Cognitive Psychology

The Making of the Republican Stooge Voter: A Review of “Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right”

Abbott & Costello

Well, dear readers, I guess that everyone is well aware that the Pussy Grabber is (a) the American president and (b) making a terrible mess of things already. It’s as if Abbott and Costello were elected president and brought the Keystone Kops as their cabinet and the Three Stooges as their national security advisors. Fuck us all!

And if you’re like me — I KNOW, mother, no one is like me, but let’s pretend, okay? — then you still have moments throughout the day and night in which you stare in stupefied disbelief into that comforting mid-distance now that the Pussy Grabber is actually our president, and think, Wipe the drool from my chin and grab my pussy, how did this happen? I find myself all too frequently in this position.

Arlie Hochschild

Luckily for all of us, Arlie Russell Hochschild, UC Berkeley sociologist, held her nose and dove into the deep derp of white rural conservative Louisianan voters for FIVE years to find out and then wrote, Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. She writes extensively about something she calls their deep story: it is the story that our feelings tell about how we perceive the trappings of our lives. It is the narrative that describes our point-of-view, motivations, and deep emotional reactions. And, she tries to climb the empathy wall, i.e. empathize with these folks, even though they live what she calls the great paradox: people who desperately need the aid of liberal government intervention but vote against it.

The Deep Story

Fortunately? Unfortunately? It is exactly what you’d think: conservative white voters feel that they are being left out of America, pushed aside in favor of women (even though, we presume, approximately 50% of them are women), minorities, the LGBTQ+ folks, immigrants, Muslims, and a horde of ominous threatening non-white OTHERS. Apparently, they feel that their unique contributions to America are being ignored and trivialized and that this is UNFAIR! They feel like the liberal coastal elites are talking down to them from their ivory towers. Those liberal elites call them redneck and racist and think they are bad and stupid people. It hurts their feelings. It makes them feel marginalized. And, perhaps most importantly, it makes them mad because it isn’t true. They aren’t ignorant racist rednecks!

Also, too, in addition, they DO NOT trust the mainstream media and its liberal bias and the intrusive federal government that can’t do anything right and no amount of “facts” are going to change that. They believe that Christian values are paramount and are offended when we stray from their view of what Christian values should be. They know that they are good Christians, which means they are good people, which means that everything they do is good. How can good people be stupid racist rednecks? It jus’ don’t make no sense a’tall, y’all.

Cancer Alley: Parishes along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge & New Orleans

The most astonishing thing in the entire book is their view of large petrochemical corporations. You should sit down for this. Seriously, perhaps, you should take a Valium or a stiff drink or both, too. (a) They hate the environmental pollution that they live in in Southern Louisiana that is giving them incredible rates of cancers, a foreshortened mortality rate, and a degraded environment. (b) They feel that the pollution is necessary for the economy, though. (c) It is their patriotic duty to endure the pollution, cancers, destroyed environment, and poverty to supply the world with plastic and other things and get what meager jobs they can from the bargain. (d) They think that these corporations bring jobs to their impoverished corner of the world. No shit, they actually believe this to be true even though it is demonstrably false. Easily demonstrated to be a lie. (e) They accept that huge tax breaks to the corporations are necessary to secure these polluting facilities that do not really bring any jobs to the “little” people other than construction and security. And, that the state and local governments should expend money to fund infrastructure improvements that these companies demand in order to relocate but won’t be paying any taxes to support. (f) Federal environmental regulations stifle job production by these companies, and that these companies will preserve the environment without regulation and oversight because it is in the companies’ economic interest to do so.  Seriously. They believe this shit.

Pollution in Louisiana

The upshot is that these people think that it is okay for Gov. Bobby Jindal to have bankrupted the state in order to secure an expansion of the highly polluting petrochemical companies that are locating their plants in Louisiana and for the state’s chief function to be to make it easier for these companies to exploit the state’s natural resources including its citizens. By the end of the book not only are you sick to your stomach but you are convinced that Bobby Jindal is the most evil motherfucker to walk the nation. Holly shit, he condemned the entire southern region of the state to economic hardship, frequently occurring cancers, early death, and incredible environmental degradation. Worse, though, these people all happily and gaily skipped to the voting booths to elect these assholes.

They are tired of being made to feel guilty if they don’t feel sorry enough for the freeloading takers that the black community is, especially since there is no racism or discrimination against them. And, every day there is a new group that they must feel sorry for when no one is feeling sorry for them — but we are; it’s just that they make it like hugging a cactus. To them it is a never ending parade of people they don’t understand cutting in line ahead of them due to liberal naiveté and stalling their progress to the American dream  — whatever that is.

