The Little Way of … Donald Trump?
Wendell Berry said this in his Jefferson Lecture a few years ago:
My teacher, Wallace Stegner … thought rightly that we Americans, by inclination at least, have been divided into two kinds: “boomers” and “stickers.” Boomers, he said, are “those who pillage and run,” who want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street,” whereas stickers are “those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.” “Boomer” names a kind of person and a kind of ambition that is the major theme, so far, of the history of the European races in our country. “Sticker” names a kind of person and also a desire that is, so far, a minor theme of that history, but a theme persistent enough to remain significant and to offer, still, a significant hope.
The boomer is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property, and therefore power. James B. Duke was a boomer, if we can extend the definition to include pillage in absentia. He went, or sent, wherever the getting was good, and he got as much as he could take.
Stickers on the contrary are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it. Of my grandfather I need to say only that he shared in the virtues and the faults of his kind and time, one of his virtues being that he was a sticker. He belonged to a family who had come to Kentucky from Virginia, and who intended to go no farther. He was the third in his paternal line to live in the neighborhood of our little town of Port Royal, and he was the second to own the farm where he was born in 1864 and where he died in 1946.
I strongly agree with Alan Jacobs that Berry is wrong to insist on such a black-and-white portrayal. Not everybody who sticks is virtuous; not everybody who booms is vicious. Still, the distinction may be helpful in understanding this bit of news: Donald Trump is far ahead of Hillary Clinton among voters who stayed behind in their hometowns. Excerpt:
How people plan to vote appears to correspond, albeit broadly, with whether they decided to move away from where they grew up. According to the just-released PRRI/The Atlantic poll, 40 percent of Donald Trump’s likely voters live in the community where they spent their youth, compared with just 29 percent of Hillary Clinton voters. And of the 71 percent of Clinton voters who have left their hometowns, most—almost 60 percent of that group—now live more than two hours away.*
The effect is even stronger among white voters, who already tend toward Trump. Even a bit of distance matters: Trump wins by 9 points among white likely voters who live within two hours of their childhood home, but by a whopping 26 percent among whites who live in their hometown proper.
This brings to mind a surprisingly sympathetic essay by David Hill, a self-identified feminist and Hillary Clinton supporter. It starts like this:
I talked at length with a Trump supporter I grew up around. I wanted to understand. I respected her growing up. I wanted to know why a person as kind and compassionate as I remember her is voting for someone like Donald Trump.
She was a family friend, a good person. In rural Ohio, everything was tight. Money, jobs. If you really needed quick cash, she’d put you to work doing landscaping. She’d pay fairly and reliably for the area.
She’s voting for Donald Trump. I disagree with her choice, but I understand why she rejects Clinton so fiercely, and why she’s been swept up in Donald Trump’s particular brand of right-wing populism. I feel that on the left, it’s increasingly easy to ignore these people, to disregard them, to write them off as racists, bigots, or uneducated. I think that’s a loss for everyone involved, and that sometimes listening can help you to at least understand why a person is making the choices they make, so you can work on the root causes. For her, the root cause isn’t racism. In fact, I remember her as one of the only people in the area who proudly hired black workers, in a place where that was a huge issue. She fought over that choice.
The woman has a landscaping business that crashed in 2008, when her customer base dried up in the housing collapse. More:
She told me that every week, it seemed there was another default letter, another foreclosure, another bank demanding more blood from her dry veins. To her, that pile of default notices and demands for payment looked suspiciously similar to Hillary Clinton’s top donor list.
To her, that pile of default notices and demands for payment looked suspiciously similar to Hillary Clinton’s top donor list.
She lost everything she worked so hard for. Obama swore he was going to help. The Wall Street bailout did seem to help Wall Street. But it did absolutely nothing for her. She turns on the news and sees how the Dow Jones is doing better than ever. But that didn’t bring her house and livelihood back. Liberals insist that Obama’s made her life better. But, now she’s driving a car that falls apart randomly while having to pay those same banks for a car she doesn’t own and never will. It’s difficult to convince someone whose life is objectively worse that their life is better. And it’s disengenuous to try. You can break down the specifics, sure. But when someone’s hungry, and you’re busy silencing their complaints by telling them how well world hunger is improving, you’re just going to upset them.
This is not a person who is stupid or racist. She knows Bush caused the economy collapse with his irresponsible tax policies and wars. But she saw liberals as fighting for the banks’ recovery, to hell with her needs. She sees in Hillary someone who celebrates that approach. Who measures US success by the success of multinational mega corporations — corporations who undercut and destroy local businesses. This is a person who grew up in a town with a friendly neighborhood general store, a locally-owned hardware store, farmers’ markets, florists, and auto shops. All of these businesses closed when Walmart moved into town. All their owners now work at that Walmart for a fraction of their previous wages, no benefits, and no hope for something better, something of their own. And now, she sees a free trade supporting former Walmart executive about to come in to office, and it feels like salt in her community’s wounds.
This is a wounded person. Insulting her or continuing to hurt her isn’t going to help. She’s swept up in Trump’s message because she feels someone’s finally listening. Right-wing populism is an awful thing. But desperate people with their backs against the wall will grasp on to whatever they feel will bring a change. Neoliberal capitalism is not sustainable for these people.
Read the whole thing. It should be said that the standard-issue GOP wouldn’t have done anything for this woman either.
My concern is that the pro-Trump “stickers” will be disappointed by Trump, because there’s not a lot he can do to make their jobs come back. I could be wrong. Anyway, if we have an economy that rewards people for being unattached to place, and able and willing to move without hesitation, we are going to get the kind of low social capital society we have now.
Here’s an attempt by a prominent left-wing Anglican clergyman to square the circle. Giles Fraser writes from London:
A thick community is one with a high degree of social solidarity and a low degree of diversity. This is the sort of community where people are similar in language and culture, and where, as a consequence, there is a high degree of trust among people. It’s a relatively stable place – not a lot of coming and going. You grow up where your parents grew up. You die near where you were born. People leave their back doors open and know their neighbours’ business. The best thing about a thick society is that people look after each other and have a high degree of civic pride. The worst is that it’s often not good at dealing with difference, or with outsiders.
A thin community is one with a high degree of diversity and a low degree of social solidarity. In this community (which often isn’t really much of a community at all) you can be as different as you like. Nobody cares. People come and go all the time – “citizens of the world but citizens of nowhere”, to paraphrase Theresa May. You don’t always have much in common with people living next door, and often you don’t even know their names. You shop online. Loneliness can be a problem. But diversity is celebrated.
Fraser talks about how multinational corporations love thin communities, because they are easier to manipulate for the labor market’s needs. He goes on to say that his own south London congregation is highly diverse, and hooray for that; shared faith is the glue that holds them together as a community. However, Britain is an extraordinarily post-Christian, secularized society. More:
Elsewhere, however, difference creates huge gaps in the social fabric, with many people now unconnected to each other, the rich in their gated communities in the sky and poor youth sitting around on the estates smoking weed. As the thick society has gradually thinned out, it is the elderly who pay the price. People don’t visit as much as they used to. We know each other less and less.
Brexit and the new mood in politics is misunderstood as a hostility to outsiders, though it is easily purloined by racists. Rather, it is a cry for community, for togetherness, for the local, for mutuality, for social solidarity. [The new Tory PM] Theresa May, the vicar’s daughter, wants to find all this in a return to the past. That’s the wrong answer. But at least she’s answering the right question. We are still looking for a new – doubtless very different – St Benedict.
So I’ve heard.