Robert Reich Tries to Educate a Trump Supporter, but Instead Reveals the Shortcomings of Liberal Rhetoric

Robert Reich's unproductive conversation with a Trump supporter is indicative of larger problems that liberals must confront.

Robert Reich's unproductive conversation with a Trump supporter is indicative of larger problems that liberals must confront (via juggernautco and victoriabernal on flickr).

Public policy wonk-person Robert Reich shared a Facebook post a few days ago about his encounter with a Trump supporter, which garnered 250,000 likes and 80,000 shares. The Trump voter says: Trump’s a winner, being clearly rich. Reich chides him: Don’t you know that Trump is actually a failed entrepreneur, only rich because he inherited a huge sum of money, and actually his business has been publicly subsidized by New York City? He’s not a winner, and you’re not voting for one. Drop the mike, educated.

This illustrates the most popular liberal, anti-Trump rhetoric that I see around me, especially because it’s making use of facts while avoiding the tacit ground underneath: If only you knew the facts, if only you were educated, then you would choose Hillary Clinton over this con artist. I sometimes see this with people who connect with education studies without being within them (sometimes, folks who find out I’m in education studies): Education is vastly important, they say, and those people who are going to vote for Trump are doing so because they haven’t gotten enough of it.

Of course, electoral politics are inherently educational, in the sense that they delimit for us what is acceptable political participation and what isn’t. The socialist parties (e.g. Party for Socialism and Liberation, Workers World Party) are, as far as I know, running campaigns that are educational, putting socialism on the table of possibilities rather than thinking that they can “win” by election. This is why plenty of Jacobin-area, leftish and socialist folks backed Sanders, right? Better to back the doomed cause that inevitably kabooms into salvageable ideas and movements, however fragmented, to wield later than to stick with the liberal evil, “lesser” and “necessary.”

But education that gives people tools to carry out organized political participation is different from education that would, supposedly, destroy the need for organized political participation. The rhetoric for the latter says: Let’s communicate the facts, people will come around, the contradictions will dissolve. (We see much of this in Nate Silver and Vox experts, who use interpreted data as journalism.)

But this would be possible only in a world where we didn’t have to move through politics by way of resistance, contest, and violent force — which would be a world without politics. Disagreement is violence in politics. Class contradictions remain. It strikes me as really risky, even for liberals, to reject understanding why people who support Trump do, and why people who “should” support the Democratic party don’t. This means looking at overt vocal white supremacy as opposed to regular white supremacy, but also the trends of rising sickness and mortality among whites, economic precarity, the perceived fundamental association between Trump and the White working class, and most definitely the superficial and cynical use of identity politics on “our” side.

In education studies we talk a lot about the cultural “unteachability” of minorities and the working class, for example, by blaming students for their own non-achievement because we won’t discuss structures, racism, and capitalism. I see something similar about to happen for voters. Education as an instrument to divert political interests, as demonstrated by Reich’s anecdote, is misguided.

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