They believe that it is their patriotic duty to endure the depredations that generations of Louisiana politicians have visited upon them in the name of economic development. They are quite right that the rest of us enjoy cheap plastics and other petroleum products because the companies that make them are given such free reign in Louisiana, but those companies would supply the same goods and protect the environment if we made them because it is in their economic best interest to do so.

The Great Disconnect Between Reality and Rhetoric

Probably, the most useful chapter in the book was Appendix C: Fact Checking Common Impressions. I’ll summarize some the most egregious disconnects between reality and craven Republican rhetoric:

  1. The government spends A LOT of money on welfare. It doesn’t. Only 8% of the 2014 US budget was devoted to “welfare” for the poor as we conceive of it.
  2. Welfare rolls are up and people on welfare don’t work. In other words, those welfare recipients are shiftless takers and it is UNFAIR to take money from the hardworking makers and give to lazy takers. Enrollment on welfare rolls has fallen by 20% since 1996, although rising again in the Great Recession peaking in 2013.
  3. Everyone who is poor gets a handout. According to the 2012 Census 26.2% of people eligible for “welfare” don’t receive it. In Louisiana, four poor people receive TANF benefits for every 100 who are eligible! While half of the tax benefits doled out by the US government goes to the richest 20%.
  4. Black women have a lot more children than white women. Fertility rates as of 2013 for black women was 1.88 children over their life time and 1.75 for white women. Thanks Planned Parenthood, now give us our money back and quit racisming blacks by forcing abortions on them!
  5. Forty percent of the American work force work for either the state or federal government. Good thing the Pussy Grabber just froze all federal hiring! Cut the takers off! In 2012 there were approximately 143 million people in the American work force. Seventeen percent worked for local, state, or federal government. This includes education, medical, police and fire, and military.
  6. Public sector workers are way overpaid. When education, experience, sex, race, ethnicity, and other demographic factors are held constant, private sector employees earned about 12% more than the public sector.
  7. The more environmental regulations, the fewer jobs. A 1993 study suggests that over a twenty year period, stronger environmental standards did not correlate with slower economic growth. A 2008 study found a net positive effect on employment from investments in environmental protection.
  8. State subsidies to industry help increase the number of jobs. Gov. Jindal gave away about $1.1 BILLION per year in state revenue as incentives for industry to relocate to or expand in Louisiana. For example, Valero received $10 million to expand a plant. It created 43 new jobs. That is about $250,000 per job. Oil and natural gas drilling varies based on the prices of oil and natural gas, not on state subsidies and incentives.
  9. I’ve had about all of this that I can take. When we said that the Pussy Grabber was playing to the rubes when he was saying that he would bring back manufacturing jobs and improve the inner-city slums that plague black America, we were right. There is no other word for it. These people are rubes. And, the Republicans are willing to lead them all to destruction to line their own pockets.

I don’t know any other word to describe people who keep participating in the Great Paradox other than stooge. The information that disproves the entire platform of the GOP is so easily found and is so clear. The only way the GOP could continue was to convince its electorate that the facts were wrong and the sources of facts were untrustworthy. They’ve succeeded in spades.

Cognitive Dissonance

No one likes to be a stooge. Once you realize that you were scammed, people often react by justifying their actions and not challenging their assumptions. These conservative voters are willing if unaware participants in the con that is bringing them early death and misery. They have to. They have committed too much and come too far to admit their mistake.


When you cannot change actions taken in the past that you are ashamed of, you have to change your beliefs in the present so that your past actions match your present belief. So, if you were voting for the robber baron politicians who were raping your land and devastating your life, then you cannot change that. Your child has died of cancer, your home has been consumed by a sinkhole, your favorite bayou fishing spot can no longer be fished, and it is ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU VOTED FOR BOBBY FUCKING JINDAL and he sold you up the river to be ruthlessly exploited by petrochemical companies. Since you can’t change anything in the past, you change your beliefs: pollution is necessary and unavoidable, petrochemical companies will bring jobs and improvement, liberals are promoting the environment and minorities at your expense, liberals want to take your hard earned money from all of your hard work and give it to undeserving lazy poor people, i.e. blacks. You have to believe this horse hockey, otherwise, you have to acknowledge your role in your own demise.

Unfortunately, as easy as it is to condemn and laugh at these people, we need to help them in spite of themselves and try to make political allies of them. There is common cause that can be made here. We have to use their deep story to help shape our message so that it is more palatable to them.

45 replies »

  1. I have now read the article and every single comment, “liking” my way down the page. There is little I can add beyond my knowledge that Louisiana politics have long been among the most corrupt in the nation. There are similar stories under almost every political stone you’d overturn.

    They had, when I was there years ago, at least, a public policy I actually agree with, but – as with most public policies – it was a knife that cut both ways. It explains part of the problem – lack of BASIC education.

