I have dwelt in coastal Northern California for going on half a century, in Oakland since 1977, and worked in San Francisco for forty years prior to my retirement. The region (in terms, specifically, of my place within it) is in certain respects an enclave. Had I been born in Appalachia to parents less determined to secure an upward cultural mobility for their children, had I skipped college and mined coal, I might in retirement—assuming I’d been able to retire at this point in my life; assuming the mine hadn’t closed or that I hadn’t succumbed to a respiratory ailment by now—have a different and considerably more bitter take on the hand I’d been dealt.
But I’m a “coastal elite,” as my West Virginia doppelgänger might regard me, and well pleased with the station in life to which circumstances have summoned me. Nevertheless, it behooves us to recognize the hopelessness that informs the lives of many among Trump’s “base.” I have long been irritated by the pious trope, uttered by presidents of both parties, that “America’s best days are yet to come.” Broadly speaking (I exclude from consideration sundry demographics who then existed with the boot of cultural hegemony hard upon their necks; hence “broadly”), America’s best days were the decades during which it held global economic primacy, its industrial competitors having been bombed flat during the unpleasantness of 1939-45. The jobs aren’t coming back. The plant won’t reopen. Late-stage capitalism will follow the money, and that includes lands where the cheapest labor is to be had. Part of the genius of late-stage capitalism (nobody said it would be pretty) lies in its ability to point the proles’ resentments downward, and not toward their betters.
What will we do with them, these feral voters who yearn for a Herrenvolk democracy that will acknowledge them as “real” Americans—sodomites, foreigners, dusky folk, coastal elites need not apply—even as it squeezes the last dime from their desiccated carcasses? Fuck if I know, but this demographic will be with us for a long time, and frankly, their plight should be addressed, somehow. Leaving them to stew in desperate poverty, ignorance, resentment and opioids is not good for anyone, not for the disenfranchised proles, not for the plutocrats, not for the coastal enclaves. Because if these people are left to continue as the seed crystal of a fascist movement, this will not end well for them or for us.
I don’t pretend to have a solution. In bleaker moments I am put in mind of Mark Ames’ pessimistic take on things from eight years ago:
If the left wants to understand American voters, it needs to once and for all stop sentimentalizing them as inherently decent, well-meaning people being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs—because the awful truth is that they’re mean, spiteful jerks being duped by a tiny cabal of evil oligarchs.