Politics

Trump Doesn’t Actually Speak for the Silent Majority

I can’t fit everything that I think into a single piece, especially when I’m writing on deadline. My column this week, for example, was on the effort to disqualify Trump from the 2024 ballot using Section 3 of the 14th Amendment. Although the piece is not exactly brief, it’s by no means exhaustive of my thoughts on the matter.

There was one point in particular that I couldn’t quite fit into the flow. It concerns an assumption that, in my view, undergirds much of the discourse around Trump and his voters.

It’s for good reason that the results of the 2016 presidential race shocked, surprised and unsettled many millions of Americans, including the small class of people who write about and interpret politics for a living. There was a strong sense, in the immediate aftermath of the election, that journalists were woefully out of touch with the people at large. Otherwise, they would not have missed the groundswell of support for Trump.

One inadvertent consequence of this understandable bout of introspection was, I think, to validate Trump’s claim that he spoke for a silent majority of forgotten Americans. It was easy enough to look at the new president’s political coalition — disproportionately blue-collar and drawn almost entirely from the demographic majority of the country — and conclude that this was basically correct. And even if it wasn’t, the image of the blue-collar (although not necessarily working-class) white man or white woman has been, for as long as any of us have been alive, a synecdoche for the “ordinary American” or the “Middle American” or the “average American.”

You may remember the constant discussion, while Trump was in office, over the effect his chaos and corruption might have on voters. Would they care? Where this “they” often meant the blue-collar voters associated with Trump’s victory. And if they didn’t care, could we say with any confidence that the American people cared?

They did!

What’s been lost — or if not lost then obscured — in the constant attention to Trump’s voters, supporters and followers is that the overall American electorate is consistently anti-MAGA. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016. The MAGA-fied Republican Party lost the House of Representatives in 2018. Trump lost the White House and the Republican Party lost the Senate in 2020. In 2022, Trump-like or Trump-lite candidates lost competitive statewide elections in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Republicans vastly underperformed expectations in the House, winning back the chamber with a razor-thin margin, and Democrats secured governorships in Kansas, Michigan and Wisconsin, among other states. Democrats overperformed again the following year, in Kentucky and Virginia.

“Since 2016,” wrote Michael Podhorzer, a former political director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., in a post for his newsletter last summer, “Republicans have lost 23 of the 27 elections in the five states everyone agrees Democratic hopes in the Electoral College and the Senate depend on.”

He continues:

Too many commentators have spent too much time fretting over Trump’s voters — and how they might react to the effort to remove the former president from the ballot — and not enough time thinking about the tens of millions of voters who have said, again and again, that they do not want this man or his movement in American politics.

Because 2016 was not the only election that mattered. Trump’s voters are not the only ones who count. There’s been no shortage of critics of the disqualification effort who have asked us to consider the consequences for American democracy if Trump’s supporters believe he was cheated out of a chance to run for president a third time. It’s a fair point. But I think we should also consider the consequences for American democracy if the nation’s anti-MAGA majority comes to believe, with good reason, that the rules — and the Constitution — don’t apply to Trump.


What I Wrote

I’m back from break with a single column — an essay, really — on why it is not anti-democratic, or even all that objectionable, to disqualify Donald Trump from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment.

And in the latest episode of my podcast with John Ganz, we were joined by the writer-director Tony Gilroy to discuss “Crimson Tide.”


Now Reading

Elizabeth Anderson on work for Dissent.

Michael Meltsner on Section 2 of the 14th Amendment for The American Prospect.

Moeko Fujii on Yasujiro Ozu for The New York Review of Books.

Andrea Brady on Phillis Wheatley for The London Review of Books.

Loic Wacquant on Afropessimism for New Left Review.


Photo of the Week

I thought I would start this new year of the newsletter — year five, if you can believe it! — with a moment of Zen. Here is Lake Placid, taken last summer during a brief trip to upstate New York. I am pretty sure I have shared this photo before, but you can consider that part of the vibe of serene contemplation.


Now Eating: Roasted Butternut Squash With Lentils and Feta

This newsletter comes after the New Year, so I’m not going to include a recipe for black-eyed peas or collards — although I hope you had plenty of both to ring in 2024 — but I do want to share this wonderful recipe for lentils and roasted squash, from New York Times Cooking.

What I like about this dish is that it is easy to make additions and substitutions. Prefer an acorn or delicata squash? Go for it. Would you rather use maple or date syrup than pomegranate molasses? That works, too. You can add some crumbled bacon to the mix or toss in some pickled red onions. Pretty much anything works! Be sure to serve the lentils with warm bread — I like freshly made pita with this dish.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup black or green lentils

  • 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

  • kosher salt

  • 1 (1-pound) butternut squash

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

  • ¼ cup crumbled feta

  • 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

  • 2 tablespoons roasted, salted pumpkin seeds

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil

  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

  • 1 tablespoon honey

  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin, toasted

  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne

  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

  • kosher salt

Directions

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pick any debris from the lentils, then rinse the lentils under running water. Transfer them to a medium saucepan, then add the cinnamon, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt.

Add enough water to cover everything by 1 inch. Bring the water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to low and let simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils, discard the cinnamon and garlic, then transfer the lentils to a large bowl.

While the lentils cook, prepare the squash: Trim and discard the top and bottom ends of the squash. Peel the squash, halve it lengthwise, and remove and discard the strings and seeds. Slice the squash crosswise ¼-inch thick and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Roast the squash until completely tender, slightly caramelized and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 minutes. Once cool, add to the lentils.

While the squash cooks, prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, honey, cumin, cayenne and black pepper. Taste and season to taste with salt.

Sprinkle the feta, scallions and pumpkin seeds over the lentils and squash. Pour 2 to 3 tablespoons of the dressing over the lentils and squash. Serve warm or at room temperature, with the remaining dressing on the side.

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