Fred Siegel, professor emeritus at New York’s Cooper Union and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, did not vote for Donald Trump in the last presidential election. The man, who could not abide Hillary Clinton, “slept through” the 2016 election.
Mr. Siegel, a former man of the left, “still describes himself as a protégé of Irving Howe, the democratic socialist literary critic,” declares Mr. Siegel in an interview with Tunku Varadarajan in the WSJ.
“Howe died young,” Mr. Siegel notes—in 1993, at 72. He was a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh in 1968, studying the political economy of tobacco in Virginia, when he cast his first vote. But he sat out the 1972 election.
“I (Siegel) voted for Humphrey. I did not vote for McGovern or Nixon. I worked for McGovern as a spokesperson in Western Pennsylvania, and I was stunned to discover that he thought Henry Wallace had been right about a lot of things. Lightbulbs went off.”
How an Ex Liberal Overcame Distaste for Trump
During the WSJ’s “Weekend Interview,” Mr. Varadarajan asked Professor Siegel what factors allowed an ex-liberal to overcome his distaste for Mr. Trump.
- First, Foreign Policy: “Crushing ISIS, pulling us out of the Iran nuclear deal, moving our embassy to Jerusalem, and making fools of those people who insist that the Palestinian issue is at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
- Second, Trump’s “ability to withstand a prolonged coup attempt by the Democrats and the media,” which started with the Steele dossier: “If I’m saying what I find impressive about Trump, it’s that he’s survived. He has an extraordinary amount of arrogance, egotism, and self-confidence.”
- Third: The third reason goes to the heart of Mr. Siegel’s own political philosophy. He sees the president as a champion of “bourgeois values,” under threat from the “clerisy,” Mr. Siegel’s word for the dominant elites who “despise” those values. He regards Mr. Biden as a “captive” of this clerisy, and running mate Kamala Harris as the “embodiment of it.”
Why Not Senator Harris?
“I don’t want to see her (Harris) as president. I don’t want a San Francisco Democrat who’s likely to impose elements of the Green New Deal, which she sponsored but lied about sponsoring on television. If Biden wins, she (Harris) will be president in short order. I don’t know how long Biden will last.”
Why Has America Thrived?
In Mr. Siegel’s view, America has thrived because of “hard work, faith, family and autonomy.” Donald Trump stands for these values, even if he doesn’t always exemplify them.
“The elite is largely detached from the middle class,” observes Mr. Siegel.
“The two major sources of wealth in the last 20 years have been finance and Silicon Valley. Neither of them has much connection to middle-class America, or Middle America.”
Mr. Trump is “in favor of manufacturing jobs, which are often middle-class.” The president also “recognizes the ways in which China is a threat to the survival of middle-class life in America, directly and indirectly.”
Mr. Siegel takes heart from Mr. Trump’s hostility to political correctness.
“Wokeness is a force that undermines the middle class, and you couldn’t have had wokeness without an elite contempt for the values of the middle class.”
Middle Americans see political correctness “as a threat to the democratic republic they grew up in, where people could speak their mind.”
Mr. Varadarajan asks Mr. Siegel to define political correctness: “The inability to speak the truth about the obvious.”
Sitting on Mr. Siegel’s porch in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn, Mr. Varadarajan prompts the Professor for examples of political correctness.
“Why can’t you say ‘Wuhan virus’?”
“Why can’t you say there are two genders?”
Mr. Siegel notes, with palpable sadness, that people don’t stop to talk to him on his porch as much as they used to. Word has spread that he is “a Trump supporter,” which is unfashionable in a borough where Mrs. Clinton outpolled Mr. Trump by more than 60 points, so “fewer people schmooze with me.”
Race Relations and President Obama
When Mr. Siegel voted for Mitt Romney in 2012, he had developed an exceedingly low opinion of President Obama, whom he describes as “a faux intellectual with preacher’s cadences and an academic veneer.”
In his opinion, “the worst thing” about Mr. Obama was “his effect on race relations. We couldn’t have the cold civil war we have now without Obama, because he, in a very cunning way, exacerbated all of our racial tensions.”
Under Mr. Obama, Mr. Siegel says, “racial grievance” took on a “new legitimacy, and it came from a president talking in asides, and saying things between the lines. He didn’t push back against anything, not even against the idea that Michael Brown said ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ in Ferguson [Mo.], which was just a fabrication.”
In the 1990s, “postmodernism turning to wokeness was churning,” Mr. Siegel tells Mr. Varadarajan during the interview.
The 2000 election was “a trauma” for the Democrats, and Howard Dean’s unsuccessful candidacy for the 2004 nomination previewed “some of the craziness and hysteria that would come full-bore, on a broader scale, a decade later.”
Wokeism achieved its apotheosis in 2014, in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting. “Ferguson allowed Ivy League grads to assert their ‘natural leadership,’ in opposition to lowlife cops and guys with pickup trucks—again, the deplorables.”
In Mr. Siegel’s understanding, wokeism holds that “the important truths are already known, and that the American aristocracy has to impose those truths on the country.” These are “given positions”—irrefutable and sacrosanct.
Wokeism, he says, is a “perilous threat” to America and particularly to the First Amendment. “It says we don’t need debate. We don’t need free speech. We don’t need freedom of religion. We need to obey.”
Mr. Siegel’s vote is his personal act of disobedience.