Terror Management and Depressive Realism

I happened across terror management theory. Intuitively, I find it compelling. It’s a basic explanation of an important aspect of human nature and how it is expressed in society.

It “proposes a basic psychological conflict that results from having a desire to live, but realizing that death is inevitable. This conflict produces terror, and is believed to be unique to human beings. Moreover, the solution to the conflict is also generally unique to humans: culture. According to TMT, cultures are symbolic systems that act to provide life with meaning and value. Cultural values therefore serve to manage the terror of death by providing life with meaning.”

The originators of this theory wrote a couple of books together, the authors being Solomon, Greenberg, and Pyszczynski. One book is The Worm at the Core. The other is In the Wake of 9/11. The introduction to that last book has some quotes from Americans describing the recollection of their thoughts and experiences following the 9/11 terrorist attack.

It’s been so long ago. I don’t normally think back to that time. The reign of Bush, from stolen election to the great recession, wasn’t a happy time for this country. The attack itself was just one tiny part of an era of gloom, the decade of the aughts.

Reading the quotations brought back my own experience of that event. I’m reminded of how atypical I am. My immediate response, upon first hearing about 9/11, was a lack of surprise. It somehow seemed inevitable to me, something that was bound to happen one way or another. It fit the mood of the times. Maybe nothing good was ever going to come out of the aughts. But, before that fateful day, we Americans had no idea how bad it could get with 9/11 along with it’s aftermath of War On Terror, endless war, and the growing intelligence-police state.

On the eve of 9/11, I had fallen asleep with the radio playing. The next morning, with the radio still on, I slowly returned to consciousness with news reports of some great catastrophe that had befallen the nation. I suppose that is a surreal thing to wake up to. But, as I recall, I didn’t think of it as shocking, unexpected, and abnormal. It fit into the world I knew, which obviously wasn’t the world most other Americans knew.

Let me explain why that was the case. There were a number of contributing factors to my mindset.

The radio being on is the most central factor for multiple reasons. One study found that people who heard about 9/11 on the radio, as compared to seeing it on television, were later on less supportive of Bush’s War On Terror. It wasn’t ideology or partisan politics that drove the public attitude of revenge and aggression. Rather, it was how the initial experience was mediated. (Never doubt the power of media. Also, never doubt that those who own and control media fully understand that power.)

At that time, radio was my lifeline to the world. I didn’t have a television or internet. Nearly all info came to me via words—from radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. The first image I saw of the burning buildings probably was from a newspaper and so probably was black-and-white. The vividness of the event wasn’t immediately conveyed to me. I didn’t sit around watching video of the attack on endless loop, as so many did, repeated imagery that created a permanently traumatized state of mind. I’m more of a verbal person and words do communicate in a different way than images.

There is another important factor related to my radio listening. The most common reason I’d fall asleep with the radio on is because of a particular radio show I regularly listened to, Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell. It was old school alternative media before the internet had made popular the new forms of alternative media.

Art Bell’s show was an island of independent thought, sandwiched in between the status quo liberalism of public radio and the crazed ranting of right-wing radio talk shows. Back in those days, when Art Bell still ran the show, it had a bit of a radical and leftist bent to it. But the guests themselves were all across the political spectrum, not to mention all across the sanity-insanity spectrum. Art Bell would allow almost anyone to talk, as long as they were basically honest and respectful.

It was from that show and other alternative media that I was initially educated about the goings on in the larger world. Coast to Coast AM would quite often have serious guests, including scholars, political commentators, investigative reporters, etc. From such guests and other sources, I became aware of the meddling of the US government around the world and aware of growing conflicts, terrorism, and much else. Unlike most Americans, I understood that blowback was coming our way and, when it hit, it would be a doozy.

The other thing is that I had been experiencing years of severe depression at that point. My emotions had already hit low points on such a regular basis and for such lengthy periods of time that I had grown familiar with despair and agony. About five years before, I had attempted suicide and been temporarily institutionalized. As such, suicide ideation was ever lingering on my mind, a regular contemplation of suffering and death. This led me to an attitude of depressive realism, a stark appraisal of human nature and the human world.

Maybe this inoculated me against terror of death. If anything, I was prone to emotional numbness from long-term psychological stress and over-exertion. My normal emotional response is a bit broken and my psychic reserves are typically not far above zero. Entrenched depression brings on regular bouts of cynicism. I’m prone to expecting the worse and being unsurprised when the worst comes.

It’s hard for me to sympathize with those who are surprised. The world is a shitty place. That seems obvious to me. It doesn’t take a terrorist attack to get me to notice this sad state of affairs.

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Ancient Social Identity: The Case of Jews

How, then, did you know a Jew in antiquity when you saw one? The answer is that you did not.

I started reading two fascinating books. Both are about Judaism. The first one I was looking at is The Beginning of Jewishness by Shaye J. D. Cohen (the source of the quote above, Kindle Location 796). And the other is The Invention of God by Thomas Römer.

Having read a little bit of each, I realized that they offered a useful angle in thinking about claims of ancient proto-racism. In my recent post on the topic, I did briefly use it an example:

“the early Jews probably were darker-skinned before outbreeding with Europeans and Arabs (Palestinians are descendants of the original Jews that never left). Or consider how those early Jews perceived the Samaritans as a separate people, even though they shared the same holy texts.”

That post was more wide-ranging. My thoughts were fairly general, as the point I was making was general. Sometimes, though, such issues become more interesting as you focus in on the details of a specific example.

In perusing the two books mentioned above, I was reminded me once again of how little I know and hence how much there is to learn. Certain books are able to change how you see something. The second book, The Invention of God, is more familiar territory, although still fascinating. Relevant to my thoughts here, I noticed the following (p. 13):

“Its origins do not lie, as the book of Joshua claims, in the military conquest of a territory by a population invading from somewhere else; rather “Israel” resulted from a slow process that took place gradually within the framework of the global upheavals of the Late Bronze Age— that is, it had its origin in indigenous populations. The opposition we find in the Bible between “Israelites” and “Canaanites” was in no way based on an existing ethnic difference, but is a much later theoretical construction in the service of a segregationist ideology.”

We modern people read ancient texts or, more likely, historical interpretations of ancient texts. In doing so, we come across labels like Israelites, Canaanites, etc. Our frame of reference include modern politics and conflicts along with media portrayals in movies and on television.

Also, there is the issue of how words changed over time. Looking at ancient texts, most people read a translation. But even reading the original language requires care, as there is a vast scholarship analyzing the context of texts and how, intentionally or unintentionally, they were altered over time. (See: David M. Goldberg, Reading Rabbinic Literature; and Michael L. Satlow, Jew or Judaean?)

I just found it fascinating. It turns out, like most people, I had no idea how social identities were formed and perceived in the ancient world. Cohen’s book makes this particularly clear.

There was no certain way to know someone was a Jew, as most ancient people living in the same area tended to look, dress, act, and speak more or less alike. Even circumcision in the Eastern Roman Empire was practiced by other groups besides Jews, and besides no one used circumcision to prove their social identity. Besides, many people who might have been perceived as Jewish because of following certain customs didn’t always perceive themselves as Jews and among those who did identify as Jews there was diverse lifestyles. The rants of the priestly class about what defined a real Jew were more prescriptive than descriptive, which is to say driven by ideology and politics rather than how people actually lived their lives.

It’s not as if there was an official record kept of all Jews. It was originally a rather informal social identity, besides a few basic rules that were more or less agreed upon.

Anyone could become a Jew, as conversion was simple. All you needed to do was be circumcised by a Jew and you were a Jew. No rabbi or ritual was necessary. Conversion was quite common at different points, as their were many incentives. Rulers were known to give special privileges to various groups, depending on the needs of rulership, and that sometimes included Jews having dispensation from certain laws and taxes. There was so much conversion going on that even anyone who claimed to be a Jew was treated as such.

Even the simple act of denying idolatry or abstaining from eating pork because of vegetarianism often got ancient people labeled as Jews, no matter what the individual claimed. If someone did anything like a Jew, however vague, for all intents and purposes they might as well have been a Jew.

There was much permeability of social identities, not just in perception but also in practice—as Cohen notes (Kindle Locations 739-740): “There is abundant evidence that in the first centuries of our era some-perhaps many-gentiles, whether polytheist or Christian, attended Jewish synagogues, abstained from work on the Sabbath, and perhaps observed other Jewish rituals as well.” It went the other way around as well. Some—perhaps many—Jews attended gentile religious services (e.g., mystery schools), participated in gentile holy days, and observed other gentile rituals as well.

“In sum: people associating with Jews were not necessarily Jews themselves. selves. Even people assembled in a synagogue or present in a Jewish neighborhood were not necessarily Jews themselves. In the Roman diaspora social mingling between Jews and gentiles was such that, without out inquiring or checking, you could not be sure who was a Jew and who was not” (Kindle Locations 697-699).

What distinguished and identified people wasn’t religion, ethnicity, or race. It was mostly about location and politics. A Judean wasn’t necessarily a Jew. Rather, a Judean was someone who lived in Judah and fell under Judean law and governance. It was a particular population and nothing more. The idea of a religious identity disconnected from all else would take many more centuries to fully form, under the influence of grand totalizing and imperialistic religions like Roman Catholicism. It was upon that basis that later notions of race would develop.

