Trump was defeated, but so was progressivism.

We live in a super competitive world. Competitive people come from every corner of the world and fiercely compete to drive changes in every field including business, technology and science. Social issues and politics are not an exception. Politicians, administrative professionals from top to bottom, and stakeholders from various kinds of organizations, are almost always smart. Liberals and progressives are especially intellectually competitive, as they need to know literally everything about the system they want to bring about changes, propose new solutions and successfully persuade others to buy into them. That’s a lot of work, but they’ve been working tirelessly. Many of them have truly impressive resumes, and their achievements are felt in many areas. However, there was one big downside in the whole progress: almost every social issue has become very complex. And after an emotionally consuming election, it’s becoming abundantly clear that that complexity is backfiring in an unexpected way.

As it turns out, not negligible number of people Democrats thought they were fighting for, namely working-class people, minorities and disadvantaged people, decided to support Trump. (Just to be clear, I am not talking about “traditional” Democrats here; I am talking about other group of people, who might have never voted before, but found Trumpism, misinformation and disinformation as an exciting outlet to vent their frustration toward the society.) They were the ones that helped total Trump votes to increase, not decrease. They also helped Democrats fail in the House and the Senate. This is very alarming, because this group could be large enough to help bring our democracy to the tipping point. Elections in 2022 and 2024 will become even more critical. Anyone who wants to maintain democracy and decency – ideology set aside – needs a serious reckoning. What went wrong?

Many people say Trump and Republicans successfully painted the “radical left” as their villains. In my opinion, it was not the progressive agenda per se that was rejected, but Trump voters clearly denounced the current complexity of politics. Andrew Yang called it “coastal elitism,” and I would call it intellectual elitism or progressivism.

Progressives want to progress our society. Just like ever-advancing technology makes a generation of smart phones obsolete in a matter of 3 years, progressive people’s intellectual competitiveness can advance their agenda very fast. When you hear “cultural appropriation,” you then start hearing misappropriation, assimilation or appreciation. It is so because they are capable of detecting all kinds of subtle issues surrounding social issues, define each of them meticulously in order to pick the perfectly right one (cultural appreciation!), and then articulate them. And they say it aloud – often aggressively: “Boycott this brand because their ads are culturally inappropriate!” “Cancel that event because that guy is racist!” For them, it’s the right thing to do.

One blind spot went unnoticed: not everyone – actually a lot of us – are not capable of processing and digesting as much information as progressives can. Sublet things they can easily detect are not that obvious to others, or their logic is too complicated to follow. But if you respond “Why boycott?” you are told “Educate yourself!”

Suppose you weren’t prepared to fully understand the implications of the ads progressives were accusing. Do you think “educate yourself!” will sit well with you? Don’t you think you could feel accused of your ignorance? Do you ever want someone intellectually superior coming to you to tell you what’s right, and what to do? Even if it’s not the intention of progressives, I believe that that how their messages are often perceived. For example, even if I can be open to progressive ideas, I did not like it at all when I read that some people petitioned to cancel the name of Trader Joe’s international food brand. If I can be upset with cancel culture, non-progressive people could feel much more strongly about it. “Defund the police” was even more provocative.

All in all, “upset” maybe too soft. Such a negative perception can easily make some people feel RESENTFUL. And resentment is one of the most powerful feelings that motivate people to take actions.

That was when Trump emerged. Or rather, Trump emerged because people who were feeling inferior needed him. (Just to be clear, it’s “feeling inferior,” not “they are inferior.” I am talking about emotions and perceptions.) They needed someone who would give a simple, easy answer that could make them feel SUPERIOR, rather than inferior as liberals inadvertently did. Trump whispered to their ears: “I am the winner. You need to be with me if you want to be superior. See those liberals that were making you feel bad? They are actually losers. Let loose your resentment and start attacking them. That’s how we make our world great again! When they are gone, you are the elite and the winner! ” Probably the most intoxicating part of Trumpism is that problems are always solved by their enemies. All you have to do is to belittle them. How promising does it sound? Such an easy win is only possible in the Trump universe – people who once made you feel inferior are suddenly the ones that make you feel superior. “Radical left” fell into Trump’s pitfall. 

I never quite understood what the “Deep State” really was, but I now feel where it came from. I think it symbolizes the intellectual elitism shared in the world of conventional politics. Even though it’s primarily about liberals, in believers’ mind the group probably also include anyone who speak sophisticated, technical language that makes them feel inferior. Trump never makes him feel inferior. Trump knows HOW TO SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE!

This situation needs to change. But now that Biden won, I am really concerned that people will start mocking Trump voters. I personally think it is the worst idea. Even though Biden won, Democrats failed with the House and Senate. Trump was defeated, but so was progressivism. Probably the best thing they can do is to listen to Trump voters to understand what their frustration is, and where it’s coming from. This is NOT the time – or there should have never been a time – to preach/lecture them what’s right or wrong. Because they are the people Democrats are fighting for, they should be able to connect with them again, if they commit themselves to listen to them.

At the end of the day, Trump was the gasoline poured on a fire called resentment toward intellectual elitism. As long as it stays, Trumpism will never go away, nor will the “Deep State” conspiracy, even if Trump goes down. That’s why we need to keep fighting for democracy, and it can only be done by listening to Trump voters, not denying them.

Dear Democrats, never-Trumper Republicans and independents, who are desperate to save democracy – I will donate to your organization if you can promise to use that money to “LISTEN TO” Trump voters who you mistakenly thought were on your side. We need to do it before it’s too late.