The New York Times visited a Donald Trump field office in Miami and they were surprised at who they found:
Recently, Mr. Trump’s campaign has been engulfed by ugly images of mostly white Trump supporters facing off against, and sometimes attacking, young protesters, many of them black or Hispanic, at Trump rallies in Chicago, St. Louis and elsewhere.
But here in Tampa, in the week before the pivotal Florida primary, conversations with more than 20 volunteers showing up to make campaign calls or otherwise help out at a small Trump campaign office in an old cigar factory yielded some surprises on the subjects of race, ethnicity and bigotry.
For a campaign frequently depicted as offering a rallying point for the white working class, the people volunteering to help Mr. Trump here are noteworthy for their ethnic diversity. They include a young woman who recently arrived from Peru; an immigrant from the Philippines; a 70-year-old Lakota Indian; a teenage son of Russian immigrants; a Mexican-American.
They range the political spectrum, too, from lifelong Democrat to independent to libertarian to conservative Republican. To a person, they condemned and sometimes ridiculed David Duke and other white supremacists who have noisily backed Mr. Trump. “I totally do not agree with them,” said one volunteer, Andrew Cherry.
Too bad they didn’t take along a battalion of conservative pundits with them.
It has become fashionable in conservative circles to talk smack about Trump’s supporters. Apparently, insulting people is a tried a true method for both changing their minds and getting them to vote for you guy. The total contempt that some conservative pundits feel simple oozes. Kevin Williamson of the National Review calls them “the Buchanan boys:”
The Buchanan boys are economically and socially frustrated white men who wish to be economically supported by the federal government without enduring the stigma of welfare dependency.
He prescription is hardly one that is going to win anyone at the ballot box and is making me reconsider identifying myself as a conservative (but winning at the ballot box doesn’t seem to be a huge conservative priority unless the right sort of person wins supported by the votes of the right sort of people):
“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible,” the conservative writer says. “The white American under-class 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.”
Unfortunately, the sad thing is that Williamson is simply saying what is the basis for the dislike of Trump voters. It is driven by personal contempt for people and contempt leads him to vilify an entire group of people as drug addicted racist gits simply because their aesthetic offends him. It is a particularly ugly classism that our forefathers thought they’d left behind in Europe.
Ben Domenech has started referring to the GOP as “identity politics for white folk:”
But the political program that has been emerging in the Republican Party in recent years does not resemble this. Instead, it sadly amounts to little more than identity politics for white folks. It is a crass and often anti-intellectual trend that is wedded to persistent (and often left-wing) fictions about the threat of economic freedom and creative destruction. But it remains a powerful force within the American right and arises in electoral politics as regularly as stomach acid from too much red meat.
While I think Domenech is overly simplistic there is, at least, an element of truth in the analysis that Williamson can’t bring himself to acknowledge. I’ll have more to say about the identity politics critique in a moment.
Both, I think, are wrong and they are wrong for the simple reason than they simply have no more in common with the anxieties of working class people than does Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump and where Trump will at least acknowledge those anxieties and worries — this is, after all, the first time in American history where people are convinced that their children will not have a life as good as their own — the only answer most conservatives seem to be able to offer is “you are a loser” or you “deserve to die” or “audit the fed” or “flat tax.”
It is easy to say anger an immigration or imports or banks is irrational if you aren’t on the sharp end of the stick.
The New York Times article notes the unifying threads they did find:
More than anything, several Trump volunteers here said, the Great Recession exposed a corrupt, out-of-touch ruling class in Washington that allows big corporations to outsource jobs at will while doing nothing to address millions of illegal immigrants who compete for jobs and drain government coffers. In Mr. Trump, they say, they see a potential antidote to all of this. A man too wealthy to be bought or co-opted. A man with the blunt-force clarity to declare that he is ready to Make America Great Again.
“I think we’ve come to the conclusion that our country is falling apart, and we have to take care of it,” Mrs. Linsky said.
Mr. Peele was still unloading signs when Marcos Quevedo pulled up. He, too, wanted a Trump sign. Mr. Quevedo, 45, is the president of Sleepdreams Diagnostics, which also has office space in the cigar factory. The aftermath of the Great Recession cost Mr. Quevedo his managerial position with a sleep diagnosis company and contributed to the collapse of his marriage. “Corporate America got a little ruthless,” is how he puts it.
Mr. Quevedo, a registered Democrat who was raised in West Tampa by parents who fled Cuba, says he is troubled by what he sees as thuggishness and racially charged language at Trump campaign rallies. But such is his frustration with both parties, and his desperation to shake up Washington, that he is willing to overlook the ugliness. “I’m turning my cheek to the David Duke comments,” he said.
This is not to say there is not a strong undercurrent of white identity politics, in the same way that you could call the traditional-marriage movement “identity politics for Christians,” but I don’t see that as anything more that the losers in the race-based grievance industry and spoils system that is now firmly welded to federal law deciding they want some of the same treatment. Lower class whites have been selected by Congress and by the courts to be the bill payer for attempting to improve the lot of just about everyone else. What possible justification is there in setting a quota that keeps out of a selective university the son of a coal miner or mill worker while making room for the offspring of an minority actor or financier or politician? The grievances are real and as the economy goes further into the crapper it will only get worse.
But the real unifying factor that people are overlooking is that lower middle class families and communities, regardless of color or ethnicity or race, are realizing that the political status quo is buggering them left, right, and center. These families and communities realize that people like Williamson think they are a drain on society and should probably just die and be done with it. They have not just lost faith in the answers being offered by anyone they have lost faith that anyone actually cares. They aren’t idiots that believe Trump is going to actually change things, they know he probably won’t, but voting for him is a strike at the people who have created this mess. It may not be totally rational but it is much more rational than labeling Trump supporters as white supremacists and racists and drug addicts and losers.
Back when Rod Serling was doing the television show Night Gallery, he threw light comedic vignettes into the usual mix of horror and fear (sort of a metaphor for the Trump candidacy). One of my favorites was called How to Cure the Common Vampire:
I can’t find a video clip… thank you copyright laws… but I did find the script via Google Books
That’s what you’re seeing with the appeal of Trump. It isn’t race based, it is based in desperation and abandonment and betrayal. No one knows if he’ll do what he says but they figure they are no worse off for having tried.