Tuesday, August 25, 2015


The New Republic's Jeet Heer thinks we mischaracterize Donald Trump when we describe him as a populist appealing to the working class. Heer says Trump is "the voice of aggrieved privilege":
As The New York Times reported on the weekend, Trump's actual supporters come from a broad demographic swath of the Republican Party. "He leads among moderates and college-educated voters, despite a populist and anti-immigrant message thought to resonate most with conservatives and less-affluent voters," the Times noted. College-educated Republicans hardly constitute a populist constituency, so there is good reason to think Trump's putative populism deserves another label.

Rather than a populist, Trump is the voice of aggrieved privilege -- of those who already are doing well but feel threatened by social change from below, whether in the form of Hispanic immigrants or uppity women (hence the loud applause he got at the first GOP debate when he derided “political correctness”). Far from being a defender of the little people against the elites, Trump plays to the anxiety of those who fear that their status is being challenged by people they regard as their social inferiors. That’s why the word “loser” is such a big part of his vocabulary.
That may be true now, but it hasn't always been true -- recall the July Washington Post/ABC poll in which Trump was backed by 32% of non-college-educated Republicans and only 8% of college-educated Republicans. The less well off may not be the core of Trump's support now, but they were early Trump adopters.

Also recall the story of the two brothers who beat and urinated on a homeless Mexican man in Boston:
The brothers, Scott Leader and Steve Leader, were being held without bail on charges including assault and indecent exposure....

Scott Leader told troopers after his arrest, "Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported," according to a state police report filed in court....

Court records show Scott Leader served a year in prison for a hate crime against a Moroccan coffee shop worker after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks....
Privileged? I don't think so. And here's more about them:
The two brothers from Boston who were arrested early Wednesday for allegedly severely beating a homeless Hispanic man do not appear to exactly be law-abiding citizens. Steve and Scott Leader of South Boston are now being investigated under suspicion of living illegally in public housing. The Boston Globe explains:
After their arrest, the Leader brothers told State Police that they lived in public housing, but records show that only their mother is listed as a resident. Housing officials said she now faces eviction proceedings.

The Boston Housing Authority requires lease holders to list all residents and to pay their fair share of the rent, because public housing is for needy families whose average income is $14,000 a year. Some 36,000 people are on the waiting list for housing. Police records say Scott is a mason and Steve, 30, is a carpenter.

“Based on the police report and other information, there’s reason to believe that the Leader brothers were living at the Mary Ellen McCormack development illegally,” Lydia Agro, the housing authority chief of staff, said Friday.
These are just two guys, one of whom has expressly praised Trump. I'm not saying they're typical Trumpites. But whatever you might say about them, if they're bunking with Mom in public housing, a few years after one of them spent a year in the joint, they're not exactly living a life of privilege.

But there are a lot of white people in America who aren't living privileged lives but think they should be. They don't just aspire to the middle class, they feel as if they're part of the middle class, even if, economically, they aren't. What they really feel they're a part of, for want of a better term, is white privilege. They may just think of it as American privilege. They think they're entitled because they believe white people played by the rules from the minute our ancestors hit these shores, and while they may have benign feelings for any non-whites they think are similarly playing by the rules (yay Ben Carson!), they generally feel most non-whites have failed to play by the rules, and therefore deserve less. Moreover, they believe the government -- particularly because of liberal Democrats, but also because of "RINO" Republicans -- has cosseted those non-whites in a way white immigrants and their descendants never were cosseted.

I'd say a lot of economically comfortable white people have similar beliefs -- they're doing fine, but they're dissatisfied with their lot. They're sure they'd be doing a hell of a lot better if it weren't for all the damn parasites.

And as Matt Yglesias notes, the European voters who are analogous to the America's Trumpites actually tend to believe in the European welfare state, just as the Trumpites believe in preserving Medicare and Social Security -- they just think too much of their share of government spending is going to people of certain ethnicities who are undeserving:
For example, when I read the platform of the French National Front, I found a genuinely extreme and super-right-wing view of immigration combined with a critique of the Eurozone and the European Central Bank that would be comfortably at home in a Paul Krugman column. They also promised to avoid cuts to France's version of Social Security and indeed to enhance benefits for stay-at-home moms.

* The Danish People's Party and the True Finns are both more friendly to the Nordic welfare state than are the more traditional center-right parties they are currently allied with in coalitions.

* The UK Independence Party manifesto promises to increase NHS funding and to start an early retirement option for Britain's social security system.

* The Freedom Party in the Netherlands blew up a center-right cabinet by refusing to endorse an austerity budget.

... As Lee Drutman detailed for Vox, the policy blend that combines hostility to immigration with support for Social Security and Medicare is actually quite popular.

... many people are both beneficiaries of government programs to support the living standards of the elderly while also being skeptical of the kinds of social change brought about by immigration.
So there may be quite a few privileged people in Trump's coalition. But they have what Barbara Ehrenreich, many years ago, called "fear of falling," and the less well-off Trumpites have it too. They think they deserve more. They think they're owed.

I'll add this: Occasionally a rich guy will fret about the possibility that ongoing economic inequality in the wake of the Great Recession will soon lead to a class-based revolt against the rich. Nahhh. A Trumpite war of insecure whites against non-whites is what we're getting instead.


Chris Andersen said...

It's not that Trump's supporters are privileged and think their privilege is being threatened. It's that they think they *should* be privileged and would be if it weren't for "those people" and their political correctness.

Feud Turgidson said...

Steve M, I'm not about to dispute your analysis, at all; actually, I think you could go further into it (and from there into its implications), using this post or something like it as a base.

But I do want to comment that the phenomenon you're describing seems to me to share a striking number of features with CARGO CULTISM.