ReBlogged

“Elite of the left behind” or Democracy is Too Much of a Risk, Give Us White Minority-Rule Autocracy Instead


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. 


Continue reading on Salon: Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild on the Trump demographic: “Elite of the left behind”

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Image Attribution

“Flinch, a free book from the Domino Project” by robspiegel is licensed under CC BY 2.0

34 replies »

  1. Scattered thoughts: I am reminded of my teaching/tech-support days and a couple “clients” so enamored of the Left Behind christian porn one actually listened to it on audio-book in her office as dept sec at a secular institution and their arrogance in “I don’t give a fig what you think about it.” People so convinced in both their righteousness and “rightness” that I have a time or two in anger reminded them that I will still be here when their precious lord and master doesn’t float down out of the sky on a flyingloating rainbow unicorn without thousands of “helpers” on flyingloating rainbow unicorns to carry them all away to paradise, leaving the rest of behind, and I am not unwilling to instruct them in the differences twixt pray, and prey. OK, maybe not so scattered.

    Did you ever thumb through that shit? I don’t know much about porn but I’m pretty sure that’s what it looks like …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Ten!

      Oh yeah. I’ve been exposed to that Left Behind Christian genre of “literature” propaganda. They KNOW they’re right, which is why they don’t feel like they need democracy or to compromise with the opposition party in order to govern. It is the most anti-democratic notion that there is and it is embedded in our cultural DNA.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Like

  2. Thank you for this illuminating post. The question that immediately comes to my mind is: what can we do about it? Anyone who believes in democracy should feel threatened by such a vocal and increasingly violence-prone minority growing within our borders. How do we awaken the majority of Americans, fixated on the price of filling their car’s gas tank, to the dangers of these more lethal fumes—especially in view of the threats received by heroic school board members, poll workers, even health care workers? If there’s a psycho-social description of the problem, where can we look for a psycho-social solution—or at least mitigation?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Annie!

      That really is the point of the blog is to diagnose the issues and prescribe solutions with the presumption that a good diagnosis will lead to a good treatment. The problem is that the treatment is something that Democrats have traditionally not been very good at, framing the debate. They’ve ceded the ground to Republicans. They let Republicans frame the debate and seem to only react to their aggressive and inaccurate arguments.

      The Republicans have successfully framed the issue as the loss of white culture. It isn’t. It is a gain of other cultural attributes that will make us better suited to cope with the coming changes in the world. But, as long as white people are primarily reacting as if they are facing a sure loss of their white cultural position of privilege, they will react by being willing to take a risk on the authoritarians. In a certain sense, democracy itself is a risk. Afterall, it resulted in the election of a Black president. For the inner racist of many white people that was intolerable. At least with authoritarianism, you lock in white minority rule and primacy of white privilege.

      Part of the framing solution is emphasizing the qualities and characteristics that we have in common and hold jointly: democracy, fairness, and equality. The problem is that white people seem to value whiteness over any notions of democracy, fairness, and equality. That’s the problem, isn’t it, white people will tell pollsters that they favor Roe v. Wade, common sense gun laws, taxing the rich, and the child tax credit by 70+%, but when it comes time for elections they either stay home during the mid-terms or vote for Trump by 52%.

      Now, the Republican state legislatures are putting radically gerrymandered maps where they can maintain control of state legislatures and federal Congressional delegations with less than 40% of the vote.

      Framing the argument as one of existential threat to our democracy should help turn out sometimes voters, low-information, and independent voters, but it didn’t in Virginia or NJ, so we’ll see.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I’ve long thought that hate is not a separate thing from love, that it is a defense against what one would have to do and be if one actually loved your neighbor, or the stranger — the other — took the risk.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Howdy Bob!

      That is pretty similar to something I had read or someone told me once that the opposite of hate isn’t love but empathy and that hate is triggered by the fear of empathizing with another’s situation.

      I know when I am really thinking negatively about someone, and, unfortunately, there are way too many people that I have negative feelings for, although, I hesitate to use the word hate, both my love and empathy for that person is low. If I focus on either love or empathy for that person, I can’t hate them… in that moment.

      I’m reminded of something that Simon Baron-Cohen (Sasha’s knighted psychologist cousin) said about empathy: it ebbs and flows like any other emotion. You can’t be happy all of the time, some moments you’re happier and some less happy, just like all emotions. There are techniques focusing on aspects of someone’s story and life that will help you have more empathy for them. I had to use them when working with severely disfigured and ill folks with AIDS.

      In this post, Arlie Hochschild is quoted as describing MAGA as being in hardened shells unable to emotionally connect with the Black and Brown communities that they fear. You could see that hardening happening in real time, especially with respect with gun reform. One of the reactions to mass shootings is to empathize with the dead and their families. To fight the emotional effect, the NRA began talking about crisis actors and it being too soon to politicize the incident and sending hearts and prayers. In her book, Hochschild talked about empathy fatigue among the white people she was studying. They felt as if they were constantly being asked to empathize with another disadvantaged group and no one was empathizing with them — the ultimate expression of privilege. Finally, they just closed their hearts and prayers to any of it.

      Whether it is love or empathy, MAGA Nation has been innoculated against it. It doesn’t reach them. Not dead children, not #COVID19 deaths, not family separations, not medical bankruptcy, nothing reaches them. Complete insulation.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thinking about the hardening of the MAGA, when someone is repeatedly feeling as the victim – loss of status, being disrespected, ignored, deceived, and so on, empathy for any “other” becomes more and more difficult. Then we hear, “All lives matter!” (meaning, “My life matters!”) and “Blue lives matter!” (those who are supposed to protect ME.) Trump and the GOP have played that victimhood card relentlessly.

