Lesser Spotted Tribes in Trumpland
Most commentators and publications have done a passable job of interrogating exit polls, county-by-county results, and other figures in search of an answer to the question ‘who in the hell voted for Donald Trump?’
In general, their big reveal boils down to a not so subtle and slightly underwhelming ‘poor white people’. You know, hillbillies and trailer trash and rednecks. And that’s where they stop. They don’t talk about globalisation or trade or inequality or poverty or unemployment or college tuition or the decline of community or the unbearable emptiness of Hillary Clinton. They don’t have to; they’ve got their own dog whistles and money in the bank, thank you very much!
For reasons I can’t quite fathom, they’re always punching down, and in the process, they’re letting individuals and groups with actual power and influence off the hook. So, in the spirit of fairness, let’s take a look at two lesser spotted tribes that have shaped and sustained the Trump-phenomenon.
First off, there’s the diverse bunch of people who look at Trump’s disjointed and ever-shifting platform and see one or two policies that they like. Conservative firebrand Pat Buchanan, for instance, has thrown his weight behind the Trump campaign because he sees it as a champion of good-old fashioned protectionism. Crispin Rovere of The National Interest, meanwhile, has been flying the flag for Trump on account of his supposed realist foreign policy credentials.
Pick any issue and you’ll find a similar story.
Now, whether Mr. Trump is a bona fide protectionist or realist or pro-lifer doesn’t really matter. After all, his policies essentially appear to be a function of his mood or the audience before him. The point is that America’s marketplace of ideas has been so bare since Ross Perot came and went, that people with views outside the mainstream are willing to project all their hopes and fears onto the ‘The Donald’, for lack of a better alternative. Sure, he might be intemperate, megalomaniacal, and prone to changing his mind at the drop of a hat, and sure, he might be a little light on detail, but that’s a small price to pay if you’re going to get your first pick. Up until now the Trump campaign has been a sort of political Rorschach inkblot, and it’s worked like a charm.
Second, then, there’s the folks—mostly white, mostly wealthy, mostly men, mostly Baby Boomers—who used to have everything but now (in relative terms) have slightly less than everything. J.G. Ballard was an expert in the habits and behaviours of these people, the middle and upper strata of society, and he would have recognised their current predicament. Used to seeing themselves on television, in board rooms, in the White House, and so on, the past few decades have come as something of a shock, what with the steady encroachment of blacks, browns, Asians, Hispanics, Jews, gays, women, and gender-benders into their spheres of influence.
Not so long ago, it was possible to get on with your life without having to contemplate urban poverty, or the tragedy of African American history, or the fact that the civil rights movement is still a thing because racism, structural or otherwise, is still a thing. But now you can’t turn on the TV without coming across a black president or a Black Lives Matter banner or a homoerotic sub-plot.
Why are they always complaining? What else do they want? Don’t they realise you have to work hard, like we did, to get anywhere in life? These 47 percenters want everything handed to them on a plate! And who ends up paying for it? We do!
From its vantage point, this self-declared precariat, always squinting over its shoulder, sees Trump as a straight talker who’s going to cut through all the crap and whining and Make America Great Again, like it was in the fifties, before everything got so complicated. No Federal minimum wage, no affirmative action, no anti-discrimination laws, and on and on.
They don’t have time for pussyfooting around, so when Trump bashes China, Mexico, Cuba, immigrants, Muslims, political correctness, the Pope, the disabled, and the fifty percent of the population who menstruate, a loud cheer can be heard in self-contained suburbs from Miami to Buffalo.
There’s a latent violence behind all this, and you saw it up close at Trump’s campaign events, where opponents were set upon like rabid dogs. To be sure, the more outrageous and crude Trump becomes, the more adulation he receives from the angry upper-middle. Even the man himself recognised this, going as far as to tell a campaign rally in Iowa that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”
There was a time when such proclamations of madness would have put paid to a prospective nominee’s run. That was then.
What is it Miranda says in ‘The Tempest’?
“O brave new world
That has such people in it!”
Image by kim.stovring
The featured image is an 1828 painting by Thomas Cole entitled ‘Expulsion from the Garden of Eden’.