Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right is an important, highly relevant book today! Hochschild speaks to the mass appeal of Donald Trump most effectively. Her findings are highly relevant in how we should be moving in seeking to end the Trump era a.s.a.p.
Hochschild spent years visiting Tea Party supporters multiple times in Southwestern Louisiana building their trust. Her image of them is clear and disturbing.
Some quotes from the book will help illustrate a lot of what she is saying.
While all supported the Tea Party, they varied greatly among themselves. Some went to church three times a week; others not at all. Some had seven guns, others three, of which some were under glass, others in a bedside drawer. They differed in how they saw poverty. One man said, “I asked the security guy at our local grocery store what sort of stuff gets stolen from the store. He said it was mainly rice, beans and baby food. That tells you something.” Others thought such reports were “exaggerated”. They differed in their fears. One man told me he had bought a secondhand medical book at Goodwill in case the economy “crashed and burned” and he had to set his own broken arm. Most were less alarmed. My core group differed too in their suspicion of President Obama, too, and in their denigration of him. The Facebook page of one Tea Party advocate showed mug shots of President Obama, front and side, a name plate below his image, while another showed him in “public housing”. Most were angry, afraid, some in mourning for real losses, but in their emotional complexion, too, they all differed widely among themselves. (p.18)
I asked Madonna what she loved about Limbaugh. “his criticism of “femi-nazis,” you know, feminists, women who want to be equal to men.” I absorbed that for a moment. Then she asked what I thought, and after I answered, she remarked, “But you’re nice…” From there, we went through Limbaugh’s epithets (“commie libs,” “environmental wackos”) Finally we came to Madonna’s basic feeling that Limbaugh was defending her against insults she felt liberals were lobbing at her: “Oh, liberals think that Bible-believing Southerners are ignorant, backward, rednecks, losers. They think we’re racist, sexist, homophobic, and maybe fat.” (p.22-3)
I count all the reasons Mike disdained government. It displaced community. It took away individual freedom. It didn’t protect the citizenry. Its officials didn’t live like nuns. And the federal government was a more powerful, distant, untrustworthy version of the state government. Beyond that, Mike was surrounded by a local culture of endurance and adaptation; if fish have mercury, cut around the dark meat and eat the light. (p.114)
Another grief-stricken parishioner, the mother of an ill child living in the highly polluted town of Mossville, told me, “I don’t know how I could have gotten through this without my church.” As for altering the pollution, poverty, ill health, and other things that had to be endured, for many that lay beyond the doors of the church. (p.124)
Fox offers news and opinions on matters of politics, of course, but it often strikes a note of alarm on issues- diseases, stock market plunges – with little direct bearing on politics. All news programs address our emotional alarm systems, of course. But with talk of a “terror mosque” at Ground Zero, of the “left’s secret immigration plan” to wipe traditional America off the face of the earth, of Obama’s supposed release of the ISIS leader Abu Bakr Fox News stokes fear. And the fear seems to reflect that of the audience it most serves – white, middle- and working class people. During the series of police killings of young black men, Fox reporters tended to defend white police officers and criticize black rioters. It defended the right to own guns and restrict voter registration, and it continually derided the federal government. (p.127)
Women: Another group is cutting ahead of you in line, if you are a man: women demanding the right to the men’s jobs. Your dad didn’t have to compete with women for scarce positions at the office. Also jumping in line ahead of you are overpaid public sector employees – and a majority of them are women and minorities. It also seems to you that they work shorter hours in more secure and overpaid jobs, enjoying larger pensions than yours. That assistant administrator at the Department of Regulations has cushy hours, a fat pension awaiting her, lifetime tenure – and she’s probably sitting at her screen doing online shopping. What has she done to deserve perks that you don’t enjoy? (p.138)
Progress had also become harder – more chancy and more restricted to a small elite. The Great Recession of 2008 in which people lost homes, savings, and jobs had come and gone, but it had shaken people up. Meanwhile, for the bottom 90 percent of Americans, the Dream Machine – invisible over the brow of the hill – had stopped due to automation, off-shoring, and the growing power of of multinationals visa-vis their workforces. At the same time, for that 90 percent, competition between white men and everyone else had increased – for jobs, for recognition, and for government funds. They year when the Dream stopped working for the 90 percent was 1950. If you were born before 1950, on average, the older you got, the more your income rose. If you were born after 1950, it did not. In fact as economist Philip Longman argues, they are the first generation in American history to experience the kind of lifetime downward mobility “in which at every state of adult life, they have less income and less net wealth than people their age ten years before.” Some become so discouraged they stop looking for work; since the 1960’s the share of men twenty-five to fifty four no longer in the workforce has tripled. (p.141)
For the left, the flashpoint is up the class ladder (between the very top and the rest); for the right, it is down between the middle class and the poor. For the left, the flashpoint is centered in the private sector; for the right, in the public sector. Ironically, both call for an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. (p.149)
Ironically, the economic sector that stands to suffer most big monopolies is small business, many of which are run by those who favor the Tea Party. It might not be too much to say that the embrace of the 1 percent by mom-and-pop owners is a bit like the natural see – using small farmers’ embrace of Monsanto, the corner grocery store’s embrace of Walmart, the local bookstore owner’s embrace of Amazon. Under the same banner of the “free market”, the big are free to dominate the small. (p. 150-1)
… Not claiming to be a victim, accommodating the downside of loose regulations out of a loyalty to free enterprise – this was a tacit form of heroism, hidden to incurious liberals. Sometimes you had to endure bad news, Janice felt, for a higher good, such as jobs in oil.
I was discovering three distinct expressions of this endurance self in different people around Lake Charles – the Team Loyalist, the Worshipper, and the Cowboy, as I came to see them. Each kind of person expresses the value of endurance and expresses a capacity for it. Each attaches an aspect of self to this heroism. The Team Loyalist accomplishes a team goal, supporting the Republican Party. The Worshipper sacrifices a strong wish. The Cowboy affirms a fearless self. (p.155)
The number of federal workers also seems to her “plumb out of whack.”” She doesn’t venture a guess, but many I interviewed estimated that a third to half of all U.S. workers were employed by the federal government – a common estimate was 50 percent. (Not knowing the figures myself, I looked them up. In 2013, 1.9 percent of American workers were civilian federal employees, and that percentage has declined over the last ten years. (p. 161)
The modern day Tea Party enthusiasts I met sought a different separation – one between rich and poor. In their ideal world, government would not take from the rich to give to the poor. It would fund the military, and the national guard, build interstate freeways, dredge harbors, and otherwise pretty much disappear. (p.220)
In the deep story, as felt by those I profile in this book, the weary worker waiting in line for the American Dream sees the federal government giving special help to people he perceives as line cutters. Some who benefit are citizens (blacks, women, public sector workers), and others are not (immigrants, refugees, recipients of American foreign aid. We can well understand the worn patience of the one waiting in line, because in truth for most middle- and lower income Americans, the line has indeed stalled or moved back. (p.260)
For the most part, the real line cutters are not people one can blame or politicians can thunder against. That’s because they’re not people. They’re robots. (p.261)
Personal writing to follow - when written.
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