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Trump’s True Base

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Interesting Jacobin essay on Trump’s real base of support:

What does it mean that Trump has done well among middle-income and higher-income voters but not the most-educated? This suggests that his real base of support is small-business owners, supervisory and middle-management employees, franchisees, landlords, real estate agents, propertied farmers, and so on: those who are not at the executive pinnacle of corporate America (who largely have MBAs and other similar degrees) and those who are not credentialed professionals (doctors, lawyers, and the like), but the much wider swath of those people whose livelihood is derived from independent business activity or middle-band positions in the corporate hierarchy.

This corresponds, of course, to the classic scenario in which the petty bourgeois — the middle class whose ownership of small parcels of property does not protect them from vulnerability in the business cycle and the need to exact self-exploitation — experience worry and insecurity following a financial crisis and economic slump, making them receptive to right-wing authoritarian solutions and scapegoating of ethnic-racial minorities.

The presumptive Republican nominee is running into flak from his party’s own leadership, particularly the powerful Chamber of Commerce faction represented by Mitt Romney and Congressman Paul Ryan which seeks to bring him to heel on trade and immigration. These tensions are likely to be papered over, perhaps by backroom assurances by Trump that it’s all for show, but they are reminiscent of the classic tensions between big and petty bourgeois — or, in American terminology, big and small business — in central European politics during the worldwide slump of the 1930s.

Although he resists releasing his tax returns, most likely because they might show his wealth to be less than claimed, Trump offers “art of the deal” business savvy as his answer to capitalism’s problems.

A malfunctioning bourgeois politics can be solved, this projects, by a billionaire megalomaniac who will suspend his class’s self-interest because he cannot be bought, a scenario particularly attractive to a small-business mentality that resents taxes, minimum wages, and “red tape” and seeks someone who knows “the real world.” Those who have run their own little domains are prone to seek answers in a strong leader.

The great shock of 2008 left a punctuation mark in popular psychology. A less-than-persuasive economic recovery and lower rates of unemployment have not altered a situation in which most of the population feels itself to be scraping by, still fears business failure or the scythe of unemployment, is uncertain about retirement, groans under student and consumer debt, and waxes pessimistic about their children’s prospects. The entire population apart from the super-rich top one percent has suffered flat or declining incomes across four decades.

Such conditions breed not only anxiety but resentment, explaining the appeal of Trump’s bellowing about Mexicans and Muslims. The significance of this development is not to be minimized. Not since the campaigns more than four decades ago of George Wallace, the Alabama segregationist, has such naked bigotry attracted such mass support in American presidential politics. Then it was a desperate, declining revanchism. Now its popularity is fresh and gaining.

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