Trying to solve personal, community problems at the national political level is a recipe for absolute disaster. Enter Donald Trump.
I have a theory about Donald Trump, and it goes like this:
The white working class of our society have been left out in two ways. One: many jobs that used to sustain small-ish, blue collar areas are now gone. Two: cultural elites on both sides of the ideological spectrum have little interest in or respect for them, or their way of life.
To think there are no consequences for a community that is being left out and held in contempt is to be perilously foolish. In fact, the result of this mammoth societal shift has been a sharp increase in early mortality, experienced solely by the American white working class. “Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” said Angus Deaton, a Nobel laureate and economist behind the seminal research revealing this disturbing trend.
At the same time, the narrative of this tragic story is a little too simple. Yes, some towns have seen their factories shut down (perhaps most notably, Rochester, New York, where Kodak once employed 150,000 people). But other towns, and many in the south, have seen factories open. In a recent article, David French noted that Georgetown, Kentucky was the recent benefactor of thousands of new jobs, due to a Toyota factory opening up there.
And there has never been a moratorium on movement in the US. One of the nation’s most distinguishing features is the constant relocation, from overseas, to the east coast, to the plains, and all the way – finally – out to California. I lived in Texas three years ago, and there was a time period where thousands of people were moving into the Lone Star State every month.
It’s where the jobs were.
Instead, I think what many in the white working class community are experiencing is a cultural crisis, haunted by profound questions. Who are we? What do we stand for? What do we believe in?
Where are we going?
These are not easily answered, nor can someone from outside their community impose answers upon them, any more than those outside of an urban or ethnic minority community can stroll along and proffer a list of “shoulds.”
Additionally, there has been a marked uptick in destabilizing factors. More alcohol and substance abuse. More divorce and single-parent homes. Less involvement in church and community means leading to higher raters of isolation and struggle. All of these trends are documented in Charles Murray’s sobering book Coming Apart, on how America’s institutions of togetherness have been unraveling, one by one.
And clearly, humans need those institutions. We’re social creatures; we need that social fabric.
Enter Donald Trump. Rather than address personal issues – divorce, substance abuse, etc. – in a private, communal way, my theory is that many Trump fans are seeking to combat their struggles in a political way.
Rather than face the hard reality that technology and globalization have permanently transformed the employment situation, Trump offers a simple, feel-good-about-your-actual-superiority solution.
The Mexicans took your jobs.
Rather than talk about the truly politically-incorrect need to reinvigorate a belief in strong families, and strong communities, Trump gives his listeners the fun, entertaining version of political incorrectness.
Insulting and offending people is “telling it like it is.”
There’s nothing particularly shocking about this. It happens all the time in politics, and is certainly not confined to the Republicans. But it is disturbing to see so many fellow citizens abandon any semblance of good conduct and good faith, simply to “feel” better about themselves.
Especially when supporting Donald Trump will do nothing, in the end, at all, to help solve any of their problems.
Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore