Watching the horrifying rise of Donald Trump is, among other things, discombobulating; anyone attacking something as morally bankrupt as the establishment Republican party in 2016 is, no matter how awful, going to land some blows that you can’t help but appreciate in spite of yourself. The case that the Republican party has been setting themselves up for something like this for decades has been made well by a number of people in the center and on the left. But I don’t think I’ve seen a more perfect distillation of the case for why the Republican party richly deserves what Trump is doing to them than Kevin Williamson’s new column in the National Review. It’s behind a paywall, but here’s a taste:
If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.
Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain’t what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.
The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.
There’s little doubt in my mind many Republican elites and opinion leaders have long felt a kind of seething contempt for the people whose votes they can’t rule without. It’s also indicative of just how shallow and cynical elite Republican gestures of white racial solidarity can be. Since the dumping of the Derb Williamson has flirted with the “how openly racist can you be and still write for NR” line as much as any of their current stable of regular writers, but when white voters step out of line and vote wrong, they’re subject to what appears to be a distinctly similar level of contempt. (His racism shapes the particular nature of the contempt–when writing about the failure of Detroit, he’s happy to blame progressivism/liberal elites, seeing the black citizens of Detroit as primarily victims. Poor white people are granted enough agency to be to blame for their own economic circumstances.)
The prospect of a Trump-inspired re-alignment is, rightly, terrifying. That the process inspires the Williamson’s of the world to tell us what they really think is happy consequence of it. For on thing, these voters deserve to know the depth of the contempt the politicians they support have for them, and that’s true independent of what they decide to do with that information.