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Thursday, July 20, 2017

How Fear of Falling Explains the Love of Trump - The New York Times

How Fear of Falling Explains the Love of Trump - The New York Times:
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Supporters at a President Trump rally in Iowa, last month. CreditScott Morgan/Reuters
I have written before about the fear of falling down the socioeconomic ladder, the fear of an irremediable loss of status, authority and prestige — and the desperate need to be rescued from this fate. But the topic bears further exploration because it has been such a prime motivation for one slice of the electorate, the swing voters who made President Trump’s unexpected triumph possible.
The question that persists six months after Mr. Trump’s inauguration is why six key states — Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, along with 220 counties nationwide — flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. Why did these voters change their minds? These are men and women who are, in the main, still working, still attending church, still members of functioning families, but who often live in communities where neighbors, relatives, friends and children have been caught up in disordered lives. The worry that this disorder has become contagious — that decent working or middle class lives can unravel quickly — stalks many voters, particularly in communities where jobs, industries and a whole way of life have slowly receded, the culminating effect of which can feel like a sudden blow.
One suggestive line of thinking comes from Arlie Hochschild, the author of “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right” and professor emerita of sociology at Berkeley. Hochschild has studied Americans whom she calls “the elite of the left-behind.” Her findings shed light, I think, on the concerns of some of the voters who tipped the balance for Trump last year. Hochschild wrote to me that common refrains among these voters were “America’s heading downhill” and “I think our kids are headed for hard times.” In these conversations, she said,
it wouldn’t take long before another topic spontaneously came up, blacks, their problems, their call on government help. At the bottom of the imagined slide was the situation of blacks — teen single moms, kids out in the street at night, slacking off in school, drugs, drink. So, yes, the feeling was, “if we don’t turn this thing around, that could be us.”
Nancy Isenberg, a history professor at Louisiana State University and the author of “White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America,” responded to my inquiry about Americans anxious about losing their place:
Yes, the fear was about rearranging the “pecking order.” But many working-class and middle-class whites without college educations also hate poor whites, who they see as lazy and worthless. Historically, poor whites have shared the same stereotypes applied to poor blacks: lazy, uncouth, living on handouts, and not just having too many children, but practicing “inbreeding.”
Isenberg expanded on this theme in the preface to the 2017 paperback edition of her book. “The election has opened up festering wounds. The deepest of these exposes how we measure the value of civic virtue and hard work,” she wrote. The 2016 campaign
tapped into anxieties of all who resented the government for handing over the country to supposedly less deserving classes: new immigrants, protesting African Americans, lazy welfare freeloaders, and Obamacare recipients asking for handouts. Angry Trump voters were convinced that these classes, the “takers,” were not playing by the rules (i.e., working their way up the ladder) and that government entitlement programs were allowing some to advance past the more deserving (white, native born) Americans. This is how many came to feel “disinherited.”
Continue reading the main story
There is no question that the communities where Trump received crucial backing — rural to small-city America — are, in many ways, on a downward trajectory.
From 1990 to 2009, the percentage of births to single mothers among whites without high school diplomas grew from 21 to 51 percent; among those who completed high school, the percentage rose from 11 to 34 percent.
Along parallel lines, the percentage of intact marriages among white adults 25 to 60 years old without high school degrees fell from 70 percent in the 1970s to 36 percent in the 2000s. For those who finished, the percentage fell from 76 to 46 percent.
As early as 2010, a report issued by the Institute for American Values at the University of Virginia, “When Marriage Disappears: The New Middle America,” found that the downward path of those without college degrees stood in contrast to the experience of those with degrees.
College graduates, the report said,
have in recent years been largely unaffected by the tidal wave of family change that first hit the poor in the 1960s and has since moved higher into Middle America. Indeed, highly educated Americans, who make up 30 percent of the adult population, now enjoy marriages that are as stable and happy as those four decades ago.
The problems do not stop there.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2014 that the number of opioid prescriptions outnumbered the number of people in 12 states. All 12 of these states voted for Donald Trump: Arkansas, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the overdose death rates in 2015 for opioids, including heroin, were far higher for whites, 13.9 per 100,000, than for blacks, 6.6 per 100,000, and Hispanics, 4.6 per 100,000.
