The Trump Phenomenon Cracked Open

October 14, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

The best social/cultural/political explanation that I have read of the continued support for Trump is at Cracked. Yes, Cracked. By David Wong.

Here’s the opening.

(Click for a larger view.)

It’s long for a blog post – two full screens – but worth reading.

[HT: Melanie Allen]


Hadrian said...

My reading of Wong's argument is that Trump's support is found largely in rural areas. However, he presents no data to support that claim. He does provide a map of Republican districts. I'm no expert in geography, but I gather we are to understand those are largely rural areas. However, the map would seem to be a poor indicator of Trump support.

First, lets have a quick look at a perspective of the rural/urban divide Wong examines. Abraham Lincoln was perhaps one of the first political figures to use the term "wage slavery." He was referring to urban workers who labored for others. He held that the only truly independent man worked for himself and produced everything he needed. Freedom was found in being a farmer.

“The Union victory in the Civil War put to rest the threat of free labour posed by the slave power, only to revive and intensify the threat posed by the wage system and industrial capitalism. Lincoln had led the North to war in the name of free labour and the small, independent producer, but the war itself accelerated the growth of capitalist enterprise and factory production." [1]

So, clearly, there is a rural/urban divide with decidedly different economies, dating back centuries. But does Trump draw his support form those rural areas?

The NY Times published "The Geography of Trumpism" in March and used specific demographic data. The analysis here is more specific and fine tuned than what could be garnered from looking at a map of Republican areas of the country. One observation they made using the data is that "the places where Trump has done well cut across many of the usual fault lines of American politics — North and South, liberal and conservative, rural and suburban." [2]

As I understand Wong, he looks to the divide between rural and urban areas without providing any demographic data to support his argument - and the census data used in the NY Times piece counters Wong's main claim.

Why aren't the maps Wong provides, showing Republican areas of the country, sufficient to make his case? To state the obvious, Trump is not a typical Republican. While it is true that Trump got more more votes in a Republican nominating contest than anyone on record, its also true that Trump also set a record for the most votes cast against the top vote-getter. There were simply more people voting.

The fact is that Trump won a lower percentage of votes among Republicans than anyone since Reagan in 1968. If the other candidates had not split the vote, Trump may very well have lost the nomination. The take away? The majority of Republican primary voters did not vote for Trump. The Republicans living in the red areas of the map presented by Wong largely voted against Trump.

The NY Times article says that one element common to a significant share of Trump supporters is that they have "largely missed the generation-long transition of the United States away from manufacturing and into a diverse, information-driven economy deeply intertwined with the rest of the world." Trump supporters are found in urban areas with closed factories.

The Times article also says, "The analysis shows that Trump counties are places where white identity mixes with long-simmering economic dysfunctions." This disfuction cuts around the rural and urban divide.

It would be fair to say that Wong is speaking of one of the factors involved in Trump's popularity and where that is. However, his argument lacks the data needed to support it.

It's important to note that I'm not an academic, a sociologist, a not a student either human geography or economics. I admit I may have a faulty understanding of Wong's claims and the conclusions of the Time's article. However, I hope the information here does advance the discussion. I found Wong's article interesting - just not convincing.


Hadrian said...

Sorry, my thoughts on this are not very concise of organized. If I may, another comment. Its interesting to note that the Idaho Statesman is endorsing Hillary Clinton for president. One of the reason for that is Clinton's understanding of rural issues.

"Two people with strong, urban New York ties wouldn’t seem to bode well for understanding the needs of rural America. But during Clinton’s days in Arkansas, she developed a sensitivity and empathy for small towns and those living agrarian lifestyles. She reinvented herself and, more importantly, educated herself about the issues rural economies and workers face, and in doing so she is better prepared to understand many issues at the heart of our state." [1]

Is that an understanding of Clinton shared by the voters in that state? We shall see.

Some quick research into the states Trump lost in the primaries found this list:
Iowa, Wisconsin, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, and Ohio. Did Trump lose the rural vote in those states? That requires data I have no access to at the moment, or the background to really understand. Again, hopefully this provides some information worthy of consideration.


Jay Livingston said...

The division is more cultural than geographic. It’s not strictly urban-rural, but that’s a fair approximation, especially if you trace these sentiments back in US history. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was also Anglo Protestant vs. Catholic. It’s the old sociological distinction between “cosmopolitan” and “local.” The Local mentality can survive even in cities and suburbs. (BTW, I think there’s research showing that the less that a person ranges from where they were born, the more likely they are to support Trump).

The motive of the Trumpistas is not policy, it’s identity. It doesn’t matter if Hillary’s policies would be better for them. She represents the kind of people they resent. Trump resents them too, so he’s their man. He also tells them that their nativism (what those liberals label as racism, xenophobia, sexism, etc.) is OK, not deplorable.

Are the Trumpistas a minority within the GOP. Maybe, but they were a plurality in the primaries. And even before this, they elected a lot of their people to Congress (the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus) and to state offices. (I haven’t looked at the results broken down, but I would imagine that those politicians are from non-urban districts.) Anyway,in terms of voters (not donors) they may still be the strongest element of the party after Trump loses.