Why do millions of white working class and middle class people believe that Donald Trump cares about them? originally appeared on Quora – the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world..
Why do millions of white working class and middle class people believe that Donald Trump cares about them? On the surface of it, it really is mystifying.
I was a kid in the 1980s and 1990s, and I remember well how most middle-American adults in my life thought and spoke of Donald Trump at that time. He was a Manhattanite billionaire playboy who couldn’t stay off talk shows and tabloids. His name and image were synonymous with obscene wealth and a decadent lifestyle. He treated women badly, it was known. Small business people, farmers, and factory workers rolled their eyes at Donald Trump. His values could not have had less to do with theirs. Many probably hated him and everything he stood for.
There’s always talk of how those politicians who are career attorneys with Ivy League pedigrees, hail from upper-crust families, and maybe vacation in the Hamptons or the French Riviera are maybe a bit out of touch with common people.
But here we have a real estate tycoon for whom the Reagan years were one long limousine ride, an unapologetic egomaniac who delighted in throwing his name up in lights, and a guy who made a television career out of firing people on camera: one would think such a person would represent a whole higher echelon of “out of touch.”
So, yeah — how did this man transform himself into the populist savior of the working class?
Maybe a good place to start is by summarizing the viewpoints of two different people on the state of America: mine, and my father’s, which I feel I can represent with a reasonable degree of accuracy, though far from perfectly.
I am a professional classical musician and arts administrator in my mid-thirties. I had some childhood training in conservatories, and I have a college degree in music and philosophy. I make it a point to travel outside the U.S., though not that often.
When I go down to the local taqueria, I place my orders and make small talk in poor but earnest Spanish. It’s natural for me be to curious about other cultures, enthusiastic about diversity.
As a boy, I ran around the neighborhood with black kids from families less affluent than mine. My friends throughout grade school included kids from India, Vietnam, Germany, the works. My friends and colleagues in adult life are a diverse bunch, too. Many of my closest friends are gay or trans, and my sexuality has been pretty fluid for most of my life.
My earnings place me in the lower middle class; I work a full-time job plus somewhere between one and three part-time jobs at any given time, as musicians often do. I am unmarried with no children, and plan to stay that way. I love kids, but am not interested in offspring.
I don’t align strongly with either of the nation’s major political parties.
My view is that the U.S. is run almost entirely in the interests of its very wealthiest citizens, some of whom exert undue influence on the government at every level and hamper its operations much as a cancer hinders the operations of tissues and organs in the body.
I am extremely sympathetic to the ideals of democratic socialism. I think that poverty is most often, though not always, the result of inadequate opportunity and socioeconomic disenfranchisement, and that extreme wealth is most often, though not always, the result of privilege rather than the natural reward for genuine hard work in a spirit of convivial cooperation.
It seems self-evident to me that the neo-feudal influence of increasingly powerful and cannibalistic corporations is directly responsible for the engagement of the United States in aggressive geopolitical posturing and resource wars, which are represented to the public as patriotic endeavors; for the failure of the U.S. to divert any portion of a truly corpulent defense budget to the better care of its citizens and its health and education infrastructures; for the extreme reliance of the American populace on credit; and for the refusal of the U.S. to regulate its economy with the imperfect but at least vaguely functional common sense exercised by comparable industrial nations.
The U.S. isn’t run by sinister moguls in a smoky backroom enclave. Rather, plutocracy and oligarchy are predictable outcomes of the kind of socioeconomic principles on which the nation was founded to begin with. I can’t see that capitalism and democracy are compatible without an awful lot of intercession, is the gist of it. I think that the market is chaotic and unreliable as a governing force, because the market is made in the image of a chaotic and unreliable population. Try as we might, we don’t always know what is in our best interests, since our “needs” are now often manufactured by marketers.
I believe that the electoral system in our republic is such that it guarantees a near-total lack of diversity in viewpoints and approaches, and strongly encourages politicians to say and do whatever it takes to win over the necessary constituent base — without then providing meaningful incentive for them to commit to genuine matters of policy with any degree of integrity.
I believe that the mass media in our country specialize not so much in informing the populace impartially as in creating and nurturing two opposing camps and then allowing each to bathe perpetually in whatever it is that they want to hear, ensuring the division of the nation into factions which are ideologically hostile toward one another and do not communicate with one another. It makes for great ratings. This is evidenced most acutely in questions of civil liberty and tolerance, which allow candidates to make great hay from simple hot-buttons, but indeed manifests in various ways throughout virtually every aspect of American life.
My father’s view, as best I am able to represent it, is quite different.
He is a small business owner with no college degree, a father of five children by two marriages, and an extremely intelligent and down-to-earth individual whose ceaseless, gritty hard work and carefully managed business decisions have, even in the face of dire adversity at times, enabled his children to pursue their dreams in a way that he, to a great extent, could not.
His earnings place him in the upper middle class. He believes that he could have done even better for himself and his family, had politicians not been continually trying to steal his money.
Dad was always completely financially supportive of me, well above and beyond the call. But he never took much interest in me personally, and feels fundamentally that he and I have nothing in common. For my part, I have sadly done very little in life to disabuse him of that notion. We bonded over certain things when I was very young, and those are some of my most treasured memories; by the time I graduated high school, we were living on different planets. I was a rebellious hellion.
He loves his grandchildren and spoils them ridiculously. It’s wonderful to watch.
He has never traveled outside the United States, and his daily life has, for pretty much all of my memory, been divided almost expressly between work and sleep.
