The typical Donald Trump supporter is a white male without a college degree. But while education level marks a strong dividing line between voters for the Republican presidential candidate and his opponent Hillary Clinton, there are certainly Trump supporters who buck the trend.
Some 150 conservative scholars and writers recently announced their support for Trump. Several of these are academics who focuses on right-leaning political or legal research. And, as the New Republic reports, others in the group have a dubious past. Historian Christina Jeffreys was fired from the US Department of Education for complaining that a course on the Holocaust did not include the Nazi perspective, pro-gun advocate John Lott was accused of fabricating research, and historian Arthur Herman wrote a supportive biography of Joseph McCarthy, arguing that he was “more right than wrong.”
But the list also features a handful of respected scholars in relatively apolitical subjects, including four philosophy professors: Dan Bonevac and Rob Koons, from the University of Texas at Austin, Scott Soames from the University of Southern California, and Daniel Robinson from Oxford University.
University of Chicago law and philosophy professor Brian Leiter, who wrote about the Trump-supporting philosophy professors on his blog, points out that both Bonevac and Koons are conservative Christians, and so might well be drawn to the Mike Pence component of the Trump-Pence ticket. Leiter also supposes that voting for Trump “might seem the instrumentally rational thing to do” for those with a rightwing world view.
There’s no need to hypothesize about Bonevac’s reasoning. In an article for the Washington Post, he argues that Obama’s progressive policies have led to growing national debt, slow economic recovery, and disarray in the Middle East. Progressivism, he argues, “indulges the moral narcissism of an elite and encourages disrespect for everyone else.”
In an email to Quartz, Bonevac argued for his support of Trump by bringing up concerns with Clinton. For example, he wrote, violence at Trump rallies had been orchestrated by the Clinton campaign (the same accusation has been made by several Republicans, though existing evidence does not support the claim.) Bonevac also wrote that he believes Clinton, if elected, would appoint Justices who decide cases “on the basis of the race, class, gender, and sexual orientation of those involved” rather than the law.
Of course, those who strongly object to Trump’s candidacy don’t simply reject his policies, but also his racist remarks, sexual assault boasts, and erratic behavior. As Leiter writes, “Every educated person not in the grips of a religious or political ideology—or, in any case, not pathetically naïve—realizes that the guy is both incompetent and mentally unstable.”
But still, it’s dangerous to assume that all Trump supporters are incompetent or idiotic. In his article, Bonevac complains of the left-leaning politics that dominate university campuses in the US, and the aggression directed at those with a different perspective. “People who definitely oppose Trump don’t even want to debate the issues with me anymore,” he wrote.
There are some 10,000 philosophy professors in the US and the vast majority support Clinton. But to assume that every well-educated person will support the same candidate can shut down serious debate. And open hostility towards Trump supporters is unlikely to make anyone change their mind.