Way back in 2017, I reviewed Arlie Hochschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, concerning her five year first-person overt observation study of rural conservative Christian white voters in and around Lake Charles, Louisiana. She got to know and spend time with a number of people living there. They weren’t rich most of them were barely middle class. She wrote that fascinating book on her experience and fleshed out what she calls their deep story or the story that their feelings tell about how they perceive the trappings of their lives. It is the narrative that describes their point-of-view, motivations, and deep emotional reactions. She was trying to resolve the great paradox, the reason that people who desperately need government services consistently vote against the politicians that will deliver them and for politicians that won’t. Fascinating stuff.
When the debacle in Virginia went down last week, I wondered what Hochschild would have to say about MAGA Nation and the strident divisiveness of the American right. Turns out, the good folks over at Salon did too and interviewed her last June. I have to admit, it’s a weird article. It goes through a lengthy run up to the actual interview in which the demographics of the 6 January Insurrection are reviewed.
There are a few worthwhile nuggets of information, though:
- The states the people charged in the insurrection have been in proportion to the state’s populace except for Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Montana. They sent more than their fair share. Kentucky, sure, but Maryland? Really?
- Fifty-two percent of the insurrectionists were from counties that Biden won. What? Before you go scratching your ass, there’s something else these counties have in common: they have all seen declines in the white, non-Hispanic populations. Hunh? Go figure.
- The demographics of arrested insurrectionists: average age, 40; 40% are business owners or hold white-collar jobs; and only 9% were unemployed. Contrast that profile with the demographic of earlier far-right extremists: 61% under 35; 25% unemployed; and very few white-collar employees. In other words, it ain’t and never has been about economics.
- The median household income of the average Trump voter is $72,000.00 per year, which is well above the average.
- White privilege and racial angst are central organizing principles of those on the right, according to research findings.
While that summary of insurrectionist and Trump supporter information is interesting, it is hardly new. It’s ground that has been plowed and harvested before. What’s interesting in the article and what makes it worth reading is Hochschild’s take on it all based on her continued interactions with her informants from Lake Charles, Louisiana, aka Cancer Alley, where we’ll all likely be living in the coming Republican Dystopia.
Here’s a quick summary:
- MAGA Nation is characterized by shame, failure, entitlement, and fear. We don’t even need to dive deeper into those, do we, but, of course, we will. We know exactly what all four mean: shame and failure at not doing better, i.e. achieving the American dream of being rich, rich, rich! or at least of doing better than your parent. Entitlement of being treated with the respect that those with your skin color have grown accustomed to, and fear of being replaced by harder working better achieving black and brown people.
- Because democracy is a risk — to put it in behavioral economics terms — the rural conservative Christian white voter is willing to eschew it for the sure thing that autocracy grants: minority white rule. Adherence to their conservative Christian white values of being able to be as racist and misogynist as they wanna be. As long as they can have that, they’re fine fine fine. All the Flint water, Cancer Alleys, Texas utilities, and early painful death are acceptable. Seriously, that’s their jam right there.
- The elite of the left behind: They are not poor or rich, but rural whites who feel like their significance in America is on the decline. These are the losers in our increasingly globalized economy. The international corporations realized they no longer needed the American middle class’s buying power, so they off-shored it along with their jobs. So long, suckers!
- The elite of the left behind are the wealthier more worldly of the group. That makes them more dangerous. They aren’t afraid to travel to DC and ransack the Capitol because they think their position of authority will protect them. Remember the woman who boasted that she wasn’t going to jail because she was blonde, white, had a good job, and a future? That’s what Hochschild means. She feels entitled to do as she pleases and is pissed because she feels like the browning of America is diluting her significance.
- Trump brought them together. Much like the Internet has allowed people vulnerable to conspiratorial thinking to find one another and create self-reinforcing communities, Trump rallies have allowed MAGA Nation to find one another. They all squeal, Look how many we are! when they’re there, and that empowers them to more outrageous dangerous and atrocious violent behavior.
- American individualism says that if you’re doing well, it’s because you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and used a thick coating of elbow grease to rise and grind. That means that the opposite is also true, if you’re not doing so well it’s because you’re a fuck up, and you feel ashamed of that. That’s all these rural conservative Christian white voters who are watching their small towns get boarded up and farms bought up by corporations — thanks, Trump tariffs!.
- God knows it can’t be YOUR entitled LILY white-ass’s fault, so it must be all those liberals pushing Black and Brown people to the front of the line like they are some kind of Rosa Park and getting all uppity and not waiting their turn for their pull at the brass apple of the American dream! It can’t be because rural white America bought a bill of goods being sold by cynical exploitative Republican politicians, can it Bobby Jindal?
- There is a weird bit of parallelism that Trump uses. When he would say something stupidly outrageous and the MSM would attack him for it, the people who feel ashamed of themselves for being such abject failures in a world that their Republican governance didn’t prepare them for would feel vindicated when Trump pushed back. It was like he was pushing back for them, too, even though he was pushing back against criticism for some dumbass thing he said or did. It got all confused and conflated in their minds.
- Rural conservative Christian white voters have hardened their shells. They are unwilling to do the emotional labor to disarm their deep moral and political alarm system and permit themselves a great deal of genuine curiosity about people who they see as some type of Other. They have innocculated themselves against emotional appeals to empathize with the suffering of people that they don’t see as being like themselves. They simply refuse to because to do so would mean that they get pushed deeper into the hole and, god forbid, get treated like they treat Black people, and worse, by Black people.
I guess we could’ve all foregone all of that and just relied on LBJ’s sage insight:
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”LBJ explaining the racial epithets on signs in Tennessee in 1960.
Now, ain’t that just fucking pitiful?
Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild on the Trump demographic: “Elite of the left behind”
UC Berkeley sociologist explores the loss and shame that led to Trump in her book “Strangers in Their Own Land”
CHAUNCEY DEVEGA 7 June 2021
Five months ago, supporters of Donald Trump attempted a coup to nullify the results of the 2020 presidential election, launching a lethal attack on the U.S. Capitol. Since then, the Republican Party has chosen to try to erase or rewrite the story of what happened that day, in order to conceal its culpability. Public opinion polls and other research show that the Republican Party’s war on the truth about Jan. 6 — and reality more generally — is working. A majority of Republicans actually believe that the election was “stolen”. A not insignificant number of Republicans also believe that the events of Jan. 6 either did not occur or were somehow crimes committed by antifa or Black Lives Matter activists as part of a plot to “discredit” Donald Trump.
In the months since Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol, what have we learned about them? To this point, 510 people have been charged with crimes for their participation in the Capitol attack, and 130 of those have been charged with assaulting, or otherwise causing harm to police or employees at the Capitol. Out of those 130 defendants, 40 have been charged with using deadly or dangerous weapons or causing serious bodily harm. Several dozen of those who raided the Capitol that day have been charged with conspiracy, and three defendants have also been charged with terrorism.
skipping ahead to the introduction of the interview portion
In an attempt to better understand these complex relationships between race, class, Trumpism and the events of Jan. 6, I recently spoke with Arlie Russell Hochschild. She is a professor emerita of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of nine books, of which the most recent is “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.“
In this conversation, Hochschild explains how a group she describes as “the elite of the left behind” are Donald Trump’s real base of support. She discusses how Trump exploited feelings of shame, failure, entitlement and fear among the white working class to win them over to his fake populist movement. Hochschild also shares her thoughts on the Jan. 6 attack, which she sees not merely as an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election but an attack on the idea of democracy itself.