From Nathaniel Rich's review of Arlie Hochschild's Inside the Sacrifice Zone in the NYRB
Hochschild is also unpersuaded by Colin Woodard’s argument for regionalism as the main factor in shaping political views, and Alec McGillis’s argument that those in red states who most need government services vote at a much lower rate than wealthier conservatives. She finds incomplete Jonathan Haidt’s view, in The Righteous Mind (2013), that Tea Party voters are not misled, but instead care more deeply about cultural values than economic principles. While each of these theories may have some merit, she writes,
I found one thing missing in them all—a full understanding of emotion in politics. What, I wanted to know, did people want to feel, think they should or shouldn’t feel, and what do they feel about a range of issues?
... How, then, do Tea Party voters feel? They’re angry, bitter, resentful—that much is obvious. Hochschild goes further, however. She develops for them what in brand marketing is referred to as the “back story,” a story that provides a unifying emotional logic to a set of beliefs. She calls it the “deep story.”
The deep story that Hochschild creates for the Tea Party is a parable of the white American Dream. It begins with an image of a long line of people marching across a vast landscape. The Tea Partiers—white, older, Christian, predominantly male, many lacking college degrees—are somewhere in the middle of the line. They trudge wearily, but with resolve, up a hill. Ahead, beyond the ridge, lies wealth, success, dignity. Far behind them the line is composed of people of color, women, immigrants, refugees. As pensions are reduced and layoffs absorbed, the line slows, then stalls.
An even greater indignity follows: people begin cutting them in line. Many are those who had long stood behind them—blacks, women, immigrants, even Syrian refugees, all now aided by the federal government. Next an even more astonishing figure jumps ahead of them: a brown pelican, the Louisiana state bird, “fluttering its long, oil-drenched wings.” Thanks to environmental protections, it is granted higher social status than, say, an oil rig worker. The pelican, writes Hochschild,
needs clean fish to eat, clean water to dive in, oil-free marshes, and protection from coastal erosion. That’s why it’s in line ahead of you. But really, it’s just an animal and you’re a human being.
Meanwhile the Tea Partiers are made to feel less than human. They find themselves reviled for their Christian morality and the “traditional” values they have been taught to honor from birth. Many speak of “sympathy fatigue,” the sense that every demographic group but theirs receives sympathy from liberals. “People think we’re not good people if we don’t feel sorry for blacks and immigrants and Syrian refugees,” one Tea Partier tells Hochschild. “But I am a good person and I don’t feel sorry for them.”
When Hochschild tells her deep story to some of the people she’s come to know, they greet it rapturously. “You’ve read my mind,” says one. “I live your analogy,” says Mike Schaff. She concludes that they do not vote in their economic interest but in their “emotional self-interest.” What other choice do they have?
Hochschild suggests that economic despair is the central motivation behind the Tea Partiers’ rage, while admitting that race, gender, and class biases contribute. But it’s difficult not to consider racial fear the formative aspect of this story, given our national history and the repeated expressions of racial disdain by her subjects, all of whom are white. Further evidence can be found in Donald Trump’s ability to cast off fundamental Republican economic views without sacrificing Tea Party support, while emphasizing positions dear to the hearts of white supremacists. Either way, race and the economy have for the far right become inseparable. Who’s to blame for lost jobs and opportunities? African-Americans boosted by affirmative action, immigrant laborers, Mexicans, Indians, Chinese.
...[Tea Partiers] may not have it worse than some other demographic groups in America today, but they have fallen the furthest. Hochschild quotes the economist Phillip Longman’s finding that fifty-somethings today are the first generation of Americans who, “at every stage of adult life,…have less income and less net wealth than people their age ten years before.” Trump’s pitch is simple: under his leadership, the Tea Party losers will be winners. They will win so much that they’ll be sick.
This seems a good supplement to the piece I posted yesterday about the "Realigning the Colors". I think it makes clear that the racial component to white rage is not racial so much as it's about feeling disrespected. Why do all these other groups--even pelicans--get more respect than we do? Why do they get to cut in line and not play by the rules that we've played by? Why does nobody care that we are slowly falling to the back of the line?
I think this story combined with the Colin Woodard and Jonathan Haidt models gives us a pretty good picture about what's going on here. The sense of aggrievement is reinforced by regional cultures and the moral systems that are embedded in those cultures, both of which get little respect from Blue elites. And all three of these go far to explain why Tom Frank's basic thesis in What's the Matter with Kansas is basically correct--that angry whites do not vote in their own political and economic interests because they are so angry at the Blue Party and want nothing to do with it. Tom Frank in his most recent book, Listen, Liberal explains why Democrats deserve the anger that is directed toward them from Red America. Blue contempt is met with Red resentment, and these emotions trump all other political and economic considerations.
So how does this get resolved? Well, this was the point of "Realigning the Colors". I am still a registered Democrat, but I'm seriously considering ripping up my card and becoming an Independent. The Dems don't stand for anything I care about. They are simply less worse than the GOP, which has become the Party of Demagoguery that exploits this justified white anger in destructive ways. Again, that's why Bernie was the last hope, IMO, for Blue redemption. He offered the possibility to channel this resentment in a constructive way.
So how does this play out? There are a lot of residents of Blue America who could care less about these aggrieved whites in Red America. They argue that they don't matter, that as the country browns they will become increasingly irrelevant politically. They've had their day, and now it's time for them to step aside. As they age out, their children and grandchildren will adapt better to a more multicultural America. They'll put aside their anger and resentment, and figure out how they can fight for their interests the way any other interest group does.
I do think that something like this will happen, and when it does, when the resentment subsides, that's when the structural shift I talk about in Realigning the Colors will happen. That's when the justified grievances of non-elite whites will find common cause with the grievances of non-elite blacks and browns. That's when they'll all figure out that the Blues stand for everything that works against their collective interests. The only way this doesn't happen, IMO, is if the Sanders faction of the Dems finds a way to take over in such a way that it focuses the Blues on structural issues rather than on identity politics issues. I don't see that happening. The Dem elites are too deeply shaped by the Neoliberal social imaginary to be able to offer a real solution.
I don't know what's going to happen to the current Red Party after Trump. I hope it breaks apart and goes into a death spiral. If it does, it just might put Red back on the market to be claimed by the people for whom it has been the traditional color. It won't happen right away, but I think something like it is inevitable.