So I call this a rant and it kind of is. It’s about a consistent narrative that I’ve always been sick of, and why I think the UK election proves that I’m right to be sick of it. It’s a narrative pushed by liberals, neo-liberals, and class reductionists. It’s a narrative that assumes that only oppression in existence is class; that most people only care about class. It’s a narrative that assumes that bigotry is an abstract concept as opposed to a real thing that directly affects real people.
The narrative, of course, is the constant questioning of why people vote for the far right. Why did people vote for Trump and the Republicans? Why did people vote for Boris Johnson and the Tories? Why do people keep voting against their own interests?
Well… the answer to that question, as far as I’m concerned, is that they aren’t voting against their own interests; we just keep getting our hypotheses about their interests wrong, and their voting behavior proves it.
Let’s get one thing straight… no matter how badly some people want to deny it, Identity Politics is one of the most important political battle-grounds out there. It infects quite literally everything and informs society quite directly. SJWs like myself and others are not the only purveyors of Identity Politics, either. The Right… around the world… is, as well.
The Right pushes the politics of the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied, male identity. The Right speaks to and engages this identity, intending to push the continued narrative that we (straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied men) are the “superior identity”. The Left, of course… or at least parts of the Left… pushes not the opposite, but instead the politics of equity. That is, no identity is superior; at the end of the day, we are all red-blooded human beings of the species Homo sapiens, regardless of our skin color, our gender identities, our sexual identities, our various physical and mental abilities, our religious identities (including the lack thereof), and so on. And we all deserve all the same rights and privileges that that entails.
So with that out of the way, let’s deal with this question of “why do people vote against their own interests?” The people who ask this question, and seem intent on studying it, are operating on a wrong and incredibly ignorant premise; that the interests of the people who vote for Trump or Boris Johnson or any fascist dictator(-wannabe) are aligned with the interests of the people asking said question. I don’t know if they operate on this premise out of ignorance or deliberately because they are determined to continue pretending as if Patriarchal White Supremacy does not exist and people don’t vote strictly on the basis of their various bigotries.
I believed that the election of Trump was evidence that I’m right and that this question is simply incorrect on its face. The election of Boris Johnson and the Tories is, as far as I’m concerned, the clinching evidence. It is proof positive, for me, that the people who vote for these demagogues are voting entirely in line with their interests.
You see… I think the white people are content to remain lower class as long as people of color are an even lower class than them. I think the men are content to remain lower class as long as women are an even lower class than them. I think that cis people are content to remain lower class as long as people who don’t fit onto the gender binary are an even lower class than them. I think that straight people are content to remain lower class as long as everyone who isn’t straight is an even lower class than them. And so on, and so forth.
“Well sure, I may be livin’ in a trailer park paycheck to paycheck barely makin’ ends meet, but at least that [insert homophobic, transphobic, ableist, religious, and racial slurs here] is doin’ worse than me!”
In other words… they are voting for their bigotries. They don’t care about the economy or the environment. They don’t care about science. They don’t care about their own future. They don’t even care about the future they leave their own children.
They just want Patriarchal White Supremacy to remain intact.
And I can prove just by taking a cursory look at how both Trump and Johnson ran:
Let’s take a look at Trump, first:
He called Mexicans rapists and promised to keep Muslims out. He was openly misogynistic and ableist during his campaign, as well. Basically, he openly showcased every bigotry you could imagine on the campaign, and continues to do so even now.
That’s a short take on Trump, because I went over a lot of his bullshit back in 2016 and writing about him still makes me feel ill. So I’m gonna skip to Boris Johnson, now, and I’m sure I’ll feel just as ill…
The Guardian has an interesting breakdown of the Tory party manifesto. I’m going to quote bits from the parts on Immigration and Crime and Justice.
Let’s start with Immigration:
The manifesto states: “Most people coming into the country will need a clear job offer.” This already deviates from the Australian system in that one of the key features of that approach is that a job offer is not required. What will points be issued for? The manifesto mentions English language and “good education”. The Australian system is far more complex.
Given the extreme Islamophobia and general racism in the UK, and especially amongst the Tories… and Boris Johnson’s own Islamophobia and general racism… it’s clear what they mean when they say they want to include how well an immigrant “speaks English” towards their “points” for entry. Same with “good education”… that’s a lot like Trump’s praising of immigrants from Norway (we all know that was a dog whistle… right?).
I’m already getting sick, so let’s skip to the “Crime and Justice” section, because this is fucking terrifying.
The Tories’ toughened stance on law and order is by now well-known, with Johnson making his pledge to recruit 20,000 police officers one of the first he made as prime minister. Increased use of stop and search, longer sentences for some violent and sex offenders, and creating 10,000 new prison places are all in there.
