NASHVILLE, TN – U.C. Berkeley Department of Sociology Professor Arlie Russell Hochschild interviewed dozens of people in Appalachia and in Cincinnati neighborhoods where many have immigrated. Hochschild said that the women she talked to stood by their men and voted for Trump.
“They aren’t as firm in their support of Trump as their husbands and brothers and uncles are,” Hochschild said. She said the Democratic Party has no face in the hollers of Eastern Kentucky and these women are Christians. Right to life is a big issue.
“They have attached their fate to that of the men in their kin system, so they’re not thinking ‘oh, me, could I rise?’ they are thinking ‘us’ and they’re sinking.”
Hochschild said Trump supporters on TV are wearing MAGA hats and seem to be sitting pretty like they have money and want to hold on to it. “The sitting pretty image describes few of those people I’m getting to know,” Hochschild said.
Rather, they feel like a minority group and that life is rigged against them. And watching television reinforces that feeling.
“They say ‘look at all the people of color who are newscasters and weather people. No white men anymore, gosh.’ And then they see black football stars and basketball stars getting multi-million deals to advertise stuff and they think ‘Wow, they are millionaires. Gosh, those Blacks are really getting ahead’.”
Hochschild said when her subjects look at mainstream media they get that impression. “Not everybody is really abjectly poor but I have talked to people who were pretty close,” she said.
She talked with one Trumper who grew up in a trailer park attending special education classes. “I’m poor and I’m dumb,” he told her.
“If you compare my life to the life of someone in Chicago or the Bronx there’s drugs there, there’s drugs here, people aren’t working there, and people aren’t working here, people are going to jail there, people are going to jail here. Guys aren’t living with the mothers of their children and aren’t doing much with those kids. That’s true there, that’s true here,” he said.
“I don’t see much difference between them and us except the music,” he said.
“And that is a refrain: ‘we’re like Blacks it’s not that different’ and yet in the mass media, they feel in a way colonized by a liberal culture that says whites are bad, they’re racist, and men are bad, they’re rapists, and a putdown of white men.
They think they are sinking and others are rising,” Hochschild said.
She said educated people know Black household incomes have not risen in the last 30 years, and that in 2008 they had money in their houses and they lost that, and that affirmative action didn’t bump Blacks ahead of Whites. “But none of that is on their radar,” she said.
Many of the poor people Hochschild talked to moved to Cincinnati from eastern Kentucky. As internal immigrants they are not unlike Latinos who fled poverty to come to the U.S. Hochschild said her subjects support Trump’s immigration policies and are all for a border wall, even though a lot of the work Latinos do is no competition to what Whites do. She said there’s a kind of displacement taking place.
“If you’re down you’re wanting to blame someone,” she said.
She asked Trump supporters in Eastern Kentucky if there were more coal jobs under Trump. There weren’t. No new industry either. The water wasn’t any cleaner and the opioid crisis wasn’t getting any better.
“Life isn’t better for them four years later but they are still voting for him,” Hochschild said. One reason is because the Democratic Party doesn’t have a presence in Appalachia and its inhabitants feel like Trump is the only one who sees them. They feel invisible.
“The people I’m getting to know are not angry, entitled, assertive. They are a little depressed. They are frightened, actually,” she said.
Exit polls showed 3 out of 5 white voters picked Trump in the 2020 Election. Voters were disproportionately white and older. If you add the 85 million Americans who did not cast a ballot to the total vote count, it turns out Biden got 33% of the eligible voters and Trump got 31%. These numbers show how deeply polarized American politics has become. (see graph)
Davin Phoenix, a political scientist at the University of California at Irvine, wrote a book about how race shapes who gets to be publicly angry over politics. He found that the media and public officials treat different groups inequitably based on the airing of their grievances.
“People of color express much less anger than their white white counterparts,” Phoenix said.
“This runs in stark contrast, at least in the case of African Americans, to that very pervasive stereotype of the angry Black person,” he said. His research showed not only are people of color expressing less anger but (also) that anger is not motivating their political behavior as much as it is for white Americans.
Whites vote more, donate to candidates, canvas for candidates, and contact elected officials more. Phoenix said that Blacks. Latinx, and Asian Americans are more likely to protest and boycott.
“Their anger isn’t directed towards a particular regime or party platform but at the system itself that they fundamentally believe is not responsive to their interests,” he said. Although minorities perceive Trump as a threat they are more likely to withdraw from politics than white Americans.
“When you’re angry…. you are more impulsive, you are less risk adverse and you feel slighted, you feel a compulsion to right that wrong. So anger is a palpable force not only for getting people active in politics but (also) for making them double down on what their existing ideas are. And so I see that doubling down effect in 2020, “ Phoenix said.
Trump’s unlikely victory in 2016 was driven by the economic anxiety of whites who felt the ground shifting beneath their feet. Phoenix said Trump represented an assuring force that they will not lose their dominant status within politics and within society.
“What did Trump do very effectively throughout those four years? Continue to engender and activate that sense of anger,” Phoenix said.
There was also a great deal of normalization of Trump and Trump voters. “Even if people were dissatisfied over the last 4 years, Trump and the media echo system continually gave them outlets for anger that were directed away from Trump.”
He said whites who didn’t vote or may have been sitting on the fence in 2016, were angry enough in 2020 to vote for Trump.