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Rich writes: "Democrats need to stop trying to feel everyone's pain, and hold on to their own anger."

Supporters at a Trump rally. (photo: Andrea Morales/Getty Images)
Supporters at a Trump rally. (photo: Andrea Morales/Getty Images)

No Sympathy for the Hillbilly

By Frank Rich, New York Magazine

21 March 17


Democrats need to stop trying to feel everyone’s pain, and hold on to their own anger.

n the morning after, traumatized liberals set out hunting for answers as if Election Day were 9/11 all over again. The ubiquitous question of 15 years earlier — “Why do they hate us?” — was repurposed for Donald Trump’s demolition of the political order. Why did white working-class voters reject Hillary Clinton and the Democrats? Why did they fall for a billionaire con man? Why do they hate us?

There were, of course, many other culprits in the election’s outcome. Comey, the Kremlin, the cable-news networks that beamed Trump 24/7, Jill Stein, a Clinton campaign that (among other blunders) ignored frantic on-the-ground pleas for help in Wisconsin and Michigan, and the candidate herself have all come in for deserved public flogging. But the attitude among some liberals toward the actual voters who pulled the trigger on Election Day has been more indulgent, equivocal, and forgiving. Perhaps those white voters without a college degree who preferred Trump by 39 percentage points — the most lopsided margin in the sector pollsters define as “white working class” since the 1980 Ronald Reagan landslide — are not “deplorables” who “cling to guns and religion” after all. Perhaps, as Joe Biden enthused, “these are good people, man!” who “aren’t racist” and “aren’t sexist.” Perhaps, as Mark Lilla argued in an influential essay in the New York Times, they were turned off mostly by the Democrats’ identity politics and rightfully felt excluded from Clinton’s stump strategy of name-checking every ethnicity, race, and gender in the party’s coalition except garden-variety whites. Perhaps they should hate us.

While many, if not most, of those in #TheResistance of the Democratic base remain furious at these voters, the party’s political class and the liberal media Establishment are making a concerted effort to convert that rage into empathy. “Democrats Hold Lessons on How to Talk to Real People” was the headline of a Politico account of the postelection retreat of the party’s senators, who had convened in the pointedly un-Brooklyn redoubt of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Democrats must heed the rural white enclaves, repeatedly instructs the former Pennsylvania governor and MSNBC regular Ed Rendell. Nicholas Kristof has pleaded with his readers to understand that “Trump voters are not the enemy,” a theme shared by the anti-Trump conservative David Brooks. “We’re Driving to the Inauguration With a Trump Supporter” was the “Kumbaya”-tinged teaser on the Times’ mobile app for a roundup of on-the-ground chronicles of these exotic folk invading Washington. Even before Trump’s victory, commentators were poring through fortuitously timed books like Nancy Isenberg’s sociocultural history White Trash and J. D. Vance’s memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, seeking to comprehend and perhaps find common ground with the Trumpentariat. As measured by book sales and his appeal to much the same NPR-ish audience, Vance has become his people’s explainer-in-chief, the Ta-Nehisi Coates, if you will, of White Lives Matter.

The outbreak of Hillbilly Chic among liberals is an inverted bookend to Radical Chic, the indelible rubric attached by Tom Wolfe in 1970 (in this magazine) to white elites in Manhattan then fawning over black militants. In both cases, the spectacle of liberals doting on a hostile Other can come off like self-righteous slumming. But for those of us who want to bring down the curtain on the Trump era as quickly as possible, this pandering to his voters raises a more immediate and practical concern: Is it a worthwhile political tactic that will actually help reverse Republican rule? Or is it another counterproductive detour into liberal guilt, self-flagellation, and political correctness of the sort that helped blind Democrats to the gravity of the Trump threat in the first place? While the right is expert at channeling darker emotions like anger into ruthless political action, the Democrats’ default inclination is still to feel everyone’s pain, hang their hats on hope, and enter the fray in a softened state of unilateral disarmament. “Stronger Together,” the Clinton-campaign slogan, sounded more like an invitation to join a food co-op than a call to arms. After the debacle of 2016, might the time have at last come for Democrats to weaponize their anger instead of swallowing it? Instead of studying how to talk to “real people,” might they start talking like real people? No more reading from wimpy scripts concocted by consultants and focus groups. (Clinton couldn’t even bring herself to name a favorite ice-cream flavor at one campaign stop.) Say in public what you say in private, even at the risk of pissing people off, including those in your own party. Better late than never to learn the lessons of Trump’s triumphant primary campaign that the Clinton campaign foolishly ignored.

This is a separate matter from the substantive question of whether the party is overdue in addressing the needs of the 21st-century middle class, or what remains of it. The answer to that is yes, as a matter of morality, policy, and politics. Americans below the top of the heap, with or without college degrees and regardless of race, have been ill served by the axis of Robert Rubin, Lawrence Summers, and the Davos-class donor base that during Bill Clinton’s presidency helped grease the skids for the 2008 economic collapse and allowed the culprits to escape from the wreckage unscathed during Barack Obama’s. That Hillary Clinton pocketed $21.6 million by speaking to banks and other corporate groups after leaving the State Department is just one hideous illustration of how the Democrats opened the door for Trump to posture as an anti-Establishment champion of “the forgotten men and women.” In the bargain, she gave unenthused Democrats a reason to turn to a third-party candidate or stay home.

But it’s one thing for the Democratic Party to drain its own swamp of special interests and another for it to waste time and energy chasing unreachable voters in the base of Trump’s electorate. For all her failings, Clinton received 3 million more votes than Trump and lost the Electoral College by the mere 77,744 votes that cost her the previously blue states of Michigan (which she lost by .2 of a percentage point), Wisconsin (.8 point), and Pennsylvania (.7 point). Of the 208 counties in America that voted for Obama twice and tipped to Trump in 2016, more than three-quarters were in states Clinton won anyway (some by a landslide, like New York) or states that have long been solidly red.

