Unlike most of the media, who either dismisses Trump and the populism he represents, or fear mongers about him, Planet Money actually went and interviewed people swayed by similar reactionary populism. They asked people who voted for Brexit why.
Listening to this interview, one answer really stood out – the voter explained she was tired of being told what to do. Brexit, in other words, was a belligerent protest vote. Sure, she says she dislikes foreigners, and there’s probably something in Brexit that appealed to her. Nativism certainly plays a role in Brexit as well as Trump. But, I think if you got right down to the heart of why Trump does well – especially does well when people can vote in secret and don’t have to explain why – it’s because people are sick of being told what to do.
You can see this in the #BernieOrBust meme. I think people understand that, tactically, they’d be better off if they voted Clinton. But they’re so sick of the system, they’re not going to work inside of it, even if it’s in their self-interest to do so. The reaction from the establishment – that these people are simply ignorant or laughably impractical – feeds into this feeling of powerlessness. They might not be able to get Bernie elected, but so long as they feel disrespected, they can sure as hell fight to keep Clinton from being elected, even when it’s against their own best interest.
I have my own story to tell here, in that I went from 100% anti-Trump to 99% anti-Trump for a few minutes, solely because people were explaining to me why I had no choice but Clinton. In other words, Clinton supporters themselves drove me to become much more interested in a third party, which seems against their own self-interest. They’d rather smugly be right than win an election – or so it felt.
While our votes may not really count, our political speech does. Reaching out to Bernie supporters and Trump supporters to listen to them is going to do more to change the course of this election than reaching out to tell them. Both types of people are sick of being told, they’re sick of being condescended, and they’re very willing to cut off their nose to spite their face to get everyone to listen.