Even with the early disapora, an absolutely distinct ethno-religious identity hadn’t yet formed. “In the Roman diaspora, certainly after 70 C.E.,” as Cohen explains (Kindle Locations 609-610), “there is no evidence for obsession with genealogical purity and hardly any evidence for public archives and archival records.” Our modern obsessions were irrelevant to ancient people. They didn’t so easily and quickly turn to broad abstract categories. And the categories that did exist, context-dependent as they were, had a mercurial quality to them.

What Liberalism Has Become

Liberalism, an endlessly perplexing beast. What exactly is it?

One interesting perspective is that of Domenico Losurdo. As a Italian left-winger, he doesn’t share the biases of mainstream Anglo-American thought. He takes liberalism as a larger worldview that appears to include even what Americans think of as conservatism. It’s not just a narrow ideology limited to a political party or social movement but an entire system, a paradigmatic worldview.

I found this a strange interpretation at first. It has since grown on me. This both explains the often reactionary nature of liberalism (anti-radicalism, anti-communism, etc) and explains the often liberal tendencies of conservatism (individualism, free markets, etc). They really are two varieties of the same post-Enlightenment social order, mainstream liberals and mainstream conservatives working in tandem to maintain the dominant system and worldview.

A main focus of mine has been on conservative(-minded) liberals. It’s common here in the Midwest, as part of the cultural norms. I particularly associate it with Democrats who are or were raised working class, typically having spent formative years in areas that included unionized factory towns and small farming towns.

It’s a weird mix of social liberalism and social conservatism, of workers’ rights and work ethic. It’s about taking care of those who deserve it, the emphasis being on who gets perceived as worthy and who doesn’t. In the Midwest, this takes shape through a heavy emphasis on family and community. But on social issues, it is mildly libertarian in having a live and let live sensibility, such that being perceived as lazy is worse than being perceived as gay. In the South, a person is praised by a statement that, He’s a good Christian. It’s different in the Midwest where the praise, instead, will be that, He’s a hard worker.

I personally associate it with the Midwest because that is where I’ve spent so much of my life. But I imagine it might be similar in other areas outside the South, such as the Northeast.

This isn’t a form of conservatism that is spoken about much in the mainstream. You won’t find it regularly discussed in the dominant spheres of politics, academia, and the media. It is a liberalism on the ground that remains largely hidden in plain sight. Few in the mainstream, left or right, want to acknowledge its existence. It doesn’t fit the established social and political narratives.

Still, some scholarship touches upon it, if you look for it. It’s fairly well known, for example, that mainstream liberalism when it was most dominant in the past more than relented to conservative tendencies, including working class racism such as in labor organizing and communist witch-hunts. Conservative liberalism often took the form of liberalism for whites, men, and the economically well off while maintaining a reactionary stance toward everyone else.

There was a class component to this, not just about working class but the right kind of working class, respectable and not radical (in a recent post about fascism, I quoted Barbara J. Steinson: “From its beginning in Indiana the Farm Bureau made it clear that the organization was composed of respectable members of the farming community and that it was not a bunch of radicals or troublemakers”). In the past, this was the working class aspiring to be middle class with hopes that their children would go to college and become professionals (and, yes, in the Midwest many farmers also sent their kids off to college). They sought bourgeois respectability, to be the right kind of people.

College-educated professionals have existed for centuries and they’ve played a pivotal role in the past. But something changed when college suddenly became available to large numbers of people. The once small professional class became significantly large. That new generation of mid-20th century professionals formed what others have called the liberal class (related to the recent category of the creative class, i.e., the knowledge workers). They are the ones that made it, the members of the self-perceived meritocracy.

Over time, this liberal class has become more and more disconnected from the working class they came from, specifically as upward mobility declined. The liberal class has increasingly turned into an inherited rather than achieved social status. The line between working class and middle class has become drawn sharply. There is no longer a respectable working class, according to mainstream society. Those who aren’t able to escape their humble beginnings, at best, might deserve pity and not much more. It is assumed that the losers of society represent a permanent underclass of Social Darwinian inferiors, the trash of society. The working class aspiring to middle class has been left behind, as I noted in a post about the demographics of supporters of the main presidential candidates:

“It would be reasonable to assume that Trump’s supporters have felt these changes in their lives, as have so many other Americans. Many people characterize these people as the white working class, sometimes even portraying them as outright poor and ignorant, but that is inaccurate. They aren’t that unusual. In fact, they were once the heart of the middle class. Their status in society has been downgraded. They have become the new broad working class, the downwardly mobile and the trapped. They are outraged because they’ve lost hope that the world will get better for them and for their children and grandchildren, and they are likely correct in their assessment.”

It’s not just that those people once were part of the middle class or perceived themselves as such. These people represented the broad base upon which was built the progressive movement, labor organizing, and the New Deal. These people proudly inhabited the vast stretches of suburbia, once the location of the American Dream but now a reactionary backwater. They are the despised losers of the neoliberal order. The good liberals look down upon them, as liberalism takes a Hamiltonian turn.

This liberal class is the focus of Thomas Frank’s new book: Listen, Liberal. I read some of it, but I quickly realized it wasn’t a book I needed to read. I’m already familiar with the subject.

It’s not new territory. Still, it’s important as it is presenting the issues in an accessible form that is getting widespread public attention at a time when it is needed more than ever. It’s part of a debate that finally is entering mainstream awareness. Frank is one of those authors that the liberal class can’t ignore and so his message is able to hit its mark. A thousand more academic tomes could describe the same problem in greater detail and they would be mostly ignored. What is needed is a popular writer who can communicate the obvious in straightforward language, and that is what Frank achieves. He simply explains what everyone should already know, if they were paying attention.

My curiosity was more about the response to Frank’s book. It’s only been out a couple of months and already has hundreds of reviews available online. One review that interested me is by Wojtek Sokolowski, “Excellent yet wanting“. One thing that the reviewer clarifies for me is that, despite his criticisms of the liberal class, Frank is coming at it from a liberal angle of attack. He isn’t a radical left-winger opining on the failures of liberalism. Rather, he is a disgruntled liberal. There are limitations to the liberal analysis of liberalism, as the reviewer points out:

“Yet this moral explanation and moral remedy that Frank offers is somewhat disappointing when we consider the fact that similar transformations occurred in socialist and social democratic parties in many European countries as well. This coincidence cannot be simply explained by the change of heart of the people leading those parties. We must look into the structural determinants.”

Structural determinants have always been a major weak point for liberalism, even among many liberal critics of liberalism. Standard liberalism by itself can’t go very far. There are old radical strains of liberalism that do deal more with the structural aspect, but you would hardly know that from the mainstream media and mainstream politics. Liberalism, at least in its primary American form, is a defanged ideology. And, though Frank is no radical, he would like to give some bite back to the political left. But it’s not clear that he succeeds.

The reviewer of Frank’s book asks, “What structural elements are missing from Frank’s narrative, then?” A great question and, in response to it, a great answer is offered:

“One clue can be found in his bibliography – despite impressive documentation of his claims, his bibliography misses a rather obscure, to be sure, work by Walter Karp titled “Indispensable Enemies”. This book attempts to answer the same question as Frank’s work does – why the US political parties do not represent the interests of their constituents – but the answer it provides emphasizes the structure of the party system rather than preferences of their leaders. Karp’s explanation is a variant of what is known as Robert Michels’ “iron law of oligarchy” which in essence claims that the leadership of an institution is first and foremost concerned about its own power within the institution rather than the power of the institution itself. In case of US political parties, the party bosses are more concerned with keeping their control of their respective parties than with winning elections, and they tacitly cooperate by excluding any challenge to their leadership by dividing up their respective turfs in which they maintain their respective monopolies. Paradoxical as it may sound, such behavior is well known outside politics where it is referred to as oligopoly or niche seeking.

“Karp’s thesis offers a much better explanation of the abandonment of the working class and middle class constituents by both parties than the preference for meritocracy claimed by Frank. Even from Frank’s own account of the Democratic Party’s ‘soul searching’ in the aftermath of Humphrey’s defeat in 1968 it is evident that that the emerging party leadership was not afraid of losing a series of elections (McGovern, Mondale, Dukakis) before they could cement their hold on the party under Clinton. Clearly, a party whose leadership’s main goal is to win elections would not make such a cardinal mistake as losing elections for 20 consecutive years by abandoning their core constituency. Likewise, Obama’s abandonment of the “hope” promise led to a spectacular loss of both houses of Congress and numerous state legislatures, but that did not persuade the party leadership to change the course. Au contraire, they are determined to keep the course and undermine any challenge to the party leadership (cf. Sanders). This is not the behavior of a general who wants to win a war (cf. Robert E. Lee), but of one who wants to keep his position in his own army (cf. George Brinton McClellan).”

I have never before come across that exact explanation, although the general idea is familiar. It cuts straight to the heart of the matter. So much that didn’t make any sense suddenly makes perfect sense. I had been intuiting something like this for a while now. Early on in the campaign season it occurred to me that the establishments of both parties might rather lose the election than lose control of the respective party machines. But why might that be the case? Karp suggests a reason and I find it compelling.

As this campaign season goes on, I find this kind of viewpoint every more compelling. Standard narratives no longer make any sense, assuming they ever did. In particular, the actions of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC only make sense when you think of a political party as a bureaucratic organization that first and foremost seeks to maintain its own existence, just as those who control it seek to maintain their power. All else is secondary. The blatant resistance to reform is a result of this, blatant not just in the party machine itself but also through its representatives in the mainstream media. The entire elite, public and private, works together so closely that they operate as a single entity.