The centrist think tank Third Way is focusing on the Rust Belt in a $20 million campaign that its president, a former Clinton White House aide, says will address the question of how “you restore Democrats as a national party that can win everywhere.” Here is one answer that costs nothing: You can’t, and you don’t. The party is a wreck. Post-Obama-Clinton, its most admired national leaders (Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren) are of Social Security age. It rules no branch of federal government, holds only 16 governorships, and controls only 14 state legislatures. The Democrats must set priorities. In a presidential election, a revamped economic program and a new generation of un-Clinton leaders may well win back the genuine swing voters who voted for Trump, whether Democratic defectors in the Rust Belt or upscale suburbanites who just couldn’t abide Hillary. But that’s a small minority of Trump’s electorate. Otherwise, the Trump vote is overwhelmingly synonymous with the Republican Party as a whole.

That makes it all the more a fool’s errand for Democrats to fudge or abandon their own values to cater to the white-identity politics of the hard-core, often self-sabotaging Trump voters who helped drive the country into a ditch on Election Day. They will stick with him even though the numbers say that they will take a bigger financial hit than Clinton voters under the Republican health-care plan. As Trump himself has said, in a rare instance of accuracy, they won’t waver even if he stands in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoots somebody. While you can’t blame our new president for loving “the poorly educated” who gave him that blank check, the rest of us are entitled to abstain. If we are free to loathe Trump, we are free to loathe his most loyal voters, who have put the rest of us at risk.

Liberals now looking to commune with the Trump base should check out the conscientious effort to do exactly that by the Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild. As we learn in her election-year best seller, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, she poured her compassion, her anthropological sensibility, and five years of her life into “a journey to the heart of the American right.” Determined to burst out of her own “political bubble,” Hochschild uprooted herself to the red enclave of Lake Charles, Louisiana, where, as she reports, there are no color-coded recycling bins or gluten-free restaurant entrées. There she befriended and chronicled tea-party members who would all end up voting for Trump. Hochschild liked the people she met, who in turn reciprocated with a “teasing, good-hearted acceptance of a stranger from Berkeley.” And lest liberal readers fear that she was making nice with bigots in the thrall of their notorious neighbor David Duke, she offers reassurances that her tea-partyers “were generally silent about blacks.” (Around her, anyway.)

Hochschild’s mission was inspired by Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas? She wanted “to scale the empathy wall” and “unlock the door to the Great Paradox” of why working-class voters cast ballots for politicians actively opposed to their interests. Louisiana is America’s ground zero for industrial pollution and toxic waste; the stretch of oil and petrochemical plants along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is not known as “cancer alley” for nothing. Nonetheless, the kindly natives befriended by Hochschild not only turned out for Trump but have consistently voted for local politicians like Steve Scalise (No. 3 in Paul Ryan’s current House leadership), former senator David Vitter, and former governor Bobby Jindal, who rewarded poison-spewing corporations with tax breaks and deregulation even as Louisiana’s starved public institutions struggled to elevate the health and education of a populace that ranks near the bottom in both among the 50 states. Hochschild’s newfound friends, some of them in dire health, have no explanation for this paradox, only lame, don’t–wanna–rock–Big Oil’s–tanker excuses. Similarly unpersuasive is their rationale for hating the federal government, given that it foots the bill for 44 percent of their state’s budget. Everyone who takes these handouts is a freeloader except them, it seems; the government should stop favoring those other moochers (none dare call them black) who, in their view, “cut the line.” Never mind that these white voters who complain about “line cutters” are themselves guilty of cutting the most important line of all — the polling-place line — since they are not subjected to the voter-suppression efforts being inflicted on minorities by GOP state legislatures, the Roberts Supreme Court, and now the Jeff Sessions–led Department of Justice.

In “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class,” a postelection postmortem published to much op-ed attention by the Harvard Business Review (and soon to be published in expanded form as what will undoubtedly be another best-selling book), the University of California law professor Joan C. Williams proposes that other liberals do in essence what Hochschild did. “The best advice I’ve seen so far for Democrats is the recommendation that hipsters move to Iowa,” Williams writes — or to any other location in the American plains where “shockingly high numbers of working-class men are unemployed or on disability, fueling a wave of despair deaths in the form of the opioid epidemic.” She further urges liberals to discard “the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite” (epitomized in her view by Hillary Clinton) that leads them to condescend to disaffected working-class whites and “write off blue-collar resentment as racism.”

Hochschild anticipated that Williams directive, too. She’s never smug. But for all her fond acceptance of her new Louisiana pals, and for all her generosity in portraying them as virtually untainted by racism, it’s not clear what such noble efforts yielded beyond a book, many happy memories of cultural tourism, and confirmation that nothing will change anytime soon. Her Louisianans will keep voting for candidates who will sabotage their health and their children’s education; they will not be deterred by an empathic Berkeley visitor, let alone Democratic politicians.

