More on the Trumpists
Posted on November 2, 2016
Two kinds of explanations are being proposed for Trumpism–economic and social. Both are based on mobilized ressentiment, a form of class rage. According to the economic story, Trumpists are angry about the economic loss and stagnation of the middle class, which is to say a loss in absolute status or well-being. According to the social story, Trumpists are angry about a loss of relative status, as women and blacks and Hispanics and the Educated Elites crowded past them in the line of advancement. Both stories are true. The economic stagnation story shows up, oddly, in the fact that Trumpists actually have somewhat higher family incomes than other voters–a lot of people are angry that their expectations for growing income have not been met. The social resentment shows up more directly, in the typical racism and sexism and lack of college degrees.
A metaphor developed by Arlie Russell Hochschild and summarized by Nathanial Rich is
” a parable of the white American Dream. It begins with an image of a long line of people marching across a vast landscape. The Tea Partiers—white, older, Christian, predominantly male, many lacking college degrees—are somewhere in the middle of the line. They trudge wearily, but with resolve, up a hill. Ahead, beyond the ridge, lies wealth, success, dignity. Far behind them the line is composed of people of color, women, immigrants, refugees. As pensions are reduced and layoffs absorbed, the line slows, then stalls.
“An even greater indignity follows: people begin cutting them in line. Many are those who had long stood behind them—blacks, women, immigrants, even Syrian refugees, all now aided by the federal government.”
There is little that progressives can do to address the problem of line cutting. Action against racism and sexism has the inevitable side effect of reducing the relative status of white males. However there is much that can be done to address the stagnation of middle class well-being and the bloated class distance and power of the Educated Elites. If those issues were successfully addressed, then the line cutting would be concealed, or at least made tolerable, by the sensation each household had that their own well-being was moving ahead in accordance with the American dream.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way for progressives to reorganize Trumpites towards a left-wing populism, because progressives cannot give up on progress for women and minorities. That makes the goal of economic progress for all very hard to obtain.