However, much of what is proposed goes against the evidence of what works when attempting to reduce crime and reoffending. Experts warn stop and search entrenches knife crime. The government’s own serious violent crime strategy states a clear link to “poor life outcomes” – low educational attainment, poor health, unemployment and more. Short prison sentences, which were close to being scrapped before Johnson took office, are proven to be ineffective.
The Tories are getting tough on crime without being so tough on – or interested in – its causes.
Stop and Search? 20,000 more police officers? 100,000 new prisons?
This should sound super familiar for people in the US… all that’s missing are the guns.
So what’s my point, here?
My point is that we really need to stop asking why the people who vote for fascistic dictatorial wannabes like Trump and Johnson are “voting against their own interests”.
The people who vote for Trump and Republicans, Johnson and the Tories, etc, are racist, misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, jingoistic, xenophobic, and ableist.
They. Are. Bigots.
Bigotry is squarely at the center of their interests. Their supremacy is all that matters to them. Patriarchal White Supremacy is more important than anything else to them.
This is why Class Reductionism is wrong. Abolishing Capitalism is not enough. We have to tear down Patriarchal White Supremacy, as well. That won’t come down with Capitalism because it was there before Capitalism. They need each other, and tearing down only one just isn’t good enough.
The election of Boris Johnson and the Tories in the UK proves something else to me as well… this fascism is not dying out. This is not a last gasp. This is a re-awakening. Fascism is gaining power. We’re voting our way to a new Nazi era. And people want this. This is the majority… or at the least the majority that votes. It is not dying with the last generation, because the last generation is teaching it to the next generations and they… we… are perpetuating it further.
Here’s a scary thought: Trump is not going to be impeached. Then he’s going to win again in 2020, even if Sanders is the Democratic nominee.
What are we going to do about that?
I don’t really agree with you on this. I don’t think the majority of the boosted Tory vote stems from a resurgence of racism, bigotry and the desire for fascistic government. I don’t think the British and the American cases are all that comparable. I think our political cultures are rather different.
Yes, there is plenty of racism and bigotry in the UK. But it is not a powerful organizing force politically. When we do get explicitly racist, explicitly bigoted parties standing as serious candidates -- the the Brexit Party or UKIP or the National Front before them -- they tend to do extremely badly. One seat in Parliament and usually not even that levels of badly.
What we do have, however, is rather more insidious. We have a culture of deference and respect towards establishment figures as a part of our national character. It is difficult for an American to realise how central class is to our culture, because it is not as central to yours. You are not the heirs to over a thousand years of feudal aristocracy, which has faded and democratized slowly and gradually, leaving the cultural legacy of class consciousness behind it. But not class consciousness in the Marxist sense of a class for itself -- we’re not very good at that. The British culture of class is one in which you know your place and presume that those above you are there because they deserve to be and know what they’re doing. To an unconscionable majority of British people the toffs and the aristocrats get a presumed pass on justifying their superiority. Someone like Boris Johnson or David Cameron or Jacob Rees-fucking-Mogg is what we tend to think of when we think “the guy in charge”.
There is, to be sure, something of the American-style worship of “successful” businessmen (and it usually is men) as being well positioned to run the economy because they have made lots of money. But it’s more than that. It’s older than that.
Which leads into the stuff about the Tory manifesto. I don’t think that had much of an impact. Why? Because the average working person doesn’t read the party manifestos. I’ve done canvassing before, and almost nobody you meet at the doorstep knows much about a party’s specific promises. The level of superficiality with which they approach politics is stunning and depressing. Most of them tend to go by the general impression their newspaper has given them, if that, or some soundbites from BBC news. And what most of them say tends to be based on the perceived personality of the leader, not the details of policy. The one key slogan each party runs on is usually front and centre, and sadly in this election that was about the fiasco that is Brexit. Boris’s promises on “law and order” issues just don’t figure in most people’s decisions. The increased police numbers are seen as little more than a joke, because people know that under the austerity regime police numbers have been slashed by far more than 20,000, and Labour were campaigning on restoring them too. Besides, we don’t have the same culture of racist militarised policing you do. We don’t think of the police as stormtroopers in a war on crime. If anything we tend to think of them as a mildly ineffectual civil servants.
The reality of the situation is that a lot of the people who voted Tory this election do think the Tories will best represent their economic interests. They have swallowed the austerity bollocks, think Brexit will magically revive the economy rather than ruining it, and bear a lingering fear of genuine leftist politics from the propaganda of the Thatcher era. Aided and abetted in this by the Murdochracy in the baneful form of the Daily Mail. Or they are so apathetic and disillusioned by ten years of Tory damage, ten of New Labour Blairite Tory-lite damage before that and fifteen years of Thatcherism before that, that they don’t think politicians can or will do anything for them, or have any interest in making their lives better. To them the voting is a joke, so they might as well vote for the most entertaining clown of all. The one who fits their culturally ingrained model of a jolly posh boy leader, rather than the one who looks like a tedious 1970s geography teacher on the verge of retirement.