        One telling feature of the anti-abortion rhetoric is zero empathy for the woman seeking the abortion, not even wanting to know her reasons or situation (even medical emergency), and none for the child once born or the parent on whom that child is forced. The only empathy expressed is for the essentially imaginary “unborn child”.

        Liked by 2 people

        • The imagined is so much easier to deal with than reality. Given the completeness of the rhetoric in terms of answering every appeal that liberals might make to the humanity of the base, you’d think that someone somewhere had thought it through and prepared the counter-arguments.

          Jack

          Liked by 2 people

          • Someone did, several someones, well paid someones. We have to remember that the anti-abortion “movement” began as astro-turf, not a mass, organic, spontaneous outcry, but as a deliberate strategy like the southern strategy. Yes, the counter arguments were ready to whatever the pro-choice side might say.

            Liked by 2 people

            • The astroturf playbook has been developed and applied several times over the past few decades. They’ve used it against the ACA and created the Tea Party. They’ve used it with the Second Amendment. And, now they’re using it with school boards and CRT. It is incredibly effective and there is no equivalent on the left.

              Huzzah!
              Jack

              Liked by 2 people

              • To do astroturf, you have to be in opposition, even if you are actually in power. It is always about being against something. So, instead of astroturf, the Democrats have Stacy Abrams, AOC, Bernie, BLM, and Antifa (sort of).

                Liked by 2 people

                • Howdy Bob!

                  Can we Stacy Abrams hour way out of the existential threat to our democracy? Is she and others out there organizing behind the scenes like she did in 2020? We’re so impatient and want everything laid out in bite-sized piecemeal plain and obvious guaranteed steps nowadays that no one seems to be able to think about the possibility that things are happening that we don’t know about.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Well, there are lots of things happening that we don’t know about, at least not without a lot of work, many of them very bad (Dark Money). Community organizing, as Stacy well knows, is a face-to-face, knocking on doors, hanging out in hair salons and barber shops (especially in the Black community), 24/7 deal, not a hurry up and jump on the crisis of the day kind of deal. It is also not a matter of going out once a month or once a week to protest something and going home to the TV feeling virtuous thing. And it is long game thinking. Instant gratification ain’t part of it. Stacy Abrams has been at it for many years and she trains people.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I guess there’s a reason that black women are the most reliable voting block that the Dems have and young white adults are the worst. Also, the demographic that is most likely to lie and claim to have voted when they haven’t is young white adults. It’s the social mediaing mixed with the sportsification that produces such erratic voting patterns among Dem voters. If the issues and the presidential election don’t align, we just stay home on election day.

                      I’m hoping that (a) the Dems actually pass the BBBB even though they have to extend the debt ceiling and pass gov’t funding and Manchin is balking at the BBBB now, and (b) they can pass the voting bills in the spring. Of course, it means dealing with the filibuster, so we’ll see. Somehow I feel like I’ve written this before. Maybe in another comment. Still those hopes are the only thing that let me sleep at night.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • It is going to be a close run thing. As for the voters, Democrats have to somehow get it driven home that the habit has to be, if there is an election of any kind or level and you are eligible to vote in it, vote, ever time, all the time, even if you have to crawl over broken glass to do it.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      If we are to save our democracy, that has to be the primary message.

                      We also are going to need to decide what we’ll do if states refuse to certify winning Democratic candidates. We’ll need mass action in the streets. Not riots, but we will need millions in the street protesting, which means we should be preparing ourselves well in advance. Luckily, there is still time.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      It was a sign of the times that there wasn’t and still isn’t a more robust protest music genre in response to Trump and the GQP authoritarian power grab.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I am such a poor follower of current popular music that I had not noticed the lack. I have the impression that the songs sung en-mass at protests tend to be oldies but goodies. Now, I have to wonder what this means.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      When CDs were replaced by whatever replaced them, I really fell out of popular music. I don’t know how to listen to anything current any more other than soundtracks and odd bits played in public. Of course, living abroad I am not privy to anything that happens at protest rallies beyond what shows up on MSM news broadcasts and the occasional YouTube video. My only sourcing is that a year or so ago, some reporter noted the lack of protest music and did a story on it. Once in a while a rapper or other pop star will do a political song, but it’s nothing that you find people rallying around. I think memes have replaced protest songs. If there were a way — there probably is — to embed sound on a meme, they might come back. Perhaps that is what TikTok really is, a video-based meme.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      Pollsters have consistently found that the one voting block that will lie and claim to have voted when they actually haven’t is young white voters. They just aren’t a reliable voting block. I guess that’s why mail-in and early voting are so threatening to the GQP. The easier it is to vote, the more options you have in casting your vote, the more likely you will actually vote. Even young white voters who could mail in a ballot from their college dorm or from their internship or first job somewhere.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Ali!

          I’m really happy to hear that. It was one of the more transformational moments for me, too, when I really got the whole empathy ebbing and flowing thing. I was moving down this road toward individuals in MAGA Nation until the Virginia governor’s race. I still can’t believe every election isn’t decided by a landslide against the MAGA candidate. It is really hard to have empathy for and see the humanity in someone who reacts so blindly and strongly to such obvious racist dog whistles.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 1 person

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