LIKE SHOOTING FISH IN A McMANSION

Posted in Rants on May 8th, 2017 by Ed

Astute commentators have been pointing out since November the massive flaw inherent in the "white working class" (in media usage, read: hillbillies, white trash) argument to explain the most recent election: lower income people of any race tend not to vote much, and nothing about the demographics of Trump voters as a whole suggests that poverty is among their defining characteristics. The median income among voters – not mere "Hey I like that guy!" supporters, but actual cast-a-ballot voters – is well over the national average. Hell, according to the stated figure the median Trump voter is out-earning me considerably. And I'm not a poor person.

The reality is that no amount of think pieces about Appalachia can obscure the fact that Trump is a phenomenon of white suburbanites (combined with poor turnout among people most likely to support a Democratic candidate). If you are like me and spent any portion of your formative years in the suburbs, you have known this in the marrow of your bones and don't need any data to prove it to you. In truly poor areas, white conservatism is mixed with a healthy dose of apathy and indifference. In rural areas it is mitigated by the remnant fumes of agrarian populism (and a total dependence on government subsidies). But the suburbs…the flame burns clean there. Don't go to small town Appalachia if you want to see pure, mindless adherence to the Fox News version of reality. Pick a big city and head for its newest New Money suburbs.

Jesse Myerson offers a useful take on why this is. Suburbanites have just enough wealth to convince themselves that they are just one step away from cartoonish one-percenter wealth (Just don't ask too many questions about debt!) and therefore are not only susceptible to Horatio Alger "hard work is all you need" narratives but also to scapegoating groups perceived to be the last obstacle between oneself and True Wealth. Gosh, just think of how much better everything would be if only my money wasn't being given to Welfare Queens / Immigrants / Chinamen / Etc.

The second factor he points out is that suburbanites, having engaged in a pattern of increasing their spending every time income increased, are overwhelmingly dependent on the value of their homes as the foundation of wealth. Many have borrowed huge amounts against their property, and many more rely on selling it and using the proceeds (the mortgage long since having been paid off) for retirement. If non-white people move into the area, home values will fall. Nothing will turn a suburbanite into a white-hot ball of rage more quickly than the prospect of losing some of the equity in their home. These are not good homes, objectively. They are flimsy, expensive to heat and cool, and ugly. They have no inherent value, so the value of their location (i.e., far away from Those People) and sheer size determine their worth on the market.

These are valid points. To them I would add two more that Myerson missed.

One is that suburbanites are, as a group, unhappy people. I swear to god, you will never meet people who have more but are less happy than your random South Suburbs of Chicago people. These are people who – to engage in a little cheap armchair psychoanalysis – have spent their whole lives believing that the next purchase would finally make them happy and it didn't work out. If only I had a bigger house, or the 5-series BMW instead of the 3-series, or more jewelry, or just MORE of everything…then surely happiness would be here. So they are unhappy despite in material terms having nothing really to be unhappy about.

Second, and related tangentially, is that the design of suburbs combined with the huge amount of time suburban adults spend alone in their own homes divorces them fairly effectively from reality. They don't see much of the real world. They see a gated community of white people with big houses, and perhaps some glimpses of the rest of the world out of a window during a commute. They use the media to inform them what cities and rural areas are like in the same way that you and I rely on the news to tell us what is going on in China. Chicago might as well be China to someone living in its suburbs. They are as likely to form an opinion of it based on what Bill O'Reilly says as they are by driving 15 or 20 miles to do anything there.

I try not to go back to visit family unless I absolutely can't help it. Kunstler was right; we built a landscape of crappy places and became crappy people.