Everyone knows that Clinton is the weaker candidate against Trump. She is one of the most unpopular candidates in US history. Everyone knows the only reason she did so well was because of a political establishment backing her, a media biased toward her, and a system rigged in her favor. Everyone knows that Sanders would have easily won the nomination if there were open primaries not excluding Independents. Everyone knows Sanders would win vastly more votes than Clinton in a general election.

So, if the DNC and Clinton don’t care about risking a Trump victory, why is it the responsibility of everyone else to bow down to their corruption out of fear? If Clinton gave a shit about either the Democrats or the country, then she would step down and hand the nomination to Sanders who is the only candidate certain to beat Trump. If she is that egotistic about winning and that cavalier toward the threat of Trump, then more power to her. But the point is she doesn’t care about any supposed threat from someone like Trump, a decades old friend and crony.

The elections are irrelevant except as controlling them represents power.

Corey Robin brought in another element to this, careerism. He posted about it on Facebook, in linking to a recent WP article that mentioned an old LRB piece by him. In that piece, he concludes that:

“The main reason for the contemporary evasion of Arendt’s critique of careerism, however, is that addressing it would force a confrontation with the dominant ethos of our time. In an era when capitalism is assumed to be not only efficient but also a source of freedom, the careerist seems like the agent of an easy-going tolerance and pluralism. Unlike the ideologue, whose great sin is to think too much and want too much from politics, the careerist is a genial caretaker of himself. He prefers the marketplace to the corridors of state power. He is realistic and pragmatic, not utopian or fanatic. That careerism may be as lethal as idealism, that ambition is an adjunct of barbarism, that some of the worst crimes are the result of ordinary vices rather than extraordinary ideas: these are the implications of Eichmann in Jerusalem that neo-cons and neoliberals alike find too troubling to acknowledge.”

I find it sad that liberalism is so caught up in careerism, along with the bureaucracy of party politics. There is an obvious class element to this, as careerism is the defining feature of the professional class, which has come to be seen as the liberal class. This society is becoming a technocracy where the highest praise to give someone is that they get things done. Pragmatic realpolitik is what rules. Constrained by this worldview, liberals end up being more conservative than conservatives. Liberals are now the ultimate defenders of the status quo.

That is what it means to live in this liberal age.

Endless Outrage

“Let me be clear: this by no means justifies the Isis-inspired attacks. But, until the leaders and opinion makers and talking heads in the U.S. and France and their allies, are willing to recognize the extent to which their own massive intervention in the Greater Middle East is also responsible for the terrible situation we find ourselves in today–then, this long, downward spiral to God knows where will only continue its bloody way.” –Barry Lando

“Atrocities breed atrocities. Or as Andrew Kopkind remarked in another context, the skies were dark in Orlando this past weekend with the chickens coming home to roost.” –John V. Walsh

The recent club shooting is one of those rare events that unites nearly all Americans.

Those on the political right can feel particular hate for the shooter because he was a Muslim of Middle Eastern descent who killed Americans, ignoring that he too was American and ignoring those he killed probably included minorities and surely many atheists as well. And those on the political have a similar response because the targets were gay, an official identity politics victim class. But if the shooter had been a white right-wing Christian who shot up a women’s health clinic or if it had been a poor struggling single black mother who shot up a convention of big biz lobbyists, many Americans would have had a more mixed reaction and the outrage would be less clear.

As always, the identity of the victimizer and the identity of the victims determines the responses heard from the general public, the mainstream media, and government officials. We live in a global world where victimizers and victims are dime a dozen, but most of the violence and death is ignored by most Americans and most Westerners. It depends on the value of those involved, and of course not all humans are seen as equal in value. At times like these, that is the thought that first comes to my mind. It was the same thought I had after 9/11, an event that had followed upon decades of terrorism worldwide, both of the state and non-state varieties.

The United States military actions, CIA covert activities, and government policies such as sanctions lead to the deaths of millions in my lifetime. Bin Laden even made it clear that the 9/11 attack was precisely about that fact, the nonchalant oppression and careless murder of poor brown people and non-Christians by Western powers. The US regularly invades countries, overthrows governments, assassinates leaders, collapses countries into chaos, and destabilizes entire regions; or else aids and abets those who do such morally depraved things.

Fifty innocent people dead is just another day’s work for a government like the United States. A single drone strike in an instant easily kills fifty innocent people. It happens all the time. The illegal and unconstitutional, immoral and unjustified Iraq War has already led to the death of probably at least a half million Iraqis and possibly over a million, most of those being civilians, many of whom were women and children, and surely way more than fifty gay people died in the process—not only that, it turned a stable secular society with a thriving economy and a strong middle class into a permanent war zone where Islamic extremists have taken over, creating yet one more stronghold for terrorists.

If you take the total death toll of the War On Terror, it is in the millions. Looking at one country alone, “total avoidable Afghan deaths since 2001 under ongoing war and occupation-imposed deprivation amount to around 3 million people, about 900,000 of whom are infants under five” and “Altogether, this suggests that the total Afghan death toll due to the direct and indirect impacts of US-led intervention since the early nineties until now could be as high 3-5 million.” More broadly: “According to the figures explored here, total deaths from Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s – from direct killings and the longer-term impact of war-imposed deprivation – likely constitute around 4 million (2 million in Iraq from 1991-2003, plus 2 million from the “war on terror”), and could be as high as 6-8 million people when accounting for higher avoidable death estimates in Afghanistan.”

That is a small sampling of the kinds of things the United States and its allies have done and continue to do in the Middle East along with many other areas of the world (e.g., Latin America). In some cases, it might be a severe undercount of deaths. That doesn’t even include the crippled, traumatized, orphaned, dislocated, etc. Much of the refugee crisis right now is the result of Western actions in non-Western countries.

Just imagine if some other country (or alliance of countries) over a period of decades invaded the United States multiple times, armed and trained paramilitary groups here, overthrew the government, propped up a dictator or left the country in chaos, sent drone or military strikes from across the national border, enforced economic sanctions, and on and on. Just imagine that these actions led to the harming and killing of millions of Americans, including hundreds of thousands innocents (women, children, and other civilians), maybe taking out a few gay clubs that were in the wrong place.

Yet we Americans have the arrogant audacity and willful ignorance to wonder why so many people hate America. Worse still, Americans go on voting into power the same kind of neocons that caused so much suffering and devastation for decades. And idiotic assholes on the political left will praise someone like Hillary Clinton for supposedly being a feminist and LGBT advocate and a voice for minorities, the very politician who has promoted policies around the world that have killed more innocent women, LGBTs, and minorities than all American right-wing hate groups combined. Who needs the evil hate-and-fear-mongering of the political right when we have the New Democrats to do the job for them.

If you want to be fully pissed off, right there is a good reason for righteous anger. And if you want to fight evil in the world, make sure sociopaths like that never get elected again. But if you get emotionally worked up every time fifty innocent people get killed for reasons of oppression and prejudice, you’d be in an endless state of outrage and much of it would be directed at the United States government.

Irreparable Damage, Voting Subjects, & Direct Action

I get the feeling that Barack Obama has done irreparable damage to the political left. So many Americans genuinely believed in and were excited by his message of hope and change. I bet even many people from the political right voted for him.

There was such a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal once he had been in office for a while. It turned out he was just another professional politician and that the hype had meant very little. He continued many of the same policies from the Bush administration. Worse still, he passed healthcare reform that was originally a Republican idea which favored insurance and drug companies, rather than the leftist single payer reform most Americans wanted.

Obama’s presidency has made many Americans far more cynical than they’ve been in a long time. No one expects Republicans to genuinely care about the poor and needy, to fight for the rights and opportunities of the lower classes. But many do expect this from Democrats, however naïve that might be.

I know of those who supported Obama in 2008. Some of them now support Clinton, Obama’s nemesis back then. The heir of hope and change is Bernie Sanders. Yet many have lost faith that hope and change is possible. It’s not just fear of Trump. These Clinton supporters, in many cases, have simply resigned themselves to the notion that Clinton is the best that the Democratic party will ever offer. It’s either take that pathetic choice or get nothing at all, so it seems from this jaded mindset.

Older voters, in particular, feel wary about trusting that genuine progress and reform is possible. They don’t want to be betrayed again. They’d rather go for the cynical choice because at least that way they’ll know what they’re getting. When cynicism overtakes the citizenry, that is the most dangerous moment for a democracy.

That is what Sanders is fighting against.

* * *

For US citizens, voting is a right. But it is also a privilege.

For one thing, not all US citizens have the right to vote, besides the young. Convicts and many ex-cons don’t have the right to vote. Many others who technically have the right to vote are politically disenfranchised and demoralized in various ways, by both parties in elections and in the presidential nomination process.

Another issue is that, for all intents and purposes, the US is an empire. Most of the people directly and indirectly effected by US policy aren’t voting US citizens. Who and what you support with your vote impacts not only non-voting Americans but also billions of people around the world.

This includes millions harmed, millions made homeless refugees, millions starving, and millions killed. Those impacted, mostly innocent victims, come from wars, including wars of aggression, proxy wars, and drug wars; CIA covert operations, such as inciting of governments coups, propped-up puppet dictators, US-backed authoritarian regimes, arming of paramilitaries, and School of the Americas military training; post-colonial resource exploitation, unfree trade agreements, US-aligned IMF-enforced austerity policies, and harmful sanctions; et cetera.

