Why Do Trump Supporters Support Trump?
Look, writing a book about Trump-era populism without a lens of racial awareness must be hard. Here’s how Lind describes political correctness, for instance: “the artificial dialect devised by leftist activists and spread by university and corporate bureaucrats that serves as a class marker distinguishing the college-educated from the vulgar majority below them.” In this framing, all the new awarenesses and sensitivities and humilities — for which I am profoundly thankful, since these days I’m much less often asked where I’m really from or told my English is impressive (thanks, they teach us well in Ohio!) — are just a ploy by leftists to hold white working-class people down. This understanding portrays the victims as the white working class, and the oppressors as those students who no longer wish to be called “faggots” and secretaries tired of being “sweetie.” I, for one, am grateful for all the thinking and doing that have changed how Americans navigate one another’s identities, and I do not have the luxury of dismissing the improvement in the dignity I am accorded daily as an “artificial dialect.”
Now, if you are going to present Trump as the receptacle of the cries of the unheard, you will need to funhouse-mirror him beyond recognition. Lind is on it. He takes the quintessential racist moment of Trump’s presidency — his famous comments on Charlottesville — and defends them: “Phrases from his remarks were taken out of context, recombined and misconstrued so they could fit into the Trump-is-Hitler narrative.” He also dismisses concerns about Russia’s role in the 2016 election as “mythological thinking.” “Liberal democracy in the West today is not endangered by Russian machinations or resurgent fascism,” Lind writes, describing a world I would love to live in. In fact, get this: Lind believes the “paranoid demonological thinking” represented by worries about Russia and fascism “has the potential to be a greater danger to liberal democracy in the West than any particular populist movements.”
So dismissive is Lind of the idea that Trumpism has fascist echoes that he refers to such claims as a Brown Scare, a reference to Hitler’s Brownshirts. I’m no stranger to a Brown Scare, but, in my definition, it’s just me being brown and scared of my country losing its liberties, stature and mind.
Somewhere in here is the kernel of a good book: Lind’s original focus was oligarchy, and there is a way to end it, he says. “To supplement conventional electoral politics, reformers will need to rebuild old institutions or build new ones that can integrate working-class citizens of all origins into decision-making in government, the economy and the culture, so that everyone can be an insider.”
Still, what is missing from the book, and might have saved it, is actual human beings. I sometimes ask my nearly 5-year-old how he knows something, and he often says, like the man he’s learning to be, “I just know it in my brain.” This is a book written from the brain more than from the collision with the complexities of experience. It is a book that would have benefited from getting out there, interviewing people, testing theories against reality, heading down to the border, unearthing documents showing how companies think about the issues in question.
“The New Class War” lacks the texture and earth and seduction of real portraiture. Lind derides the “overclass” but doesn’t break any ground in depicting it. When he somewhat outdatedly says the tech industry makes “software” or elite city dwellers employ services like “Fingernail Former,” we get the sense of a man who has read more about the world than actually encountered it. When he says, “The rootedness of most working-class Americans and Europeans in their hometowns and regions is often lamented by the intellectuals of the managerial overclass: Why don’t the lazy losers in heartland communities show some initiative and move to the Bay Area to invent an app, or relocate to London to work in finance?” I realized that Lind was reporting from the inside of his own mind.
“The New Class War” is a reminder that, even in the Trump era — especially in the Trump era — it is curiosity rather than certainty that must propel us. What can be so exciting about books is watching authors end up far from where they began, carried forth by not knowing, wanting to know, then slowly knowing more, realizing what is still not known, plowing on, thinking, rethinking, going on a meandering intellectual journey that justifies you later going on a fractal of that journey with them.