Joan C. Williams, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings, and author of “The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America,” described in an email how the downward trends are affecting the Trump electorate. “Working-class whites are deeply upset that they are losing traditional family structures,” she wrote:
As you know, the divorce rate and rate of unmarried childbearing in the professional-managerial elite have remained close to what they were in 1960, whereas whites in the Missing Middle now are experiencing sharply higher rates of nonmarital childbearing and family dissolution, which of course hit black families a generation earlier, given that they lost access to the blue-collar jobs that kept family life stable a generation earlier. The white working class is mighty upset about that.
In her book, Williams argues that the values of the liberal elite — self-expression, creativity, personal fulfillment — are not only different from the values of those in the “missing middle,” but a threat to their economic survival:
Valuing hard work means having the rigid self-discipline to do a menial job you hate for 40 years, and reining yourself in so you don’t “have an attitude” (i.e., so that you can submit to authority). Hard work for elites is associated with self-actualization; “disruption” means founding a successful start-up. Disruption, in working class jobs, just gets you fired.
Adding insult to injury for those with the grit to survive on an assembly line or in a steel mill, the decades-long shift from manufacturing to services is creating the type of jobs that are distinctly unappealing to many men.
As Claire Cain Miller, a reporter for The Upshot, wrote last January in The Times,
It hasn’t been a great time to be a man without a job. The jobs that have been disappearing, like machine operator, are predominantly those that men do. The occupations that are growing, like health aide, employ mostly women.
“I ain’t gonna be a nurse; I don’t have the tolerance for people,” Tracy Dawson, a 53-year-old welder struggling to find work in St. Clair, Mo. told Miller:
I don’t want it to sound bad, but I’ve always seen a woman in the position of a nurse or some kind of health care worker. I see it as more of a woman’s touch.
“Talk about insensitivity,” Joan Williams wrote about those advising men with high-school educations to take pink-collar jobs:
Elite men, you will notice, are not flooding into traditionally feminine work. To recommend that for white working class men just fuels class anger.
While whites without bachelor’s degrees flocked to Trump in the belief that he was their savior, the reality is that the many Americans are caught in a vicious cycle that Trump is in no way equipped to address.
This cycle is described in a National Institutes of Health paper, “Family Inequality: Diverging Patterns in Marriage, Cohabitation, and Childbearing,” by Shelly Lundberg, a demographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Robert A. Pollak, a professor of economics at Washington University in St. Louis, and Jenna Stearns, a doctoral candidate in economics who is also at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
In brief, the vicious cycle works as follows. The declining employment and salaries of men without college degrees make them less attractive as marriage partners. The result is “a decoupling of marriage and childbearing,” according to the authors, with larger percentages of children brought up in single mother households.
In contrast, for those with B.A. and B.S. degrees, “marriage has become the commitment device that supports intensive joint investments in children,” a project for “raising economically-successful children.”
This produces a brutal form of intergenerational transmission. For the well-educated, “the expected returns to child investments” are high, well worth the time and effort, Lundberg and her collaborators write. For less-well educated parents “with limited resources and uncertain futures” the returns on investment are likely to “be lower than for more educated parents with greater and more secure investment capabilities.”
The result:
Intensive investments in children, signaled by higher child-care time and by growing expenditures on children, are concentrated among college graduates.
The decline of marriage among less well-educated men serves only to accelerate the downward spiral. Single men lose out on the benefits of marriage, which include “decreases in men’s risky behavior, such as binge drinking and drug use,” a stronger commitment to work and “an increase in time spent in home-oriented activities.”
In other words,
If social and economic changes have reduced the value of marriage to non-college graduates, these changes may also be responsible for a further causal, and generally deleterious, effect on men’s behavior.
In a forthcoming Brookings paper, “The Geography of Desperation,” Carol Graham, a senior fellow, and two co-authors, point out that there is a high cost of failing to keep up “in a very wealthy society that prides itself on being a meritocracy.”
The starkest evidence of these costs, Graham and her co-authors write,
is the increase in premature mortality among significant sectors of our society – due to preventable deaths such as suicide, opioid and other drug overdoses, and heart, liver, and lung diseases. These deaths are most prevalent among uneducated middle-aged whites in rural areas.
As these processes continue and accelerate, many Trump voters — the neighbors, relatives, friends, parents and children of those who have become mired in this “geography of desperation” — are deeply apprehensive about what might happen if Trump fails to fulfill his promise to make America great again.

Opinion Charles M. Blow

Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy


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