Author: David Masciotra/Salon
For all of his buffoonery about “telling it like it is,” Donald Trump is the most politically correct and cowardly candidate in the presidential race. If he actually had the strength to articulate uncomfortable and inconvenient truths, he would turn his favorite word—“loser”—not on full-time professionals in the press, but on his supporters.
The New York Times recently ran a report on “Trump geography,” seeking to solve one of the most bizarre mysteries of modern political history: Why do people support Donald Trump, and who are these people?
Journalists found that in the counties where Trump is most dominant, there are large numbers of white high school dropouts, and unemployed people no longer looking for work. An alliance with the incoherent personality cult of Donald Trump’s candidacy correlates strongly with failure to obtain a high school diploma, and withdrawal from the labor force. The counties also have a consistent history of voting for segregationists, and have an above average percentage of its residents living in mobile homes. Many conservatives, and even some kindhearted liberals, might object to the conclusions one can draw from the data as stereotyping, but the empirical evidence leaves little choice. Donald Trump’s supporters confirm the stereotype against them. The candidate himself even acknowledged the veracity of the caricature of his “movement” when he made the odd and condescending claim, “I love the poorly educated.” His affection for illiteracy and ignorance did not extend to himself or any of his children, all of whom have degrees from some of the best universities in the world.
The low-educated, low-income counties of Trump’s America also receive large sums of public assistance. Social Security fraud—seeking disability payments for minor injuries or conditions—is so rampant that attorneys have created a cottage industry out of offering to secure services for clients willing to pay a one-time fee for longtime subsidy.
Much discussion and analysis followed the revelation that for the first time in decades the life expectancy for middle-aged white men is declining. Another study shows that Trump easily wins the counties and cities where this reversal of the national trend—rising life expectancy—is happening. Scrutiny shows that much of the failure to take advantage of advancement in medical technology and healthcare availability results from working-class white men’s high rates of alcoholism, obesity and tobacco use.
Widespread poverty throughout the heartland and Southern United States is a lamentable social problem, but even in the best economic conditions, and under the friendliest government policies, the career options for high school dropouts will forever remain few and poor. Rather than accepting some “personal responsibility”—a favorite conservative concept—for their low standard of living and destructive lifestyle, the wrongly romanticized white working class is flocking to a candidate who allows them to blame other people for their problems. Their poor health is not the result of a pack a day habit and fatty diet, just as their financial misery has nothing to do with their rejection of education. It is all because of those damn Mexicans coming up from the border, the Chinese villains overseas, or the Muslim immigrant illegally occupying the Oval Office.
Never mind that illegal immigrants comprise a mere 3.5 percent of the population, and that most of them are concentrated in six states, a “big, beautiful wall” will cure all the ills of a high school dropout no longer applying for jobs.
Kevin Williamson of the National Review recently wrote an essay identifying some of the personal problems of Trump supporters, and members of the right-wing media immediately slipped into fits. Once they finished wiping the foam from their mouths, they condemned Williamson for his “snobbery” and “elitism,” but as Williamson suggested in a follow-up article, his critics never explained how any of his information or argumentation was flawed.
Donald Trump’s celebration of the “poorly educated,” conservative commentators’ indignation at Williamson, and even the mainstream media’s continued characterization of Trump’s supporters as victims of “failed government policy” or “cracks in the economy” expose the Republican Party and powerful parts of the press as facilitators and enablers of America’s worst historical sin: racism.
The inconsistency and hypocrisy evident in the right-wing portrayal of poverty, and even in the softer version of the mainstream media’s differing depiction of poor people, is overwhelming. The black, urban poor are lazy parasites who need to get it together, study longer and work harder, but the unemployed and uneducated white people empowering Trump’s vulgarity and bigotry are helpless victims of large economic conspiracies.
Personal responsibility, it would appear, is only applicable to the lives of black people.
Trump supporters on public aid believe that they are the exceptions to their anti-government ideology, and Trump allows them to wallow in self-pity and racism. In Illinois, xenophobia and stupidity joined forces to actually hurt the Republican front-runner. Voting for a primary presidential candidate in Illinois requires voters to select delegates, rather than vote directly for the politician. Each delegate has his or her corresponding candidate’s name in parentheses, but even so, many Trump supporters refused to vote for Trump delegates with the names, Nabi Fakroddin and Raja Sadiq.
The imbecility of Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” provokes the question, “Make America great again for whom?”
At no point in American history was there a greater amount of liberty and opportunity for blacks, women, gays and Latinos. Together those groups form a gigantic swath of the population, but apparently, they are not included in the calculus of Trump and his supporters.
Trump himself recently spoke out of both sides of his mouth when he said that a young black gentleman at the Chicago fiasco, who was better dressed and better groomed than the Trump supporters at the rally, was a “bum” who should “get a job.” Trump’s entire campaign is predicated on the phony populism of American recovery from third-world status. His out-of-work white constituency is in desperate need of his artistic deal making, but the black protestor is just lazy.
While it is far from perfect, the truth is that the American economy is doing rather well. Unemployment has dropped in half since the black Muslim became president, the housing market has begun to come back, gas prices are significantly lower, GDP rates are decent, and the United States has experienced 72 consecutive months of private sector job growth.
The failure of the recovery to penetrate the lives of high school dropouts who have stopped filling out job applications is not evidence that the “American dream is dead” or that “America is going to hell,” as Trump often puts it with characteristically inspirational rhetoric.
He is able to make his gullible supporters believe him, however, and that is all that really matters to his campaign. Never in the history of American politics has a candidate been so far apart from his constituency. Donald Trump is an Ivy League-educated, billionaire real estate developer living in Manhattan with his supermodel wife. His lifestyle is a distant fantasy to his voters, and it seems unlikely that, in any other context, Trump would ever share a room with any of them. He is running a con.
“I love the poorly educated” makes sense, because the ability to see through the sophisticated bullshit of confidence men is one benefit, among many, of a good education.
David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky). He has also written for Salon, the Atlantic and the Los Angeles Review of Books. For more information visit www.davidmasciotra.com.