Them That Has — And Them That Was Had
The vast bulk of Donald Trump’s supporters (if we believe the polls) are in two broad categories. Getting the most attention are non-college-educated, largely white, mostly male voters, the “white working class.” The others are the minority of college-educated white Trump supporters, along with the entire Republican political class: officeholders, the GOP establishment in Washington and state capitals, the Republican media such as Fox News and the rest of the Murdoch media empire. The first group has the numbers; the second has the power.
The white working class — the first group — are to be pitied. The political class, on the other hand, are cynically aiding and abetting a regime that threatens the integrity of American democracy.
Republicans since Goldwater have appealed to whites by accusing blacks of getting special favors, even while pursuing Big-Business policies that made the plight of the white working class worse.
We have failed the people at the bottom of our society for half a century or more. Whether you look at the mining towns of Appalachia, the Rust Belt industrial cities, or the slums at the center of most big cities, we have evolved an economy that’s been great for those fortunate enough to get educated, and bad for the losers in that lottery.
The mostly white suburbs have thrived, and a substantial minority of African Americans has achieved a fairly comfortable middle class lifestyle, for the first time in our history. But most African Americans (and Latinos) — whether urban or rural — are still poor. And the white workers whose parents achieved the middle class dream in the 1950s and 1960s have seen their incomes stagnate, their jobs move away, and their towns and cities deteriorate.
Our present political divide has everything to do with the decision of the Democrats in the 1960s to pass major civil rights laws to help the African Americans, and the decision of the Republicans to oppose those laws.
Republicans since Goldwater have appealed to whites by accusing blacks of getting special favors, even while pursuing Big-Business policies that made the plight of the white working class worse. That created the fertile ground for Trump’s demagogic appeals. Many of these people feel increasingly desperate that the country in general and their own prospects in particular are going to hell.
Trump the ultimate con-man comes along, hammers the theme that everything is corrupt and stupid, but he alone knows how to Make America Great Again. He learned on reality TV how to talk to these people. He is the embodiment of a charismatic savior in the eyes of his base: it doesn’t matter what his personal failings are, what his actual policies are. They hear him, they believe in him because to doubt him is to surrender to despair. The fact that so many educated, affluent people, and so many media, oppose him just confirms that he is the savior who will set things right.
This popular base will be with him to the end. They will be in the boat with him as he descends into hell. The irony is that he will leave his followers in a hell worse than when he started. And they will have cheered him on every step of the way. They are to be pitied, and the worst of the pity is that the rest of us, if we are to rescue the country from Trump’s demagogic folly, will have to grind his base into the dust to do it.
The Republican political leaders and the remaining educated Trump loyalists have to know better. Many of them, indeed, opposed him during the primaries and criticized him severely. But now the politicians hope to save their careers by backing him to the hilt no matter what he does. Many educated Republicans back him because his policies — the massive tax cut for the rich, rolling back environmental regulations, the list goes on — are what they want. Even trade wars haven’t driven off most of them.
For political survival and economic advantage, these Republican elites are willing to support a man who sought to collaborate with Russia to secure his election, who systematically undermines the independent press, who supports disenfranchising large numbers of minority voters, who engages in openly racist rhetoric, who encourages violence against his opponents, who openly profits from his tenure in office, and who lies blatantly and repeatedly. They are abetting a dangerous fraud, and they know it.
If it is regrettable that to save the country the rest of us will have to crush his deluded base, it is sweet indeed to contemplate eviscerating this crowd of self-regarding sycophants and ending the reign of the man George Will called “This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”
If we can win this victory, by overwhelming the base and crushing the collaborators, it will finally be time to build a society where everyone can thrive.
If we can’t win, welcome to hell.