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Saturday, February 20, 2016

 

Donald Trump, Class Warrior

Allow me to elaborate.

I'm a British immigrant, and grew up in a northern English working-class town. Taking my regional accent to Oxford University and then the British civil service, I learned a certain amount about my own class consciousness and other people's snobbery. But in London or Oxford from the 1970s onwards I never witnessed the naked disdain for the working class that much of America's metropolitan elite finds permissible in 2016.

When my wife and I bought some land in West Virginia and built a house there, many friends in Washington asked why we would ever do that. Jokes about guns, banjo music, in-breeding, people without teeth and so forth often followed. These Washington friends, in case you were wondering, are good people. They'd be offended by crass, cruel jokes about any other group. They deplore prejudice and keep an eye out for unconscious bias. More than a few object to the term, "illegal immigrant." Yet somehow they feel the white working class has it coming.

My neighbors in West Virginia are good people too. Hard to believe, since some work outside and not all have degrees, but trust me on this. They're aware of how they're seen by the upper orders. They understand the prevailing view that they're bigots, too stupid to know what's good for them, and they see that this contempt is reserved especially for them. The ones I know don't seem all that angry or bitter -- they find it funny more than infuriating -- but they sure don't like being looked down on.

Many of them are Trump supporters.
Trump's outrageousness is the key.  

The fact that he's outrageous is essential. (Ask yourself, what would he be without his outrageousness? Take that away and nothing remains.) Trump delights mainly in offending the people who think they're superior -- the people who radiate contempt for his supporters. The more he offends the superior people, the more his supporters like it. Trump wages war on political correctness. Political correctness requires more than ordinary courtesy: It's a ritual, like knowing which fork to use, by which superior people recognize each other.

This isn't the whole explanation of Trumpism, by any means, but I think it's part of the explanation. Supporting Trump is an act of class protest -- not just over hard economic times, the effect of immigration on wages or the depredations of Wall Street, but also, and perhaps most of all, over lack of respect. That's something no American, with or without a college degree, will stand for.
The country is in an "Eff you" mood and that's what Trump embodies.  Is he going to be a good President?  Who knows?  Can he do something about the nation's problems?  I hope so; he has managed to do some pretty great things in his chosen field.   Can he do something for the Middle Class; the men and women without the fancy college degrees who are living paycheck to paycheck and running up credit card debt?  Can he do something about the cost of higher education which has now gotten so expensive that it's unaffordable to people who are not millionaires?   Can he build that wall?  Can he bring good paying jobs back?   Who can be sure?

But he has not been flaked and shaped by the Washington food grinder into a homogeneous mush.  He has accomplished his dreams despite opposition from the political establishment, often by paying them off, often by using publicity.  He knew how to use the Bully Pulpit before actually acquiring the ultimate Bully Pulpit.  

Lots of people are saying that after the spectacular failures of the current Ruling Class: it's worth a shot.

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