And so on and so forth: white women as long as they can look down on people of color.
Constance Reader says
I’ve been saying this for years -- people who vote Republican in the U.S. (especially in the southeast) *are* voting their interests. God, guns, goyim and gynecology are their interests and their only interests. They do not give a flying fuck about the economy, the healthcare system, the education system, climate change, or war. They most certainly do not have any interest whatsoever in anything that smacks of equality of any kind, to put it mildly. Added to that, I’m sure they are voting in defiance of all the people who paid attention in school and live in cities who keep trying to tell them what their interests are. I grew up with these people and this will not ever change. My intelligence (standardized test score and academic award news traveled at light speed, sometimes even before I knew), ability to read and speak a language that was not English, and penchant for reading outside of school assignments made me an object of (sometimes physical) avoidance. They would openly lecture me about why I am going to hell because I am not a Protestant xtian. They still look at me like I’m an alien with two heads when informed that I have never wanted to be a parent. Needless to say, the fact that I married a not-white person is never discussed or mentioned or acknowledged in any way in my presence. This will not ever change. They will not ever change. And they will continue, unfortunately, to vote away everything that was ever good and decent and modern and proud in this country. They consider the contempt and derision of the rest of the first world to be a point of pride, as evidence that they they are correct in their beliefs. Too many of them are living vicariously through Trump, supporting him for doing everything they would do if they could get away with it (and often do anyway) and everything they want to be and believe they have a God-given right to be. Their god is cruel, petty authoritarian Old Testament god that that’s all they know and all they can cope with, they are thrilled and relieved to finally have a government that is the same. They want their government to be like their churches, without any of that New Testament peace and love and solidarity and equality and what-you-do-to-them-you-do-to-me bullshit making life difficult.
That said, what happened in the UK seems very different, from what I have read. What killed the Labour party was especially low turnout of their voters because 1) Corbyn seems completely unwilling to put a leash on the anti-Semites in his party and 2) Corbyn actively prohibited his party from taking a clear position on the most critical political issue in the country since WWII, and 3) apparently nobody believed the Liberal Dems were a viable alternative (hell, even Jo Swinson lost her seat).
I don’t disagree with the analysis of bigotry per se, but I think you’ve seriously gotten the wrong end of the stick about what “Why do they vote against their own interests?” means. Bigotry does not mean the question is stupid: bigotry is the correct answer to the question.
It’s a cry of despair that so many people do indeed vote against their own economic interests, voting for things that make their lives harder, or can even kill themselves or loved ones. They ARE voting against their own life interests… and they’re doing it because it’s more important to them to hurt someone else than help themselves. The question isn’t wrong, because it is 1) usually rhetorical and 2) is really about trying to imagine how someone can prioritize this way, because it doesn’t make sense to us. We, the left, abhor the kleptocracy but we can at least understand what those assholes get out of doing it; widespread bigotry in the small where people whill cut off their own nose to spite someone else’s face doesn’t even make sense to us.
But acting like we don’t undertsand all this is inaccurate and condescending. We know the cruelty is the point. We just can’t figure out how to get them to not do that seemingly not very mentally healthy thing.
abbeycadabra, people who vote against their economic interest for the sake of a larger collective to which they belong could easily spun to be described as self-sacrificing, even heroic. Except they are doing it at the expense of people less powerful than them …
Great American Satan says
There are some quibblers here in the comments, and whether they’re right or not, I’d like to register one anti-quibble. This is well composed and I disagree with nothing in it. Thumbs up, bud.
The same is true of China. The reason ethnic Chinese people work for and support the regime (e.g. spies, online propagandists) is they see themselves as “pandas”, part of the collective whole, and believe they will benefit from it.
Those who support Beijing are as much working for ethnic superiority as white people do. Including some here in Taiwan, though thankfully the KMT’s candidate is a clown and Tsai’s re-election almost a certainty (well over 50% in polls, the next closest in the 20s).
I think the truth about the UK election is a muddy mixture of all the views above and more. If voters fit into these homogeneous blocks, they’d be easier to predict.
It’s worth pointing out that the anti-Semitism row in the Labour party was manufactured by Corbyn’s opponents. They’re not significantly more or less anti-Semitic than other comparable organizations, but some British Jews who don’t like Corbyn’s sympathy for Palestinians whipped it up. Here’s some context: https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/f/michael-rosen-as-a-jew-i-am-voting-labour