Had Hochschild conducted her Louisiana experiment, as Williams suggests, in Iowa or the Rust Belt towns hollowed out by factory closings and the opioid epidemic, the results would have been no more fruitful. You need not take a liberal’s word for this. The toughest critics of white blue-collar Trump voters are conservatives. Witness Kevin D. Williamson, who skewered “the white working class’s descent into dysfunction” in National Review as Trump was piling up his victories in the GOP primaries last March. Raised in working-class West Texas, Williamson had no interest in emulating the efforts of coastal liberals to scale empathy walls. Instead, he condemns Trump voters for being “in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.” He chastises them for embracing victimhood by blaming their plight on “outside forces” like globalization, the Establishment, China, Washington, immigrants — and “the Man” who “closed the factories down.” He concludes: “Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”

Though some in Williamson’s ideological camp recoiled from his blunt language, he’s no outlier among conservatives. The popular blogger Erick Erickson tweeted last year that “a lot of Trump voters have failed at life and blame others for their own poor decisions.” His and Williamson’s line of attack echoes the conservative sociologist Charles Murray, most recently famous for being shouted down at Middlebury College in Vermont, where some remembered his co-authorship of The Bell Curve, a Clinton-era slab of spurious science positing that racial genetics play a role in limiting blacks’ performance on I.Q. tests. In a 2012 Obama-era sequel titled Coming Apart: The State of White America 1960–2010, Murray switched his focus to whites and reprimanded those in the lower strata for abandoning family values and civic virtues. (This time, the culprit was not the genetic code but the anything-goes social mores wrought by leftist 1960s counterculture.)

The much-beloved Hillbilly Elegy is a kinder, gentler version of the same condemnatory conservative take on the white working class, stitched into the candid and touching life story of the author, now 32, successful, and a Republican who, like Williamson and Murray, is no Trump fan. Against all odds, Vance triumphed over a sometimes brutal and always hand-to-mouth working-class upbringing in Middletown, Ohio, where his hillbilly family had migrated from coal country in eastern Kentucky. His mother was a junkie who married five times, and during one two-year interval the young Vance lived in four different homes. The powerful scenes between the addled mother and her bruised child are reminiscent of the mother-son interactions in the Oscar-winning movie Moonlight, albeit with a white heterosexual protagonist.

Vance has limited sympathy for his mother or the other drug addicts and “welfare queens,” all white, of his hometown. He describes in detail how they game entitlements like food stamps to support their addictions, whether to opioids or flashy consumer goods. Echoing Williamson, he accuses them of responding to the collapse of the old industrial economy “in the worst way possible,” by acting “like a persecuted minority” and blaming everyone but themselves for their plight: “We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese.” Like Hochschild and Joan Williams, Vance nonetheless goes out of his way to clear working-class whites from the charge of racism. What infuriates them about Obama, he writes, is not the color of his skin but that he is “brilliant, wealthy, and speaks like a constitutional law professor.” (That Obama, like Vance, was rescued from his problematic parental dynamic in part by his white Middle American grandparents goes unmentioned.) But that’s one of the few spirited defenses he mounts of those whom forgiving liberals like Hochschild, Kristof, and the rest want to usher into the Democratic fold. In nearly every other way, he, like Williamson, finds them to be a basket of deplorables even without leveling the charge of bigotry.

At least Hillary Clinton and her party aspired to do something, however inchoate, for the white working class. Vance, Williamson, and Murray — every bit as anti-government as the dysfunctional whites they deplore — have little use for a federal safety net. They instead offer Trump voters lectures about the virtues of self-help. In Hillbilly Elegy, Vance concludes by demanding that “we hillbillies … wake the hell up.” It’s a retread of the magical thinking Murray offered four years earlier (to no avail) in Coming Apart, in which he suggested that a “Great Civic Awakening” among the out-of-touch upper classes would somehow lift up the dysfunctional whites below. For his part, Williamson suggests that Trump-and-OxyContin- addicted working-class whites rent U-Hauls and flee their dying towns for an unspecified future, with no prospect of any government program to rescue them as FDR’s Resettlement Administration once aided Okies who packed up all they had in beat-up jalopies to flee the Dust Bowl.

Vance, you’d think, would be more generous than this. As an alumnus of Yale Law School who ended up working as a Silicon Valley investor under the aegis of Peter Thiel, he is too successful and sophisticated to leave unacknowledged the government help he received along the way. By his own account, his grandmother’s “old-age benefits” kept him from going hungry as a child. He cites Pell grants, low-interest government loans, bargain in-state tuition at Ohio State, and the GI Bill (he enlisted in the Marine Corps after college) for their role in making his elite education and worldly achievements possible. Vance recently announced that he is moving back to Ohio to start a nonprofit organization to help combat the opioid epidemic. But in Hillbilly Elegy, he minimizes the usefulness of government programs and social services, which “often make a bad problem worse.” He approvingly quotes a friend who worked in the White House (presumably a Republican White House) as saying “You probably can’t fix these things” and that the best you can do is “put your thumb on the scale a little for the people at the margins.” In White Trash, Nancy Isenberg might as well be talking about Vance when she writes (of Nixon-era conservatives) that the “same self-made man who looked down on white trash” conveniently chose “to forget that his own parents escaped the tar-paper shack only with the help of the federal government” as he now pulled up “the social ladder behind him.”

The conservative contempt for Trump voters — omnipresent among the party’s Establishment until the Election Day results persuaded all but the most adamant NeverTrumpers to fall into line — would seem to give the Democrats a big opening to win them over. Bemoaning how his blue native state of West Virginia turned red well before Trump beat Clinton by 42 percentage points, the veteran liberal editor and author Charles Peters was hopeful the tide could be reversed with time and, yes, empathy: “If we don’t listen, how can we persuade?” he implored readers of the Times. Those who want to start that listening now can download an “Escape Your Bubble” browser extension to sweep opposing views into their Facebook feeds; both MSNBC and CNN have stepped up their efforts to expose their audiences to Trumpist voices. But getting out of one’s bubble can’t be a one-way proposition. It won’t make any difference if MSNBC viewers hear from the right while Fox News viewers remain locked in their echo chamber. Nor will it matter if hipsters — or Democratic politicians — migrate from the Bay Area and Brooklyn to Louisiana and Iowa to listen to white working-class voters if those voters don’t listen back. There’s zero evidence that they will. The dug-in Trump base shows no signs of varying its exclusive diet of right-wing media telling it that anyone who contradicts Trump, Rush, or Breitbart is peddling “fake news.” When Bernie Sanders visits West Virginia to tell his faithful that they are being raped and pillaged by Trump-administration policies that will make the Trump University scam look like amateur hour, he is being covered by MSNBC, not Fox News, whose passing interest in Sanders during primary season was attributable to his attacks on Clinton.