As a subject of the empire, you benefit greatly from US policies. It is other people, mostly poor and brown people, mostly in other countries that have to pay the full costs of these imperial benefits.

You are never making merely a personal decision when you vote. You are part of a privileged class of people on this planet. Your vote matters and the results are powerful. This is true, even as the system is rigged against American voters. The last thing you should ever do is support a candidate who supports the corrupt status quo of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

We Americans should take all of this much more seriously. For those who have personally experienced US power, this isn’t idle campaign rhetoric. What is at stake is their lives, their families, and their communities. This isn’t about your party or candidate winning. It’s about morality and justice. Be sure you’re on the right side of history. You are complicit in what you support. Choose wisely.

* * *

When I was a child, I played soccer. My main talents were that I could run fast and take pain. I often played defense because I was good at stopping things. I demonstrated this talent during one game when in elementary school. I was probably playing halfback that day, as it requires a lot of running around. A halfback’s purpose is to be a go-between, to go where and do what is needed. It requires adaptability to the situation, whether defense or offense is required.

Anyway, in whatever position I was in, it was further up the field. The game had just begun. The other team had the ball. One of their players dropped it back and got out of the way. A giant girl came forward and kicked the ball all the way down the field. She was their one great weapon. It forced everyone on my team to immediately run back down the field. After a second time of this, many on my team were already running before the ball went flying. After observing this predictable situation, a brilliant idea popped into my mind. Why not simply stop the ball before it goes flying? So, at the next opportunity, I ran full speed right at that girl and took a body blow. Every time they did it again, I took another body blow. It stopped the ball and allowed my teammates to push the play forward, instead of backwards.

It was a proud moment of my childhood. But I’ve always wondered what the life lesson was from this incident. Well, besides the willingness to take a hit for the team. A few things come to mind. A basic lesson is to look for the obvious. Another is that direct action can be a good thing. Also, it’s much easier to prevent something than to react to it once it has already happened.

I’d apply these lessons to the entire society I live in. Politics most of all. I’ve come to realize how rare it is for people to see the obvious. Partisan politics shows the power of groupthink. Everyone sees the situation as inevitable and then reacts to it. This feels justified, as every0ne else is reacting as well. Strategy usually consists of trying to react more effectively. It doesn’t occur to many people that, if there is an obvious problem, maybe we should do the obvious thing to stop the problem.

Our society is full of obvious problems. The solution or prevention to these problems is often just as obvious. Yet we seem stuck in a mentality of endless reaction, always chasing the ball down the field. But what if we simply threw ourselves in front of that ball. Would it hurt? Yes. Would it stop the problem and make life easier for all involved? Yes, a thousand times over.

If we want to reform our society and make the world a better place, then we should do it. In the simplest, most direct way possible. We’ve already wasted enough time tiring ourselves out by running the wrong direction down the field, again and again and again. One would think that we as a society would finally grasp the obvious.

Let’s stop the problem first. Then we can act as a team to move forward.

Different Republican Responses to Changing Times

I know a number of Republicans who hate Trump. They are refusing to vote Republican because of this. Some are considering the Libertarian candidate or else not voting at all. I suspect some might even vote for Hillary Clinton, God forbid!

One Republican I know well is really struggling with what to do. He has voted Republican for nearly every election in his in adult life and, as far as I know, he always votes. He is an old school mainstream conservative.

I overheard a conversation he had with his brother. Like him, his brother is a lifelong Republican. But his brother has a different bent, such as his having defended social liberal positions. I guess he might be a Rockefeller Republican or something like that, although probably not as far left as a Theodore Roosevelt Bull Moose Republican. Both of them are more conservative on economic issues. They can agree on much, despite key differences.

The brother is even more put off by Trump. It sounds like he is going to register as a Democrat. I know the brother fairly well. He is on the city council in the small town he lives in, and he ran as a Republican. If he does switch to Democrat, that could upset many people who voted for him and that likely would be a big deal in a small town.

Trump isn’t just temporarily turning some away from voting Republican. He may be permanently driving away quite a few. The GOP will likely never be the same again. Goldwater eliminated most of the moderate and liberal Republicans. Now the few remaining will be gone. It will leave nothing but the authoritarian extremists, the hardcore partisans, and I suppose the establishment politicians who have nowhere else to go. I’m not sure what kind of Republican party that will be (or what kind of Democratic party as well, once all those former Republicans join).

I heard the first guy I mentioned above talk to another Republican, a Trump supporter. It was interesting. I could feel the tension of worldviews. The two of them have been acquaintances for decades, but they never were the same kind of Republican. Still, I couldn’t tell if even this supposed Trump supporter actually took Trump’s campaign seriously, as he seemed amused by the whole thing. I guess he is for Trump simply because he is entertaining and because he isn’t a Democrat.

All three of these Republicans are Christians (and all older white males). Yet they are of entirely different varieties. The Republican-turning-Democrat is a socially liberal Christian. The Trump supporter is more of a fundamentalist, unsurprisingly. The Republican who knows both of these other two is more centrist in his Christianity, a moderate conservative, although moreso in the family values camp.

In talking to the Trump supporter, this moderate conservative ended up defending the morally relativistic position that scripture can be interpreted differently in terms of views about such things as homosexuality. It was interesting to hear a conservative Christian make such an argument in opposition to a fundamentalist. Maybe the socially liberal brother has influenced his views.

Strange times. Even old white males and conservative Republicans aren’t immune to change.

Presidential Candidates and Voter Demographics

 

The demographic data is more important for this election than ever before, partly because of all the shifting demographics and hence ideological confusion. The mainstream media struggles in trying to fit the demographic data into some mainstream narrative or another that they’ve been repeating for decades. There is a fair amount of complexity in the data. Nothing breaks down along a single divide.

This is particularly true of the data on socioeconomic class. Most of the data is about income, and I haven’t seen any wealth data which is a major blind spot. Income alone doesn’t tell how well someone is doing economically, specifically in terms of savings vs debt. It also doesn’t show other data such as unemployment/underemployment, multiple job households, hours worked, wage/salary, pensions and other benefits, costs of living, buying power of the dollar, etc. Income alone doesn’t say how well or badly most people are doing.

Anyway, it’s hard to know the full support for some candidates and exactly where that support might come from, as many people don’t know they agree with a candidate until they’ve learned about the candidate. Sanders, for example, attracts the most Independents who have been the most excluded. The poorest are the least likely to be involved in primaries, the least likely to vote in elections, and probably the least likely to get represented in polling data. The minority and youth demographics have higher rates of economic problems and also are typically less politically engaged. But even if these demographics vote at higher than normal rates, it’s still unlikely that they’d vote for someone like Clinton.

Many typical non-voters might vote this year, depending on who is nominated. This could make things unpredictable. A hypothetical Clinton win would be more dependent on who didn’t vote than who did. The same is likely true for Trump as well. Sanders is the only candidate with a chance of winning the majority, instead of winning by default of making the majority lose all hope in democracy.

This is more than relevant at times like these. Most Americans no longer vote in most elections or even bother to register. When asked about their affiliation, most Americans claim Independent which is just to say they claim no affiliation with anything. For many, this means they feel no affiliation with the entire corrupt system and fake democracy. Whether or not they think in these terms, a larger and growing number of Americans perceive our country as a banana republic—a majority already sees the presidential nominating system as rigged and that the rich buy elections.

This is why protest votes shouldn’t be ignored. We are at a point where there is almost nothing left other than protest votes. Both major presumptive nominees, Trump and Clinton, are the most disliked and mistrusted candidates ever recorded in US campaign history (since data began to be kept in the 1980s). There is little hope left in the system and in the candidates it offers as choices, an endless lose-lose scenario between one evil and another.

Sanders supporters definitely shouldn’t be ignored, as he is the only popular candidate that the majority trusts. He represents the last remnants of faith in democracy. Once he is gone, there is nothing left but cynicism and realpolitik. But I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand any of the other voters and potential voters, no matter who they support.

Even minority, specifically older minority, supporters of Clinton are all too aware that the entirety of democracy is a sham and they are simply trying to hold back the worst evils that they and those before them have experienced. They know authoritarianism as a reality, not mere theory. It’s not that they don’t realize that Clinton is a dangerous, corrupt politician. But sometimes you need to hire a mean goon to fight off the other mean goons, or that is the hope, however desperately naive it is. It’s a protection racket and minorities understand all too well how it works.

As for Trump’s support, it is wider than generally assumed. The demographics that support him are about equally found across the lower, middle, and upper classes. Also, his supporters are about average in education as compared to the general population. These aren’t stupid poor whites. All that you can generalize about them is that they are mostly white and mostly conservative. So, they are standard Republican voters. Nothing particularly special. All that makes them stand out is that they are outraged, but even that isn’t a new phenomenon that started with Trump.

It’s not that the Republican demographics have changed recently, besides Republicans being an aging population. Moreso, it’s that the world around those demographics has changed. Even as the economy has grown in recent decades, the average real income for the majority has not just stagnated but decreased. Also, there has been a loss of job security, good benefits, pensions, etc; along with a shrinking middle class and lessening upward mobility.

