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What Drives Trump Supporters?: Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild on Anger & Mourning of the Right

StorySeptember 28, 2016
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Guests
Arlie Russell Hochschild

author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. The book has been long-listed for the 2016 National Book Award. She is a professor emerita of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

In the wake of Monday night’s first presidential debate, the establishment Republican Party and conservative newspapers continue to distance themselves from Donald Trump amid increasing accusations of racism, sexism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. Today, former Virginia Republican Senator John Warner is reportedly slated to endorse Clinton. This comes as Arizona’s largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, has endorsed Hillary Clinton—marking the paper’s first time ever endorsing a Democratic candidate for president. The editorial board wrote, "Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. … This year is different." For more, we speak with famed sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. She has spent much of the past five years with some of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters, researching her new book, "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right."


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In the wake of Monday night’s first presidential debate, the establishment Republican Party and conservative newspapers continue to distance themselves from Donald Trump amid increasing accusations of racism, sexism, xenophobia and Islamophobia. Today, former Virginia Republican Senator John Warner is reportedly slated to endorse Hillary Clinton. This comes as Arizona’s largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, has also endorsed Clinton, making it the paper’s first time ever endorsing a Democrat for president. The editorial board wrote, quote, "Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. … This year is different," unquote.

AMY GOODMAN: But Donald Trump has not lost support from some of his key constituents among the far right, sometimes known as the alt-right. During the debate, Trump’s online far-right supporters reportedly bombarded online polls in which the same user could vote multiple times in order to create the illusion Trump had won the unofficial polls. Trump has embraced the alt-right throughout his campaign, including by naming Stephen Bannon to be his campaign chief. Bannon was previously the head of the right-wing website Breitbart Media, which Breitbart’s former editor-in-chief has described as "the alt-right go-to website," unquote.

Well, today we spend the rest of the hour with the famed sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. She spent much of the last five years with some of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters, researching her new book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. It has just been nominated for an American—for an American Book Award. Congratulations, Arlie.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about why you wrote this book. You’re a professor at University of California, Berkeley, a sociologist. What brought you to southern Louisiana?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Well, five years ago, I felt we were already moving far apart and the right was growing. And I was in an enclave, a geographic enclave, a media enclave, electronic enclave. We’re all in enclaves. And I figured, I want to get as far out of my enclave as I possibly could. I’m Berkeley, California, teach sociology. Where’s the opposite end? I thought, "OK, the right is growing in the South. So, South. It’s growing among whites. OK, whites. Older, evangelical. OK, older, evangelical—although not all were evangelical. And where’s the super South?" And I looked at 2012. How many whites voted for Obama? In California, it was half. In the South as a whole, as a whole region, it was a third. And in Louisiana, it was 16 percent. I thought, "Super South. OK, that’s where I want to go." So, as luck would have it, I had one contact there, and I took it from there. In the end, over five years, I interviewed 60 people. Forty were tea party enthusiasts. And what I really did was want to climb an empathy wall. I wanted to take my own political alarm system off and actually try and see how it felt to be them.

And actually, you know, I had an interesting experience with one of the first women I met. She was a gospel singer in a Pentecostal church, very friendly, outgoing. I met her at a Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana meeting. She was across the table. She said, "I love Rush Limbaugh." I thought to myself, "I should talk to her. I don’t know why. I’m interested. I’m curious." So, at sweet teas the next day, she said, "Oh, I love Rush Limbaugh because he hates feminazis." OK, took a little while. And I said, "Well, what is a feminazi? What?" And, "Well, it’s those feminists, you know, that are hard and tough and mean and ambitious." I thought, "Well, I don’t like hard, tough, mean people, either, you know?" thinking that. And then she said, "Has it been hard to hear what I’m saying?" I thought, "Well, she’s looking back at me." And I told her, "Actually, no, it’s not, because I have my alarm system off, and I’m trying to find out what life feels like to you, so..." And then she said, "You know, I do that sometimes." And then we had that actually in common. And then she explained, "You know what I really like about Rush Limbaugh? He seems to defend me against all the liberal media that think I’m a redneck, that I’m backward, that I’m Southern, that I’m uneducated, that I’m homophobic, racist, a sexist. And thanks for coming."

So, it was an amazing experience, and I met some very interesting, complex people that don’t fit the deplorable category, but are complex, each in their own, and that in many ways might have a lot of affinity with the left, if we could only cross that bridge.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, after all of those interviews in that time span, you decided on the title Strangers in Their Own Land. Why?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Yes. Well, here’s the thing. I decided on that title because, in the end, it described how a lot of them felt. I talk about a deep story, because, at the end of the day, I keep asking, "Why do you hate the government, you know, all the things the government does?" And they would say—there were many answers to that, but one was this. It was the deep story. What is a deep story? It’s a story that feels true to you. You take the facts out, you take judgment out. It’s as felt.

You’re on a—waiting in line for something you really want at the end: the American dream. You feel a sense of great deserving. You’ve worked very hard. A lot of these guys were plant workers, pipefitters in the petrochemical—you know, it’s tough work. So you’ve worked really hard. And the line isn’t moving. It’s like a pilgrimage up, up to the top. It’s not moving.

Then you see some people cut in line. Well, who were they? They are affirmative action women who would go for formerly all-men’s jobs, or affirmative action blacks who have been sponsored and now have access to formerly all-white jobs. It’s immigrants. It’s refugees. And from—as felt, the line’s moving back.

