Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Identity politics and class among Trump supporters

Josh Marshall makes a really good analysis on the effect of economic conditions on generating support for Donald Trump. He manages not to get tangled up in the dilemma that's been with the left and center-left since forever, the priority to be given to "identity" issues vs. "class" issues: Trumpism is a Politics of Loss and Revenge TPM 08/21/2016:

It's obvious that white racism and "traditional family" (i.e., anti-feminist) ideas have an appeal that's not tied directly or obviously to economic status.

On the other hand, economic status and opportunity aren't totally unrelated to the emphasis people put on identity and civil rights issues. Discouraging economic conditions make people more open to demagogic appeals on race and gender as well as on economic issues.

Josh's emphasis on looking at the community context as well as the individual's own status is a very realistic approach to take in looking at this:

I tend to come down on seeing Trumpism more through a racial prism. But seeing the above evidence as ruling out 'economic anxiety' is a naive way of thinking about how societies and social groups work.

It actually reminds me of an equally insipid debate about the roots of terrorism. Liberals say that the breeding ground for terrorism is joblessness, economic stagnation, lack of hope about the future, etc. - whether in the suburbs of Paris, Cairo or Riyadh. Conservatives point out that many of the top jihadists actually - many of the 9/11 hijackers, for instance - cAme [sic] from affluent or at least middle class families and have good educations. Ergo, sorry liberals, your argument falls apart.

Again, that's not how it works.

It is almost a cliche of historical and sociological literature that the people with their noses closest to the grind stone tend not to be activists or revolutionary figures. It's people in social proximity to great penury and suffering but often not experiencing it so directly or sometimes not experiencing at all who turn out to be the big political actors.

Trumpism is about loss. And that loss is real. It's not just about being haters or uneducated or stupid. The fact that what's being lost is in most respects something that wasn't legitimate to have in the first place - status, centrality and racial privilege - should not blind us to the fact that the loss is real and that it will have political consequences. [my emphasis]
People on the left tend to believe - with good reason! - that our favored economic policies would benefit working class men and women of all ethnic backgrounds more than the dominant neoliberal ideology practiced in drastic form by Republicans and with a smiling face in the corporate-Democratic version.

But it's also the case that some significant portion of people who stand to benefit economically from left-leaning policies are not convinced that such is the case. They may find Republican/neoliberal arguments more persuasive. The Democrats who don't adhere to the neoliberal gospel have some convincing to do on that front, as well.

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