Friday, July 21, 2017

Trump Voters and the Fear of Change and Downward Mobility

Try as I might, I cannot get inside the heads of Trump voters, especially evangelical Christians who is the antithesis of the Gospel message that they purportedly respect.  I was at a family funeral yesterday at a church I once attended many years ago and one of the readings struck me since it put in such sharp contrast what Christians should be doing versus the agenda of Donald Trump and the Republican Party in general:
Matthew 25:35-40
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Unless it impacts them themselves, Trump supporters are all too happy to support the trashing of the social safety net, bear a hatred towards those who are different, and flocked to support a rich man who throughout his life has done none of what the foregoing passages call for.   

A column in the New York Times suggests that the answer to the question of why those who claim to be decent people voted for someone who clearly is not and who appears to be considering admitting guilt of crimes against America by trying to pardon himself and his family:  a fear of downward social mobility and desire to blame anyone else for their predicament except themselves.  I have written about the fear of loss of white privilege that I continue to believe motivated many Trump voters.  But also at play is a refusal to adjust to economic change and modernity and discontent with the consequences of one's own bad choices, e.g., dropping out of high school, refusing to relocate for better jobs, drug and alcohol abuse, etc.   One might call it a mindset of victim-hood even though a good portion of the circumstances they hate stem from their own actions.  Here are some column highlights:
I have written before about the fear of falling down the socioeconomic ladder, the fear of an irremediable loss of status, authority and prestige — and the desperate need to be rescued from this fate. But the topic bears further exploration because it has been such a prime motivation for one slice of the electorate, the swing voters who made President Trump’s unexpected triumph possible.
The question that persists six months after Mr. Trump’s inauguration is why six key states — Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, along with 220 counties nationwide — flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. Why did these voters change their minds? These are men and women who are, in the main, still working, still attending church, still members of functioning families, but who often live in communities where neighbors, relatives, friends and children have been caught up in disordered lives. The worry that this disorder has become contagious — that decent working or middle class lives can unravel quickly — stalks many voters, particularly in communities where jobs, industries and a whole way of life have slowly receded, the culminating effect of which can feel like a sudden blow.
One suggestive line of thinking comes from Arlie Hochschild, the author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” and professor emerita of sociology at Berkeley. Hochschild has studied Americans whom she calls “the elite of the left-behind.” Her findings shed light, I think, on the concerns of some of the voters who tipped the balance for Trump last year. Hochschild wrote to me that common refrains among these voters were “America’s heading downhill” and “I think our kids are headed for hard times.” In these conversations, she said,
it wouldn’t take long before another topic spontaneously came up, blacks, their problems, their call on government help. At the bottom of the imagined slide was the situation of blacks — teen single moms, kids out in the street at night, slacking off in school, drugs, drink. So, yes, the feeling was, “if we don’t turn this thing around, that could be us.”
Nancy Isenberg, a history professor at Louisiana State University and the author of “White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America,” responded to my inquiry about Americans anxious about losing their place:
Yes, the fear was about rearranging the “pecking order.” But many working-class and middle-class whites without college educations also hate poor whites, who they see as lazy and worthless. Historically, poor whites have shared the same stereotypes applied to poor blacks: lazy, uncouth, living on handouts, and not just having too many children, but practicing “inbreeding.”
The 2016 campaign:
tapped into anxieties of all who resented the government for handing over the country to supposedly less deserving classes: new immigrants, protesting African Americans, lazy welfare freeloaders, and Obamacare recipients asking for handouts. Angry Trump voters were convinced that these classes, the “takers,” were not playing by the rules (i.e., working their way up the ladder) and that government entitlement programs were allowing some to advance past the more deserving (white, native born) Americans. This is how many came to feel “disinherited.”
There is no question that the communities where Trump received crucial backing — rural to small-city America — are, in many ways, on a downward trajectory.
From 1990 to 2009, the percentage of births to single mothers among whites without high school diplomas grew from 21 to 51 percent; among those who completed high school, the percentage rose from 11 to 34 percent.
Along parallel lines, the percentage of intact marriages among white adults 25 to 60 years old without high school degrees fell from 70 percent in the 1970s to 36 percent in the 2000s. For those who finished, the percentage fell from 76 to 46 percent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that the number of opioid prescriptions outnumbered the number of people in 12 states. All 12 of these states voted for Donald Trump: Arkansas, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia. . . . . the overdose death rates in 2015 for opioids, including heroin, were far higher for whites, 13.9 per 100,000, than for blacks, 6.6 per 100,000, and Hispanics, 4.6 per 100,000.
While whites without bachelor’s degrees flocked to Trump in the belief that he was their savior, the reality is that the many Americans are caught in a vicious cycle that Trump is in no way equipped to address.
As these processes continue and accelerate, many Trump voters — the neighbors, relatives, friends, parents and children of those who have become mired in this “geography of desperation” — are deeply apprehensive about what might happen if Trump fails to fulfill his promise to make America great again.
Trump will fail to change this cycle because dropping out of school, not marrying, unwed motherhood, and drug use are all things that track back to personal responsibility - something the GOP claims to laud and even demand of individuals.  In addition, globalization and economic and societal change will march on and many Trump voters will face a bleak fate if they do not let go of their fear of modernity and take steps to change their fate, steps that may include moving away from backward and/or economically depressed areas (the two usually go hand in hand).

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