About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

March 14, 2016

Thoughts on Trump's appeal

From some facebook musings of mine:

[Update: I'd also look at this by Scott Winship, which goes against my main theme, and is quite convincing.]
You just hear the racism and xenophobia, but Trump's main themes are actually about trade and jobs.

Blue-collar white voters feel abandoned by both major political parties... because they have been abandoned. Shouldn't working-class white men have the right to be heard and even say stupid things as much as, say, the Black Panther Party?

This isn't in defense of Trump. God, no. But don't we have some responsibility to listen to and even have empathy for a large segment of fellow Americans? Instead, we mock and discount their experiences as false and unworthy.

Not to discount the ugliness and horribleness of this all, but this isn't just a racist backlash (though that's certain a part of it); for the average Trump supporter it's a "where did our jobs go?" backlash. They've been abandoned and mocked by mainstream America. There is no voice speaking for the blue-collar former union man or woman who is anything but "entitled." I think we ignore that at our own peril.

Don't get me wrong. Trump is scary. He is a demagogue preaching dangerous racist proto-fascist bullshit. But asking why his supporters aren't more vocal in opposition to hate is akin to those on the right saying, "Why don't all Muslims denounce terrorism?" A) Many do, B) Why should they?

[There's a difference, of course, in that Muslims aren't going to terrorist rallies while Trump is actively encouraging the hate. So it's hardly a perfect comparison.]

But my point is less about Trump, whom I loathe, then about tens of millions of blue-collar American who have been sold an economic woof ticket by both political parties for the past 35 years. They thought the system was on the level (if not biased in their favor). Well, it's not.

They played by the rules, only to find the game changed.

And for decades nobody, certainly not either political party, listened or cared. They wanted somebody to follow. Trump stepped into that void. (It could have been Biden, or maybe Edwards, but it wasn't.)

And if we don't have empathy for the Trump supporters who aren't racist, what are we going to do? Deport them?


Oh, I do think Trump supporters are being sold a bill of goods once again. But Trump is offering, I think, Protectionism. That is the appeal. Protectionism is now a four-letter word, but should it be? Trump is the first major political candidate (it pains me to write that) to speak against free trade since Ross Perot and the "great sucking sound." That's the key.

So no, it's not primarily about race. (Though I think it is more about race than Trump supporters are willing to admit.)

Fuck fair trade and NAFTA. Fuck non-union wages in Mexico. I mean, thousands of Americans did actually lose their union jobs because of NAFTA. Was it good for America? I don't know. It probably was good for me. But it sure as hell wasn't good for Maytag factory workers in Illinois!

So yeah, what you and I see as xenophobia? To an unemployed American worker, it's his livelihood. His experience has been dismissed by both parties and most economists as irrelevant. (And economists do not have a great track record, it is worth mentioning.)

The right wants to bust unions and Obama dismissed tens of millions of Americans as "clinging to their guns and religion." That did great harm.

Republicans want to reduce wages. Democrats want to help illegal immigrants. Liberals (myself included) want to help criminals reintegrate into society. And the racism that you and I hate? It barely registers if you love Trump and don't watch MSNBC or listen to NPR. The racism is there, but it's media spin. Trump hammers home this message: jobs jobs jobs. We're ignoring that.

The non-criminal white guy in the midwest who played by the rules and still lost his union factory job to NAFTA?! He's not an immigrant; he's not a minority; he's not transgendered; he's not a criminal. Who the hell speaks for him? Nobody but Donald effing Trump.


Sasha said...

Seriously? You're gonna pretend Bernie Sanders doesn't exist? Bernie has opposed every one of the crappy trade deals that outsourced our jobs and he's also opposed the "guest worker" programs people like Trump use to screw Americans out of jobs. Unlike con man Trump, Bernie has ALWAYS stood with working class people, and our working class family is 100% behind him.

Where we agree is that working class Americans have been totally abandoned by both major parties. That's true regardless of race/sex, but working class people who aren't straight white men may get a few crumbs from the Democrats on issues other than economics/trade (i.e., issues that don't cost the party's corporate sponsors). Working class white men, however, get nada. And if that wasn't bad enough, many educated liberals barely bother to hide their disdain for working class (and poor) whites.

There is no way we will vote for an establishment Democrat like Wall Street Hillary, but we also won't vote for Trump--and not just because he promotes bigotry and hate.

Trump is a fraud and he's no friend to working class people. He's standard issue GOP in that he wants to give massive tax cuts to the rich, although it's been proven again and again that trickle down doesn't trickle. He also agrees with establishment Democrats and Republicans that giant tax-dodging corporations should be rewarded with a huge tax cut if they agree to bring some of the dough they stashed in their foreign tax shelters back into the US. Too bad for the small companies that play by the rules and don't cheat on their taxes; they get no such breaks.

And don't even get me started on Trump's health care plan. I'm no fan of Obamacare but it's far superior to what Trump proposes. Yes, I know, he used to support single payer, but he abandoned that in favor of every idiotic health care idea the Republicans have ever had. It'll be awesome: working class families that are barely scraping by will be able to put all that extra cash we don't have in a tax-free health savings account. And when we're screaming in agony with a bad case of kidney stones, we get to call around from clinic to clinic to see who will give us the best deal--never mind that we haven't actually been diagnosed yet and are only guessing what may be wrong with us; it'll be up to us to "comparison shop" while health care providers list prices for a variety of treatments they think we may need. Or not.

