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Hullabaloo


Monday, August 29, 2016

 

The "Deep Story"

by Tom Sullivan

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you're being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He's on their side. In fact, isn't he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It's not your government anymore; it's theirs.
Arlie Hochschild crafted that narrative after spending years among poor, white T-party members in Louisiana. "You read my mind," one of the interviewees told her. It's their truthiness, their "feels-as-if-it's-true" story of how and why Real Americans like themselves are struggling. For many, it is as if they are strangers in their own land, Hochschild writes at Mother Jones. (You need to read this.)

They feel shame at seeing their jobs and livelihoods slip away. They feel looked down on by the "liberal elite." For the last-place averse, the privilege they themselves once had of having Others to look down on has evaporated with their jobs. Even the insurance salesperson Hochschild got to know is uneasy about her own relative comfort. That too could easily slip away.

Donald Trump offers them a way out or at least around seeing themselves as untouchables should circumstances force them to take government assistance. Since the 1960s, their incomes have gone flat, their marriages are in ruins, and they spend more time watching TV and sleeping. Conservative political scientist Charles Murray explains it as a loss of morals. Hochschild disagrees. That's not a loss of morals, but a loss of morale:
Trump, the King of Shame, has covertly come to the rescue. He has shamed virtually every line-cutting group in the Deep Story—women, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees. But he's hardly uttered a single bad word about unemployment insurance, food stamps, or Medicaid, or what the tea party calls "big government handouts," for anyone—including blue-collar white men.

In this feint, Trump solves a white male problem of pride. Benefits? If you need them, okay. He masculinizes it. You can be "high energy" macho—and yet may need to apply for a government benefit. As one auto mechanic told me, "Why not? Trump's for that. If you use food stamps because you're working a low-wage job, you don't want someone looking down their nose at you." A lady at an after-church lunch said, "If you have a young dad who's working full time but can't make it, if you're an American-born worker, can't make it, and not having a slew of kids, okay. For any conservative, that is fine."
For Real Americans like me, but not for thee. Trump has presented them with a smorgasbord of Others to look down upon. And in so doing making Real America feel great again. Up against the wall, Deadbeat Other.

Two other treatments of this topic came to mind. In "The Great Derangement," the often sardonic Matt Taibbi was surprising in the sensitivity with which he treated a woman he'd befriended while undercover at an evangelical church in Texas. As much as anyone else, he found, people he met (IIRC, can't find my copy) were struggling for ways to process their pain. Annabel Park interviewed a father and son in Bakersville, NC for A Story of America. The preview clip ends [timestamp 4:20] with with the son wondering whether because of the stigma he himself attaches to government aid neighbors would look down on him if he accepted disability for his injured arm. This in a tiny town where there is no work anyway. He starts to condemn "the few out there" who are undeserving but catches himself. "Now that I think about it, I'm actually judging people that I don't really know."

That is a key takeaway. The majority of Trump's support as Ryan Lizza reported is among people with “limited interactions with racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and college graduates," according to economist Jonathan Rothwell:
This analysis provides clear evidence that those who view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones. Holding other factors constant, support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.
It's a lot easier to hate faceless groups than it is people whose stories you actually know.



Update: A couple of catches by sharp readers have been corrected. Thx.