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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 12/7/20

Good morning,

I was struck with the sheer volume of response to my list of reasons why people elected to vote for President Trump, notwithstanding the failures of the past four years. That list sought to identify the policy concerns (typically "single issue voting") that would explain support for Mr. Trump.

Upon reflection, it is just as plausible that many weren't voting for anything as much as voting against the perceived risk of voting for the "other guy." I don't think it is grounded hate, as many pundits have concluded. I think, instead, that many Americans are more motivated by fear than anything else. Responding to these fears will dictate whether a modern liberal (small “l” but maybe large “L” too) governing coalition can thrive:

Fear of a preoccupation with race. Several people noted that people probably don’t like being confronted with the racism extant in our country and/or resent being labeled as racists themselves. As to the first contention, I suppose I’d just say, “sorry; it’s part of our history and it still exists.” As to the latter, I think there is a valid issue with the need that some feel to label every person and every act as inherently and fundamentally racist. I suspect we will never agree with the extent to which people are racist or condone racism, passively or actively. I do believe that we need to get past labeling and semantics and actually try to solve problems. But I take the point; there are many generally underprivileged White people who feel they are being left behind with the focus on Black lives. We need to figure out how to speak with them in a way that is inclusive and non-threatening.

Fear of “Defunding the Police.” There are people who have seized upon the calls to “defund the police as a wholesale rejection of the idea of policing to ensure public safety and/or as labeling the many honest, hard-working, dedicated peace officers. Again, I think semantics is part of the problem. Most who say “defund” really are saying “redirect resources,” “change policing methods” or “improve police training.” But, again, many see the well-publicized acts of police brutality and racism as not indicative of the valuable role the police play and resent the calls to do away with the police.

Fear of a far-left agenda that would trash the economy. There is a cohort of Trump supporters who see the far left as being as dangerous as the far right, albeit for different reasons. They see AOC and the “squad” as too extreme in their stated objectives in tearing down the system and rebuilding something else. Saying “let’s be radical” is not a rallying cry that engenders a lot of support from middle America. But in this election, some people who might otherwise have been on the fence were led to believe Biden would be a puppet of those set out to destroy the economy.

Fear of being drowned out by the coastal elites. Several friends, including non-Trump supporters, say we really can’t appreciate the offense taken by many in the middle part of the country to being viewed as “flyover people” or the vast unwashed or unsophisticated. They allege that some of this is a “well, we’ll show you” sort of voting response.

The socially isolated, disconnected, resentful, and ultimately nihilistic. Several people have noted that if people believe the system is just stacked against them, and there appears “no way out,” people will react in unpredictable ways, including accepting promises (that they themselves may acknowledge as hollow) made by demagogues. In the latter 20th century, many in the working class aspired to improve their economic and social condition when a path to that aspiration seemed possible. But as that path increasingly seems virtually unattainable, that aspiration turns to resentment. Until we can increase the chance of achieving the American dream, the disaffected will continue to be resentful and fall prey to the promises of people like Mr. Trump or worse. Trump sensed this challenge, and while he did little to enhance the standing of the underserved, he “talked the talk.” As a friend noted, they saw a person who was rich, famous, and powerful, who said to those who suffering under the limited opportunities for upward mobility: “I hear you. I care about you. You’re not a racist. You’ve been left behind and I’m going to help you.”

Mr. Trump became successful by articulating that he, above all others, understood the plight of the common man. More traditional politicians struggle to find that voice. The success or failure of Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell to craft a compromise on a stimulus package will be a clear a message to those who struggle regarding whether traditional politicians/lawmakers are listening. Once done with the stimulus, Congress will need to address investment in infrastructure, job retraining, support of community colleges, and health care. And this means taxes have to rise and more dollars will need to be printed.


There are people, some of whom I know, who harbor all sorts of bizarre beliefs. Some believe Kamala Harris is some Manchurian candidate set out to manipulate Joe Biden into a web of left-y intrigue and destruction. There are those who buy into the false narrative of a deep state set to undermine our American values. There are those who believe foreign agents created the software that was used to manipulate the vote totals in swing states won by Biden (and only those states). The crazier still believe QAnon speaks truth and there is a vast conspiracy to bring down the nation (led, apparently, by George Soros). These people will not listen to reason. I’ve tried.

Finally, there is another group that oddly believes that the government is encouraging mask usage not as a means of reducing infection, but as another example of “the government trying to control everything in our society.” This sort of thinking has made the Dakotas a killing field and South Dakota, in particular, number one in per capita deaths.


It appears mass vaccination is just around the corner. Health care workers and those in crowded facilities will be inoculated first, followed by people with high risk or are over 65. The rest of us should be looking about between April and May. No doubt these dates will slip. But the light at the end of the tunnel appears in sight.

And yet…we are not yet at the end of the tunnel and still need to be careful to socially distance and wear masks.

And yet…otherwise intelligent people seem to be grasping at straws to disprove the efficacy of masks. I’m no expert but it seems that any barrier between a person who is infected and others should offer some measure of protection—and most studies bear that out. Yet there is a meaningful cohort that seeks to find justification in science to back up their conclusions—conclusions based upon support of the President and a notion that the nanny state is taking over.

In trying to find anything to seize upon, one friend cites a study from Denmark, conducted in conditions of low infection rates, that suggests mask wearing doesn’t benefit the wearer as one might hope. Glaringly, the study didn’t address the protection afforded to others because the mask would stop aerosols breathed out by the mask-wearer, which after all is the primary reason for wearing a mask. While I welcome my friend’s newfound interest in scientific studies, I’m dumbfounded that this issue would be the focus of his attention.

It feels like a political conclusion in search of a justification and, in this single study, there is a tiny shred of evidence that flies in the face of all other expert advice and logic.

This is where we are now, where people look to any source—reliable or not, applicable or not—to validate a feeling or a political objective. As our president would say, “so sad.”

Struggling through,


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