Imagine you’re standing in line for the American Dream.
You work hard, sometimes in dangerous jobs. You lead a moral life. But the line is stalling, even moving backwards. Yet you see newcomers up front — some of them immigrants and people of color.
Maybe you’ve worked all your life alongside African Americans and Latinos — more than most northern liberals have — but when you complain about people cutting you, those liberals call you racist. Worse still, they seem to look down on you because of your Christianity, or your Southern culture.
That’s the worldview sketched out by sociologist Arlie Hochschild, a liberal professor who spent five years interviewing Louisiana Tea Party activists. She made friends with them and stayed in touch as they got involved in the Trump campaign, an experience detailed in her new bookStrangers in Their Own Land.
When Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters “deplorables,” Hochschild’s Tea Party friends heard a put-down they suspect liberal elites say about them behind closed doors all the time. Trump, on the other hand, never dismissed them as racists or rednecks. Instead, he blamed their problems on the line cutters.
Unfortunately, neither Clinton nor Trump got at the real reasons the line isn’t moving.
The fact is, over the last three decades, both Republicans and Democrats have helped shift America’s wealth to a small segment of rich people and global corporations. They’ve each supported a corporate “free trade” agenda and failed to do anything more than tinker with tax rules that accelerate inequality.
The resulting economic insecurity has given rise to both progressive and regressive forms of populism.
On the one hand, the Bernie Sanders campaign focused on how the rigged rules of the economy benefit billionaires and transnational corporations. On the other, Trump deflected blame away from the real holders of power and onto less powerful groups.
In the general election, when Hillary Clinton became pegged as the status quo candidate, it shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Trump’s regressive populism won out.