It would be reasonable to assume that Trump’s supporters have felt these changes in their lives, as have so many other Americans. Many people characterize these people as the white working class, sometimes even portraying them as outright poor and ignorant, but that is inaccurate. They aren’t that unusual. In fact, they were once the heart of the middle class. Their status in society has been downgraded. They have become the new broad working class, the downwardly mobile and the trapped. They are outraged because they’ve lost hope that the world will get better for them and for their children and grandchildren, and they are likely correct in their assessment.

The more economically secure older demographic are those who had union jobs and are retired with generous pensions. Most of these people are with Clinton all the way. They don’t want anything to change because they are set for life. You see a divide in many small towns, such as where my dad grew up: Alexandria, Indiana. There used to be small factories in the town and larger automobile factories in the area, but most of them have shut down. The main income for the town is through the taxing of old factory workers with pensions. The young, however, are impoverished and have no hope for the future. The young generation has been abandoned. And those towns are going to be hurting when the old retired factory workers die and their pensions disappear. The rural young are largely looking to Sanders for obvious reasons.

Class politics has always been a major force in US society and politics. But it hasn’t always been clear, as it often takes different forms. In the past, it has often been divides of race and ethnicity, culture and religion, immigration and citizenship status (including status of free vs enslaved), and much else. Aspects of this are still true to varying degrees. There are also regional divides, along with rural/urban and inner-city/suburban divides.

A more interesting divide is generational. In the early-to-mid twentieth century, there was an aging population that was extremely poor. Many of the progressive and New Deal policies primarily helped the young, from Social Security to the GI Bill. The young did better than the generations before them.

That is different now. The young are doing worse than the generations before them, despite being more well educated and higher IQ. The economy has become much more harsh with higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, decades of stagnating and even dropping wages, low upward mobility with much threat of downward mobility, a shrinking and ever more precarious middle class, a half century of weakening unions with decreasing membership, and loss of job security and good benefits. It is massive crappiness that has been dumped on the  young most of all.

This kind of generational divide is an entirely new dynamic. There exists a wealthier, more financially secure older demographic often with pensions while there is also a poor youth demographic with an uncertain future. Such a demographic situation has never before existed in US history. The future of the young has been sold for the comfort of the old. Not too many generations ago, it was the older generations who were willing to make immense personal sacrifices to ensure their children and grandchildren would do better than they did. This present generation of older Americans, however, are much more selfish and greedy or else simply clueless and ignorant… or, to be generous, maybe they’re apathetic and cynical, just going along to get along.

It is unfair to treat the young now as if nothing has changed across the generations. It’s not just that the young now are temporarily poor. They are facing unemployment rates and decreasing wages that their grandparents’ generation never experienced when they were younger. Sanders supporters aren’t simply biding their time until the money starts rolling in. Employment with job security, good benefits, affordable healthcare, pensions, and high union membership are harder to find these days. This slow economic start will have a severe impact on the lifelong earnings of an entire generation.

Being an older and lower income is not the same as being younger and lower income. Older folks had cheap college and cheap housing. They were able to find good jobs right out of high school or right out of college. Their main earning years was during economic boom times. They were able to save more money and also they had generous pensions. Labor unions have made sure to protect older workers, even as they’ve too often sacrificed young workers.

It’s class conflict, but not of a variety that many in the mainstream understand. No matter how the MSM spins this, it shouldn’t be ignored. Class politics are live and well. It just so happens that at the moment class politics coincides with generational politics, at least to some extent.

This is also a racial divide. The young who support Sanders are the most diverse generation in US history. Sanders has won not just young whites but also young minorities across the board. I haven’t heard of a single minority group in which the majority of the young haven’t turned their hope to Sanders. Among young minorities, a minority-majority is already forming. This creates a different attitude than older minorities who have always known they were outnumbered and so they kept their expectations low.

I’d add that, by speaking of the ‘young’, this includes a large segment of the society. Sanders hasn’t just won the majority of those in their 20s. He has also won the majority of those in their 30s. He probably wins as well those in their low 40s and certainly he breaks about even in the 40+ demographic. This includes a large segment of the workforce and the entirety of young families, including many parents that are reaching the point of sending their own kids off to college. Generalizing all of Sanders’ supporters as young is misleading. Still, the point is that these aren’t old people who began their adulthood during the booming economy and strong welfare state of the mid-20th century.

The national median age is 36 years old. So, Sanders’ supporters are at the demographic center of the national population. In a short period of time, these people will become a great force in society, as the younger generation is larger than even the Boomers.

Older Americans, especially those of lower income, realize they aren’t the future. The young, despite all the problems, are surprisingly optimistic. Also, the young haven’t turned on the old. When asked, the young don’t think they will personally benefit from social security and yet they want to maintain social security benefits. The young aren’t simply saying, screw the old people that effed everything up! There is a generational divide, but that isn’t the main concern. Most people of all ages realize the economy sucks all around, that it isn’t just their group suffering. Still, maybe it is harder for older people to deal with these kinds of drastic changes, as they remember better times.

We forget that a few decades ago, most people thought of as middle class lacked college education. It used to be easy to work one’s way up from an entry level job to more specialized work or even management. This is because on-the-job training and education used to be made widely available. Back in the day, all that it took to be middle class was basic intelligence and motivation. Almost anyone who wanted to work could find work. And almost anyone who wanted to work their way up could do so. Being middle class was simply defined by upward mobility. It was an economic status, a lifestyle, and a social identity. For several generations, it was the defining characteristic of the American Dream.

Trump supporters, being a slightly older demographic, remember what the economy was like a few decades ago. They are old enough to remember a different world, a time of immense opportunity when they were growing up and entering the workforce. Working hard and bettering oneself was a point of self-respect and pride. The loss of that social identity has hit many Americans hard.

Many of these people were taught from a young age that failure isn’t an excuse. It was assumed that an individual was only limited by their own ability, potential, and work ethic. This belief in meritocracy never fully matched reality, but even so it was a belief so many took seriously. This is hard for older Americans to take, as they can’t easily go back to school to start a new career. Besides, who would want to hire these aging workers when there are so many young people who are equally or better qualified? In many cases, there is no place for these older folk and so little hope. Their present state of economic uncertainty or even downward mobility is a point of shame. With shame, comes outrage and scapegoating. People are looking for something or someone to blame for why life has become so hard and hopeless. Yeah, they’d like America to be great again.

Attacking Trump’s supporters isn’t helpful. They didn’t cause these problems. Most of them probably don’t even understand what has happened. They are pissed off and they have good reason. All Americans have good reason to be outraged at this system of corruption and this status quo of failure. Besides the few who feel secure and comfortable, this is an unhappy situation.

This creates endless conflict. At this point, many Americans simply want to be heard and to have their problems acknowledged. They want someone to tell them that they matter. But more than anything, they want change. Real change.

* * *

Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects

A Sense of Urgency

Facebook discussion from a post by Corey Robin

* * *

With More Americans Going Far Left (And Right), an Anti-Corporate Agenda Takes Shape
by David Korten

A recently released study by four leading economists of voting in U.S. congressional races uncovered an important pattern. According to a New York Times report on the study, “Areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.” Job losses, especially to China, the authors noted, lead voters to strongly favor either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

One Last Kick at the Liberal Dog
by Joe Bageant

What are the Democrats offering working class folks? Do they dare say: “Your health care is non-existent so we’re gonna fix it by completely socializing all health care, period. Fuck the upper middle class medical racketeers.” Do they stand up and say, “We are going to completely stop the outsourcing of American jobs?” Or that those goddamned fraud elections are over and will never happen again? Are they out there door to door educating the people, connecting the dots for them? Hell no. Instead they field, as one of my readers put it, “…cheerleaders for exactly the kind of global corporate suck down that is leaving the working class shattered and more vulnerable every day. In the wake of the Kerry disaster, who is now the front-runner for 2008? Hillary.”

Holy mother of hip hop Jesus, give me strength! Could they possibly have found a more chilly and unappealing wonk bitch in the eyes of working people? Look, she may have tried to fix health care at one time. But trying ain’t doing. She will get points for it but just because the hack party machinery can get her elected in New York does not mean the rest of the country is going to let her off so easily.

Facts That Challenge the Narrative About Angry Working Class Voters
by Nancy LeTourneau

Bernie Sanders Has Strength Among White Men Pinched By The Economy
by Tamara Keith

Rural West Virginia is anything but Clinton country
by Michael Finnegan

Why Young Latinos in Rural California Support Sanders
by Olivia Rodriguez

In California’s predominantly Spanish-speaking Eastern Coachella Valley, younger Latinos are responding to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, challenging the narrative that his appeal does not extend beyond white voters. “A lot of youth in the Eastern Coachella Valley see college as not affordable, a shattered dream. Because of his emphasis on college affordability, Sanders can be that spark for us to regain confidence and make a bigger difference.”

Sanders Wins Idaho, Sweeping Rural Crotchety, Gun-owning Men Who Admire Denmark’s Economic Policy
by Cafe

Sanders steamrolled Clinton in Idaho, dominating the key demographic of rural, white, crotchety, gun-owning males who admire Denmark’s policies on maternity leave. Sanders also won Utah, whose Mormon voters made clear his Jewish faith was not a problem, since he can easily be baptized after he’s dead.

Clinton’s weakness against Trump? Appalachian and rural voters
by Anthony Hennen

Clinton has done well among African-American voters, but her margins have fallen dramatic in Appalachia compared to 2008.

