SEEK AND DESTROY

Posted in Rants on June 13th, 2016 by Ed

There are two distinct groups of people who are really into Trump. I understand one of them very well because I've spent my entire life around them. The other group I only encountered recently.

The first is white people over 50. These people have, for the most part, remarkably good lives (or at least no excuse not to). I'm from the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where about half of all working adults got their paycheck from the public sector when I was growing up. Cops, public school teachers, state-county-municipal employees, streets and san workers, you name it. The people I knew growing up are, for the most part, retired or near retirement, coasting on massive (and massively expensive) government pensions. They live in relatively pricey, lily white suburbs. Their lives literally could not be any easier, and they owe every penny they've ever earned in their lives to the government. They're retiring in a level of luxury and comfort their children and grandchildren will never know, on the public dollar. And, almost to a person, they love Trump, Fox News, constant outrage, etc etc. Some are scared of a new world and a new society they don't understand. Some believe things used to be better and don't understand why that's no longer the case. Some really, really don't like brown-skinned people. These are not, broadly speaking, intellectually curious people. There's a lot they no longer recognize or understand, and they have no inclination to accommodate the way they think to a new reality. So they sit around, double-dipping state and county pensions after they retired (for the first time) at 50, in large homes with two expensive cars ranting about how terrible everything is.

The second group – and color me sheltered, I suppose – I didn't encounter until four years ago when I moved to Central Illinois. They are not all over 50. In fact, many are younger and have legitimate economic grievances, hence the part of Trumpism that appeals to people who are angry about American jobs being outsourced overseas. Nothing in my first 33 years prepared me for how bitter, angry, and flat-out mean people who live in shitty places are. They hate their lives, and they hate them with good cause. They're simply looking for someone to take that fact out on. It's not surprising once I saw it and thought about it; take any relatively normal human and have them spend 30 years in the middle of nowhere in a town that smells constantly from its rendering plant and where the best restaurant is a Hardee's and he or she will be pretty bitter, resentful, and angry too. These are people who have never met a Muslim, yet they're furiously angry at Muslims. They also hate immigrants, Mexicans who are not immigrants, blacks, gays, Big City people, professors, doctors, lawyers, teachers…basically everyone who isn't white and a member of their shitty church. They adopt this cartoonish hyper-jingoistic and faux-Country manner and style, talk a lot about Real 'Muricans and people who aren't Real 'Muricans, and recite lists of grievances about everyone to blame for the fact that they didn't try hard enough in high school to get out like some of their friends did. Obama, Hillary Clinton, ISIS, Jews, gays, welfare queens – anyone will do. They love Trump because he's blaming the same scapegoats. It is emphatically not hard to get these people to be really, really angry at some target. Any half-talented charlatan can do it.

Of course not everyone who lives in these places fits this description; the ones who are enthusiastic about Donald Trump do, though. I've thought a lot about what thread connects these two superficially very different groups, and the best way I can describe it is disappointment. These are people who thought life would be better than it is – or perhaps even feel entitled to more than what they got – and they don't want to blame themselves for whatever shortcomings there are, real or perceived. They're comfortable middle class people who are mad because they expected to be rich, and poorer people who are mad that they didn't become comfortable middle class. Their circumstances are different but the palpable, deep seated sense of having been cheated out of what was theirs is the same. Unable or unwilling to grapple with the complex set of structural economic changes that left them in their respective situations, they take the easy way out and blame it on any convenient target. The politics of blood and culture are the path of least resistance, and the choice between confronting the reality that they're financially insecure because the trickle-down economics they professed faith in for decades does not actually work or blaming the Mexicans and the blacks is no choice at all.