a clarifying election


The hills are alive with the sound of angry key-pounding election hot takes. This was always going to happen—we’re in the golden age of punditry, after all. What I didn’t expect was the degree to which this space would shine with the ascendence of that grand minsogynst demagogue and well-understood as a serial liar Donald J. Trump. If there could be a lone pervasive takeaway from the likely Republican nominee for President of the United States I’d chose the one where we all agree that his campaign has been awfully clarifying.

For instance, this Kevin Williamson (gated) piece in National Review that reads like a “man bites dog” commentary of the popular support for Trump in non-educated low-income white communities:

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. … The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

At first glance those who follow these types of things might be startled at the sudden turn against working class whites, a group that folks like Kevin and others have traditionally extended much sympathy and solidarity. More, that whatever text is left as subtext in Williamson’s piece, which isn’t much, is later dug out for full exposure under the sun by his colleague David French. In short, they have seemingly been left no choice but to apply the ‘responsibility’ rhetoric usually reserved for non-white communities that support Trump.

Yet the more I think about this turning off the compassion spigot for working whites the less this strikes me as all that radical of a turn. If we reduce these reactions to a subhead such as “conservative(s) dismisses structure for agency in order to dismiss folks living in poverty,” how surprised can we be? Likewise, try filing these sentiments under “upper-middle class identity finds lower class identity extremely distasteful” and does it honestly even deserve a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ? Where folks are finding their takes here lie solely in the fact that it explicitly calls out the white lower class. That’s newish, to some extent, but it’s not enough to draw a dividing line between this moment and the next.

What makes this at all notable is the clarification of revealed preferences from those having to decide (through support or rejection) their response to The Trump Train. This phenomenon extends beyond the field of conservative punditry, to a decent chunk of my FB feed, the folks I work alongside and a not-insignificant number of extended family members. Gone is their assumed support of an economic platform that overwhelmingly benefits the well-off, the character arguments from religious association, the depth to which one symbolizes severely conservative values, or in this instance solidarity with white working class communities. What has arrived in its place is a melting down of what passes for intersectionality on the right, wherein this election has some reducing their principles to what truly matters in the moment—the dominance of a class/cultural/race mashup of xenophobic hate for a generalized ‘other.’


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