The most insistent message of right-wing media hasn’t changed since the Barry Goldwater era: Government is inherently worthless, if not evil, and those who preach government activism, i.e., liberals and Democrats, are subverting America. Facts on the ground, as Hochschild saw in Louisiana, do nothing to counter this bias. In his definitive recent book on the Rust Belt drug plague, Dreamland, the journalist Sam Quinones observes that “other than addicts and traffickers,” most of the people he encountered in his reporting were government workers. “They were the only ones I saw fighting this scourge,” he writes. “We’ve seen a demonization of government and the exaltation of the free market in America over the previous 30 years. But here was a story where the battle against the free market’s worst effects was taken on mostly by anonymous public employees.” In that category he includes local police, prosecutors, federal agents, coroners, nurses, Centers for Disease Control scientists, judges, state pharmacists, and epidemiologists. Yet even now, Reagan’s old dictum remains gospel on the right (Vance included): “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” In Portsmouth, Ohio, the epicenter of opiate-pill mills and of Quinones’s book, Trump won by a landslide. As he did in Ohio’s Butler County, where Vance grew up and which now ranks eighth among all American counties in the increase in the rate of drug-related deaths between 2004 (when opioid fatalities first spiked) and 2014.

As polls uniformly indicate, nothing that has happened since November 8 has shaken that support. And what are Trump’s voters getting in exchange for their loyalty? For starters, there’s Ryan-Trumpcare, which, on top of its other indignities, eliminates the requirement that Medicaid offer addiction treatment, which over the past two years has increased exponentially in opioid-decimated communities where it is desperately needed. Meanwhile, Trump’s White House circle of billionaires is busily catering to its own constituency, prioritizing tax cuts for the fabulously wealthy while pushing to eliminate rural-development agencies that aid Trump voters.

The go-to explanation for the steadfastness of Trump’s base was formulated by the conservative pundit Salena Zito during the campaign: The press takes Trump “literally but not seriously” while “his supporters take him seriously but not literally.” If this is true, then presumably his base will remain onboard when he fails to deliver literally on his most alluring promises: “insurance for everybody” providing “great health care for a fraction of the price”; the revival of coal mining; a trillion-dollar infrastructure mobilization producing “millions of new jobs” and accompanied by “massive tax relief” for all; and the wall that will shield America from both illegal immigration and the lethal Mexican heroin that has joined OxyContin as the working-class drugs of choice.

There’s no way liberals can counter these voters’ blind faith in a huckster who’s sold them this snake oil. The notion that they can be won over by some sort of new New Deal — “domestic programs that would benefit everyone (like national health insurance),” as Mark Lilla puts it — is wishful thinking. These voters are so adamantly opposed to government programs that in some cases they refuse to accept the fact that aid they already receive comes from Washington — witness the “Keep Government Out of My Medicare!” placards at the early tea-party protests.

Perhaps it’s a smarter idea to just let the GOP own these intractable voters. Liberals looking for a way to empathize with conservatives should endorse the core conservative belief in the importance of personal responsibility. Let Trump’s white working-class base take responsibility for its own votes — or in some cases failure to vote — and live with the election’s consequences. If, as polls tell us, many voters who vilify Obamacare haven’t yet figured out that it’s another name for the Affordable Care Act that’s benefiting them — or if they do know and still want the Trump alternative — then let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests. That they will sabotage other needy Americans along with them is unavoidable in any case now — at least until voters stage an intervention in an election to come.

Trump voters should also be reminded that the elite of the party they’ve put in power is as dismissive of them as Democratic elites can be condescending. “Forget your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap,” Kevin Williamson wrote of the white working class in National Review. “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.” He was only saying in public what other Republicans like Mitt Romney say about the “47 percent” in private when they think only well-heeled donors are listening. Besides, if National Review says that their towns deserve to die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used their ballots to commit assisted suicide?

So hold the empathy and hold on to the anger. If Trump delivers on his promises to the “poorly educated” despite all indications to the contrary, then good for them. Once again, all the Trump naysayers will be proved wrong. But if his administration crashes into an iceberg, leaving his base trapped in America’s steerage with no lifeboats, those who survive may at last be ready to burst out of their own bubble and listen to an alternative. Or not: Maybe, like Hochschild’s new friends in Louisiana’s oil country, they’ll keep voting against their own interests until the industrial poisons left unregulated by their favored politicians finish them off altogether. Either way, the best course for Democrats may be to respect their right to choose. your social media marketing partner


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+65 # Wise woman 2017-03-21 08:48
Is anyone awake? Bernie Sanders is already doing this in the heartland and has been all his life. It's hard to believe these guys are still so unaware!
+7 # davehaze 2017-03-22 08:29
Frank Rich is loath to mention Bernie Sanders except to opine that Sanders and his faithful hurt Hilary Clinton. That's it.

Meanwhile most all of this article is crap. A waste of time.
+32 # madame de farge 2017-03-21 09:32
Rendell couldn't even deliver PENNSYLVANIA to the DEMS.... He is one of the last people we need to listen to. I knew on Election Night when Pennsylvania took so long to decide that Trump would win...and that is because I read Thomas Franks book LISTEN LIBERAL.... That book should be on the best seller list now so that at least we can WIN some seats in the MIDTERMs....
+20 # kyzipster 2017-03-21 09:39
A pretty good analysis in line with what I believe but it's full of the usual elitist generalizations . Even though some of the authors mentioned have become intimate with red state culture and write that they saw no overt racism, Rich still implies that it's there.