“That mountainous stretch handed Clinton some of her most staggering reversals: In Ohio’s Galia [sic] County, along the West Virginia border, Clinton’s share of the vote fell by 30 percentage points; by 33 in North Carolina’s Graham County, abutting Tennessee,” Bloomberg noted.

Many of her county wins in Appalachia Ohio were narrow over Bernie Sanders, her biggest win coming in Mahoning County, where Youngstown is located, with 59 percent of the vote. In a general election against Donald Trump, she’ll struggle to win all but a handful of Appalachian counties if voting patterns don’t shift.

Nor is her problem relegated to Appalachia. She struggles among white voters in rural areas in general. When Bloomberg examined rural county vote results compared with the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton saw her vote share fall by more than 20 percent in more than two dozen counties across rural Ohio, North Carolina, and Missouri.

In Rural Iowa, Some Voters Call Themselves ‘Socialist,’ Support Sanders
by William Gallo

But is Iowa really full of left-wing voters who see themselves as democratic socialists? Some evidence to support such a claim is found in a Des Moines Register poll this month, in which 43 percent of Democrats who plan to participate in Monday’s Iowa caucuses identified themselves as “socialist.” That’s more than the 38 percent of respondents who called themselves “capitalist.”

The poll may help explain why the fiercely liberal Sanders is popular across Iowa, despite the state’s reputation for having traditional, conservative Midwestern values. […]

If the success of the Sanders campaign does mean left-wing politics are becoming more mainstream, then that wave could start in Iowa, with voters like Bob Mortensen, the Elk Horn resident, who is caucusing for Sanders on Monday night.

Would he have have told the Register pollster that he identifies as a socialist?

“Yeah, I suppose I would, because I understand what the true meaning of that label is,” he said. “I am a Christian. I am a socialist. And part of the reason I am a socialist, by the true definition of that word, is because I am a Christian.”

Important Wins for Trump — and a Surprising Loss for Clinton
by Perry Bacon Jr.

And in the rest of Michigan, particularly its more rural areas, Sanders carried more than 60 percent of the vote in many counties.

Rural Vote, Which Clinton Won In 2008, Cinches Victory For Sanders In Mich.
by Bill Bishop and Tim Marema

Hillary Clinton lost to Senator Bernie Sanders in Michigan’s small towns and rural counties and as a result lost the state to her Vermont opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.

Clinton was expected to win Michigan easily, and she did roll up a nearly 11,000 vote advantage in the state’s urban areas. But Sanders beat Clinton by 22,000 votes in the state’s small cities (those between 10,000 and 50,000 people), and he won by nearly 8,000 votes in Michigan’s rural counties. Sanders won Michigan — a state all the polls said he would lose — by just over 19,000 votes. […]

The most surprising result of Tuesday’s primaries was Sanders’ win in Michigan. For Clinton, the results were a dramatic switch from 2008. In the primary eight years ago, Clinton’s share of the rural and small town vote was 10 percentage points higher than her vote in the cities. This year, Clinton’s share of the vote dropped by 8 points as the vote moved from the cities to the countryside.

In 2008, Clinton was in a close contest with then Senator Barack Obama and, for a time, North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Early in the primary season, a pattern developed in the vote: Obama would win the cities, but as the vote moved outside the major metropolitan areas, Clinton would gain.

The Clinton campaign in 2008 took note and began concentrating on rural areas and small towns. In 2008, Clinton was the choice of rural and white working class voters. […]

In Michigan, Sanders narrowed the gap with Clinton among African-American voters — he won 30 percent of the African-American vote in Michigan — and then rolled up large majorities in rural areas.

The Clintons Have Lost the Working Class
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells

Why can’t Hillary Clinton’s campaign get going? By most conventional measures, she had a pretty good week in New Hampshire: a commanding performance in Thursday night’s debate, an emotive one in Wednesday night’s televised town hall. But the scale of her loss to Bernie Sanders was striking, and its shape was revealing. Clinton lost among young voters by nearly 6–1, and among independents by 3–1. Most arrestingly, Sanders won voters with an income of less than fifty thousand dollars by 2–1. There’s a lot of talk about Clinton’s campaign repeating the chaos and errors of 2008, but that year she had the white working-class vote. Clinton’s candidacy looks narrower than ever, more confined to those whose experience of life approximates her own. Last night, in New Hampshire, the rare demographic group she won was those with incomes of more than two hundred thousand dollars a year. For now, at least, Clinton has become the wine-track candidate.

A dying breed: middle class Americans drive success for Trump
by Martin Barillas

In contrast, in 1999, the average middle class income was $77,898. In 2014 it was $72,919, a difference of $4,979. It was in the key battleground states where both Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have done well, such as Indiana, Michigan, and West Virginia, where the biggest drop in middle class occurred.

Sanders, Trump and the US working class
by Megan Trudell

For example, the contrast between the top down Clinton campaign and Sanders’s grassroots organisation is striking. One important indicator of this is the way that union members have voted. Despite having the endorsement of only a handful of national unions compared with Clinton, “In a stark illustration of his argument that revolutionary political change can only come from below, a growing number of local union chapters are choosing to ignore their national leadership and back Sanders on the ground instead”.7

In every major union that has let its members decide on who the union endorses, Sanders has won. In every union where the leadership has decided, the endorsement has gone to Clinton. This speaks volumes about the divide between the Democratic elite and the party’s supporters.

First Corbyn, now Sanders: how young voters’ despair is fuelling movements on the left
by Owen Jones

Yet it is surely economic insecurity that drives today’s young radicalism. A poll last year found that nearly half of so-called “millennial” Americans – those aged 18 to 35 – believed that they faced a “dimmer future than their parents”. Forty million Americans are now saddled with student debt, helping to suppress their living standards and leaving them with less disposable income for, say, a mortgage or a car. Home ownership across the Atlantic – the linchpin of the “American dream” – is now at its lowest level for nearly half a century. The economic recovery is an abstraction for many young Americans, all too often driven into insecure and low-paid occupations with little prospect of rising wages or a standard of living they believe they deserve.

What Bernie Supporters Want
by Shawn Gude & Matt Karp

Of course, when coupled with the social-democratic remedies Sanders pushes, this is just old-fashioned class politics — the idiom of any viable left project. […]

74 percent of Sanders supporters (compared to 56 percent of Clinton supporters) reported that “the difference in incomes between rich people and poor people” has grown “much larger” in the last twenty years. Sanders supporters placed income inequality among their most important political issues twice as often as Clinton supporters. […]

But if abstract policy preferences aren’t so important after all, perhaps we should take another look at those inequality numbers. What if they actually show the growth of a deeper allegiance — a compound of social identity and symbolic attachment that we might even dare call “class consciousness”?

Burying the White Working Class
by Connor Kilpatrick

Here in the middle of all this were the voters of West Virginia — one of the poorest and whitest states in the country, a place that repeatedly elected a former Klansman to the Senate — asserting their material interests. In the ongoing Clinton coronation, they were about as welcome as a case of black lung.

But it isn’t just the Sanders campaign zombie that liberal pundits are desperately trying to stamp out. It’s the white working class itself.

With Clinton’s nomination a lock, liberals have become even more furious and dismissive of white workers. Commenting on Sanders’s West Virginia victory, they were quick to point out that a felon running against Obama in the same state in 2012 got nearly half as many votes. They crowed about how some of both Bernie and Clinton’s voters said Trump was their real number one choice, and much was made of how Sanders overwhelmingly won voters who want “less liberal” policies than Obama’s.

Conveniently lost in the noise is the fact that Sanders won an even bigger share of voters who want “more liberal” ones.

The media takeaway was clear: somehow, someway, West Virginia’s vote for a Jewish socialist Brooklyn native was a vote for racism. “I don’t want to say it,” said Chris Matthews on election night “but West Virginian voters are, you know — conservative on social issues — but there’s another word for that. . .”

The Bernie Coalition
by Matt Karp

The young liberals who flocked to Obama in 2008, in other words, were economically both comfortable and confident. All signs so far suggest that Bernie Sanders’s Iowa and New Hampshire youth revolt is of a very different character. […]

Why does this matter? One striking difference between Sanders and Obama, as Jedediah Purdy has noted, is that the Sanders campaign is about the platform, not the candidate. Another striking difference is that Sanders has forged connections to lower-income New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats that eluded Obama and every other progressive primary challenger in recent history.

Sanders has done it by offering a substantial rather than rhetorical “progressive” vision. His call to break up the big banks, install a $15 minimum wage, and provide single-payer health care for all — however mild as “democratic socialism” goes — represents an aggressive economic populism exiled from the national Democratic Party for decades. Certainly Sanders’s program far exceeds the universally timid and deficit-focused reforms on offer from Bradley, Dean, and Obama.

Sanders may well have won intense backing from the professional and technical workers that John Judis described at a campaign rally last fall, and that Michael Harrington long hoped might embrace democratic socialism. But the polls suggest that Sanders’s program has also proven immensely appealing to a younger but less affluent and more traditional Democratic white working class: not just hybrid owners, but truck drivers, too.

Bernie Sanders Is Making Surprising Gains With Less Affluent Whites
Nate Cohn

In a compilation of New York Times/CBS News surveys since November, Mr. Sanders leads Mrs. Clinton, 47 percent to 39 percent, among white voters who make less than $50,000. If anything, these figures may understate Mr. Sanders’s strength; he has gained in state, national and New York Times/CBS News surveys over the period.

