(TFC) – You’ve probably heard it before: the argument that the Trump base has been created by the socio-economic policies of the 1980s that went on to disenfranchise a nation; that only someone so viciously uneducated and/or poor could even consider voting for Trump.
These narratives suggest that the neoliberal economic and social policies set forth by Thatcher and Reagan are responsible for creating this conglomerate of poor racist, sexist people left to gather at the bottleneck of American society. Jobless and without hope. In any case, we could only be left to conclude that these so-called victims of neoliberalism are the ones voting for Trump.
While this explains the Trump base in part and certainly sets the stage, it does not provide the entire picture.
Some Important Things on Neoliberalism
Both Thatcher and Reagan emphasised the role of privatisation and the ‘free market’. Both reduced the role of the government, each implementing policies that would go on to do significant damage to social protections for society’s most vulnerable, ushering in an era of extreme individualism and self-reliance.
The argument goes on to suggest that as a result of undoing social protections, emphasising the market over ethics (or using the market as ethics), and reducing the role of government in education, mental health, housing and welfare, etc., a ”new poor” was created, one that would no longer be protected by government assistance. While this is all true, I disagree with linking the stress placed upon the nation’s poor to Trump’s success and here’s why.
Victims of Neoliberalism?
It has been said, that these supposed “victims of neoliberalism” have been dealt blow after political blow making them ever distrustful of politics, leading them to act out by seeking political extremes (like Trump and Brexit).
Firstly, we are all distrustful of politics but that doesn’t mean we are voting for Trump (or Brexit). Secondly, based on this logic, we would assume that these voters would be poor, more likely to be unemployed and probably uneducated. In general, we would expect these to be people who were either not doing well or economically suffering. Originally, this is something I would also have argued. However, I no longer think that this is the case based on a wealth of evidence.
Trump Supporters Are Not Poor, Uneducated or Suffering
According to a recent analysis by Jonathan Rothwell
, who has continually gathered data on Trump supporters throughout this presidential campaign, Trump’s primary voter base is comprised of individuals with higher incomes (in comparison with the rest of the population), rather than low ones. Trump supporters were/are less likely to be unemployed and reside in predominantly white communities (low contact with minorities), rather than communities which were multiracial (high contact with minorities). In other words, these are not the easily manipulated poor people we so often think about.
These are well-to-do working people living in highly concentrated white communities (the suburbs or rural areas). While most people would like to blame the poor and uneducated for the proliferation racist ideology, the facts seem to suggest otherwise.
So: how can we explain the Trump phenomenon?
Racial Resentment & Misogyny
is an enormous part of the picture. It is clear that racist white people are in fear that they currently do not have enough and that they will have even less
as the US continues to change. What they are really afraid of is no longer being at the top of the system of benefits, ‘reduced’ to be like everyone else.
has shown that negative attitudes towards or hatred of women strongly predict voting for Trump. But: I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone.
Neoliberalism has helped to intensify sexist and racist sentiments by simultaneously making individuals responsible for their circumstances and by continually smoothing out racism by stipulating that race should not be recognized by the law despite vastly disproportionate incarceration and poverty rates based on race.
I argue that the Trump phenomenon has not arisen from Thatcher and Reagan making people poor people suffer; rather neoliberal ideology has transformed people’s ethics to the highest incarnation of individualism (if you thought the ethics of capitalism weren’t bad enough).
Neoliberal ideology has become twisted into people’s brains so deeply that it has become a part of people’s everyday culture of extreme individualism. According Jeff Sugarman
, neoliberal politics helped usher in an era of intensified ‘self-care’ and selfishness. As a result of taking the economic rug out from under Americans, Americans were forced to take care of themselves. While this is peaking in Western culture broadly, it is especially peaking in US culture where everyone is expected to be a “bad-ass” and to take care of themselves. My question is: What happens when “self-care’ becomes the highest political value? Well, I’d say that we are see the results of that experiment take place.
“So: how does this lead to Trump?”
Trump is representative of the ultimate self-serving, individualistic, “greed as a virtue” bully personae. A candidate who proudly touts his ability to say what he pleases, who hints at his ability to bypass the mechanisms of America’s supposed democracy. Really, he is the apex of our values system.
Racist white America is not the victim of neoliberalism but rather uses these values as a weapon. America has internalized the values of neoliberalism so deeply that it is impossible to separate these values from American society. If you are poor, the only one to blame is yourself. If you have been hurt, you could have prevented it. If racism is acted upon, it is used by individuals not larger social structures. If you were raped, you should have been more careful. Only you can help yourself and if something bad happens to you, you better be smarter next time. Take care of yourself and don’t think about the bigger picture. This has led to intensified racism and sexism with unapologetic heights by making everyone (minorities and poor people) responsible for their situations. White America has internalised these values to its core and from it there seems to be no escape. It’s all about “me and mine”, “forget those immigrants”, “the Blacks brought it on themselves”.
What If Money Could Solve the Problem?
As concluded by Ezra Klein at Vox, no amount of tax cuts or social spending is going to solve the Trump phenomenon. No amount of policy will fix this. Very rarely can throwing money at a problem really fix anything. And certainly, whoever is elected president of the U.S. will not be able to satisfy this insatiable group. Throughout the years, we have watched this group roughly remain roughly static in how they think, but only now have we had a political figure mobilise a political campaign around their sentiments with such transparency.
Racist white America does not need defending. Certainly, they do not need anyone saying that “it’s not their fault” for feeling the way that they do. They certainly do not need us calling them ‘idiots’. When we call them idiots, we absolve them of all responsibility. But when we see racists for what they really are–fearful of the world around them and trying to maintain control of a status quo that is slowly (extremely slowly) being destructed
–not only do we no longer need to excuse their actions and we also no longer need to “win them over”. Because let’s face it, you can never win over a racist. It is simply not possible. The South is a clear example of this.
I guarantee that Clinton will win the election, but the Trump supporters who have gathered will not disappear upon its conclusion. They will still be there, looming.