Why would people support candidates who advocated policies that were detrimental to the interests of these voters?
Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley developed a particular interest in why people who had suffered so much from deregulation were working so hard for politicians who wanted more of it. The energy and plastics companies that employed many of them were turning southern Louisiana into a gigantic chemical dump. Hochschild spent time with a plumber who had emptied toxic waste into a river, only to suffer years of guilt and regret, and with fishermen who coped with pollution by studying which fish flushed out the chemicals quickly and might still be O.K. to eat. She met local environmentalists, village ideologues who holed up in remote cabins, measuring the quality of the water—but they were often Tea Party supporters, too. Leaving the cabin of two environmental activists, Hochschild noticed a bundle of lawn signs for the local Tea Party congressional candidate, awaiting distribution.
Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has published a book, “Strangers in their Own Land,” that tries to understand the emotional roots of the Tea Party movement and the Trump phenomenon. To do this, Hoschshild spent much of the past five years in rural parts of southern Louisiana, where the population is mostly white, poor, and, by national standards, badly educated. Hochschild noticed that Tea Party enthusiasts and traditional conservatives gave her accounts of American society that boiled down to a single “deep story.” This story was that America, which was once characterized by hard work, was now characterized by cheating; the image that Hochschild chose was that of people cutting in line. For Hochschild’s subjects, the line-cutters were African-Americans, promoted by affirmative action, she writes, but also “women, immigrants, refugees, public-sector workers—where will it end? Your money is running through a liberal sympathy sieve you don’t control or agree with.” President Obama, in this vision, was the man controlling the line, waving the line-cutters ahead—“their president, not your president.” Hochschild shared this analogy in e-mails to the plumbers and insurance brokers she had met. “I live your analogy,” one wrote back. “It’s my story,” another said. A third wrote, “You’ve read my mind.”
Read the New Yorker story to learn what Hochschild found.