We have an intense rural/urban divide, empowered by right-wing media and it's not going to change by liberals campaigning to the cultural beliefs of white, rural people.

Just like urban America, rural America is a broad, socioeconomic mix. This article makes it sound like it's nothing but trailer parks and shanty towns. To say that the left doesn't appeal to the white, working class when we have majorities in almost every urban area of the country that vote 'blue' (even in the South) misses the mark. Cities have large numbers of working poor, some addicted to opiates. In rural areas, there are plenty of educated, economically successful people who vote Republican. Plenty of middle class, rural people vote along with the working poor.

Overall I agree with this article. Democrats need to create an agenda that empowers the left and forget the right. Rural voters will support any Republican candidate that comes along because their media falls right in line every single time. It's delusional to think that Sanders would have made significant inroads to this demographic but he would have inspired the left and attracted enough centrist voters to win the election imo but that won't change Congress or state gov't.
+7 # jackdresser 2017-03-21 11:23
The sneering attitude of urban "liberals" toward people who make things, build things, fix things, and still try to produce our food without industrial agriculture is just another variation of racism. Resentment of this was the emotional force Trump was able to tap into and manipulate.
+5 # kyzipster 2017-03-21 13:03
It's really complicated. I think it can't be denied that Trump has empowered, even created to some degree, a white nationalist movement and it's dangerous to ignore it. When we speak to it, all of conservatism feels attacked and we're accused of being elitist.

At the same time, the typical rural voter is not an overt racist, probably feels they try to not be racist at all towards African Americans and from what I've seen, they make a good effort. They also buy every bit of the toxic propaganda against Islam, illegal immigrants and the welfare system which they probably see as an African American issue despite the statistics. They also support racist, sexist and homophobic policies with their votes. Most will not see any intelligent criticism of their movement because they're never exposed to it. When they are, their media dismisses it all as 'liberal bias', because every fact that contradicts the conservative POV is 'liberal.'

It can be argued that the same is true with liberal or progressive tribalism but when it comes to the Culture War, progressives tend to be on the higher moral ground imo. An Evangelical Christian has the opposite POV naturally.

I also believe the Culture War was created by and for the Conservative Movement. They label 'liberals' with every identity they reject. We're forced to defend every vulnerable minority that they attack legislatively and otherwise, somebody has to. Over time, this has fueled the division that we're stuck in.
+1 # Texas Aggie 2017-03-21 23:34
"The sneering attitude of urban "liberals" toward people who make things, build things, fix things, and still try to produce our food "

The "liberals" you mention here is a null set. Instead you are just playing the victim again. The people who liberals and some of the conservatives mentioned in the article "sneer" at are the ones who play the victim and complain about the Nanny state taking away their freedumb while at the same time being dependent on that nanny state for their continued survival. They are the losers mentioned in the article who need hillbilly heroin and alcohol to get through the day.
+2 # PeacefulGarden 2017-03-24 01:29
Well, hold on here Aggie. Trump did tap into this narrative. And it is a very dangerous narrative. It is a divide and conquer strategy building a climax upon the depressing "half of a loaf of bread" strategy that the necon/neolib thing did. We got bones thrown at us by the Dems, while they ate roasted meat. Who would not be angry at that!

The reality is that the Obama years were built upon a "hope and change" narrative that placated the 1 percent. It was in your face. The "hope and change" thing did not work because it too was a lie (and the Trump thing is a lie also!). All of us bought the "hope and change" thing, while Wall Street kept the USA Banking system repressive with wages still down to the ground.

The middle class lost the game. The 1 percent won the game. The neocon/neolib has created a fascist white christian state. The Democrats cannot see what happened and never will.

The hillbilly is buying the fascist white christian state, just like the liberals bought the hope and change thing.

The sad fact is, and it is a total fact, the half of a loaf of bread that Obama gave us will be taken away. We will have to watch and see what happens next. And it scares the hell out of me.

Heck, the dumbest narrative of all is, "if wages go up, the economy will tank." Talk about moronic stupid mother fucking stories....
+32 # norman markowitz 2017-03-21 10:03
A reality check, as a non pundit responding to a former NYT pundit writing a sort of critical historiographic al essay on other pundits

Trump lost the election by 3.9 million votes. 43 percent of the eligible voters did not vote in the election. Sophisticated voter suppression techniques were used,,targeting African-America n voters in large urban areas, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, which played an important role in Trump's election.

The Republican machine broadly defined, whatever they thought of Trump, were and are much better funded and organized than the Democratic machine. They brought traditional,Rep ublican voters out much more effectively than the Democrats and a significant majority of these voters did vote for Trump even if they had and have doubts about him.

The most important force electing Democrats since the New Deal has been the trade union movement. Private sector unions are now back to pre New Deal single digit levels.

Trump's victory among low income "white" workers in non-metropolita n areas(those who voted in these areas)!reflect most of all the fact that large numbers of these voters are now in the position of poor Southern whites during the period of segregation--le ft behind and easy prey to demagogues who played them off against Blacks poorer than they were.

