Saturday, November 12, 2016
A biopolitical analysis of the election part 1
I suppose no one will object if I use primate studies to understand Donald Trump. I voted neither for him nor for Secretary Clinton, which gives me a small feeling of existential freedom in this matter.
At the moment there are all too many explanations for Trump’s election. The most popular on the left are racism and misogyny among the voters or, as Nate Silver put it:
America hasn’t put its demons — including racism, anti-Semitism and misogyny — behind it. White people still make up the vast majority of the electorate, particularly when considering their share of the Electoral College, and their votes usually determine the winner.
I have no idea on what the anti-Semitism charge is based. Is Secretary Clinton a Marrano Jew? To be certain, Silver is demonizing the majority of the electorate, which seems to be on the side of the dark lord merely because they are a majority. I beg to differ and I will do so in this post.
Among the problems with the racism charge are that Trump won several states that voted twice for Barack Obama and that Trump seems to have done slightly better with African American and Hispanic voters than did Mitt Romney. The explanation and the facts just don’t fit very well. The problem with the misogyny charge is that Secretary Clinton has never been in a very good position to press the case. She and her party acted as enablers for her husband’s boorish behavior. Suppose for a moment that the Republican candidate had been an African American woman who otherwise spoke and acted exactly as Trump does. I think she wins by 5% points.
Genuine landslide elections are determined by a lot of voters choosing one candidate over another. LBJ over Goldwater and Nixon over McGovern come to mind. For the most part, that is not what happens. Election are instead determined by voters deciding whether to vote or not. Mr. Obama won the nomination and election in 2008 and was reelected in 2012 in part because African American voters came out in large numbers to support him. We have only the exit polls to go by, but it appears that Trump did only slightly better among white voters than Romney. Secretary Clinton lost because she did not get the same support from Democratic constituencies that Mr. Obama did.
Human beings are not the only political animal but we are, as Aristotle observed, the most political animal. Among non-human political animals, politics is based primarily on kinship bonds and secondarily on close personal alliances. An alpha male chimpanzee governs his group by means of personal strength and aggression backed up by a strong beta male and frequently will lead his group in a lethal war against other chimpanzee groups. Human beings took a great leap forward when they were able to expand kinship bonds to include large groups of allies. Though those fighting with me are not in fact biological kin, we are nonetheless a band of brothers. This remarkable, unprecedented ability to attach kinship instincts to non-kin results in enormously complex relationships both within and between mutually hostile groups.
The result is that human politics have always been tribal, or more accurately, familial in nature. Political groups form by individuals deciding whether these or this one is one of us. The criteria for the decision may be class, location, religion, ethnic or racial identity, or ideology. However important those criteria may be to the individual, the political significance of the criteria lies in the group identity. If an Irish Catholic lad hates an Irish Protestant lad, the religious identities function as uniforms. The Catholic lad believes that his people are the original people, the true Irish; the other guy is just one of the invaders. When an American progressive accuses a Republican of being a global warming denier, the same thing is going on.
Winning in a political struggle might appear to be determined merely by which group of primates is larger. In human politics, what really matters is whether the leader on either side is able to rally his foot soldiers or, in larger scale confrontations, whether he or she can assemble a coalition of groups that is willing or able to provide support at the critical moment. Members of her loyal core may have different reasons for supporting her (she is a woman, a Democrat, a liberal, etc.) and so do the different groups that she is hoping will coalesce behind her. If she fails, it is because too many of the folks on the other side moved and too few on her side did the same when both leaders yelled “charge!”
Donald Trump is a primate and so is Hillary Clinton and so are the voters who sided with the one and the other. Upwards to 90% of African Americans vote for Democrats. A lot more moved for Mr. Obama than for her. It would be silly to accuse these voters of racism because of this. They calculated their loyalties, more or less consciously, just as everyone else does. The same is true of Trump voters. It might be wise to recognize them as just people making choices, instead of victims of demonic possession.