Thursday, September 1, 2016

tender global mercies

SLATE had an article where Isaac Chotiner (a descendant of Nixon campaign aide Murray Chotiner) interviews J.D. Vance, an author who discusses working-class and Rust-Belt issues.  A reader comment on the story:

------------ Kim Messick
A very interesting interview.  ...Two observations:

(1)  We need to distinguish two questions: 

(A) Assuming there is some kind of pathology afoot among the white working class, what explains it? 

(B) Some members of the white working class, predominantly those who are older and male, account for most of Trump's electoral support.  What explains that?  And does it differ from the explanation of (A)?

I think the failure to see these questions as analytically distinct has given rise to multiple confusions, some of which Vance shares.

You don't have to be a Marxist to think that the root cause of white working class malaise is economic -- principally the disappearance of the kind of semi-skilled manufacturing work (often unionized, at least in the North and upper Midwest) that gave non-college whites an entrĂ©e into bourgeois life. 

As these jobs were lost to automation and globalism -- and as government failed to invest in any sustained, effective program of retraining and reeducation of these workers -- the economic basis of their personal and communal lives collapsed. 

(I'm from North Carolina and have seen this process up close and personal in my own home town.)  This collapse, and the hopelessness, frustration, and resentment it engenders, explain most (if not all) of the social pathologies Vance mentions.

But not all of these persons end up being Trump supporters. 

A recent Gallop study of 87,000 Trump voters revealed that they are not more likely to be economically distressed than non-Trump voters among Republicans

In fact, they tend to be a bit better off than the average. 

Nor are they more likely to have been recently laid-off, or to have been directly affected by free trade or globalization.  The study did isolate three markers that made it more likely such voters would support Trump: 

(1) they live in areas with high mortality rates among whites,

(2) these areas exhibit low rates of socio-economic mobility, and

(3) they are areas with little in the way of racial diversity -- white enclaves, if you will.

If you put these findings together with the racialist cast of Trump's rhetoric, I think the most obvious interpretation is this:  his voters consist of white working class citizens who are most inclined to view their situation, personally and communally, through a racially inflected lens. 

-------- They see the decline in opportunity for their children and younger family members generally,

they see the drug use and indolence and broken homes, and their instinct is to blame these things on the Racial Other --

on brown people stealing across the border, on black and brown people who [supposedly] receive benefits from a government which is content to abandon them, the virtuous white remnant, to the tender mercies of global capitalism.

The white working class predicament is rooted in economics.  The belief that Donald Trump can remedy that predicament is rooted in [ideas and attitudes about] race.

(2) Vance muses helpfully on the future of the Republican Party.  I don't know any more than he does about how it will play out, but I am not sanguine.

Right now the party, as an electoral machine, consists of two major parts -- rural, mainly working class whites in the South and Midwest, and more affluent, educated suburban whites in those regions and elsewhere. 

The GOP's strategy since 1964 has been to leverage the racial and cultural anxieties of the former in order to drive an economic agenda of benefit mainly to the latter (and to the donor class, financially important but electorally insignificant.) 

The Great Recession finally awakened working class whites to the devastation that agenda had brought them, thus driving a wedge between the party's two electoral blocks.  Trump is the tribune of that awakening.