A Divided US: Sociologist Arlie Hochschild on the 2016 Presidential Election
Wednesday, 02 November 2016
By Kristian Haug
Truthout | Interview
In her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
, Arlie Russell Hochschild scrutinizes a divided United States and focuses on the white lower-middle class's sense of belonging in their own country. In the book, we join her journey from Berkeley, California, to the southern state of Louisiana. The result is a prudent and compassionate story about many Americans who are managing life but not making progress.
Truthout invited Hochschild -- a professor emerita of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, who has authored nine books
, written a wide range of academic articles and received multiple honorary awards -- to talk about her experiences in Louisiana and the light they shed on widespread support for Donald Trump in the US.Kristian Haug: What motivated you to spend five years in the state of Louisiana?
Already in 2011, the handwriting was on the wall. Rhetoric on the left and right was heating up. Congress was at a standstill. A high proportion of Americans had accepted the rumor that Obama was neither an American nor a Christian. There were signs that the two sides were living in different worlds, in different truths. I realized many things that I've advocated all my life called for some good government -- paid family leave for new parents, for example -- and that in this climate, such a reform would never come to pass. So that's what set me off.
Then, as now ... the newspapers were filled with strong, often angry, disagreement. At the same time, the people we know personally agree with us. That's because most of us live in geographic, electronic and medial enclaves. So to talk to the other side, we have to get out of our enclave. So I set out to find a place in the United States that was as much the opposite from Berkeley, California, as I could find.Who are the "strangers in their own land"? And when did they become strangers?
They are members of mainly older white lower-middle class to blue-collar in the South; Republicans, very conservative, and very religious, many of them. Many are very fine people, by the way. One of the findings in the book is that one can relate human being to human being who can't and should not be dismissed, and with whom it is possible to find some common ground.
They felt like strangers in the sense that -- they were all members of the Tea Party, I should say -- they felt that mainstream America had left them and had gone by, didn't see them, didn't recognize who they were and neither political party spoke to their feelings and interests. In this sense, they felt like strangers in their own land.
I'll give you an example of that. One woman I spoke to said, "I'm really glad you've come to interview us, because we are the fly-over-state and people think of the South that we're ignorant, backward, that we have old-fashioned attitudes, that we're pro-family, pro-life and that many people think we're racist when we're not, and so they write us off, they call us rednecks, so thanks for coming to see who we really are."You've stated that the persons you meet have every right to blame the system. Why do they not do so?
The system we're talking about is the state government of Louisiana, the poorest state in the nation, with poor schools, hospitals and little regulation of polluting industry. But the reason they did not
say, "Hey, let's get some good government, we have problems, let's fix them," is that something else
felt yet more unfair. That's the secret revelation; the important point of this book, that what I thought looked unfair and unreasonable was not what they
felt was so. What I thought their interests were did not correspond to what they thought their interests were.
They felt marginalized. They were religious in a secularizing state. They were white in an increasingly Brown state. They were traditional in an increasingly liberal state. Most of all, they felt that the economic arrow that hit Black [people (and continues to do so)] is going to hit them -- especially blue-collar whites -- now, too. So it was a constellation of all of those factors -- demographic, cultural and economic -- that reached a certain tipping point, after which they felt: "This isn't even my country." It left them feeling very desperate about being recognized and having their issues acknowledged.Why do the people you meet and spend time with in Louisiana support Donald Trump?
Many came to Trump reluctantly. They name an objection, then come to a "but," after which they tell me why they support him. One woman said, "We are from the Tea Party. We're for very small government, but Trump wants to get 90,000 new American soldiers and boots on the ground. That's going to cost a lot of money. He wants to kick out all non-documented Mexicans. That's going to take a whole surveillance apparatus that's going to cost a lot of money, and I -- as a Tea Party member -- am for smaller government, so I don't like that about Trump, but there is no one else that speaks to the issues I care about." That was her "but."
Another said, "Trump seems mean and he's always criticizing and shaming people and makes fun of a disabled reporter. Our Lord Jesus tells us not to do that. I don't like that about Trump. But nobody else is speaking to my issues."
Another man said, "I live in a very polluted bayou. I'd like to get this bayou cleaned up." This is a guy I describe in the book, who lost his home by a sinkhole. He said, "And Trump plans to abolish that Environmental Protection Agency." I said to him, "How could you possibly be voting for Trump when you lost your home because of a poorly regulated drilling company? How can it be that you're voting for a guy who's getting rid of the main watchdog?" He answered, "But Hillary is not a possibility."
in full: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/3 ... l-election