In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Mr. Obama lost white voters making less than $50,000 by a wide margin to Mrs. Clinton (60 to 33 percent), according to exit poll data. A similar story holds for white voters without a college degree.

Other national surveys consistently show Mrs. Clinton faring no better among less affluent voters than more affluent voters — a telling sign of Mr. Sanders’s strength among less affluent white voters, given his well-established weakness among nonwhite voters, who represent a disproportionate share of less affluent Democrats.

The same appears to be true in the early states.

In Iowa, polls suggest a tight race among less affluent whites, ranging from a Quinnipiac survey showing Mr. Sanders ahead by 21 points among voters making less than $50,000 to an NBC/Marist poll that gave Mrs. Clinton a narrow lead of 52 to 45. CNN and Fox News data suggested a modest Sanders edge.

In New Hampshire, Mr. Sanders leads among voters making less than $50,000 in every recent poll — and usually by a lot. That margin in the most recent NBC/Marist result is 68 to 30. Back in 2008, Mrs. Clinton defeated Mr. Obama by 15 percentage points among voters making less than $50,000 a year, according to the exit polls.

But on the flip side in the early states, Mr. Sanders seems to fare worse than Mrs. Clinton among more affluent white voters — who tend to turn out in far greater numbers than lower-income whites. Fewer surveys offer results for voters making over $100,000 a year — but those that do suggest surprising strength for Mrs. Clinton.

The Quinnipiac survey showed Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Sanders, 58-37, among voters making more than $100,000 in Iowa — a group that gave her a paltry 19 percent of the vote in 2008. Similarly, a recent Boston Herald poll in New Hampshire that showed Mrs. Clinton down by 16 points over all nonetheless gave her a 13-point edge among voters making more than $100,000.

What Pundits Keep Getting Wrong About Donald Trump and the Working Class
by Jamelle Bouie

Tally the numbers and you’ll find that Trump’s appeal falls well outside the large plurality (if not majority) of working-class Americans who are either people of color (young or otherwise), or liberal to moderate whites. And you see this in polls of Trump’s favorability. In terms of popularity with blacks, Hispanics, women, and young people, the real estate mogul’s polling is somewhere in the Marianas Trench.

The truth is that it’s inaccurate to talk about Trump’s “working-class appeal.” What Trump has, instead, is a message tailored to a conservative portion of white workers. These voters aren’t the struggling whites of Appalachia or the old Rust Belt, in part because those workers don’t vote, and there’s no evidence Trump has turned them out. Instead, Trump is winning those whites with middle-class incomes. Given his strength in unionized areas like the Northeast, some are blue collar and culturally working class. But many others are not. Many others are what we would simply call Republicans.

The easiest way to guess if someone supports Trump? Ask if Obama is a Muslim.
by Philip Klinkner

You can ask just one simple question to find out whether someone likes Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton: Is Barack Obama a Muslim? If they are white and the answer is yes, 89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton.

That’s more accurate than asking people if it’s harder to move up the income ladder than it was for their parents (54 percent), whether they oppose trade deals (66 percent), or if they think the economy is worse now than last year (81 percent). It’s even more accurate than asking them if they are Republican (87 percent).

Those results come from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) pilot survey. My analysis indicates that economic status and attitudes do little to explain support for Donald Trump.

These results might be rather surprising since most political commentators have sought to root Trump’s appeal in the economic anxieties of working-class whites.

Death predicts whether people vote for Donald Trump
by Jeff Guo

It seems that Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest. […] In every state except Massachusetts, the counties with high rates of white mortality were the same counties that turned out to vote for Trump.

We’re focusing on middle-aged whites because the data show that something has gone terribly wrong with their lives. In a study last year, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton pointed out that mortality rates for this group have actually been increasing since the ’90s.

That fact becomes more alarming when you look at the context. Over the past decade, Hispanic people have been dying at a slower rate; black people have been dying at a slower rate; white people in other countries have been dying at a slower rate. […]

Economic struggles have likely contributed as well. Case and Deaton also found that the increase in the death rate has been driven by people with less education. For those without a college degree, the economy in recent decades has been increasingly miserable. This may explain why some have turned to self-destructive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

The people I’ve been describing — this distressed, dying demographic slice of America — are similar to the people who tend to vote for Trump, according to phone and exit polls. Trump supporters are mostly white; skew older; and are less likely to have college degrees than other Republicans. […]

It’s true that life was once better in many parts of America. In the late ’90s, not only was the death rate for middle-aged whites lower, but median wages for non-college workers were higher. Since then, globalization sucked away many more manufacturing jobs, and the Great Recession gave an extra kick to places that were already in decline.

Misrepresenting the White Working Class: What the Narrating Class Gets Wrong
by Jack Metzgar

Rather, for the most part class-prejudiced assumptions are based on professional middle-class ignorance and misunderstanding.

Take the assumed popularity of Trump among the white working class, for example. There appears to be supporting evidence for that. According to Brookings, for example, in a national survey 55% of “Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support Trump are white working-class Americans.” But this does not mean what Brookings thinks it means. Among all adult whites, nearly 70% do not have bachelor’s degrees (the definition of “working class” used here). This means that at 55%, the white working-class is under-represented among Trump supporters. Conversely, unless Trump is getting much more minority support than reported, his supporters are disproportionally college-educated whites. They make up 30% of the white population, but they are at least 40% of Trump voters in the Brookings survey.

There are two reasons for this kind of error, this one by a highly respected D.C. think tank. One is simple ignorance of class demographics. The bachelor’s/no bachelor’s binary is widely used to separate whites into two broad classes, but many analysts and reporters have no idea of the relative sizes of these two groups in the overall population. They routinely assume that most white people must be college-educated professionals like themselves and the people among whom they live and work.

The other reason for this kind of error is based solely on the assumption that white people who have graduated from college are less racist, less anti-immigrant, less anti-feminist, less homophobic, and generally more tolerant of diversity than people who have not. As a college professor, I very much hope this assumption is valid, but I could find no solid evidence that it is. At least in political commentary, the question is never asked, and you have to wonder why not.

The desperate middle-class voters who made Trump the GOP nominee
by Mark Gimein

Polls have shown that Trump does better with lower earning, less educated voters. And indeed, Trump’s backers are less well off than, say, those who voted for John Kasich. But as Silver shows, less well off than other Republican primary voters is still fairly well off. With some careful statistical work, Silver shows that the family income of the typical Trump voter is $72,000.

That’s not wealthy, but it’s clearly a middle-class income, especially in the parts of the country where Trump gathers his most devoted support. The voters who made Trump happen aren’t, by and large, those who have been chewed up and spit out by the death of factory jobs. They are people who thought they’d met the requirements for success in the contemporary economy, and still find themselves losing ground. […]

For much of the primary season, Trump was dismissed as the candidate of the deeply disaffected and uneducated. As the campaign season went on, that became less and less supportable. In many states from Super Tuesday onwards, Trump won handily among GOP voters with college degrees. Blue collar workers may have made up Trump’s most devoted supporters, but it took a lot of $70,000-a-year professionals to get him to Cleveland.

There’s one thing that the conventional wisdom on Trump got right: Trump’s appeal is certainly strongest for those who feel like their expectations have been disappointed, their hopes circumscribed, and their financial state made precarious—people who feel shame that they don’t have the money to retire or to support their families. The hard part to get your head around is how much of the middle class that turns out to be.

The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support
by Nate Silver

Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole. The differences are usually larger in states with substantial non-white populations, as black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to have lower incomes. […]

Many of the differences reflect that Republican voters are wealthier overall than Democratic ones, and also that wealthier Americans are more likely to turn out to vote, especially in the primaries. However, while Republican turnout has considerably increased overall from four years ago, there’s no sign of a particularly heavy turnout among “working-class” or lower-income Republicans. On average in states where exit polls were conducted both this year and in the Republican campaign four years ago, 29 percent of GOP voters have had household incomes below $50,000 this year, compared with 31 percent in 2012. […]

Both Democratic candidates do better than the Republicans in this category, however. Only 12 percent of Trump voters have incomes below $30,000; when you also consider that Clinton has more votes than Trump overall, that means about twice as many low-income voters have cast a ballot for Clinton than for Trump so far this year.

Class in America is a complicated concept, and it may be that Trump supporters see themselves as having been left behind in other respects. Since almost all of Trump’s voters so far in the primaries have been non-Hispanic whites, we can ask whether they make lower incomes than other white Americans, for instance. The answer is “no.” The median household income for non-Hispanic whites is about $62,000,4 still a fair bit lower than the $72,000 median for Trump voters.

Likewise, although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls — lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters — that’s still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

This is not to say that Trump voters are happy about the condition of the economy. Substantial majorities of Republicans in every state so far have said they’re “very worried” about the condition of the U.S. economy, according to exit polls, and these voters have been more likely to vote for Trump. But that anxiety doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal economic circumstances, which for many Trump voters, at least in a relative sense, are reasonably good.

Bernie Sanders, not Donald Trump, is winning over the ‘white working class’
by Charles Davis

Writing for In These Times, author Jack Metzgar notes that the basis for this assumed white working-class support for Trump is his popularity among Republican voters who lack a college degree, who have indeed preferred him to the other Republicans in the race. “Among all adult whites,” however, “nearly 70 percent do not have bachelor’s degrees,” the definition of working class used by pundits. One recent survey found that 55 percent of this group support Trump, meaning “the white working-class is under-represented among Trump supporters,” Metzgar observes, which means “his supporters are disproportionately college-educated whites.”