Dad grew up on family farms, and his best friends were his cousins. In that place and time, white people and black people did not readily socialize on equitable terms. That’s how he was taught to experience the world. He identifies strongly with George Wallace’s stand against racial integration — or did at one point, at least — and believes, in a very general sense, that black people somehow want for free what white people have somehow achieved through hard work and sacrifice.
I should add that Wallace did not resonate with Dad because he detests black people. He does not. Dad liked Wallce because he believes that the federal government is essentially evil, and that nearly every imaginable issue ought to be handled by the states.
For Dad, integration was not the inexorable march of justice. It was the federal government telling him and his peers how to live, and turning Alabama into Ohio.
He believes that wealth is usually, but not always, the result of acumen and discipline, and that poverty is usually, but not always, the result of laziness and a sense of entitlement.
He judges the U.S. government to be corrupt and incompetent by nature, and that its officers make a living by sucking their subjects dry, the pursuit of which is their sole guiding interest. Environmentalism is, in his mind, only the latest and hottest money-making scheme in Washington.
He believes that the electoral system in the country exists to protect middle-class common sense and hard work from the self-congratulatory solipsism of the Hollywood and New York liberals, most of whom are criminals unaccountable to the law.
He’d tell you that the mass media exists solely to express the viewpoints of wackos who live in an alternate universe and are his ideological enemies.
Dad says that the United States is being overrun by Muslims and other foreign minorities. He’d say that most of the war activity of the United States in the past couple of generations has been carried out solely for the just purpose of crushing those who wish his country doom; now, that Great Other is in his neighborhood, waiting to take everything he has from him.
I’d guess that, in his view, homosexual and trans people are weak and psychologically flawed persons with an addiction to the attention of others — they are not so much immoral as tragically afflicted, and he is okay with them as long as he doesn’t have to think about them too much. Certainly he does not think they need to be “converted.” He would say that such an approach is ridiculous, I bet.
Finally, he believes that the presidency of Barack Obama represented the ultimate ascendancy of anti-American traitors and their foreign hordes, and that a Clinton presidency would have maintained an identical agenda: enslaving white, middle-class Americans for the benefit of wealthy, crooked foreigners and their cohorts on the American coasts. He aligns with the Republican Party with perfect consistency, and has at least since I was born, at about the time of Reagan’s first election.
You can probably see that I would never have voted for Donald Trump, and perhaps you can understand why I voted for Clinton only with great reluctance, primarily as a means of attempting to stop Trump from creating a billionaire theme park out of his drained swamp.
I am actually willing to give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt on some of his economic positions, as shaky as I feel them to be on the whole; but I am sorely afraid for the future of civil liberties, cultural tolerance and integration, environmental health, and foreign policy under the strictly for-profit federal government that he is creating.
Likewise, you can probably surmise that my father was an enthusiastic Trump supporter. Quite beyond my ready comprehension, he esteems Donald Trump to be a selfless patriot who has recanting and given up his decadent billionaire lifestyle to serve the interests of the America That Time Forgot.
Dad is not a religious man, and he is probably elated to have been presented with a candidate who has built a platform mostly, if not entirely, devoid of religious sanctimoniousness, and otherwise using language which is almost perfectly aligned with his own worldview.
I’ve often felt that there are certain thinkers and movers in the American political spectrum whose views align reasonably closely with my own, but who are not really willing to go far enough to act upon them. I’m guessing that, until now, Dad has felt that pretty much no one in U.S. politics understands his frustrations.
That’s all it takes. Donald Trump, however genuinely or disingenuously, has broadcast a clear message on the precise frequency to which my father and many people similar to him have long been listening in hopes of hearing something other than static. Under the right conditions, that’s all you need to turn a delirious demagogue into the most powerful man on Earth.
Being blessed with two eyes, two ears, and a memory–and not hungering for a the “simpler times” that my father surely must–I see Trump for what he is: an opportunistic charlatan who cared only about November 8, 2016 and the ways in which the results of that day will benefit him personally. His only concern is winning, as he has written in print numerous times over the years.
True to form, most of the actions he has taken in his first few days in power have smacked of symbolic vindictiveness, a pouting child’s revenge.
My opinion of Secretary Clinton is somewhat higher, but not a great deal higher, truth be told. I believe that she uses the insecurities and uncertainties of minorities and the poor to similar personal and political advantage, often quite superficially. I believe she is equally ruthless, in her own way.
If the progressive movement in the United States does not learn to engage and speak to the people that disagree with its tenets without making them feel like backwards simpletons, it will never move forward without then having to take two steps back.
If progressives do not learn to create fresh common ground and alliances with those whom they are told hate them and all they represent, then I think the future of the nation is a bleak one.
Electoral politics has unfortunately become a zero-sum sportsball game in our country. No more than half the nation’s people feel, at any given time, that their interests are being represented. So greater inclusiveness and depth of relation are needed, I think, if genuine progress is to be made and sustained.
This is not an easy task. Ideological warfare has already taken its toll; the way forward is not clear. I think it will necessarily involve much original thought on the part of a people no longer as accustomed to such intricacies as perhaps they once were.
I’ve been sheltered from a number of the realities that my parents had to face in their lives. It’s not difficult for me to appreciate them, but it is almost impossible for me to understand them. I am sure my parents can’t fathom why it is that I want certain people and things in my life, and why I’m oblivious to certain matters that, for them, are nothing short of crucial.
I know many people my age, and younger, who feel themselves to be in similar generational disarray.
It is truly difficult for Dad and me to be in the same room when politics is in the air, and not for any lack of love. My journey through Trump’s America begins with looking for a way to change that.
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