A Letter From Trump’s America
The e-mail below just came in. I’m not going to use the reader’s name or geographical location, and have altered slightly a couple of lines, to protect the reader’s privacy:
I hardly know why I am writing to you except that I think you’re a good listener. You treat your readers very kindly. And on the internet to boot!
War is coming and Trump is one of the first indicators from our side.
I am 31 years old. My [spouse] and I are teachers. When we started down south nine years ago, our school district proudly provided insurance that cost us $0 a month. We had to move north to find a better situation after 2014 when our district moved to a high-deductible HSA that was going to bankrupt us if we were unfortunate enough to have to use it. The birth of our first daughter, born in 2010, cost roughly $500 in hospital bills. Our youngest, in 2013 and with a much more costly and garbage insurance, cost over $5,000. The difference a few years can make!
[In my new job,] we started the school year off with a foster child student, new to the district, causing mayhem. He assaulted over 10 adults in his first week at school. He cussed, spit, bit, hit, ran, and intimidated every single person in the school. I was called in on the second day of school to help move him from one room to another after a violent outburst. When he attempted to assault me, I restrained him. I was informed not to do that anymore. I told them not to call me anymore to help.
He eventually received a one-on-one teacher who he abused every day, as well as his very own classroom. He was formally disciplined one time, with one day of out-of-school suspension when he harmed another child. This went on for near a month and a half, until he was committed to a psych hospital by an outside doctor. Insanity. All of it!
He was in the first grade.
I would imagine all of Trump’s supporters have similar nasty experiences they can point to. Where the world feels like it is coming to pieces in front of them for no good reason. And then there are the obvious, big picture disasters. Government is broken and openly hates on folks. The Church abuses children and covers it up. The media lies and ruins the lives of decent people. Police are murdered in the street. Jihad is here. The White House is lit up in rainbow colors. We invite the Third World. Vets die waiting for care.
My grand-dad was a prick. But he helped win a world war, raised nine children, walked tall, and got things done. He would have loved Trump.
Here is a man who is talking to us in a language we used to speak ourselves. Since when do men have to wrap their speech and beliefs in velvet? Why can’t a sledgehammer be used when a sledgehammer is needed? After eight years of being put down and told we are what is wrong with America, why can’t we get behind someone like Trump? Someone who is not at all afraid to mix it up!
UPDATE: Here’s a portion of a comment from a reader, who details the social fragmentation in his own rural community, and concludes:
That being said — and to add to your correspondent’s story and point — how could these people not vote for Trump? The bewilderment and anger each of those three generations feel — justifiably! — makes them perfect Trump voters. For Generation 1, he promises to make America great again — like they remember. For Generation 2, he tells them that yes, they are right — they have been screwed at every turn, lied to, and he’s going to take care of those folks in Movement Conservatism who did it.
And for Generation 3 — from their perspective (or I should say “our”) — why not? What would Trump wreck that we don’t already see as hopelessly broken? Here in rural America, the old systems and life patterns — sending kids to school, buying a home, participating in a community, supporting a church — just don’t work anymore. Most things new things that hold promise — relocalized agriculture, renewed religious life, schools independent from the failing public system — almost REQUIRE a great deal of the old governmental or social infrastructure be torn down and built anew.
That which is falling ought to be pushed, right?
So I say, Mr. Trump, bring it on. Knock down some barriers, break a few windows. Many of us here in flyover country are praying for just that, in the hopes that a little light and fresh air can start to seep back into the room.
I had the strangest thought last night. After I wrote this post and scheduled it to publish this morning, I settled in to watch a forthcoming documentary about Wendell Berry. I know the director somewhat, and she sent me a copy. It’s an extraordinary film, and I will be writing more about it here when I get the OK from her. At one point, not far into the movie, I picked up my Benedict Option project notebook and started making notes, because there’s so much relevant material in the Berry doc.
I don’t want to say too much about the film now, because I’m not sure to what extent I’m at liberty to comment on it, but I can say that it sheds a surprising degree of light onto the current political moment. Berry has spent a lifetime writing about agriculture and culture, and how the industrial way of growing food has wrought all kinds of harm, in large part because it only sees quantity, not quality. And by “quality,” he means things like the culture that emerges out of traditional farming, and the community cohesion and purpose that traditional farming communities experience, for natural reasons. Most of that is gone now in these places. Berry says that when we work against nature, and the natural order, instead of with it, we are bound to pay a big price. The economic order built around choice, with no regard to what is chosen, imposes real social costs. (And, I would say, the social and cultural order built around choice, though that’s not explicitly a theme in this movie.)
This is Wendell Berry 101. The film shows us older Kentucky farmers talking about what they and their communities have lost — dying towns, for example — and how the system — big agribusiness, the banks, etc. — is stacked against them.
Toward the end of the film, a bizarre thought occurred to me: Donald J. Trump, who is probably the least Berryan figure in the country, is the only one of the GOP candidates who is talking to and for Republican voters who are living in the maelstrom. Don’t misunderstand me: Trump is absolutely not the standard-bearer of Berryan politics! (And that’s the understatement of the year.) But how incredibly weird is it that in 2016, the candidate that speaks most to the condition of those conservatives displaced by the economics and the wars of the Establishment is the loudmouth New York billionaire? Whether or not he has solutions to their condition is a secondary issue. He’s the one who sees, or who at least intuits, that something very wrong has happened, and that the neoliberal order built by the Republican and Democratic Establishment has broken some fundamental things.
UPDATE.2: Read Michael Brendan Dougherty on all this. Then read him again. This. This! Excerpt:
The foremost task of conservative political forces is to maintain legitimacy for the state and to carefully guard the surplus within that great invisible treasury of goodwill in their societies. That means finding ways of balancing the interests of different actors, classes, and types in society, whose unchecked actions would otherwise tear the nation apart. The tenets of Manchester liberalism were adopted by conservatives in America because they found them well-suited to an Anglo-Protestant people with a wide distribution of property and a continent of resources. They are not divine writ, though I happily admit that they have been successful because they align with something in our nature and history. Still, we may need to make different exceptions to them than we have in the past.
But if the libertarian prophecies of an American society without a middle class comes true, and 80 percent of resources will ineluctably accrue to the top 20 percent, then the American polity will find itself in danger very quickly of something much worse than Trumpism. The combination of an anti-statist ideology inherited from the Cold War, and a natural inclination to be responsive to an ever-more-rich donor class, puts the conservative movement in danger of rationalizing all the work the movement and the government does in the economic interests of their elite clients, and de-rationalizing any work it might do in the economic interests of workers. Such a course is a sure way of delegitimizing the state and the American political class.
It is true that I manifestly do not have the answers yet, nor do I believe Donald Trump has them. My aim in trying to understand and explain Trumpism and generate sympathy for the people who find themselves supporting Donald Trump is not to ratify dependency or a sense of victimhood in working-class people; it’s to slap conservatives out of a torpor, to tell them that they are not victims of this Trump-led populist revolt, but the authors of it. And to warn them that they make Trumpism inevitable by enabling the American elite and the political class in its cultural and economic secession from the rest of the American nation.