In the last decade there have been a spate of books examining the question of why conservatives so often seem to vote against their own economic interest. “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and “Deer Hunting with Jesus” are excellent examples of that genre. In both cases, they’re written by authors who emerged from a conservative milieu, and went back to see why their former friends and neighbors are voting as they are.
Arlie Russel Hochschild and the Analogy of Cutting in Line
A recent entry into this field is “Strangers in their Own Land,” by the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. Ms. Hochschild, who is a professor from Berkley California (of all places) essentially “embedded” herself in the bayou country of Louisiana for the better part of five years. This is Teaparty country, and she wanted to focus on a particular issue: to find out why a populace who have been the victims of a lot of pollution and environmental degradation are so adamantly against any kind of environmental regulation. While there she made a number of close friendships with people that have completely different political views from hers. (The people she became close to knew that she was writing a book, so there was no deception involved.) Hochschild also examined the appeal of the Teaparty in general to that cohort and the source of their adamant opposition to welfare for the poor.
Along the way Hochschild created an analogy which – and frankly, I didn’t think this was possible – actually makes me feel sympathy for certain Teaparty type conservatives. The analogy is one of a long line of people seeking the American Dream, which is a long way off and over a hill. The line does not seem to be moving at all anymore, and the American Dream is becoming a distant mirage for many of these people. In some cases, this cohort sees what appear to be other people who are “cutting in line.” These are the poor, the blacks, the Latinos, immigrants and other minorities. The big business types, the Donald Trump’s of the world are at the front of the line, in this view, because they deserve to be there. Further, as Hochschild also notes, this stalled American Dream hits many on the right at a particularly vulnerable season of life – in their fifties, sixties, and seventies.
The Demonization of the Federal Government
One of the other things that Hochschild writes about persuasively is the demonization of the federal government as a deliberate strategy of the American right. This strategy was initiated by Newt Gingrich, who first set out to demonize the United State Congress. This is written about extensively in another book, authored by Thomas Mann and Norman Orenstein, and titled “It’s Worse than It Looks (How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism).” As explained by Mann and Orenstein, back in 1994, young firebrand New Gingrich – yes, he was young and “fresh” once before his long stay in the moldy bottom drawers of your broken refrigerator – ran an explicit campaign to demonize Congress and to exacerbate the seemingly paradoxical situation that people disliked the Congress as a whole but loved their own congressman. Gingrich united Republicans in refusing to cooperate with Democrats in committee and on the floor, while publicly attacking them as a permanent majority presiding over and benefiting from a thoroughly corrupt institution. (Sound familiar, my friends?) Gingrich’s strategy was, needless to say, very effective, as the Republicans routed the Democrats in the mid-term election of 1994.
This was 22 years ago, and the Republicans have branched out to attacking the entire federal government since. That too, has been surprisingly effective. The end result is that people in the Teaparty believe myths like that 40% of the American workforce works for the federal government, whereas the actual number is 1.9%.
Ironically, and in a demonstration of the cognitive dissonance that is resonating in the minds of so many conservatives, Teaparty types in Louisiana also blame the federal government for not adequately regulating the industrial polluters who are turning so many of the swamps into toxic cesspools while at the same time objecting to the federal government’s regulatory authority.
How does this make sense? It doesn’t, of course.
Where did Melanie Austin Get these Ideas?
The Washington Post recently ran a story about a woman named Melanie Austin, who is an ardent Trump supporter.
Austin lives somewhere with her unemployed boyfriend in the coal country of Western Pennsylvania, and used to work as a crew dispatcher and engineer for the railroad. She left her employment after filing a sexual harassment claim, which she won, but which was eventually overturned on appeal. If she wasn’t a bitter woman already, that was the icing on the cake.
As the Post reports, when Austin first saw Trump at a rally in June, she “was just beginning to realize how many people saw the world the way she did, that she was one among millions.” Donald Trump had inspired her by talking “about so many of the things she had come to believe, from Obama being a founder of the terrorist group ISIS, to Hillary Clinton being a co-founder, to the idea that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered in a White House plot involving a prostitute and a pillow.”
More and more, she was “meeting people who felt the same as she did, joining what amounted to a parallel world of beliefs that the Trump campaign had not so much created as harnessed and swept into the presidential election.” To her, President Obama “seemed so far away, so oblivious to the decay she saw around her” so that when Donald Trump began suggesting that Obama was not American, “it made sense.” When Trump and others suggested that Obama was Muslim, to Austin that too seemed plausible. And when Obama started talking about, of all things, gay marriage and letting transgender people into bathrooms, it all came together: the President of the United States was “a gay Muslim from Kenya working to undermine America.”
