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Saturday, November 12, 2016



by Tom Sullivan

People don't like having their assumptions challenged. Our Midwest family moved to the South when they were still taking down the signs off the water fountains. Moving to rural America and the South challenged a lot of ours about how the world worked. Everybody said Yes, sir and Yes, ma'am and with strange accents. They drank iced tea year-round and ate odd foods. They had only two televisions stations and the nearest McDonalds was 18 miles away. There were lots more black people. The stores closed downtown on Wednesday afternoon. It seemed both quaint and weird. It took a long time to get used to.

We took a "when in Rome" attitude, I guess. But we were called Yankees by some, and it wasn't a compliment. My ancestors were still in Ireland during the Civil War, but cultural slurs aren't about those fine distinctions. A bumper sticker you used to see read, "We Don't Care How They Do It Up North."

We had a smiliar experience when last year we bought a small farmhouse in the next county. It is an hour away in a narrow valley reached via a twisting mountain road that climbs over a tall ridge. The house and barn are surrounded by sheep. It might as well be in another country. People there have little use for the multicultural city. It is a foreign place, a place to go to buy groceries when needed, or building supplies. Even then, they don't have to actually go into the town known for welcoming gay people and hipsters and tourists and microbreweries. They are content to be left alone in their valley with their sheep and farms, thank you very much. The local volunteer firefighters are rock stars. About the first question people ask is, "Where do you go to church?"

Many of us were shocked by the results on Tuesday. We may find it was a largely rural revolt against urban elites. My wife calls it "Nein/11." People are asking the same questions we did then. How did this happen? Why do they hate us? What happens next? Many will fall into the trap of reducing the outcome to a single, emotionally satisfying cause: racism. There, done. Or economic insecurity or whatever.

But the election challenged our fundamental assumptions about how America worked the way the Civil Rights era challenged the Jim Crow South. We knew there were lots of angry people supporting Donald Trump for lots of reasons, many of them seated in prejudice and opposition to multiculturalism, but we didn't think America as a country was crazy enough and mad enough to actually elect the man. It was.

As much as the people in that little, white valley like being left alone, they like being ignored and undervalued much less. And they don't like the idea of having long-held assumptions challenged about what this country is about and whom it is for. "We Don't Care How They Do It In The Cities." Donald Trump took white resentment over shifting demographics and globalization, and reduced the issues to lost jobs and suspicious foreigners. He added resentments against wealthy, urban elites better able to weather the globalist storm they created than the shrinking middle class. They are corrupt, he told them, and focused more on minority issues than on the upsets of white people not just in the countryside, but in cities too.

Jamelle Bouie suspects "the United States has been a herrenvolk democracy, one in which whites have been favored citizens enjoying principal access to wealth and opportunity and presumptive status over nonwhites." Those assumptions are being challenged and they don't like it. "We’re voting with our middle finger," a South Carolina car salesman told the L.A. Times in February. Almost half the country joined him on Tuesday. The fallout has not been pretty.

Bouie continues:

We assume that the relative lack of racial violence over the last generation is because of a change of heart and attitude. And surely that has happened to some extent. But to what degree does it also reflect an erstwhile political consensus wherein leaders refused to litigate the question of multiracial democracy? Absent organized opposition to the idea that nonwhites were equal partners in government, there was no activation in the broad electorate. It wasn’t an issue people voted on, because they couldn’t.

Donald Trump changed that. With his tirades against nonwhites and foreign others, he reopened the argument. In effect, he gave white voters a choice: They could continue down the path of multiracial democracy—which coincided with the end of an order in which white workers were the first priority of national leaders—or they could reject it in favor of someone who offered that presumptive treatment. Who promised to “make America great again,” to make it look like the America of Trump’s youth and their youths, where whites—and white men in particular—were the uncontested masters of the country.
Well that's how they grew up, and that's how it's supposed to be. It's in the constitution or something. Those resentments took a long time to come to a head. September 11, Barack Obama, the Great Recession (Wall Street walked and common folk got thrown into the street). Trump read the signs. Back in 2006, Digby wrote:
I watched the country music awards the other night and saw what looked like a typical bunch of glammed up pop stars like you'd see on any of these awards shows. Lots of cowboy hats, of course, but the haircuts, the clothes, the silicone bodies were not any different from any other Hollywood production. But the songs were not. There are plenty of Saturday night honky tonk fun and straightforward gospel style religious and patriotic tunes. But there is a strain of explicit cultural ID that wends through all of them.

Gretchen Wilson and Merle Haggard's song "Politically Uncorrect" perfectly captures the sense of exceptionalism and specialness of southern culture:
I'm for the low man on the totem pole
And I'm for the underdog God bless his soul
And I'm for the guys still pulling third shift
And the single mom raisin' her kids
I'm for the preachers who stay on their knees
And I'm for the sinner who finally believes
And I'm for the farmer with dirt on his hands
And the soldiers who fight for this land


And I'm for the Bible and I'm for the flag
And I'm for the working man, me and ol' hag
I'm just one of many
Who can't get no respect

Politically uncorrect

(Merle Haggard)
I guess my opinion is all out of style
(Gretchen Wilson)
Aw, but don't get me started cause I can get riled
And I'll make a fight for the forefathers plan
(Merle Haggard)
And the world already knows where I stand

Repeat Chorus

(Merle Haggard)
Nothing wrong with the Bible, nothing wrong with the flag
(Gretchen Wilson)
Nothing wrong with the working man me & ol' hag
We're just some of many who can't get no respect
Politically uncorrect
(Merle Haggard)
Now that's identity. I emphasized the "can't get no respect" part because I think that's key, as I have written many times before. The belief that these ideas are particular to this audience, that they stand alone as being politically incorrect and are "out of style" for holding them, is a huge cultural identifier. And it's held in opposition to some "other" (presumably someone like me) who is believed not to care about any of those things --- particularly the welfare of the common man.
Donald Trump just turned that ditty into a mega-hit. Democrats thought this election was about shattering glass ceilings. It was about shattering things, alright.