Trumpists and Social Dishonesty

republished a good number of transcripts of my ReImagining Liberty episodes, has released its first major survey of Americans' populist views. It's well worth your time to read, with a ton of interesting findings beyond the core takeaway of "full-blown populists comprising about 10.3% of Trump’s support and about 2.5% of Biden’s." (And if you subscribe to The UnPopulist newsletter—it's free!—or the Zooming In podcast, you'll get to hear my in-depth interview with the survey's author next week.)

But I wanted to highlight the one finding I found perhaps the most interesting. It's certainly the most stark.

When asked, “Do you think your wallet (or your valuables) would be returned to you if it were found by a stranger?,” just 16.5% of Trump populists said yes—less than half the percentage of all Americans who said the same (34.0%). The Trump populists’ level of trust was lower than that of other Trump supporters and of any major subgroup we reviewed, whether by gender, age, race, income or political party. It was also distinct from the trust level of Biden supporters and Biden populists, 40.5% and 47.8% of whom, respectively, said yes to the same question—significantly more than all Americans.

That's an enormous difference. And not just that Trumpist populists dramatically less likely to believe a stranger would return their wallet as the typical American, but that the most hardcore Biden supporters are dramatically more likely than the typical American to think a strange would come through for them.

Why might this be? I can see two obvious possibilities, which aren't necessarily exclusive.

The first take is that the most Trumpy of the Trumpists could live in towns that are, in fact, generally less honest than the rest of America. Maybe these areas are populated by people more likely to steal. Or maybe these Trumpists are themselves less honest, and assuming everyone else is, too. ("I know I wouldn't return a stranger's wallet...") In other words, maybe there are features of the kinds of places that are drawn to Trump that also manifest as a greater likelihood of dishonesty. This is the "Trumpists are members of a broken culture" interpretation.

The second take--and, again, both could simultaneously be true--is that a feature of the most Trumpy of the Trumpists is that they consume a ton of far-right media and a consistent feature of far-right media is the message that the world outside your door, and especially the world of people even marginally different from you, is a scary, dangerous, apocalyptic place. So, yes, if you dropped your wallet somewhere on your own block, your Trumpy neighbor would return it to you, but if you dropped it enough blocks over that it's where they live, then it's gone--and that's if you even manage to make it out of there unscathed.

I don't know which it is, and I suspect it's a good bit of both. But the upshot is that, if liberalism depends upon the view that we are capable of living together in peace and some degree of mutual support, then Trump's populist base are skeptical of the very possibility of such a positively interdependent world. That's not good.

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