Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Trumpism as the Angst of Working Class Whites

This curious phenomenon has been noted widely. Sumner has noted it, Krugman has noted it, etc. But I think Josh Marshall bottomlines what might be going on as well as anyone.

He argues that this study is the most important in years in terms of understanding American politics, and I think he's right.

"I don't say this lightly or often. But this is one of the most important studies in years in terms of understanding the current state of American politics and society. The study is the work of two Princeton University scholars, Ann Case and Angus Deaton, who analyzed vast quantities of federal government data about mortality rates across age cohorts, racial and ethnic groups and genders. They made a startling discovery. As you would expect, every age and ethnic/racial grouping has continued to see a steady reduction of morbidity (disease) and increase in lifespans for decades. But there's one major exception: middle aged (45-54) white people. Since roughly 1998, disease and death rates for middle aged white men and women has begun to rise."

These folks aren't getting sick, they are suicidal!

"To put these numbers in context, this reversal is contrary to the trend in France, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and Sweden. Indeed, it goes against the trend in every wealthy, industrialized democracy we know of. The aforementioned list is simply the other countries used as reference cases in the study. Within the US, this reversal is unique among racial and ethnic groups. Hispanics, African Americans, Asians. Historically, health outcomes and lifespans in the US have been heavily race and wealth dependent. So when it comes to lifespans and various disease statistics, African-Americans start off in a worse position. But they share the trend toward improving numbers which is the norm across groups in the US and wealthy countries abroad. Middle aged white people - men and women - are alone in reversing this trend and going backwards. Nor is the trend undifferentiated within this group. It is a most severe among middle-aged whites with the lowest education levels."

"Now, there are many possible explanations for why this is happening - we'll get to those in a moment. But we might assume that a middle aged population group, under some mix of economic and societal stress, would be hit by the classic diseases of life stress: heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc. But that's not it. These people are quite simply killing themselves - either directly or indirectly. According to Case and Deaton's study, the reversal in the overall mortality trend is driven by three causes: drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide and chronic liver disease. In other words, either literal suicide or the slow motion suicide of chronic substance abuse."

We've heard a lot lately about substance abuse and addiction. Hillary who has an antenna to issues that are of importance to certain constituent groups has discussed it-she's even referenced the rise in white mortality.

Chris Christie made a bit of a name for himself in his rap about addiction in NH-though his hometown NJ papers have pointed out he has actually cut spending on addiction in NJ.

So what is going on? Marshall argues persuasively that what's happening with working class whites is twofold.

1. The wages of working class or struggling folks has been flat in recent years. Wage stagnation is the issue of our time, to be sure-Hillary has very good ideas for that regarding what you can call that Uber economy, etc.

2. But why is the rise in morality being felt just with struggling whites rather than struggling blacks or Latinos? Marshall argues the difference is that what you might call white privilege is on the wane.

"I put this forward as no more than an educated hypothesis. But the most logical culprit is the social transformation that people across the ideological spectrum agree on but talk about in dramatically different ways. The relative decline of American whites (or as social scientists refer to them, "non-Hispanic whites") versus other ethnic and racial groups - principally African-Americans and Hispanics."

"It is always important to understand what 'relative decline' means. It doesn't mean that that group in 'relative decline' is falling. It simply means that others are rising. And while we can quibble over how rapid the rise is, how we measure it and whether it's happening fast enough, there's little question that non-whites are rising in affluence, cultural influence, political power and on almost every other front. The simple fact, something we are all supposed to be happy about (and I hope we are) is that while being white still has numerous built-in and ingrained advantages, it is not as big an advantage as it once was. And there is every reason to think the advantage will continue to decline, as indeed the percentage of whites in the population continues to decline."

So it's not just that working class white wages are stagnating but that they are also falling relative to blacks. Latinos, Asians, etc.

As the economists tell us a lot of what bothers folks is not just your absolute but relative position. The relative place of whites has fallen-not their absolute place.

Now for white folks who are highly educated and successful this is not much of a worry. But for those who are struggling they no longer have white privilege to fall back on so much, as the social dominance of whites is declining.

And these are the Trump voters, the GOP base voters. Why are they so angry? Why do they seem a little angrier every election, every year, every day? They feel they are losing their country.

The GOP made this Faustian bargain starting with Goldwater where the party of Lincoln got behind someone who supported the continuance of segregation for President.

What yon see is that for the GOP base, they are simply apocalyptic. This is why.

You might see it this way-they see their loss of ground and blame not what is causing wages to stagnate but the minority groups who are getting closer to them in socioeconomics status.

The GOP has deliberately exploited this for years. We are seeing now what the endgame for this is.

I do believe that these angry white voters, many of them, will be leaving the GOP soon. I think 2016 is going to be a kind of full circle from 1964. The two years are often compared but I think there's a profound difference.

Goldwater is remembered as losing but this is false. The man may have lost but Goldwaterism won. This is similar to McGovern in 1972. But McGovernism didn't die, the landslide loss was actually its harsh birth pangs.

McGovernism was the new Dem coalition of blacks, women, educated whites, young people, etc. Previosuly the Dems had been the party of working class whites.

But I think 2016 will be when Godlwaterism hits its nadir. The GOP party is going to have a much harder time building a national coalition in the future


  1. Mike, great post. The idea that relative comparisons with others (blacks, Latinos, etc) is a great point. I'm reminded of this meme.

  2. TK Tom. As I read it, if you're white but successful and reasonably happy where you are in life this is not an issue for you.

    But if you are one of the many who are struggling it's easy to blame them. To be robbed of at least the comparison of others doing worse from other races or ethnicities