Trump, the conservative establishment, and lived reality

I was struck today by the contrast between two articles.  Both examined the plight of working-class white Americans, a largely ignored and (I think) underrated segment of the US body politic;  but their attitudes and conclusions were radically different.  In that difference, I suggest, lies one major reason for the rise of Donald Trump.

First, here’s Michael Cooper with an excerpt from ‘A Message from Trump’s America‘.

I live in Trump’s America, where working-class whites are dying from despair. They’re dying from alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide, trying to take away the pain of a half century’s economic and cultural decline.

. . .

… if there are winners and losers in America, I know the losers. They lost jobs to China and Vietnam. And they’re dying younger, caught in an endless cycle of jail, drug charges and applying for disability to pay the child support bill.

They lost their influence, their dignity and their shot at the American Dream, and now they’re angry. They’re angry at Washington and Wall Street, at big corporations and big government. And they’re voting now for Donald Trump.

. . .

His supporters realize he’s a joke. They do not care. They know he’s authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who’ve long ignored their interests.

When you’re earning $32,000 a year and haven’t had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn’t matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America’s standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.

There’s more at the link.

Compare and contrast his attitude to that of Kevin Williamson.

Williamson … essentially agrees that he doesn’t support any policies or rhetoric directly tailored to the working-class — particularly about jobs being taken by outsourcing and immigration — because it would be wrong to do so.

“It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces,” the NR roving correspondent writes. “[N]obody did this to them. They failed themselves.”

He then goes on to state that all the ills associated with downscale whites are a result of that class’s inherent depravity.

“If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy—which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog—you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that,” Williamson state.

He then goes on to make the conclusion that it’s great these communities are dying out because they have a warped morality and are a dead weight on the economy.

“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible,” the conservative writer says. “The white American under-class is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul. If you want to live, get out of Garbutt [a blue-collar town in New York].”

Again, more at the link.

I think there are several points that should be made about both articles.  They include (but are not limited to):

  1. Like it or not, the ‘working class’ in America will cast the deciding votes in a number of US states where they’re concentrated.  Their political force may be regionally restricted, but in a presidential election where every state’s electoral college votes count, they can make the difference between winning and losing.
  2. It seems to me that both the conservative and liberal/left-wing/progressive establishments are trying to paint every Trump supporter as belonging to the downtrodden ‘poor white’ or ‘white trash’ working class.  They’re trying to brand all of them as underachievers, no-hopers and die-hard racists.  I think that’s very far from the truth.  Nevertheless, by doing so, they’re effectively fomenting an alliance between groups that would not have considered themselves allies in the past.  Trump has become their standard-bearer.  “If those idiots are against him, he must have something;  so I’m for him!”
  3. If you treat people like dogs all the time, sooner or later those dogs are going to bite.  I’ve seen this happen with people who mistreat animals.  “You’ve beat me down and starved me all this time;  well, let me give you something to beat me about!  I’m going to bite and scratch the hell out of you.  Let’s see how you like it!”  The same reaction, in political, social and cultural terms, can be a very dangerous thing . . . especially if those adopting it believe they have nothing to lose.

Finally, let’s consider that ‘poor whites’ are becoming mainstream, economically speaking.  Yahoo Finance reports:

Walmart is facing a “perfect storm” that’s hurting its sales growth, according to Moody’s.

The company’s core customers are struggling with flat income levels, and savings from lower fuel prices aren’t translating into more retail spending, Moody’s vice president, Charles O’Shea, wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday.

The business is also under pressure from deflation in key product categories, such as food, and the effects of the strong dollar abroad.

“Walmart is facing an almost perfect storm when it comes to top-line growth,” O’Shea wrote. “Until the health of the lower-to-middle-income consumer improves, Walmart will continue to face macroeconomic headwinds in the US.”

Walmart said last month that it’s expecting virtually no sales growth in the coming fiscal year.

More at the link.

Walmart is a very important bellwether.  A couple of years ago Daily Finance opined, “As the fortunes of many Americans go, so goes Walmart, so goes the economy.”  Its core customers aren’t just ‘poor whites’ – they range from lower to upper class, poor to rich, from East to West and North to South.  If Walmart’s in trouble, it’s an indicator of serious economic concerns across the country . . . and those concerns are being laid at the door of the ‘establishment’ (on both the left and right of US politics) that has allowed them to persist for far too long.

There are now far too few ‘haves’ and far too many ‘have-nots’ in US society.  The latter are Donald Trump’s core constituency, irrespective of race, creed, color or other ‘traditional’ social identifiers.  The establishment has so far failed miserably to address that reality.



  1. Those overeducated fools at NR are pretty damn clueless. They just keep trying harder and harder to elect Trump.

  2. The citizen must not be so narrowly circumscribed in his activities that, if he thinks differently from those in power, his only choice is either to perish or to destroy the machinery of state.

    Mises, Ludwig von (2010-12-10). Liberalism (p. 59)

  3. As near as I can tell, Trump supporters are convinced (based on years of hard evidence) that no establishment politician will ever make any changes that benefit the middle class. Republicans crush Democrats in the last vote, and yet none of the policies changed. You can only draw one conclusion: Republicans must be in favor of the same policies.