These poor whites can be won over with a clear economic program that will if enacted raise their living standards. That rather than either empathy or anger is the best strategy
0 # jackdresser 2017-03-21 11:41
I like to think that many African-America n voters stayed home not due to "voter suppression" but knowledge of Clinton's horrific unpublished resume both domestically and internationally . She was adamantly opposed, for good reason, by Black intellectual leaders including Cornell West and Black Agenda Report.
-5 # jackdresser 2017-03-21 11:46
Given the opposition to Hillary among very well-informed Black intellectuals, isn't it racist to assume that Black voters abstained due to "sophisticated" manipulation rather than informed and principled independent judgment?
+1 # librarian1984 2017-03-23 16:19
Yes. Yes it is. But even liberals don't like looking in the mirror.
+30 # markovchhaney 2017-03-21 10:06
The best course for Democrats is and has been for the last several years if not longer to divest itself of its neoliberal rulers and put its trust in the ability of a populist like Bernie Sanders to reach out to a vastly broader coalition of American voters than the rightly despised and distrusted Hillary Rodham Clinton ever could and ever will. The indications post-November '16 are, however, that the DNC and Democratic power-brokers have no intention of doing anything of the kind. So they will lose in '18 and '20 behind some lovely neoliberal losers and wonder further what's wrong with the American working class for not kowtowing to the party. These fools will never get it, Frank, and, sad to say, it appears neither will you.
+32 # Buddha 2017-03-21 10:16
This is always the dynamic of the brainwashed, of cultists, of those who aren't in on the scam and are being duped...they actually resent any efforts at pulling them out of the cult or stopping the dupe, and they dismiss all facts that contradict their programming, and they distrust everyone not clearly PART of the cult, who isn't loudly proclaiming adherence to cult ideology and dogma.

And before we get all high and mighty about how such blindness could exist among the GOP working class voters, if anything this last election (and its aftermath) has shown is that there is a hell of a lot of the same blindness in reflexive Democratic Party voters happily accepting candidates and leaders who DO think the corporate-lobby ist neoliberal trade deals are a good idea, who DIDN'T (and still don't) support a single-payer healthcare system, who happily wallow in their own Oligarchic big-money-Super PAC-donor swamp that ALSO isn't really working in the interests of their working class voters.
+3 # NAVYVET 2017-03-22 18:18
+23 # keenon the truth 2017-03-21 10:17
How on earth was Jill Stein a culprit in the election outcome?
+1 # NAVYVET 2017-03-22 18:22
Stein was weakened by insidious influence from the naive New Agers, and the party establishment is full of naive people who need to start learning politics locally, but are too self important to do so. I've met too many of them.
+39 # Donna Fritz 2017-03-21 10:26
"There were, of course, many other culprits in the election’s outcome. Comey, the Kremlin, the cable-news networks that beamed Trump 24/7, Jill Stein..."

Oh please, Frank. As if people who voted for Jill Stein would have ever even considered voting for Hillary.
+20 # LionMousePudding 2017-03-21 11:50
Excellent point
+2 # Buddha 2017-03-22 10:19
I think his expectation be that Left voters be like GOP voters, fall in line and vote for the approved Party Establishment candidate, always, or the other side of the duopoly coin will win. In this line of reasoning, anybody who voted for someone other than Hillary, is to blame for Trump.
+12 # ddd-rrr 2017-03-21 10:31
O-o-o-o-o-o-o-h ! I'm torn between recommending this amazing article to everyone
I know - and hiding it from everyone I know...! This article is full of well-told truth - BUT
following its advice fundamentally tears apart all that "liberals" (the "good people",
the ones occupied with more than personal venal desires and mere transactional
interests) hold dear, believe in, and are inclined to practice for the wider good. This
article states a true quandary for those interested in "the common good" and not just
"personal material and power gains" (the creed of those on the right...). S-i-g-h.....!!!
+49 # Woratnac 2017-03-21 10:35
The Democratic Party dug its own grave when it refused to have Sanders run for the presidency against predictions that he would win easily against Donald Trump. It is an almost incomparably stupid organization, "stupid" being defined as repeating the same actions after being apprised that these actions would damage it. As for anti-intellectu alism, which is what turned "liberal" into a curse word, it is always a cornerstone of fascism. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been reduced to abysmal ignorance over the past 30-40 years, without any skills to access legitimate media or to do the simplest research. But this voter, while empathetic, still blames the "hillbilly" sector for the rise of the most dangerous demagogue in US history. The climate will heat and destroy life on Earth. Before that, the gun lobby will allow the cruel destruction of wildlife in the Arctic. The Republicans are an incomparably dangerous, evil party devoted to the eradication of all that makes life sustainable for both people and the rest of life on Earth. All in pursuit of profit through oil and gas exploitation.
+5 # wwway 2017-03-21 10:54
Refused? He did run. Better get a good understanding of how the parties work! Even been involved in your local party central committee or been a delegate at state and national conventions?
I'm proud that Bernie ran and got enough delegates to the convention to make the basic changes in party rules such as getting rid of the SuperMajority.
+4 # wwway 2017-03-21 11:05
His analysis doesn't come as much of a surprise to social scientist like myself. I left the church in the mid 1970's because I saw where this country was going with evangelical influence. Now days you have to be a Republican to be a Christian and most "hillbillies" love their sin and claim relationship to the church. I makes them feel powerful, in control. Republican messaging since the 1980's was targeted at them. You know those messages, right? Republican polices also ensured that many more Americans would become "hillbillies". You know what those policies were, right? It's not that Democrats didn't warn them. They did. Were you listening?
As for my sympathy toward them I'm torn. My mother used to say after we'd been warned, "I don't forgive stupid." I don't forgive "hillbillies". They deserve what they get because they were warned. I call them "Chickens for Col. Sanders."
On the other hand I have to go to the slaughter house with these "chickens" and I'm not happy at all.
Democracy is a process that ensures the people get the government they deserve. If we are to do that, we must pressure our representatives to get rid of the electoral college because most of us (3 million) didn't vote for our illegitimate, Russian president.
+4 # kyzipster 2017-03-21 14:12
Although I agree that Sanders could have won and I supported him through the primaries, hindsight is 20/20.

