One of the questions that many people ask themselves is how it is that so many people buy into what the conman Donald Trump is selling them even when it seems that he is working against their own interests. University of California, Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild says that it is clear that Trump is the culmination of a process that first came to the forefront with the Tea Party. She had earlier decided to try to set aside her preconceptions and explore the Tea Party phenomenon and spent five years having in-depth interviews with people in the heart of Tea party country and Trump’s election came during her research.
She has produced a book Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right where she sets out her findings.
The book fixates on a paradox: Calcasieu Parish in Louisiana, where she spends much of her time, is one of the most polluted regions of the country, ravaged by the oil and petrochemical industries. Residents mourned the loss of the pristine bayous of their youth, of their favorite fishing and hunting spots. Yet to her surprise, they remained deeply hostile to the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental regulation. Why was that?
On the surface, the reasons were what the people she interviewed told her. But she said that underneath those commonly heard explanations there was a deeper story the conservative white residents were telling themselves.
They felt left behind or even kept down by a federal government that no longer looked out for them — that was against their interests at every turn. When Donald Trump enters the scene midway through the story, she’s none too shocked that he finds fertile territory here.
There’s something hugely important to them that many liberals can’t see. And that something is that they feel like almost like a minority group, forgotten and set aside, displaced.
They feel their cultural beliefs are denigrated by the culture at large. They feel that they’re seen as rednecks, that they live in a region that’s being discredited. Many of them are deeply devout, but they see the culture at large becoming more secular. And then they see economically that this trapdoor that used to only affect black people and people one class below them is now opening and gobbling up them and their children too.
And the main point is that they feel the government, the federal government, has been an instrument of their marginalization.
Then they see people cutting ahead of them in line. Immigrants, blacks, women, refugees, public sector workers. And even an oil-drenched brown pelican getting priority. In their view, people are cutting ahead unfairly. And then in this narrative, there is Barack Obama, to the side, the line supervisor who seems to be waving these people (and the pelican) ahead. So the government seemed to be on the side of the people who were cutting in line and pushing the people in line back.
As I have said many times before, it is very dangerous when the majority develops a minority complex, the sense that it is a beleaguered and oppressed group. They still have power over the minorities whom they view as oppressors but in addition now feel a sense of righteous entitlement to use that power against their perceived enemies. Demagogic politicians down the ages have exploited this sense of victimhood to rouse up the majorities to get elected to office.