    If you graduated from a public high school and applied to a public institute of higher learning, they MUST accept you – you get a shot. Great idea if graduating HS means something.

    HOWEVER, I had students in the college classes I taught at the University of New Orleans (teaching/acting assistantship) who were not literate. Not even a little bit. NOT that they weren’t intelligent – most were – they could barely read and write! Their spelling was phonetic, based on however they pronounced the words they were trying to use. I literally had to read some of their papers aloud, trying hard to listen through with an ear toward slang expressions, and so-called “black English” grammatical structure to even fathom what they were trying to say. And NOT just black students, btw.

    HOW can that happen? How many years back does it go? How can you possibly remediate lack of basic literacy in a college setting? How can they learn if they can’t read the texts?

    Few of these students made it far in college before they dropped out or flunked out – so what was their future likely to become? But that is a mere tip of a much darker iceberg. If public high schools would graduate students without TRULY basic skills, how well do you think they covered the remainder of the curriculum? How – how much – and WHAT can you teach them if they don’t arrive with a background of prior information?

    Couple that with the fact that Louisiana is a deeply rooted family-oriented state: it is part of the culture that parents and grandparents remain intimatately involved with their offspring – and the offspring of their offspring. In New Orleans, the joke at the time was that parents mourned the loss when their kids moved to Slidell – a 30 or so minutes drive away. It wasn’t THAT much of a hyperbole: most young adults in New Orleans didn’t move far from their parents – many next door and many more within the same neighborhood. Two-family homes abounded. I have heard that it was – and may still be – similar in Baton Rouge and other cities around the state.

    So who’s voting? How in-depth is their thinking about any political issue likely to BE? And more importantly – HOW do we reach them through shouted lies, tweeted and repeated, without making them feel like we believe they are stupid. Because, as you know from my recent article on confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance, censure and ridicule will always backfire with most people – brain-based and primarily unconscious.

    And NOW, we have DeVoss as Sec of Ed. God help us ALL!
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to educate a world!”


    • Howdy Madelyn!

      I’m procrastinating on a Saturday morning and got started reading my comments — always a fun exercise in procrastination! I’m reminded of two things after rereading your comment. One was an experience I had working at an algebra instructor in a self-paced course when I was in university. Students would come in for tutoring and tests. It actually was fun, and I learned a lot about teaching. One student stands out. She only came in once, and I always wondered what happened to her. As I sat helping her that afternoon, she would point to a plus sign and say in heavily accented English, “Oh, oh, oh, this one means plus!” and then struggle to add the numbers together correctly. I taught her to multiply that afternoon. In the course of our interaction, I asked her where she was from. Louisiana. Inside I was appalled, but outwardly, I was gentle, kind, and accepting.

      The other thing that I think about is that anger is met with anger. We have to use our anger judicially lest we simply devolve into fighting all of the time. If you truly want to help someone change, you have to be sympathetic and accepting. Part of me is too outraged at the obviousness of it all to be too successful at the accepting sympathy. I came from that culture — not Louisiana, but the mountains of Tennessee and western Pennsylvania. I grew up in one of the most racist divided places on the planet, South Texas. I overcame my redneck background — now I sound like one of those pull yourself up by your bootstraps types — and can’t help but feel that if I did it, they should, too. I know it isn’t that way.

      I can empathize with these people. They really just want to be left alone to live in their communities, but, man, getting over the, how can you not see…?!? part is really really hard. especially when no one can be left alone to live in an insular community anymore. Like it or not, we are connected, and the only effective response is to get involved.



      • LOL – I call it taking a break. After 1:30 AM here and I just walked in from a St. Paddy’s celebration at my puppy’s Cheers bar down the street, deciding to respond to a few comments before I change into my pjs.

        Interesting reply. I got my BA at UT Knoxville, back before Dollywood changed the climate substantially, so I am well aware of the way “the mountain folk” grew up and tend to think, reflected in their voting. But we must not forget that it was the Electoral College & gerrymandering that brought us the horror we live with today, NOT the majority of the voters.

        The “man of the people” lie is the one that blows my mind. How can anyone who isn’t uber-rich believe that a billionaire could possibly understand their concerns, much less be sensitive toward them — and he is a total stranger to the struggles of any of his other supporters. You don’t have to read many of his tweets before it becomes painfully obvious that he lacks empathy almost entirely and that there are HUGE holes in his educational background – science most obvious of late.

        The rumors about his lack of literacy would not surprise me if they turned out to be part of the problem. Whether he is able to read or not, he certainly has not and does not spend time doing so. He might as well have grown up – and lived his life – in a bubble, for all he knows about history, ecology, health, BASIC science, education -OR- “the common man.”

        God help us all!