I don't believe that even the Republican establishment thought that Trump had a chance against Clinton, not until the end of the election season. I also believe they thought he would do great damage to the GOP brand if he even got the nomination.

This doesn't mean that I think the DNC knows what the hell it's doing but I believe that people across the board thought he would lose. He's so obviously f-ed up in the head. The lunatics have control of the asylum, and Bannon is on the National Security Council.
0 # Caliban 2017-03-22 12:14
As #wwway notes, Bernie did run, and although he did well in the primaries, I have to believe that Clinton's long presence in the public eye gave her the name recognition she needed to win the Democratic nomination in the primaries.

This is how the primary system works -- and evidence it doesn't always work for the best -- for I remain of the belief that Bernie would have won those extra votes in key states to beat Trump handily in the Electoral College balloting.
+16 # FIRSTNORN1 2017-03-21 11:16
I wish I could disagree with anything Woratnac says, but obviously his or her understanding is far better than Frank Rich.

"The Republicans are an incomparably dangerous, evil party devoted to the eradication of all that makes life sustainable for both people and the rest of life on Earth. All in pursuit of profit through oil and gas exploitation."

HRC became by far the "greater of two evils" when she would not give Bernie any chance for a fair contest in the primaries. Well, now the Dems are sinking into the abyss and we are left with the Donald's version of Fascism.
+19 # Moxa 2017-03-21 11:19
If the Democrats ACTUALLY felt empathy for Trump voters--rather than just trying to figure out how to get them to vote for them--they would follow Bernie's example: LISTEN to actual people and offer them concrete solutions to their problems. The Democrats do not do either. Oh yeah, they would also have to give up corporate financing of their elections.

Sign the petition!
+4 # Skyelav 2017-03-21 11:35
In case we have forgotten, the media, including your and my favorite authors, are all writing from one of two POVs, the one they believe to be true, or the one that their bosses tell them to write. Look at Katty Kay, for instance, who is probably an undercover operative. So how can we even bother to read this stuff if only to make ourselves feel like the self-righteous Rich describes, or keep ourselves feeling perpetually bad, angry, arrogant, helpless, etc.?
+8 # Skyelav 2017-03-21 11:59

I've been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you've seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war

And there's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs
On the radio talk shows and the t.v.
You hear one thing again and again
How the u.s.a. stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends--
0 # cynik 2017-03-21 18:22
Jackson Browne??
+8 # shudderer 2017-03-21 14:28
Frank Rich seems to have missed the point,and/or simply didn't read Hochschild,
or just applied his already made up mind to her findings.
Her findings were much more profound and complex than Rich related.
Simply, the people simply don't trust government at all. The agencies that were to protect them sold them out at every level.
Ralph Nadar put it best, constantly voting for the least of evils ends up eventually with the worst of evils.
dems and repubs have both been killing democracy and US consistently. Dems just disguise with some sweet talk, feeling the pain.
0 # Maybe 2017-03-21 14:57
I was an sympathetic liberal until I read this article. I agree with Frank Rich. This is America's version of "let them eat cake". If this particular subset of America buys into the Right Wing lies and continues to keep them in office year after year, they deserve to go down. And they WILL. They'll never believe that they're being kept alive by the government and will always speak forcefully against it as they consume its largesse. To paraphrase Michael Douglas in "American President", they're thirsty and all there is is sand so they'll eat the sand because they don't know any better. So be it. Since the empathetic liberals haven't been able to get through to them, they'll have to wake up themselves, and I don't know if that's possible for a group of people who hate Obamacare but are protesting the demise of the Affordable Care Act. I wish them luck.
+12 # jsluka 2017-03-21 15:07
No Frank, you just refuse to "get it." The Democrats lost because they ran Hillary. End of story.
+4 # jwb110 2017-03-21 15:33
While I don't question the Trump supporters, first, the right to vote for any damned fool they choose and second, that a number of them voted by informing their choice with some of the lesser human urges. To blame, to accuse, to hate, was a lot of what Trump was stumping and it caught on. Trump did the country a service in that he pulled the sheets of the "unspoken", winked at, agenda of the GOP and exposed that agenda and then stole it from the GOP.
Where I part company with the likes of David Brooks and Joe Biden about these being good people, is that the rise in violence and threats against the minorities that Trump harped on is one the rise. Right now, we have to face the fact that the thugs that rallied behind Trump are now acting out their hate on those groups and many others. This particular president will never speak out to quiet his mob. To do so would be to admit that he lied and was wrong. His advisors will not speak out against these thugs and their violent attacks. Why? Because they share the same hatred. Anyone who voted for Trump voted for the ENTIRE PACKAGE of what Trump said he stood for and they did it unquestioningly . There is an old saying and it is apt in this instance: "You might as well eat the Devil as drink his blood." There is no 'lesser degree' of responsibility in what has happened and will continue to happen.
+3 # Skyelav 2017-03-21 20:00
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can't take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

There's a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can't even say the names

They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they're never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
New comment section added February 26, 2012
+1 # NAVYVET 2017-03-22 18:13
Did you write this? It would make a great rap.
+2 # suziemama 2017-03-21 23:42
There are real world consequences to poor decision-making.

Will poor whites who supported Trump realize they believed a liar who never intended to protect their health or their economic well-being?

Will establishment Democrats admit their multiple actions deny the nomination of Sanders lost the presidency?

