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Uneducated, Anti-Politically Correct White Males Are Getting Burned Crisp by Donald Trump
Lower income white males have lots of reasons to be angry these days, but they are wrong to blame their problems on poor people, blacks, or immigrants. Trump is manipulating their minds, like Limbaugh
By Harold Meyerson
Editor's Note: Polls are showing that Trump is not doing as well as Romney among educated white males, but better with uneducated males. Fox News and right wing radio intentionally appeal to a "low information" voter with little education and lacking in critical listening and analytical skills. For some years these folks have been the base of the Republican Party, the "Tea Party" which is really mostly the same folks who are in the religious right opposed to science for theological reasons and thus also opposed to environmentalists and other science-based professionals and scholars. And these religious revivalists, teaching the world is ending any day now, oppose reproductive freedom for women because women should remain at home to care for the children.
But social change of the last years is not going away, for women, blacks, gays, or immigrants. Republicans have been trying to fight social change since 1980 but they have failed and then blame the government for everything, which is really crazy-making. It's really big banks and the super wealthy who have been making the rules since then.
The Trump rhetoric is just going to burn white males to a crisp of inappropriate incompetence in most social situations in which they find themselves over time in the future. It is sad, the Republican Party has been taking advantage of their anger and bigotry for a long time, now exposed directly in the Trump campaign rhetoric, and helped destroy male support institutions like unions and social clubs including local mainline congregations. White males are living in a fantasy world of nostalgia for a time when they had more power in society. Trump is promising to make them great again but that world and that society is already and entirely gone. The cartoon by George Hall certainly tells the story along with Harold Meyerson's comments below.
It’s hard to keep track of Donald Trump’s outrages, as he careens from one to the next: Gold Star families, prominent Republicans, crying babies. Trump calls to mind the line of the early 1960s comic and satirist Mort Sahl, who invariably paused mid-routine to ask, “Is there anyone I haven’t offended?”
Still, before Trump’s Republican Convention speech fades into the mists of time, I’d like to revisit one particularly troubling passage. No, not the one where he said that he “alone” could fix our problems—a passage that has since garnered a fair share of attention, since it suggests a conception of the office of president that doesn’t leave much room for the other branches of government, or more broadly, for American citizens to play a role in steering the country.
It’s a kindred passage from his speech that I want to return to. This one: “These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but who no longer have a voice. I AM YOUR VOICE.” (The all-caps were in the printed version of the speech Trump’s campaign released.)
There’s nothing new, or exceptionable, in referring to the forgotten man. Franklin Roosevelt introduced the term into our political lexicon when he ran for president in 1932, calling for policies to assist “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” Nor is there anything novel about extolling hard-working people who don’t raise much of a ruckus. Richard Nixon proclaimed himself the candidate of the “silent majority” when he sought the presidency in 1968, a time of notoriously noisy antiwar protests and big-city riots.
And there’s certainly nothing wrong in appealing to the white workers, found disproportionately in the Rust Belt states, who lost decent manufacturing jobs as their employers offshored their factories and failed to find comparable employment. This key Trump constituency hasn’t had much in the way of effective political advocacy. For every Sherrod Brown, the progressive Democrat who represents Ohio in the Senate and who has been the most relentless opponent of bad trade deals and proponent of smart jobs programs, there have been a dozen indifferent public policy-makers who’ve offered little to nothing to those workers left behind.
What’s wrong with Trump’s formulation isn’t the set-up but the pay-off: I am your voice. Like his declaration that he “alone” can fix our ills, the idea that we are voiceless and should let him be our speaker doesn’t give much of a political role to anyone but him.
Trump is not the only figure on the right, however, to make such pronouncements. While driving across a Midwestern state some years ago, with the radio tuned to Rush Limbaugh, I heard Limbaugh deliver a similar assessment of himself and his public. After mis-explaining some development in the news, Rush paused to observe: “That’s why I was born to talk—and you were born to listen.”
There is in Trump, Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and their kind a need both to assert their own authority and to assume a certain passivity in their audience.
There is in Trump, Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and their kind a need both to assert their own authority and to assume a certain passivity in their audience. This assumption certainly bolsters their own sense of indispensability, and reinforces their image (and self-image) as the leader of a distinct tribe, or the unchallengeable head of a docile family. Just how voiceless, docile, and passive that family may actually be is open to some question: Surely, the Tea Party has been making plenty of noise over the past six years.
But one of things I suspect draws certain people to become a Limbaugh “ditto-head” or an O’Reilly acolyte is that their respective cult leader assumes the role of the head of a traditional, “father knows best and takes no shit” family. They may even acknowledge the father in question may not always know best—there’s ample evidence that Trump supporters understand he’s at minimum a serial exaggerator—but his assumption of the role of tough, judgmental father is what really appeals to them.
In a survey released in January, political scientist and consultant Matthew MacWilliams found that the one attribute most closely correlated with support for Trump was a preference for paternal authority, as measured by several questions on family roles and child-rearing. Other polls found an even stronger correlation of these preferences with support for Ted Cruz.
It may be (this is my speculation, not the surveys’) that the declining status and income of many white working-class men impels some of them to embrace all the more those leaders who embody the waning ideal of white, paternal authority, particularly when wielded against those “others” (liberals, women, minorities, gays, etc.) who’ve supposedly or actually eroded it. Indeed, the sheer arbitrariness and impulsiveness of Trump’s attacks suggest a father uncowed not just by “political correctness,” but also by any challenge to his sovereign authority, no matter how appalling his response may be.
Which has plenty of appeal to some. And plenty to repel most others—including, I suspect, a majority of the American electorate. We’ll know that soon enough.
This appeared at The American Prospect.
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