    • Howdy Silver!
      I’ve long believed that biggest problem with the GOP and the voters that make up the Southern strategy is that our current generation believed the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan and his cronies. Reagan et al. did not believe their trickle-down economics. They knew it was bunk. That’s why Reagan borrowed so heavily to make up for the shortfall of revenue. But, now it is part and parcel of American belief that the deficit and debt is out of control. Neither is a threat to the US economy. So, yes, even the educated ones are idiots or willfully ignorant.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for posting this brilliant piece Trish on The Red Window

    Arlie Hochschild youre a breath of fresh air and Australia has isolations of populace that also fit within "Deep Story"
    s Stockholm Syndrome en masse IMO

    Liked by 3 people

  3. an old friend of mind always thought that the unfathomable perspective of southerners was caused by the ” water:” ….well they were referring to the old mississippi river….. and who knows with all the crap being thrown in there ,,, could be true!….however it does boggle the mind as to how so many can be bamboozled buy so few. As a former New Englander , it always baffled us ‘northerners” as to how the south was still fight the ” great war” and couldn’t find their ass with both hands…. sigh I think they were on to something and that something MUST be the water!… and the sad part is , that so much pollution going into all the water ways there that It must make the residents ill….. or stupid or both…. at least that was what my uncle always said…..he may have been on to something…. other than beer.

    I really got into your writing … this is one of your best ….. and so on the money… Be well friend and rest up

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Francese!
      It definitely may be something in the water given the amount of pollution that has been dumped into it. But, there are interesting studies that map the areas of greatest slave-ownership in the South to current racial attitudes and poverty and other social ills and they line up pretty directly. It is sobering. I’ll look for some of those maps and post them.
      It defies any reasoning that these people cannot connect the dots. Cognitive dissonance is one of the few explanations that I find convincing and the deep story that Hochschild has developed ties into it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh you have no idea how much I needed to read this today. Thank you so much. Honestly from the bottom of my heart. I’m tired. Tired of people dismissing complex phenomena with a link about Muslims from a strange part of the internet. I’m tired of wading through the sludge of self serving bias. I’m tired of reading blogs full of opinion and no substance, no explanation, no critical thinking or analysis. I’m tired of the right wing Nationalist party in Australia getting a free reign and no criticism from the media like her getting in will be fun. Hoschilds emotional contagion is also worth discussion in this context. You honestly have made my day. I think I’m going mad in a world of irrational thought and blatant stupidity and your article just resulted in a wave of calm. I know I’ve said it before but thanks. Your actual writing is also worth acknowledging as flowing beautifully bringing the reader through a complex journey so effortlessly.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Howdy Trish!
      Thank you for your kind words. And, you’re welcome. It is gratifying to know that my work — the work I deeply love — is appreciated. I, too, find comfort in the explanation based on sound empirical evidence. I gotta tell you, and I’m sure it is clear, I’m tired of conservatives just blatantly denying reality and just lying for political gain and selling the citizens down the river. It is craven Machiavellian naked politics. It is sickening.
      I’ve read Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed” and found Arlie Hochschild through her since they wrote “Global Woman” together. I’m intrigued by Hochschild’s idea of emotional contagion. It is one of my next areas of studies and to bring to the blog.
      I get a lot of comfort and inspiration from a blog called “Wonkette,” Rachel Maddow’s show, and Vox. Where do you find inspiration and comfort?

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are most welcome. Before I chucked my PhD in, I was researching if accumulative negative affect occurred or is experienced by disadvantaged workers and jobseekers, as they navigate between home, work and learning. Emotional contagion was quite central to my thesis. Another book you may be interested in, if you have not read it, is stigma: a case of spoiled identity by Erving Goffman. A very small book, but very powerful. It is the seminal work of how society constructs stigma. The Normals and the others.

        Where do I find inspiration and comfort. As per the inspiration, it truly is an uncontrollable thing. Its like my brain just says – yep this is what you are writing about. If I try to sit down and think about something to write, nothing much happens and it sounds different. Something will just trigger me off. I see things in patterns, so it may be a pattern of narrative for example and then I’m off writing. For comfort, well definitely writing such as yours and I also greatly admire Victoria Rollinson, who is another Australian Blogger. Other than that, I read a lot. I read a lot of crime, thrillers and horror.
        I just checked out Wonkette. It seems reminiscent of Australia’s Clem Ford.
        I’m a Laborist through and through. So the politics I value is entrenched in supporting the worker and those who cannot work for ever reason. We are a social democratic party. A little different than the liberals in your country, you have more individualism than we espouse. Our Liberal Party in Australia are conservatives, neo-liberals and nationalists. We also have the rise of nationalism here. I think it is important for bloggers to write about politics as the media is doing a terrible job! Anyway, I enjoy receiving your articles in my email. I look forward to more of your work. This one just really spoke to me.

        Liked by 2 people

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