Rika Christensen has written an article for left-wing political news site, Addicting Info, asking “Are Trump Supporters Too Dumb To Know They’re Dumb?” She concludes in the affirmative, suggesting the Trump base collectively suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect.
Is this unfair? Well yes. Obviously. It is a crass reductionist theory applied to a huge group of people who will have diverse ability and – crucially – diverse reasons for supporting Trump.
As a teacher, I certainly wouldn’t want to call anyone in particular dumb, let alone a large group of people. That said, it is also a truism that while people are equal (or should be treated as such) ideas are not equal and some are, to put in bluntly, pretty dumb.
The difficulty here is you need to understand why someone supports Trump and even then, you need to navigate the milieu of conscious and unconscious factors.
That said, if someone is mainly drawn to Trump because they think his proposed wall is a good, effective, and fiscally responsible solution to illegal immigration, I would class that is a dumb reason. That is not to say being concerned about immigration is dumb. It isn’t. But the proposed solution is uncosted, unfeasible, and unlikely in the extreme to work even if it is built. Again, it isn’t conservatism, Republicans, or immigration concerns being criticised but rather the policy.
Ideologically, you may well believe that corporate tax rates should be cut. But is it smart to go straight from 35% to 15% in one hit? According to most economists, it is inadvisable and could potentially add an extra $10 trillion to US debt. Dumb?
And that is presuming people are voting based on policy. Sadly, this is not always the case. If someone plans to vote for Trump because they believe Obama is a non-American Muslim and Hillary is a criminal with months left to live, that is also a dumb reason (just as dumb incidentally as someone voting Clinton because they believe all the extreme stuff floating around about Trump).
Intelligent people can certainly make a case for voting Trump, but when people at rallies are interviewed, it is often the dumb reasons that seem to dominate. This could be media spin. Hearing someone say something stupid is better TV than a balanced, thoughtful opinion. Then again, the number of senior Republicans abandoning Trump suggests this is a particularly problematic candidate.
It certainly is not controversial to say Trump has a lot of supporters who support him for dumb reasons, don’t know or understand his policies but are simply on the bandwagon. It is important to recognise, however, that dumb reasons do not equate to dumb people. A big part of Trump’s attraction is that he appears to be a genuine conservative alternative to the mainstream Republican Party.
A year ago, the Washington Post published an article looking at psychology to explain Trump’s appeal. Few experts predicted he would survive the Republican primaries. He has tapped into a growing frustration and sense of helplessness among conservatives who feel, even under Republican government, they are always losing ground to liberals. Many of Trump’s policies are pretty dumb, but only because they would not work, not because the sentiment behind them is necessarily dumb.
It would be a mistake to dismiss Trump’s supporters as dumb. Perhaps many of them articulate dumb reasons, but the same can be said of Democrats. An awful lot of people voted for Obama in 2008 for dumb reasons too. They did not know or understand his platform but just thought he was cool and were caught up in the sense of history.
Even the generally left-leaning creators of South Park couldn’t help but make fun of “dumb” Obama voters. Similarly, voting for Hillary Clinton simply because she is the first female nominee of a major party, is probably a dumb reason.
Ad hominem attacks and ridiculing opponents is lazy debating and almost always counter-productive. Increasingly, political discourse is tied to identity and a sense of tribalism. We often end up supporting, not necessarily the candidate with the best policies but the one that feels right, who validates our concerns and seems to be one of us and on our side. Emotional voting may lead to dumb statements but emotions themselves are not dumb.
Perhaps in a perfect world all presidential candidates would be anonymous. They would secretly submit policy positions on major issues and everyone would vote based on that information alone. Only afterwards does everyone discover if they are in fact a Democrat or a Republican.
Nice in theory, but of course the president does more than simply enact policy. She or he is the embodiment and leader of the nation for four years, the public face of the most powerful nation on earth. When it comes to choosing who you want to represent you on the world stage, there are no dumb answers. Our concern should not be to judge, but to understand.