Back in the 1980s, when political correctness on campus first reared its ugly head, Morton Kondracke memorably wrote in the New Republic that the ideological battles at Dartmouth were like the dark days of the Weimar Republic, with bands of socialists and fascists fighting in the halls.
Well, the primary challenger on the Democratic side is a socialist. As for the Republicans, Donald Trump is not a fascist, but an actor who finds the suits Benito Mussolini used to wear quite desirable. Is our country so screwed up that we need the man on the white horse, the strongman who will make America great again through sheer force of will?
I hope not. But we shouldn’t dismiss the concerns that have led far too many people to vote for Trump. Instead, we need a sober look at the reasons why far too many voters think Donald Trump will make our country better. Charles Murray provides such an analysis in the Wall Street Journal.
Murray continues his analysis of themes he originally explored in Coming Apart (which I reviewed for the Pope Center). When Alexis de Tocqueville examined America in the 1830s, he said that the rich and the poor tried to live in the same egalitarian country and “the more opulent citizens take great care not to stand aloof from the people.”
But now the one-percenters have seceded from the rest of America. The havens of the upper crust—Brookline, the Upper East Side, Philadelphia’s Main Line—are far wealthier than they used to be. Measured in constant dollars, the average per capita income in these places has doubled since 1960. The residents of these areas, who attend the same elitist Ivy League schools, where they met and married each other, “have a distinctive culture in the food they eat, the way they take care of their health, their child-rearing practices, the vacations they take, the books they read, the websites they visit, and their taste in beer.”
Most importantly, the residents of these places have a sneering disdain for the rest of America. “Try using ‘redneck’ in a conversation with your highly educated friends and see if it triggers any of the nervousness that accompanies other ethnic slurs,” Murray writes. “Refer to ‘flyover country’ and consider the implications when no one asks, ‘What does that mean?’”
He notes that the plebeians are well aware of what the aristos think of them and are “understandably irritated” by them. “American egalitarianism,” Murray writes, “is on its last legs.”
While the rich have gotten richer and more isolated, the middle and lower classes have gotten poorer. Between 1968 and 2015, the percentage of white working-class men in their 30s and 40s who were in the labor force fell from 96 percent in 1968 to 79 percent in 2015, and the percentage of men in this age group who were married fell from 86 percent to 52 percent. (The numbers of African-American and Latino men in this age group who didn’t have jobs also fell in this period, but the drop is “not as steep and not as continuous.”)
Some of these men are self-employed, but others are scraping by in the gig economy and still others are sponging. This gives them plenty of time to be angry—and think that someone like Donald Trump would save them.
Many of these men would have had factory jobs in earlier generations, but as factories have closed and the jobs have moved overseas, they haven’t been replaced. It may well be that the result are lower prices for everyone, but that still leaves the question about what should be done.
“For someone living in a town where the big company has shut the factory and moved the jobs to China, or for a roofer who has watched a contractor hire illegal immigrants because they are cheaper, anger and frustration are rational,” Murray says.
What should donors do? The first rule should be for donors on the coasts to quit making fun of people in the heartland. Bloomberg columnist Clive Crook tells the story of how he decided to move from Washington, D.C. to West Virginia and build a home there.
“Many friends in Washington asked why we would ever do that. Jokes about guns, banjo music, in-breeding, people without teeth and so forth often followed,” says Crook. These friends, he said, are sensitive enough that they would question the use of “illegal immigrant.” “But they feel the white working class has it coming.”
West Virginia is a beautiful state, and all of the states of our country have their strengths. We shouldn’t make fun of people for where they live—and then wonder where Donald Trump’s supporters come from.
Another thing donors should do is try to do their part to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US. The leftist response to this is funding “green jobs” at places like Solyndra. But those jobs don’t last in an era of cheap oil. (And if you want to hear a manufacturer complain about the “China price,” talk to someone in the solar power industry.)
I wish I could give better advice than I think the monies foundations give to entrepreneurs should be program-related investments rather than grants, and probably should be loans at low interest, but surely every foundation can do their part to help new businesses get off the ground.
Perhaps Donald Trump is the candidate we deserve this election year. But nonprofits can do more to make sure that the social problems that lead to Trump and Trumpism can subside.