We need to ask ourselves, what drove part of Trump’s electorate to invade the Capital buildings, but more importantly, what drove 74 million US citizens to vote for him in the first place.
Let us begin with the allegory and emotions of the Republican party. “The deep story went like this: You are an older white man without a college degree standing in the middle of a line with hundreds of millions of Americans. The queue leads up a hill, toward a haven just over the ridge, which is the American dream. Behind you in line, you can see a train of woeful souls—many poor, mostly nonwhite, born in America and abroad, young and old. “It’s scary to look back,” Hochschild writes. “There are so many behind you, and in principle, you wish them well. Still, you’ve waited a long time.” Now you’re stuck in line because the economy isn’t working. And worse than stuck, you’re stigmatized; liberals in the media say every traditional thing you believe is racist and sexist. And what’s this? People are cutting in line in front of you! Something is wrong. The old line wasn’t perfect, but at least it was a promise. There is the order in the fact of a line. And if that order is coming apart, then so is America” (Thompson p. 4, 2020).
The situation of the white lower class has been deteriorating in relative income and social mobility for decades. They struggle with a hectic life without the basics the other western democracies had become accustomed to: affordable, high-quality health care, daycare, education, living wages, and paid vacations. The lower half of US income earners have fared poorly, receiving only 13 percent of the total, compared to 22 percent for Europe in 2016.
The second part of this narrative regards the hate towards those deemed responsible for this situation of the forgotten whites and others of lower-income groups. "Trump might be a lifelong bullshitter, but one thing he has never had to bullshit is his grievance toward liberal elites and his antipathy for the groups whom Tea Party Republicans already knew they hated… “From his first rallies, Trump’s basic message has always been ‘I love you, and you love me, and we all hate the same people,’ Hochschild said.” (Thompson p. 4, 2020, Hochschild, 2016)
Was the resentment against the ruling politicians and economic elite misplaced?
Wake up, America! Over the last thirty years, we have experienced a very selfish kind of capitalism avoided or at least diminished in most of our European counterparts.
Let us look at some of its highlights:
- the middle and lower economic classes struggle to make ends meet, having a lower share of total income than that of other developed countries and with the bottom 50 percent sharing about two percent of total wealth;
- our social mobility ranks 27th among developed countries, in strong contrast to our belief in the self-made man;
- the US population is one of the most obese in the world, affecting 40 percent of adults and 18 percent of children, associated with a food and snack industry with little health control;
- the US energy industry that is in no small part responsible for producing the climate crisis and continues to insist on weakening our environmental standards;
- the public health system costs double of that of Europe, is not easily afforded by lower-income groups, and due to mismanagement, is associated with 21 million cases and 359,849 deaths due to coronavirus (as of January 6);
- our college education system has become so expensive that students have accumulated an enormous amount of debt reaching almost $1.6 trillion;
- the relative wages of Afro-Americans remain almost constant, with the average black male earning $ 0.51 for every dollar earned by a white man in 2014, the same ratio as in 1950;
- the homeownership of Afro-Americans is low and usually in areas with modest price growth, limiting their accumulation of wealth;
- the number of Americans in prison totals over two million three hundred thousand, giving the nation the world’s highest figure per capita;
- our annual military budget reaches $ 934 billion in 2020, more than the next seven countries combined, reducing available funds for needed alternative expenditures;
- our system of values stresses extreme competition and money, making it difficult for us to share, and even discuss, our common values and social needs.
These are grave social and economic problems that impact all of us, particularly the lower half of income earners: whites (not all Suprimist), Hispanic, and Afro-Americans. Trump voters are located in areas of high drug abuse, alcoholism, and increased family conflicts that foster psychological pain and resentment.
The more inequitable and unjust we allow our society to become, the more we create the differences that authoritarianism can exploit.
We have to fight populism on several fronts: through reform of the political process that Trump abused (separation of the powers of government), education and greater control regarding misinformation, and above all, healing the American differences beginning with the least advantaged.
Hochschild A.R., 2016, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, The New Press, New York City.
Thompson, D., 2020, The Deep Story of Trumpism. Thinking about the Republican Party like a political psychiatrist, December 29, the Atlantic.