Then they see Barack Hussein Obama, who should impartially be monitoring the line, wave to the line cutters. And then you think, "Oh, he’s their president and not mine. And, in fact, he’s a line cutter. How did he get to Harvard? How did he get to Columbia? Where did he get the money? His mom was a single mom. Wait a minute."

And then they begin to feel like strangers in their own land. They feel like the government has become a giant marginalization machine. It’s not theirs. In fact, it’s putting them back. And then someone in front of the line turns around and says, "Oh, you redneck," you know. And that feels insult to injury. It’s just the tipping point at which they feel not only estranged—I mean, demographically they’re getting smaller. They feel like they’re religious in an increasingly secular culture. Their attitudes are denigrated, and so they’re culturally denigrated. And then the economy begins to shake. And then they feel, "I need another leader."

AMY GOODMAN: Arlie, talk about the man you met whose whole community was swallowed by a sink hole from a drilling disaster.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: There was a man, born actually on a plantation, son of a plumber, a fifth of seven, and he spent most of his adulthood working for the oil industry. Big tea party guy, doesn’t like government. It should be down to 5 percent of what it is, in his view. He loved fishing, loved hunting. He loved nature. And he lived in a place called Bayou Corne.

And what happened was there was a company, Texas Brine, that drilled a hole into the bottom of the bayou and disrupted an underlying salt dome. So, it was like pulling the plug on the bayou. The water went down, down, down, down. Hundred-year-old cypress trees went falling down and were sucked in. And then this methane gas-infused mud came up, started as a small, you know, house lot-sized thing. It’s now 37 acres of toxic mud.

This man, who told me, you know, government got in the way of community, he loved community. And now Texas Brine, this company, unregulated, insufficiently regulated, had caused the loss of his community and his tea party. So I ask him, "Gosh, you know, don’t you—don’t you want a good regulation? And why are you voting for Donald Trump, whose one clear plan is to abolish the Environmental Protection Agency? I don’t get it." And he said this about the government being a giant marginalization machine, but he said one thing else that I think we—

AMY GOODMAN: But didn’t he blame the company?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Well, I kept asking him, "What about Texas Brine? Aren’t you mad at them?" And he said, "Yes, I’m mad at them, but I’m more mad at the state." And there’s a reason for that, that I didn’t know and discovered.

What’s really happening in Louisiana, which I think may exaggerate what’s happening in a lot of states, is that the oil companies really dominate the state. The state is a servant to oil and petrochemical industry. And the state is saying, "Oh, please come and settle here in Louisiana, not Texas. We will give you $1.5 billion in 'incentive' pay, 'incentive' benefits." With that money, these companies make a donation to the Audubon Society and to a bird sanctuary, and so people think, "Oh, the company is so generous. And look what good things the company is doing, plus it’s offering us jobs," although not too many jobs. These are highly automated plants that import a lot of skilled labor. And so, the company looks good.

Meanwhile, the state is doing the bidding of the companies. It is not a regulated state, but there are regulators who are not doing their job. So, in a way, the state had become like the complaint clerk for the companies. It was doing the dirty work for the companies. It was saying, "Well, we’re—you know, you deserve to be regulated," but it doesn’t do it. So, the Mike Schaffs of Louisiana were saying, "Why am I paying taxes to a state that’s not doing its job?"

And so, a social logic links together with a personal one, because you’ve got people that, two decades, they haven’t had a raise, their wife is working, they’re working overtime, owe money to the bank. And they’re thinking, "How can I get that American dream, when I’m stalled? Let me get some tax money, since they’re not doing the job any"—that’s a second—it’s another reason he was down on the state.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Let me ask you, many of Donald Trump’s supporters have been referred to by Hillary Clinton in her now famous comments of "a basket of deplorables." What was your sense from interviewing lots of them? Do you agree with that statement? And do you think that’s had an impact even in the recent surge of support for Trump?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Actually, I do. I think that’s a good point. I actually have just come from Louisiana. I hosted a dinner for the people I’ve written about. And one woman came with a red jacket. She pulled the jacket out, and she had a red shirt that said "adorable deplorables." So they made a joke of it. And there’s now a caravan going around called Rosie, for Republican women, selling these shirts.

But what was the attitude toward race of the people that I came to know? Complex. They didn’t think they were racist. They were afraid I would, and avoided the topic, actually. So I had to wait 'til it emerged. And then I discovered that they thought of racism as instances where you hate blacks or where you use the N-word. And they didn't hate blacks, and they didn’t use the N-word, and so they didn’t feel like racists. They didn’t look at, you know, could you get an apartment in Trump Towers or, you know, government benefits after World War II, that kind of thing.

AMY GOODMAN: We have 15 seconds.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: OK. So, complex story. And they shouldn’t be given up on.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you shocked when Hillary Clinton used that term?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: I was. I said, "Hillary, come with me to Louisiana and get to know some people."

AMY GOODMAN: And their identification with Donald Trump, who calls himself a billionaire?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Yeah, well, they think they want to be one, too. They see him as a rescue, as a secular rapture. "Take me up out of this, so I’m no longer a stranger in my own land."

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to continue the conversation after and post it online at democracynow.org. Arlie Russell Hochschild is author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. The book has been listed for the 2016 National Book Award. She’s professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.

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Up Next

Arlie Russell Hochschild on "Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the America" Part 2

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