismissing Trump's supporters as cranks, morons, or people who want to be entertained is a way of divorcing their support of Trump from the larger context -- from Washington gridlock and endless, pointless government shutdowns and budget fights, from declining middle class wages, from a Democratic Party that can't win the House and a Republican Party that can't govern from the House. They're just idiots, and if they're just idiots then they don't mean anything larger, and you don't have to grapple with the fact that the ground is shifting beneath all our feet and it is going to open up and some rough beast is going to climb out of it and start slouching towards Bethlehem. I don't know what that beast is, but so many people don't think the beast is even there, and those people scare me about a billion times more than the Trump supporters.

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