Trump is also lying about not being for sale and funding his own campaign. While he's put some of his own money into his campaign, that was only a loan. He hasn't ruled out holding corporate fundraisers and we suspect once he's got the nomination, he's gonna do just that. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who is not for sale and who won't take money from corporations and billionaires. It's sad to think that there are working class folks who support Trump instead of Bernie without being motivated by racism, racial resentment or other types of bigotry. I believe we have the media to thank for that.

Kyle said...

I love You, Sasha. Where you from?

Trump knows deals and he plays with both hands(a rule breaker). On a contrary, Sanders is honest and truely speaks for the people. Sanders promises reform but is it going to be easy? Ask Obama.

If Sanders want American people feel the burn, still run after losing the primary to Hilary(be a rule breaker like Trump and be slick).

David Woycechowsky said...

Actually Pat Buchanan ran on the platform in 1992.

Moskos said...

Yeah. Pat Buchanan, too. Here is Buchanan on Trump (and completely ignoring Trump's hate mongering):

Sanders is similar in trade. And, unlike Trump, Sanders has the distinct plus of not being a lying brown-shirt prompting demagogue. But Sanders is coming from the left. So his appeal to the conservative gun-living right will be limited.

Maybe the real question is how the hell did white working class America get so damn socially conservative? I think that is where race comes back into the equation.

Andy D said...

While I agree Sasha that Bernie hits this topic hard and has been a lot more consistent on the topic (and is a lot more genuine about it.) However, Bernie has the drawback of having the "socialist" tag associated with him. They may be protectionists but a lot of the blue collar vote is very skeptical of government programs and "socialism." That is why Trump captures their attention. The analogy of comparing Trump to Buchanan or Perot is the most valid I think. We are just many more years down the road from those two and those who feel disenfranchised are a bigger group than they were when Buchanan and Perot were running.

aNanyMouse said...

Bernie may’ve done better with the white worker vote if he’d called himself, not a Socialist, but a Social Democrat, or a Labor (U.K.) Democrat, in the traditions of Willy Brandt or Tony Blair.

IrishPirate said...

Documentary with Chomsky out there called "Requiem for the American Dream".

He talks about the precaricat. Take precarious and add cat and you get the idea.


Tens of millions of people living lives of quiet desperation. College students saddled with huge loans once they get out if they manage to graduate. Cats and dogs living together...........real end of the world stuff.

He talks about in the fifties in terms of real dollars college was much less expensive with much more help to attend. I went to College largely on Pell Grants, state grants and veterans benefits and with the exception of vet benefits those have largely been cut or disappeared entirely.

Most of the wealth growth of the last four decades has gone to the top 1/10th of 1 percent. It's wrong and unsustainable. We need to soak the superrich a bit or at least get them damp.

As for Trump his appeal is some unquantifable mix of economic anxiety, social conservatism, bigotry of various stripes, and a raw example of what happens when Union membership hits new lows constantly.

Trump: Imagonna make America Great Again?

Questioner: How?

Trump: By making America Great!

Crowd: Woo hoo. He's a success. He has a big dick. He's a businessman. He's white and that's allright.

Andrew Laurence said...

He never said he had a big dick, he said he guarantees there's no problem. I interpreted that as meaning he has a micropenis but enough money to pay a guy with a normal (or big) penis to have sex with his wife. No problem.

Dustin Lafe said...

I really don't think the majority of Trump voters are former union works who lost their jobs to NAFTA. A lot of my family members and friends love Trump and none of them have any idea of what it means to work in a factory and/or pay union dues. There are probably some good data on this out there somewhere.

Here's the deal. it's pretty clear that people who vote for Trump are pissed off, but being angry and pissed doesn't mean you directly experienced anything that you are pissed off about. The scary truth is that people believe whatever the hell they want to believe. It doesn't have to be based on reality, personal experiences, or (heaven forbid) actual "facts". My father-in-law hates crony capitalism, the BLM's evil actions towards poor ranchers, and the 9-11 government cover-up (whatever the hell that means). Ironically, all this anger has turned into a vote for Trump--a crony captilast if there ever was one.

I can sympathize with the fact that less educated white voters are not pandered to by the establishment on the right or left, but if you take the time to truly understand the perspectives and anger animating these voters it will only make you very worried about democracy and more enlightened about what makes violence and war possible.

For me, anger is an evil thing and leaders like Trump who stoke it are the worst kind of human beings.

Moskos said...

That's the most convincing explanation I've heard: Anger based on ignorance. (I didn't mean to underestimate the ignorant factor... only to say it isn't all about race, as some of the left believe.) So a mass of ignorant angry people rising up together to support a proto-fascist? Yes, it it worrisome. And makes me think we need to drastically improve education in this country.

Sometimes it's easy to over intellectualize something and then, when you talk to a person, you realize their opinions and anger are based on lies lies lies. What can you do? Educate them? Or ignore then till they go away. But with Trump their voice is being heard. And I don't think that voice deserves a fair hearing in a civilized society.

Moskos said...

This is interesting.
It tells us how many of Trump supporters are so damn racist they won't even vote for another Trump supporter if that delegate has a "foreign" or black-sounding same.

"Two Trump delegates named Paul Minch and Barbara Kois won slots with more than 35,000 votes each. The third Trump delegate candidate, Nabi Fakroddin, got just 30,639 votes."

"In the downstate 13th District, Trump delegate Doug Hartmann won nearly 32,000 votes; two delegates for Cruz won nearly 31,000, securing the next slots. But Raja Sadiq, a Trump delegate, ran behind with 24,103 votes."

"Wasserman also noted that a Trump delegate with a black-sounding name received significantly fewer votes than two candidates named James Devors and Rita Gaus. She received about 1,300 fewer votes than Devors and about 800 votes fewer than Gaus." I don't know what the denominator is is that district, though.