March 13, 2016

SEAN TRENDE ON TRUMP, ELITE DISDAIN, AND AUTHENTICITY:

Trump’s support is also concentrated in counties with high levels of unemployment, high numbers of voters with a high school diploma and nothing more, and low housing values. These are the people that globalization left behind, who fifty years ago would have had decent paying jobs in factories or even performing manual labor, and who could hope that their children would have the same. Instead they see their towns characterized by vacant buildings, drug problems, and government dependence.

But it goes well beyond economic issues. What drives this quest for “authentic” candidates is also cultural. I would ask my readers to consider: How many people who staunchly oppose gay marriage do you know? How many people who are “pure” creationists – who believe that God created the world largely “as-is” – are in your circle of friends?

I would guess that for a large number of readers, the answer is quite close to “none.” Yet these are not obscure viewpoints; in fact, the “pure” evolutionary viewpoint is a minority view in America. The odds of having no one with these views in your circle of friends are, literally, astronomically small. We’ve self-segregated as a society, and people who adhere to what we might call a cosmopolitan worldview or morality system increasingly fail to interact with people who view the world differently. As a result, cultural traditionalists have been otherized.

Cosmopolitans also happen to occupy the commanding heights of American culture, and they’ve become increasingly aggressive in promoting what one of my friends called a “sneering disdain” for traditionalists—an attitude I myself sometimes struggle to keep in check. So it is unsurprising that when the RAND Corporation recently polled candidates’ supporters, “people like me don’t have any say” was the strongest indicator of support for Trump, beyond education, beyond income, and beyond antipathy toward Muslims and Hispanics.

To bring this back around to populism, when people see the genteel politician in a crisp suit talking about the long term economic benefits of immigration and trade, they look around their neighborhoods and see a detachment from reality. They also – and I would say this is of equal importance – see someone who likely looks down his nose at them and believes he is better than them.

So when people look at Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, with their heavy accents and awkward hairstyles, they see themselves (sure Donald Trump was born wealthy, but he has a distinct nouveau riche affect; he can hardly be described as patrician). And when people mock them for their hair or their straightforward manner of speech, it channels every cultural slight these voters have faced in the past decade. Sadly, this is unlikely to get better before it gets worse; this growing cultural divide shows no signs of abating.

This also goes to the things that Mickey Kaus has written about social vs. economic inequality. Elites are happy to condemn economic inequality, but they pretty much like social inequality the way it is.

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