A brand new book helps me for the first time begin to actually understand what the great political divide between the two available party candidates is really all about. The surprisingly optimistic California sociologist Arlie Hochschild has written a thoughtful book called, “Strangers In Their Own Land.”
It is a summary of Arlie’s five recent years spent personally interviewing people who constitute the majority of Donald Trump’s constituency. Arlie is a relatively liberal person who has the innate sensitivity and the trained ability to listen to the extreme right without condescending. She is an empathetic listener. And she shows us how their fears have arisen, and why they so often demand their simplistic answer to our social and political problems: “Kill Government.”
The people she interviewed have often been Tea Party members. They were Red Staters for the most part. Poor, usually not college educated. But well educated in what it means to be poor in America. Citing statistical studies, census data, for instance, she describes the economic and social characteristics of the Red States compared to their beliefs. And that tells us who and why they are bolting against The Establishment.
She points out that, “red states are poorer and have more teen mothers, more divorce, worse health, more obesity, more trauma-related deaths, more low-birth-rate-babies, and lower school enrollment.”
Statistically, they die five years earlier than people in blue states!
Statistically, their states are the most polluted by industry in the country. They are at the bottom of the list in ability to read and write and do math. Only 7 percent have graduate or professional degrees.
The above are generalities, but they are generalities based upon documented statistics.They are commonly based on data from the state of Louisiana, Georgia, and other southern states. Because these are predominently the red states.
They are for the most part die-hard, convinced evangelical Christians, firmly against abortion rights in order to honor the God they believe in.
Arlie points out on another issue, that in Louisiana, for instance, “gun vendors have no need to keep records, perform no background checks, and sell guns to an array of customers forbidden in other states, those with violent and firearms-related misdemeanors, people on terror watch lists or ‘no fly’ lists, abusers of drugs or alcohol, juvenile offenders, and criminals with a history of serious mental illness or domestic violence.”
Arlie points out that they often hold opinions that are simultaneously in direct intellectual opposition to one another, or to established facts that should attract their support. For example; she bases much, if not most, of her attention on environmental issues because, statistically, red states have the worst air and water and ground pollution of the entire country, but their citizens commonly oppose any environmental regulation.
She documents that the very companies creating most pollution have claimed to have provided the most jobs to these people. And that whenever government has regulated them, the industrial firms have launched campaigns telling these people that regulation kills their jobs.
Arlie documents that that claim is not statistically valid.
She points out that well conceived environmental regulations in blue states have actually increased jobs! Jobs in environmental companies! The industrial companies simply have not been able to teach the opposite viewpoint to the citizens of the blues states because blue state citizens, generally being better educated, see through the industrial campaigns’ invalid claims.
If Arlie’s documentation sounds questionable, you too may have heard the industrial polluters’ campaigns too many times to have cut to the bottom of their unsubstantiated claims.
To Arlie’s credit, she never belittles people who for years have lived at the bottom of the educational and economic barrel in America. She sees why they cling to someone like Donald Trump who promises them a glorious release from all their troubles by killing the enemy: Government.
I personally am not excited about either of our candidates. But, if you want to better understand why our country is so divided into their two diverging camps, Arlie’s book will enlighten you with its observations. Arlie makes no wild claims here. Just offers a sensitive sociologist’s careful investigation, documentation, and humane interpretation of some of those ornery things known as facts.
“Strangers In Their Own Land. Anger and Mourning on the American Right, A Journey to the Heart of Our Political Divide.” By Arlie Russell Hochschild.