So, the question arises, where did Melanie Austin come to these beliefs. I mean, think of how preposterous they are, shared as they are by millions:
- To believe that Obama was born in Kenya, you have to believe that the Republican party would ignore the specific requirement of the Constitution that the President be a “natural born citizen” (i.e., someone born in the United States). There are only three requirements for President: (1) that the he or she be natural born, (2) at least age 35, and (3) have resided in the United State for 14 years. That’s it.
- To believe that Obama is a Muslim you have to ignore the entire Reverend Wright controversy which threatened to sink his candidacy back in 2008. And you have to ignore his unprecedented drone war against a number of Muslim nations.
- To believe that Obama is gay, I don’t even know where to begin to respond to that. Obama is one of the few President’s we’ve ever had to survive in office for eight years without a major scandal. Let’s leave it at that.
Again, where did Melanie Austin acquire these beliefs? The answer is from Fox News and right wing talk radio, that’s where. These two sources of “news” have proven, beyond a doubt, that if you repeat the same lies often enough and brazenly enough, people will simply believe it as the truth. It’s a shame, but now that really is the truth. There is no penalty for lying whatsoever.
As the final irony, Trump has been escalating his attacks against the mainstream media, alleging that they are part of some conspiracy with Hillary Clinton to get her elected President. This, from the same guy, who benefitted more than any candidate in history from free media coverage of his campaign for months and months at a time. Any fair minded person can see that the media is not out to elect Hillary Clinton.
Why Kelly Quelette is voting for Donald Trump.
Somewhere in my readings about the election I came across this WordPress post from a woman named Kelly Quelette, who declares to all the world why she is still voting for Donald Trump. Ms. Quelette cites five reasons for voting for the Donald:
- Because Hillary Clinton is more responsible for “rape culture” in the United States than Donald Trump (through Hillary’s defense of her husband and of a single convict accused of rape).
- Because Hillary Clinton believes in an “open border” on immigration.
- Because Donald Trump is a businessman (and therefore can do a better job with the economy).
- Because Donald Trump is pro-life (allegedly).
- Because the next President may have as many as five appointments to the Supreme Court.
So, where to begin in responding to this? One could write an entire article just on these five issues alone, but let’s take them on as briefly as possible.
- This first assertion is preposterous. As I’ve already discussed extensively, Bill Clinton’s record of behavior with women is truly awful. But Bill Clinton is not running for President. The notion that Hillary, as an “enabler” has done more to promote rape culture than Donald Trump, who is clearly guilty of multiple sexual assaults, is putting the cart way before the horse.
- Hillary Clinton does not believe in “open borders,” which lie has been refuted by fact-checking organizations like Politifact. Hillary is on record supporting the same kind of immigration reform that Obama supports, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens, support of DACA and DAPA, and the “humane” enforcement of existing immigration laws.
- Donald Trump’s business record is a matter of extensive controversy, with many of his billionaire colleagues, like Mark Cuban and Michael Bloomberg (i.e., the ones who know him best) completely opposed to his candidacy. Even if Trump were a good (or at least honest) businessman, there is nothing in evidence that suggests that a businessman would better at managing the American economy.
- Donald Trump is a very recent convert to the pro-life cause (if he is a convert at all). As the Washington Post has pointed out, Trump has taken at least five different positions on abortion, ranging all the way from being “very” pro-life to wanting to throw women in jail for having an “illegal” abortion. What is Trump’s actual position on abortion? Only God knows and she ain’t telling.
- Finally, when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, here I have to agree with Ms. Quelette. It will be a matter of critical importance. I don’t know about five nominations, but it could be a bunch. The Republicans have already indicated that they plan on objecting to any Supreme Court nomination that Hillary Clinton might put forward, which could trigger the greatest constitutional crisis involving the judiciary since Roosevelt’s 1937 court packing plan (and go look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about). This is part of the reason that it’s absolutely critical that the Democrats win back the Senate.
It’s not that I don’t have sympathy with conservatives at the loss of Antonin Scalia, their intellectual hero, from the court. But as I have to remind people all the time, we went from Thurgood Marshall to Clarence Thomas, and that was about as bad as it could get for liberals and progressives. That’s what happens when you lose a bunch of Presidential elections in a row: the other side gets to appoint the Justices that your side doesn’t care for. Tant pis, comme dit le Français.
The Hypocrisy of the Christian Right in 2016
I’ve already written in the past about the hypocrisy of Christian fundamentalists in this election. Although Mike Pence is a true Christian conservative, Trump is probably the most profane, sacrilegious and impious Presidential candidate that we’ve ever had. By contrast, it’s clear that Tim Kaine is very pious, and even Hillary Clinton is a solid Methodist whose faith is actually important to her. (Trump believes in only one God, and that’s the one he sees in the mirror.)
