Monday, February 29, 2016

Someone to Watch Over Me, Part Three

Still talking about Trump, yes. In the past few posts, we've discussed the penchant for many observers, particularly on the left, to treat Trump's supporters in the manner that a cultural anthropologist treats exotic societies. Step up to the mic, Aaron Barlow:
Trump’s supporters, however, are something else again. Finally feeling a spotlight on themselves, they are people who have felt forgotten for generations. They are not descended from the American identity as was it imagined and written in New England and imagined and crafted separately by the Southern white elite. That identity was only endured by them. The great debates of the 19th century only saw them as grounds for extension of the North/South conflict as they moved west, or those debates ignored them. Ignored them, that is, until they were useful to the new myths concerning the West, ones crafted by the intellectual elite of New England and by East Coast writers generally. But those myths had nothing to do with the real lives on the prairies or in the mountains—and the people there knew it.
Is that it? He says more:
While New England and New York were developing the first real American intellectual and artistic culture and the South was building its antebellum “paradise” on the backs of slaves, the poor Americans of the Appalachians and then of the West were busily engaged in a genocide of Native Americans that no one wanted to praise or even admit was happening. At the same time, they were eking out a living on land that often, as soon as they tried to lay claim to it, turned out to be “owned” by someone from the East. They had no time for what Leo Marx calls the “fully articulated pastoral idea of America” that had emerged on the back of the Enlightenment and that was popular as an ideal in the East. Whatever garden these poorer Americans could find or create or conquer or defend was not often even theirs for very long. More frequently than we imagine, they were forced once again to move farther west and to start from scratch—again. Poverty breathed down their necks; little of their lives would ever qualify as “pastoral.”
Emphasis mine. We'll get back to that. More:
Numerous theories have been put forward to explain the differences between the uncouth of the frontier (and then settled) “interior” of America and the civilized East (and then, West) Coast. Some writers blame the land that had seemed so promising, others blame class distinctions, and still others see the lack of civilizing government as the problem. Unfortunately, all the writers were from the East (or from Europe) until well into the 19th century; those actually from the frontier culture had little voice in the discussion, no ability to ground the debate in the actual facts of the matter as seen by the people there. As they would remain for generations more, these people had been made mute. Few outsiders understood either their perspective or their background, allowing erroneous conceptions to be put forward unchallenged and then to become received wisdom. The anger of the Bundy family and its supporters, for example, is real, even if we on the coasts see it as misplaced.
Getting closer. Now, the nut:
Trump’s campaign is giving such people voice in a way that their “champions,” those already stalwart in the Republican Party, never have. Trump is not telling them what they believe or even what they should believe but is reflecting frustrations that have been bubbling up within them for generations. The leaders of the party, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and the others, are acting on old assumption about the mass of white America, that it has no real culture of its own—believing it their duty to impose one.
There it is. It's easy for any of us to imagine that the way we choose to live our lives is the normal way, the default. It's especially easy if we live among others who largely agree with our own worldview. I suspect Barlow is wrong about the amalgamation of politicians he lists -- I don't see that Rubio or Cruz are leaders yet, but Bush and Kasich share many of the same notions that have held sway in Republican politics for many years.

I think the impulses involved are contradictory, but make sense on their own terms. Limited government, the goal of most movement conservatives, is quite apart from what I'm hearing. Immigration is a hot button issue precisely because it's a sign that the government is acting on behalf of only certain sectors of the population. Gino summed up the impact yesterday:
[o]ne of the most insulting things i've ever heard from a politician was from George Bush, trying to push his amnesty with no intent of securing the border... claiming: they do jobs americans wont do. which is bullshit on its face to anybody who's seen a construction crew building tract homes today... or who the janitor was in my grade school 40 yrs ago.
I suspect that most Trump supporters don't dislike government per se. What I think causes the animosity is the very real sense that those who control the levers are operating on assumptions that are either romanticized or ignorant. It's a worthy enough impulse to offer noblesse oblige, which is the hallmark of every Bush who has walked the national stage, but the recipients aren't really looking for a helping hand delivered as a pat on the head. Instead, what I suspect many Trump supporters are really looking for is something else -- a government that removes obstacles, instead of imposing them. Immigrants are competition, an obstacle. Trump is promising to remove obstacles, so that people can get jobs and get on with their lives, without the overweening cultural assumptions that flow with the aid.

We're not done with this topic.

1 comment:

R.A. Crankbait said...

Liars still have their constituency. Hillary has been an ethical train-wreck since she first sidled onto the stage in the Watergate hearings. No amount of reality is going to dissuade a certain block of people that the message or meme of "first woman president" overcomes (almost said "trumps") all concerns. It certainly had no effect on the "first black president" wave. Supporters knew the candidates were lying - but figured that the ultimate victims would be the "other" side.

On the Republican side, the supporters had doubts about the veracity of their former champions but hoped - like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football - that "this" time it would be different. Now I think everyone assumes anything that anyone tells them in a political race is a lie, even from "your" guy or gal. As long as the harm can be transferred to the opposition, so be it. Trump is a cartoon, but the harm he's promising (as opposed to the harm he'll likely deliver) is to all Lucy's that have pulled the football away in the past, and people are cool with that.