Conservatives' ludicrous new excuse: Liberals made us vote for Donald Trump!

Despite the whining of Bari Weiss and others, conservatives are adults. The left didn't force them to support Trump

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published May 15, 2018 5:00AM (EDT)

Bari Weiss; Andrew Sullivan (MSNBC)
Bari Weiss; Andrew Sullivan (MSNBC)

It's hard to believe it's come to this point, but apparently this needs to be said: Republican voters are adults, not children. They are responsible for their own choices. Liberals did not force them to vote for Donald Trump or support his policies.

One would think none of that needs to be said, especially since conservatives like to style themselves as the defenders of "personal responsibility." But apparently the idea is really taking root among the chattering classes that liberals practically held conservatives down and tormented them into voting for Trump. The argument is, I guess, that those who publicly decry racism and sexism are so obnoxious about it that they make conservatives double down on these bigoted beliefs. So progressives and liberals have more responsibility for electing Trump than the people who, you know, actually voted for him.

This bewildering thesis started spreading like a contagion after the resident troll at the New York Times, Bari Weiss, wrote yet another article arguing that well-compensated bigots with enormous audiences are being oppressed because liberals won't pretend to be impressed with their bad arguments. Weiss was laughed at online, which is what you get when you say silly things in public. And as trolls are wont to do, she then had a tantrum on Twitter.

Weiss' premise that liberals are somehow forcing conservatives to act like fools and bigots should be self-evident nonsense, but it appears to be an attractive proposition to many in mainstream media spaces. Andrew Sullivan argued in New York magazine that while he understands that Kanye West's praise of Trump is foolish, he found himself "instinctually siding" with West because the critics are just so gosh-darned critical. Then Gerard Alexander wrote yet another piece for the New York Times arguing that the "backlash against liberals" — a backlash he openly declares liberals are causing with their supposed self-righteousness — "is going to get President Trump re-elected."

Even the liberal columnist (and former Salon staffer) Michelle Goldberg, in a Times column that made some valid arguments encouraging liberals to debate conservatives, suggested that liberal repression is somehow causing "right-wing movements that thrive on transgression." That seems to rest on the premise that white supremacy and male domination are "transgressive" instead of the documented norms that still govern American society, causing widespread racial and gender inequalities.

To be clear, I just published a book called "Troll Nation," in which I argue that Republicans voted for Trump not because of any faith in his abilities to govern, but because they thought electing a grossly unqualified boor was an ideal way to stick it to liberals. So I'm very much on board with what political scientist Scott Lemieux says is "the implicit assumption that there’s no affirmative case to be made for Ryanism or Trumpism," and of course with the idea that the modern-day American right is more invested in causing anguish or outrage on the left than in actually defending its own so-called values.

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But here's where I starkly depart from people making this argument: No outside force is responsible for a conservative voter choosing to behave like a jackass. I believe conservatives are actual adults who are responsible for their own actions. I reject the idea that conservatives lack autonomy, like wayward small children, and can do nothing more than react to the supposedly atrocious conduct of liberals. It's truly bizarre that liberals, in these arguments, are viewed as the only autonomous actors — and in fact as people so powerful that they not only control themselves but the choices of others.

The causal chain proposed by Weiss and others is completely backwards. Conservatives are not innocent lambs, free of prejudice, who only adopt bigoted beliefs because some liberal said something critical they perceived as unfair. On the contrary, racist and sexist beliefs clearly precede the vengeful, trolling behavior on the right. The typical bigot wishes to believe racist or sexist things because he benefits from a system where his race or gender provides him unearned privileges. But he knows he cannot defend this belief rationally. So instead he lashes out at liberals — and does stupid things like vote for Trump — not because those critics are wrong that he's an irrational and hateful person, but because they are right.

This should be obvious, if only because our troll in chief, the president himself, behaves this way on a regular basis. A news report appears from a legitimate source that paints him, convincingly, as a crook or an idiot? He flips out, screaming about "fake news" and a "witch hunt" and issuing incoherent threats. His level of outrage and whining is directly proportional to the validity of the criticism. And so it is with his followers.

The notion that liberals are "self-righteous" is particularly laughable when the implicit point of comparison is conservatives, and especially the out-loud bigots who adore Trump the most. When it comes to judgmental, self-righteous behavior, even the most smug of liberals cannot hold a candle to Republicans. It's not liberals who want to shape government policy around the idea that non-marital sex is wicked and should be punished with forced childbirth. It's not liberals who wish to shun LGBT people for failing to adhere to narrow gender roles.

It's not liberals who insist on "work requirements" for social safety net programs, because they clearly believe that poor people are lazy. It's not liberals who argue that victims of police shootings or sexual assault somehow brought it on themselves by not adhering to saint-like levels of personal virtue. Sure, there can be a grating levels of self-satisfaction among those who condemn racism and sexism at times, but that barely registers as "self-righteous" compared to the punitive behavior of conservatives.

Ultimately, most of these arguments accusing liberals of somehow forcing conservatives to vote for Trump are little more than concern-trolling. I doubt very much that Weiss, who unfailingly exhibits sympathy for the bigots she covers, is sincere in claiming she wants to see less vile, Trumpified behavior on the right. On the contrary, I suspect she just wants liberals to shut up about the evils of racism and sexism because, ultimately, she knows they're right. Like most members of Troll Nation, she can't win an argument on the merits, so she changes the subject, makes things up and constructs arguments on false premises. In the end, those who voted for Donald Trump made their own decisions, and weren't forced to by anyone else. No amount of whining releases conservatives from their personal responsibility for the bad bargain they made.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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