It turns out that Trump’s Billy Bush bus tape may have finally exposed a very deep fault line in the Christian right, and that is the fault line between men and women. Trump’s use of the word “pussy” and the escalating number of sexual assaults reported by women in the wake of Trump’s candid observations seem to have finally pushed some women and Christian millennials past the breaking point.
To which I can only say, what took you all so long?
They’ve Been Punching Us in the Face for Twenty-Five Years
One final thought: I’ve noticed on social media that a number of conservatives have reacted with hurt and surprise by the strong language that some of us on the progressive side of the ledger have used with respect to Trump.
Welcome to the club, my friends.
On the liberal or progressive side of the ledger, we’ve been punched in the face by the likes of Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Andrew Breitbart and Glenn Beck – to name just a few – for the better part of the last 25 years. Not literally, of course. Proverbially. But now, when conservatives taste a little bit of their own medicine, they react like the classic bully: hey, why are you hitting so hard? Stop it, that hurts!
It’s like Mike Tyson. When his invincibility fell and he had to face off with really tough fighters like Evander Holyfield, he resorted to biting off a chunk of his ear. That’s what we’re seeing now: the Tysonization of the American conservative movement. Naturally enough – as if there could be any other outcome – the actual Mike Tyson is a Donald Trump supporter.
As I’ve said repeatedly, there will need to be a lot of healing in this country after this election. But first there will need to be some soul searching, especially among Republican intellectuals – and yes, there are still Republican intellectuals, albeit not many – about what their party has wrought.
 As Hochschild notes, not only have the country’s two main political parties split further apart on such issues, but political feeling also runs deeper than it did in the past. In 1960, when a survey asked American adults whether it would “disturb” them if their child married a member of the other political party, no more than 5% of either party answered “yes.” But in 2010, 33% of Democrats and 40% of Republicans answered “yes.” In fact, partyism, as some call it, now beats race as the source of divisive prejudice.
 The question this view begs, of course, is how did those people end up at the back of the line in the first place, or more realistically, why weren’t they included in the line at all.
 In Donald Trump’s case, not only is he at the front of the line, but he still wants to cut in line anyway, just to move up one or two places.
 According to Hochschild, conservatives seem to arrive at their dislike of the federal government via three routes: (1) their religious faith (the government has unnecessarily curtailed the church); (2) hatred of taxes (which they see as too high and too progressive), and (3) its impact on their loss of “honor.”
 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the end of 2014, 1.9% percent of the 143 million American non-farm workers were employed in the civilian sector of the federal government. An additional 1% percent were in the enlisted military. Another 3.5% work for the various state governments, and by far the largest percentage work for local government. That group is composed primarily of teachers, and police and fire officers, or the government workers that we actually like.
 Austin had been “involuntarily hospitalized for several weeks” after a “series of online postings that included one saying that Obama should be hanged and the White House fumigated and burned to the ground.” On her discharge papers, in a box labeled “medical problem,” a doctor had typed “homicidal ideation.”
 Otherwise, why the fixation on her “email” scandal or the “Benghazi scandal,” both of which are objectively minor scandals that have been completely blown out of proportion. But to people who have already been hoodwinked, when Trump says that the major media is lying, that our side is lying, that the election is “rigged” – notwithstanding that he has ran the worst campaign in modern American history – there is a whole cadre of people who believe him.
 While we haven’t really had a pure businessman as President, we’ve had plenty of businessmen as Governors, and there’s nothing to suggest in their record that they are better stewards of a state’s economy than anyone else. Mitt Romney was Governor Massachusetts and Gary Johnson was Governor of Arizona, to cite just a few examples, and their records on the economy were unimpressive.
 At the current time, abortions in general are not illegal, because of Roe v. Wade, but certain kinds of abortion (such as partial birth abortions) are illegal in some states.
 As reported by the Post, it should be noted that in 1999, Trump told Tim Russert that he was “very pro-choice” explaining that that he grew up in Manhattan, not Iowa; by 2011, when Trump was seriously considering running for President the first time, he told conservatives at CPAC that he was pro-life; in a March 2016 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews Trump told that women should be criminally punished for having an “illegal” abortion; a day later his campaign walked that back and released a statement that in the case of an illegal abortion, only the doctor or other medical provider performing the procedure would be charged; and asked again about abortion a day after that, Trump basically advocated for a “state’s rights” policy on the matter.
 Yes, Senator McCain walked that one back almost immediately, but it does give all of the rest of us a good sense of what the Republican’s intentions are.
 Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, recently wrote that “enthusiasm for a candidate like Trump gives our neighbors ample reason to doubt that we believe Jesus is Lord.”