This becomes clear when one takes a step back from the tiny weird world of the U.S. right and looks at the electorate as a whole. In a general election, polls Sanders would not only beat Trump but destroy him: Reuters currently has him up by nearly 10 per cent overall, and that with far less media coverage. Among white voters in particular, Sanders’ margin of victory in the most recent poll does drop to just under 5 per cent — but among white voters who make less than US$25,000 a year, his margin of victory actually grows to 15 per cent. Among unemployed white voters, that number rises to 16 per cent. Practically no one who isn’t white is voting for Donald Trump.

Commentators are right, then, to believe the Trump phenomenon is a white people problem — it’s just the data shows it’s not working-class whites who are the heart of this problem.

Donald Trump is rising because the US middle class has crashed
by Matt Phillips

Trump supporters—who pushed him to victory in key Republican nominating contests in Mississippi and Michigan on Tuesday—are disproportionately older whites without college diplomas.

Today, these folks are usually referred to as “working-class.” But at the heart of Trump’s appeal is the uncomfortable fact that they used to be something else. These people used to be America’s middle class. […]

Basically, this confirms what many people know from experience: These types of households are clinging to middle class status by a thread. […]

Income inequality began to grow again in the early 1980s, and has since returned to the relatively high levels seen in the years before the Great Depression.

Why? Well, for many reasons. But the key is wages.

Incomes at the upper echelons of the American earnings distribution have surged in recent years, while incomes for the vast majority have stagnated. Data from US economist Robert Gordon’s recent book The Rise and Fall of American Growth actually show that real incomes have slightly decreased between 1972 and 2013 for the bottom 90% of US workers. […]

So, it should come as no surprise that this chunk of the electorate would be drawn to Trump’s anti-trade, anti-China, anti-immigration rhetoric. Of course, Trump’s appeal is as much about style as it is about policies. And that style—vindictive, crude, authoritarian—is perhaps the biggest reason to be concerned by both the rise of Trump and the decline of the middle class.

“There’s plenty of literature linking a broad, healthy middle class with political stability and moderation in government. So it’s worth noting too that, on the Democratic side, liberal firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders also won a surprise victory in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, over the more centrist Hillary Clinton. Growing numbers of Americans are veering toward extremism, and the rise of Trump is just a another sign of the fall of the US middle class. And it’s something worth worrying about.

Why Trump’s appeal is wider than you might think
by Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu

Contrary to these statements, however, lower-income and less-educated people aren’t the only voters backing Trump. Trump supporters—even the white ones—are rich and poor alike. They are law school grads and high school dropouts. Trump is leading the pack in every corner of the GOP, not just the working class.

In terms of income among Trump supporters, you’ll find roughly equal numbers of high-income, middle-income and low-income voters. According to data from a national NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll conducted online from March 7 through March 13, the share of Trump supporters who make more than $100,000 per year is almost exactly the same as the share of Trump supporters who make less than $50,000 (and that’s true even when you just look at white Trump supporters). Trump gets just as much of his support from the richest Americans as he does from the poorest.

In terms of education, it’s true that there are lots of people without college degrees backing Trump. But that’s because in the GOP—and in the U.S. in general—there are lots of people without college degrees period. According to the Census Bureau, among Americans 18 and over, about 71 percent don’t have college degrees. According to the tracking poll, among Trump supporters, about 74 percent don’t have college degrees, and that’s also true for the subset of white Trump supporters.

Trump’s fan base is not substantially less educated than the country as a whole.

The Donald’s Trump Card Isn’t an Ace
by John Stoehr

In other words, virtually everyone who voted for a Republican in Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia reported earning more than $50,000 a year. These are Trump voters. Even if they never went to college, they earn more than the average wage, which was $44,569.20 in 2014, according to the Social Security Administration.

Granted, that’s not a lot of money. But earning more than the national average individual income would appear to strain any credible definition of working class. Plus, half of those who pay payroll taxes – about 79 million people – earned less than $29,000 in 2014. Those aren’t Trump voters. Remember, virtually every GOP voter in 18 states said they earned more.

Higher income among even “poorly educated” individuals, as Trump might say, isn’t surprising in East Coast states like Connecticut, where the cost of living is relatively high. But the problems facing the often-told narrative of Trump’s support among white working-class voters don’t end there.

Even in Rust Belt states, where he’s said to have an advantage with Reagan Democrats, Trump didn’t perform as well as you might think. In Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio, for instance, support among such voters never rose above 30 percent. He split that bloc with his rivals.

That Trump performed more or less on par with his rivals in Rust Belt states suggests that his supporters were already firmly conservative or already primed to choose any Republican, populist or otherwise, according to Andrew Levison, author of “The White Working Class Today” and analyst for “The Democratic Strategist,” a journal of public opinion and strategy. Indeed, Levison observed in a March white paper, Trump performed best not with Midwestern Reagan Democrats but with white working-class Southerners. This, he argued, isn’t due to Trump’s “right-wing version of economic populism” but “the racial and xenophobic elements of his platform.”

So the media narrative of Trump’s support among white working-class voters belabored by global economic forces is problematic for two reasons. One, many of his supporters are earning above-average incomes. Two, many voted for Trump for reasons having nothing to do with globalization.

From Slump to Trump
by Christopher Phelps

In a majority of the GOP primaries and caucuses to date (fifteen of twenty-seven) — including such northern states as Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts as well as southern states such as South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee — Trump swept to victory in every single income tranche, from lesser-paid to wealthy.

In Connecticut, for example, he won 59 percent of those making $50,000-100,000, 55 percent of those making $100,000-200,000, and 52 percent of those making more than $200,000. (No data is reported for that state on those making below $50,000.)

In New York, he actually gained in strength as the wealth scale moved upwards. There he took 52 percent of the votes of those making less than $30,000 and $30,000-50,000, but 62 percent in the $50,000-100,000 band and 63 percent of those making more than $100,000.

Poor and working-class voters make up only about a third of the GOP electorate, measured by an income below $50,000. (Again, a crude gauge: most graduate students make less, some unionized steelworkers more. But median household income is about $52,000, so in the aggregate an income below $50,000 does help approximate the working class. Full-time minimum-wage employees, the lowest rung of the working population, make $15,000.)

Upper-income citizens are far more likely to vote and therefore comprise an outsized portion of the electorate, particularly the GOP electorate, compared to their proportion in society. Again consider New York, where the 28 percent of GOP voters whose income is under $50,000 went for Trump by 52 percent. By contrast, those who make more than $50,000, a group that voted for him by 63 percent, made up 72 percent of the electorate. That’s huuuge.

In short, Trump’s plurality or majority among upper-middle and wealthy voters, because it carries more weight, has propelled his rise more than his popularity with those in the lower tax brackets where his popularity, speaking generally, is greater.

As for level of education, in 70 percent (nineteen of twenty-seven) of the GOP primaries and caucuses college-educated voters preferred Trump by either a plurality or majority. This again included such northern states as Illinois and Michigan as well as southern ones such as Georgia and Virginia.

Voter surveys measure college education in the following categories: none, some, a completed degree, or post-graduate studies. Notably, Trump did better or the same among those with some than among those with none in Indiana, Maryland, and Missouri, and virtually the same in others, such as West Virginia. In Vermont and Mississippi, he actually did better among college graduates than those with merely some college.

The data demonstrate, in other words, that if Trump is the preferred candidate of the GOP working class he has also been the preferred candidate of the GOP’s upper-middle-class, college-educated, and even wealthy constituents.

The only group that Trump consistently does not fare very well among is those with post-graduate education. For as long as the primaries were competitive they split their vote across the remaining field (Kasich, Cruz, Christie, Bush, and company).

What does it mean that Trump has done well among middle-income and higher-income voters but not the most-educated? This suggests that his real base of support is small-business owners, supervisory and middle-management employees, franchisees, landlords, real estate agents, propertied farmers, and so on: those who are not at the executive pinnacle of corporate America (who largely have MBAs and other similar degrees) and those who are not credentialed professionals (doctors, lawyers, and the like), but the much wider swath of those people whose livelihood is derived from independent business activity or middle-band positions in the corporate hierarchy.

This corresponds, of course, to the classic scenario in which the petty bourgeois — the middle class whose ownership of small parcels of property does not protect them from vulnerability in the business cycle and the need to exact self-exploitation — experience worry and insecurity following a financial crisis and economic slump, making them receptive to right-wing authoritarian solutions and scapegoating of ethnic-racial minorities.

Bubba Isn’t Who You Think
by Paul Krugman

In fact, if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country. You can see this both in Larry Bartels’s “What’s the matter with What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (pdf), Figure 3, and in a comprehensive study of red state-blue state differences by Gelman et al (pdf). It’s relatively high-income Southern whites who are very, very Republican. Can I get away with saying that rich white trash are the problem? Probably not.

What this reflects, in turn, is the odd fact that income levels seem to matter much more for voting in the South. Contrary to what you may have read, the old-fashioned notion that rich people vote Republican, while poorer people vote Democratic, is as true as ever – in fact, more true than it was a generation ago. But in rich states like New Jersey or Connecticut, the relationship is weak; even the very well off tend to be only slightly more Republican than working-class voters. In the poorer South, however, the relationship is very strong indeed.

This is why it’s true both that rich voters tend to be Republican, and that rich states tend to be Democratic.