We Must Have Trump, Because Colonialism

Let’s think about this:

“Liberals say Mr. Trump’s victory is proof that the Electoral College is biased against big states and undemocratically marginalizes urban and nonwhite voters. Conservatives say the Electoral College serves as a necessary bulwark against big states, preventing California in particular from imposing ‘something like colonial rule over the rest of the nation,’ as the conservative analyst Michael Barone put it. California sided with Mrs. Clinton by a vote margin of four million, or 30 percentage points.”

“Both sides have a point. But in the end, Mr. Trump won for a simple reason: The Electoral College’s (largely) winner-take-all design gives a lot of weight to battleground states. Mr. Trump had an advantage in the traditional battlegrounds because most are whiter and less educated than the country as a whole.”

We can reconfigure this argument just a little and state it differently. For Michael Barone, it’s desirable that less educated people not be imposed upon with the “colonialism” of more educated people. If you don’t like that, you can say, instead, that white people, particularly white people with below-average education, should not be governed by a diverse group of better-educated people.

The first of these arguments would be familiar to the architects of the British Empire who fancied that they were bringing religion, commerce, and civilization to the savages and didn’t quite get why this might not always be welcomed. There was a little matter of self-determination to consider, and people differ on matters of theology, so it’s a little arrogant to think a nation like India, with millions of Muslims and Hindus will see the superiority of the Cross. The more progressive view was that the British didn’t have the answer for everything and that imperialism could easily slip into a tyrannical and exploitative system where indigenous cultures were disrespected or unjustifiably stamped out. I don’t typically think of the people, e.g., of Ohio River Valley the same way that I think about Indians suffering under British rule, primarily because we’re all supposed to be part of the same culture and polity. But the resistance we see to progressive values and dictates from Washington DC (“I can’t drive 55”) does share some common features with anti-colonialism.

The second argument is a little less compelling. It basically argues in favor white people being treated as a protected interest group that ought to be able to govern itself, somewhat akin to our Indian Reservation system. But it goes further in that it says that this protected interest group should actually get to govern all of us, including the better educated, more diverse, and more numerous group.

The former argument is more advisory. It’s a warning to progressives that there’s natural backlash to trying to impose their version of reality on areas of the country that won’t accept it. It can help them understand why they’re losing political support (and elections) in so many communities around the country. It also is an argument in favor of at least some level of tolerance for political and cultural differences, and a reminder that our system of federalism accounts for this.

But the latter argument isn’t at all supportable, in my view. It’s one thing to recognize that self-determination is a principle that can operate within our borders (to some degree), but it is another to suggest that a minority of people should govern the rest of us (for whatever reasons).

You can call this white privilege, but it’s not quite that. It’s privilege for a minority of white voters who just happen to be less educated than the coalition of people who oppose them. There are millions of white voters who enjoy and support living in a pluralistic country, and they’re part of a numerically superior coalition of voters that turned out to support Barack Obama twice and to support Hillary Clinton.

You can apply the principle of one person, one vote, even though it doesn’t apply in our system both due to the makeup of the Senate (two votes per state irrespective of population) and the Electoral College. You can apply a more elitist standard that only better educated people should decide who will govern us. This was also part of the thinking of the Framers, both in terms of who they initially allowed to vote and how they envisioned the Electoral College working.

But it’s hard to see any justification for privileging a less educated minority of voters because it would be “colonialism” to allow their political opponents to have power.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.