The other day, a headline in the Seattle Times read "Worried Washington growers:'Mob Mentality' around immigration threatens state's ag industry'. Much of the farm labor is done by workers born south of the border. Will farmers rue the day they voted for Trump, because there are not enough hands to harvest? Will poor whites who voted for Trump understand why their food costs more as a consequence?
+2 # smeesq 2017-03-22 00:47
Frank nailed it with this article. I think in time the country will reorganize into a loose confederacy of red and blue states with a very small federal government (altho with a huge military of course). High tax blue states will have high tech jobs that pay well, good public schools, fair election laws, equal rights protections for women, and minorities, and their own single payer health plans. Red states will remain as they are or decline under their drug pandemic and toxic pollution. I just hope that elected Democrats will realize that those of us in the high tax blue states are done with transferring our tax dollars to Trumpland. No more wealth transfer from blue to red. Eat what you kill, as the hillbillies would say. (And I know where of I speak, my family got out of WV in the 1930s, an event we celebrate to this day like our own Exodus.)
+1 # Allears 2017-03-22 10:42
The poorly educated-aren't we all, makers and intellectuals alike. I love exploring the pursuits of philosophy, history, psychology, biology,etc., but lately I see the halls of academe have been rarefied to the point of being pseudo-intellec tual, in other words, severed from any grounding in actual human existence. In one recent past decade we have a professor publishing a book, The End of History and twenty years later, a Canadian academic publishes The Return of History. Come on! The utter pompous presumption and condescendence of such thinkers, and of those who read their fodder-a highbrow form of infotainment. The blowback is historically inevitable. Even if one as never even heard of them, there is an emanation that the 'unschooled' can almost smell coming from the intellec-tual elites. And what's with this current uber usage of the word existential from the mouths and pens of all the so-called experts? The world's problems are certainly affecting and will further affect both individuals and civilization's continued existence. My eyebrow of skepticism curves upward whenever I see or hear it. It has become a warning marker of probable redundancy, convoluted or even inverted thinking to the point of being asinine. This aspect of intellectualism is not new, but has become so preponderant in this age of popular expertiseism. It feels like just another form of diversion from reality, a method of reducing one's ability to sort out reality to a point of futility.
We give up!
+5 # Billbb 2017-03-22 12:20
Clueless article. The idea is to fully embrace the Democratic values of being for the people, not as Rich here misconstrues to abandon our values. We did that with the DLC of Clintons, catering to big donors in a calculated way to win elections through advertising. Mining jobs, manufacturing jobs, etc. have been disappearing and the Dems offered nothing to help them (nor did the Repugs.) So along came a manipulating Trump to play to them and they believed the story. They've been ignored, badly educated and then lied to by the fearmongering FAUX News, etc. Rich gets none of this.
0 # davehaze 2017-03-23 19:29
Billy b

I missed you. Whatever happened to you? Nice to have the new old Bebe back.

Dave Haze in Sydney 20 some hours ahead of news, depending where you reside
+2 # NAVYVET 2017-03-22 18:04
Most of you agree that Frank Rich is way off his bean in this tirade. I supported Sen Sanders, held my Navy vet nose to vote for warmonger Hillary, Stein seemed conned by New Age myths I've deplored for 40 years, and I wouldn't have voted for Trump for local dogcatcher, being afraid of what he'd do to the dogs.

Rich is all wrong about us "gentle, angry people, fighting for our lives" who intend to keep showing up at rallies & meetings--forev er, if needed. I fear he didn't come from the farms & factories. I did, and I despise the white supremacists & radical anarchists who voted for Trump, but I do empathize with the suckers of both parties, including brainwashed New Agers who believe vaccine isn't good for kids.

For years I called myself a left-wing anarchist until realizing that "left-wing anarchist" is an oxymoron. Government is desperately essential for survival and health, but it needs to be GOOD government. Bernie Sanders teaches good government, and so do a few others. Go out on the street, where I, a white woman of 81, often get handshaken, hugged and kissed by strangers of all shades for wearing a BLACK LIVES MATTER button, and sometimes yelled at or lectured by those who don't agree. Engage in conversation with everyone who stops you on the street, Mr Rich! Don't just read books by other writers. Right now you don't seem to grok us "gentle, angry people" very well.
+2 # davehaze 2017-03-23 19:37
Navy vet

As to your comment new agers who do not believe in vaccines for kids perhaps you haven't listened to what they have to say. Vaccines have their place but in the US we vaccinate as if we are Waging War. We vaccinate more and sooner on children than any other country. And then doctors who vaccinate don't report adverse reactions as they should and if any do they do not collated theinformation which could be used to mitigate problems. It is similar to the way cops go about policing black people. Shoot them, deny any responsibility, and then don't take any statistics, no statistical analysis, no admission of mistakes.
+2 # davehaze 2017-03-23 19:46

Just how many left-wing anarchist have you met? How many are out there?

I know from experience and I'm sure you have since you've marched that there are a tiny percentage at most marches. The first time I ran into any was at the Catonsville nine March in Baltimore in 1968. They were obnoxious and wanted to start a fight with well armed policemen with German Shepherds. I thought that they were a holes. But when I ended up sharing a house with them that night I found that they were nice fairly reasonable fairly likeable like Trump supporters. You could get along with them if you talked reasonably and ask for explanations. And didnt get bent out of shape when they or you said something crazy
+2 # davehaze 2017-03-23 19:49
Navy vet
The true anarchists are the Elite both Democrats and Republicans who wish to dismantle government by and for the people. And virtually none of those are on the left.
+1 # tgemberl 2017-03-22 20:22
I don't think outrage and compassion are mutually exclusive. We can be outraged by the kinds of things Rich talks about and still be compassionate.

The reason compassion is important is that some of these people may become violent if the Republican Party collapses, which I think there is a good chance of. Especially since the party does not appear to have any consensus about what they want to do. When they were running against Hillary, that gave them some unity, but now that they have to pass their own laws on healthcare and other things, their unity appears to be collapsing. This could have some dangerous side effects. We may see quite a few more Oklahoma-City-l ike incidents.
0 # davehaze 2017-03-23 19:52
Insightful. Oh not Rich but you tgem.

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