I am not a liberal or progressive, but I feel like I understand them pretty well. That’s aided by me having lots of friends who do identify as progressive. I don’t have any conservative friends who couldn’t be better described as libertarian, and they didn’t vote for Trump either. I want to understand Trump voters better, and I’m doing it my way, which is books and the internet. By which I mean not the endless handwringing anthropological studies written by liberals, but actual conservatives articulating their actual views aimed at a sympathetic audience. My original reading list came from Ross Douthat, and has picked up things from random sources since then.
[“Why not talk to people in person?” you might ask. I see your point, but between the risk of annoying the crap out of the people I’m talking to and severe introversion, reading is the solution for me. This has nothing to do with Trump voters in particular, I did it to the last three cultures/subcultures I got interested in.]
I just finished Submission, by Michel Houellebecq (translated from French by Lorin Stein). Submission is one of those weird novels that has an obviously speculative fiction premise, but the author isn’t versed in speculative fiction and everything feels slightly off in ways that are hard to articulate. It’s also an obvious member of “literature professor writes about literature professor so filled with ennui that even fucking students has gotten boring”, except that Houellebecq never even attended university. I suspect he’s drawing on the tropes of then ennui genre to make points which I am missing because I haven’t read any unironic works in the genre, plus lack of familiarity with the French version of the trope. For bonus points, the literature professors’ area of expertise is clearly supposed to filter my understanding of what’s going on in the present, and I have never heard of this guy.
Submission is a dystopia, set just before a Muslim takeover of France, but the main character does not consider himself to be living in one. For him, the Muslim takeover (and his eventual conversion) represent reinvigoration and a reclaiming of masculinity. This book was not great for helping me understand Trump voters, because I too am horrified at the prospect of women being pushed out of the workforce and non-religious education ending at age 8. The difference there is in our perceptions of the probability of that happening. Alternately the dystopia for them could be that it’s the effete liberal college professors who get bonus wives.
But one thing did jump out at me. A French nationalist character describes the Muslim Brotherhood’s long term plan to take over Europe. It’s frightening because it’s a series of small steps, any one of which looks reasonable and in fact would be reasonable, except that it’s laying groundwork for Sharia law. As I was reading this, I was debating with a commenter who couldn’t understand why I was getting all worked up about Trump’s actions when it was totally possible he wasn’t going to become a dictator. I found this terrifying because by the time he’s a dictator, it’s too late. That’s what dictator means. You have to mobilize early… which is exactly what that French nationalist character described, and what I suspect many anti-immigration people believe. No, there might not be many consequences now, but this is obviously laying the groundwork for something terrible and by the time they can prove it it will be too late. The idea that the other side has a plan and your side hasn’t noticed is terrifying.
Tangent: Trump apparently against the concept of judges and the idea that they have power over the enforcement of laws.