Monday, May 22, 2017

Arlie Hochschild on Race as "Elephant in the Room" of Trump's America: "Racial Resentment Lies at the Very Heart" of the Story of Trump Voters



For the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday, David Talbot interviewed Arlie Hochschild, author of the acclaimed book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. Hochschild's book is an account of her attempt, as a liberal social scientist from Berkeley, to sojourn among and understand people in south Louisiana's bayou country who appear consistently to vote against their own economic self-interest, as they vote Republican election after election. 


Many commentators are making much of the supposed "cultural anxiety" of the kind of white working-class voters Hochschild studies, of their sense that they are overlooked by the rest of America, and especially by its coastal elites, and of the role that rage at being "overlooked" plays in their politics. And so Hochschild's book is being celebrated not only by liberal-leaning commentators, but by conservative-inclining ones, too, by scholars and journalists who want to latch onto the notion that there are justifiable grievances among white working-class voters that explain why these voters (or so it's said: working-class citizens actually voted in higher numbers for Hillary Clinton than for Trump in the last election) keep voting against their own self-interest.

Here's a passage in Talbot's interview with Hochschild that leaps out at me:

Race is "the elephant in the room" in Trump's America, Hochschild told me. "It was so palpable all the time in my conversations for the book. They're very defensive about it. They say, 'I know you think we’re all racist down here.'" And yet there's no denying that racial resentment lies at the heart of their deep story. "It's all about others cutting in line in front of them," Hochschild said.

The people on whom Hochschild's book is based are largely Catholic people. South Louisiana is a heavily Catholic region of the country. I ended my last posting on this blog with the following statements:

The refusal of many Americans — including, notably, white Catholics outside the South — to admit these historic factors and talk about them, has brought us the presidency of Donald Trump. With a solid majority of white Catholics — the figure has been placed at anywhere from 57-60% — voting for Donald Trump. . .  

"These historic factors": as the paragraphs preceding this conclusion state, when the U.S. Catholic bishops made an alliance with right-wing white evangelicals in the final decades of the 20th century, they built racism — white Catholic racism — right into the religious right movement as a complement to the racism driving Southern white evangelicals into the Republican fold. But leading American Catholic intellectuals, the bishops themselves, and the media in general refuse to talk about any of this, though race is, as Arlie Hochschild says, the elephant in the room in Trump's America, and racial resentment lies at the very heart of the story of voters like the white Catholics she interviewed in south Louisiana.

The extent to which many white Catholics do not wish to entertain any open discussion of these matters is evident when white Catholic trolls light on various blog sites to try to lob bombs into conversations about the links between white Catholic racism, white Catholic voting patterns, and white Catholic support of Donald Trump. The efforts of trolls to defuse conversation about these issues and to try to deny the legitimacy of observations like Hochschild's — based on time spent among white Catholic people in south Louisiana — serve only to underscore what a serious problem the U.S. Catholic church has on its hands regarding these matters, due to the abysmal moral and pastoral leadership of its bishops for some decades now.

(Thanks to Jim McCrea for emailing Talbott's article to his circle of friends.)

The photo of Hochschild's book is from the New Press website.

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