24 October 2016

The Cheated

The New York Review of Books' election issue arrived in my mailbox this weekend. It includes thirteen short essays from frequent contributors, all predictably horrified by Donald Trump and whatever he represents. The only dissonant note sounded comes from David Bromwich, a Yale professor, who departs from the consensus by being almost equally horrified by Hillary Clinton. He definitely has no love for Trump, who "panders to wishful ignorance" and whose "vagueness, bloat and feckless reiteration of [his] promises ... go against the grain of a representative government based on checks and balances." But while few of the other contributors can find a bad word for Clinton, Bromwich notes that while "everyone admits that the Clinton Foundation has done good works....anyone with a nose can tell that it uneasily mixes philanthropy and aggrandizement." Long a critic of President Obama's foreign policy, Bromwich is appalled by Clinton's.

In brutal vulgarity of sentiment, her statement on the mutilation and murder of Muammar Qaddafi, 'We came, we saw, he died,' and the cackle that followed the proclamation are barely matched by Trump's saying of his failure to pay taxes: 'That makes me smart.'

Bromwich also goes against the liberal grain by identifying and criticizing Clinton and Democrats' perceived attitude toward the working-class whites who lean toward Trump. There's a debate in the media over how to address these people, some arguing reasonably that, regardless of Trump's faults, his campaign has empowered working-class whites to articulate concerns that liberals and progressives ought to take seriously and address compassionately, while others (here's an example) pretty much dismiss all white Trump supporters as haters jealous of their endangered status as the demographic majority of the country and resentful of the ascendancy of anyone other than white men. "Taking Trump supporters seriously means not pretending their concerns are about the economy," Dylan Matthews writes at Vox. He feels justified in saying that because polls and statistics reveal that Trump's fans are not the poorest whites, and because support for Trump correlates in some polls with critical attitudes toward nonwhites. Matthews' own attitude may be what Bromwich is groping toward when he describes Clintonian/Democratic contempt ("not a shred of feeling") for "people who played by the rules and haven't been crowned with success.

The exceptions [to that rule] are the needy and minorities; but that only reinforces the sense that Democrats treat with contempt those whom they cannot patronize. How many non-elite white voters can now be drawn by Trump to vote with their resentment of the selective compassion of liberals? Trump, of all people, with his trademark saying, 'You're fired,' has turned into the candidate of people who feel they have lost out but don't know why -- the people Nathaniel West called 'the cheated.'

I don't know whether West (a 1930s novelist best known for The Day of the Locust) thought his "cheated" actually had been cheated or merely felt that they had, but liberals today clearly believe that Trumpists only believe themselves cheated -- or believe the system "rigged," if you please -- because of "racial resentment." Perhaps they think that Trump's Trash have no business complaining if their once unfairly-large share of the pie has shrunk to a more appropriate size, but one might as readily argue that women and racial minorities are fools to celebrate their larger slices of a shrinking pie. But to listen to most Democrats, once Sen. Sanders was beaten in the primaries, the pie isn't shrinking at all, and only bigots think otherwise. If liberal Democrats' compassion appears selective, it's probably because many think that working-class whites disqualify themselves from compassion for thinking badly of blacks, immigrants or certain women. I've been here before this year but I may as well repeat myself: if Democrats did not spend so much time trying to change working-class white people's minds about nonwhites, and concentrated on improving their economic position while continuing to combat discrimination at the policy level, they might find those people's attitudes softening gradually toward both nonwhites and Democrats. You don't have to say they're right about blacks, immigrants, etc., but you do have to stop reminding them of how wrong they are about everything when you're supposed to be soliciting their votes. "Racial resentment" is inevitable when one group of people is told incessantly that they're the bad guys of history. Trump probably will get at least 40% of the vote simply by telling them they're not. Does that mean we have to tolerate their belief that other groups are the bad guys? I'd prefer "ignore" to "tolerate," just as I'd prefer a campaign that really looks toward the future to those concerned with settling scores from the past.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It tRump supporters are too exclusive, liberals, in general, have become far too inclusive. Neither position holds any useful wisdom.