    That leaves you with the Establishment or Trump. Oh sure Sanders isn't an establishment guy, but his policies are obviously not gear to helping the middle class or growing the economy, so he's really not even in contention. Trump supporters are looking at a choice of more of the same, or, probably more of the same, but we get to spit in your eye. Well, you take what you can get.

  4. Very good point made on Wal-Mart shoppers. When the bargain hunters are hurting, you know the economy is in the tank.

    The Trump rally protesters (I think) are helping Trump, not hurting him. Hearing the media and opponents tell the viewer that Trump is causing people to go to HIS rally and cause chaos is silly. I think they are attempting to scare Trump into giving up.

  5. Hey Peter;

    I am not a Trump supporter, I like Cruz…Now that I have that out of the way. If Trump gets the GOP nod, I will vote for him. The point I am making is that the Trump is the making of the establishment, when the GOP base again and again votes the GOP into power to stop the policies of Obama, then the GOP rolls over to let Obama scratch their belly, it pisses off the base. When the good paying jobs are leaving the States due to cheaper cost elsewhere, people get pissy. When they see everybody else having an advocacy group in D.C. but them, where nobody else is speaking up for the "regular guy", they get pissy. When unchecked immigration swarms the school systems of the area, the Elitist live in bubble areas where they are shielded from the effects of their unchecked immigration, but the regular guy has to deal with the crimes committed against the "regular guys" by the same illegals, they get angry. Trump is riding a perfect storm of anger and resentment. The regular guys for the past 50 years have been told that they don't matter,they just need to accept what happens to them in the name of social justice for "Past sins", they get real pissy. This in a nutshell is the Trump phenomenon.

  6. Your concerns and the political climate today reminded me of this post I saw a few weeks ago on the political establishment:
    What the Trump campaign reveals is that, to populists and Republicans, the political establishment and its media arm are looked upon the way the commons and peasantry of 1789 looked upon the ancien regime and the king’s courtiers at Versailles.

    A guillotine is an amazingly simple machine too. Gallows are more American and even simpler.

    The trick, once you start building them, is to stop before you get to the Reign of Terror stage.
    Credit to:

    If the establishment DOES find a way to shut out Trump, similar to the way that European politicians are trying to shut down their far right parties, that anger and energy will erupt elsewhere – and almost certainly in a much messier, painful, and deadly way.

  7. People feel lied too. And Trump is tapping into that anger. Do is Bernie Sanders.

    The big 3:

    Lies on how well the economy is doing, as you covered at shadow stats. From the real inflation rate on food (go ethanol) to the unemployment rate (ignore food stamps and the labor force participation rate).

    Ignoring the impact of immigration.

    The feeling the 1% / Wall Street Are being favored.

    Scary times. I favor Cruz, but if things continue the way they are it will be Hillary vs trump. And that is a choice I would be unhappy with.

    Another anon

  8. The people who get the press and your attention are the extremists, people who are far from the norm. They can be entertaining, but their antics have little to do with how the economy is doing. The power structure in this country is not going to change no matter who gets elected. If we want things to improve we are going to have to start from the ground up. Somehow the Amish manage to keep prospering. (Prosperous Amish? Is that a contradiction?)

  9. For any worker class to not to depend on welfare there have to be jobs first.

    It is not the fault of the worker that it is so expensive to do the work inland if they have to compete with virtual slave work.
    And for the salary of only one of the better paid CEO's (without boni) they could employ 1000 or more workers.
    Well, then go to the minimum wage jobs by McD or Starbucks or where ever.
    Become a ground keeper.
    Whatever. There are enough… oh right, there are 11 million people doing this jobs for below minimum wage… .

    So the workers become bitter? Angry? That surprises you?

    Tax the slave work of the third world countries.

  10. There are now far too few 'haves' and far too many 'have-nots' in US society.

    So, you take the people who are struggling to make an honest living & paying taxes (makers), cross that with the growing number of people on welfare (takers), and you end up with people giving up in frustration because it doesn't pay to make an honest living.

    As much as the experts grumble about the rising number of "takers," notice that the experts are lacking in ideas (& willingness) to reverse the tide. Those communities discussed in both articles clearly illustrate how the absence of self-sufficiency corrodes a person's sense of self-worth. Reversing the tide isn't easy, but it can be done.

  11. freddie_mac

    I point out again, the people can't get a job and become makers if there are no jobs.

    There are essentially 2 kinds of jobs. Unqualified, that everyone can do, and that are overrun by people who cost less, and qualified where a rather small part of the unemployed population can do it.
    If the qualified jobs of a type disappear (because the CEO had the brilliant idea to produce in China or India and save 75% of the per unit costs) then the people that had these jobs now can try to compete for unqualified jobs, try to get qualified in another job (and guess what, these new jobs disappear quite often too) or give up.
    Giving up is the way to go especially if you get much more from the state to do nothing than for 40h/week honest work.

    To get this trend turned around you have to do 2 things.
    1. Make the absolute maximum one gets from welfare around the lower limit what a honest worker earns (that means enough for food, home, heat, clothing. Children will be outfitted and fed directly by the welfare organization to prevent selling the extra income for booze and drugs).
    2. Make it advantageous for the people who actually own the company to provide jobs at home compared to exporting them to china.

    Then you get new jobs available and people don't try to shirk work that much.
    Essentially the basic principles of booth parties (out of control welfare for the dems and unfettered capitalism for the reps) have to be sacrificed.

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