Chandler: Some have talked about the idea of a cultural pulling of the lever for Trump—how media and pop culture that are seen as mainstream have put forth liberal-seeming ideas with a sort of certainty, a style and cachet, that turned support of Trump into something countercultural, a revolutionary act. Does that make any sense to you?
Arnade: Sociologists call that “valid social capital.” The elites control the valid social capital—what’s cool and what’s not cool, the in club and the out club. Oh hell yeah! Part of Trump’s appeal is the fact that he isn’t supposed to be appealing. I met people who were voting for him because it wasn’t acceptable to vote for him. It was insiders versus the outsiders and it made them feel much more like, “Hey, I’m an outsider, [now] I’m part of a group. Now let’s go take this over.”
Chandler: Did you find yourself arguing back, “But Trump’s the ultimate insider! This is a guy who got a $14 million loan from his dad to start his first company.”
Arnade: You can’t do that because Hillary Clinton was also that person. And anything you said to point out that Trump was part of the establishment, they will rightfully point out that Hillary is more so. My God, she was the most insider there is. The only thing that kept her from being a complete insider is she was female, but otherwise, the Clintons have been in power since ’92.
Chandler: If the DNC asked you how to bring people like this back into the fold, what would you tell them?
Arnade: They’ve got to be a party of the working class again. All the working class. They’re a party of the black working class and that’s great. They’ve got to be a party of the working class and not bankers. Clinton’s convention was all about appealing to Republicans, bankers. They’ve got to step away from Wall Street and back to Main Street. I know it’s a cliche. They’ve got to remember their roots. They used to be about helping working-class people fight monopolies, fight corporate interests. Help them build unions, help them get pricing power from employment—that’s gone. I don’t know what Trump stands for, but also the Democrats…they’re the party of bankers and war. Hillary ran on a neoconservative platform that was more aggressive than George W. Bush’s. What do they offer working-class people?
Chandler: Did you have any particular conversation that typifies that line of thinking?
Arnade: There was this kid named Paul in Prestonsburg, Kentucky. He was sitting in his truck and his truck had a Confederate flag, a big Confederate flag. Paul had only one leg. He had a titanium prosthetic leg. We started talking. He lost his leg to cancer when he was 8, he was placed in special ed, and he was like, “I spent all my life being called a retard and a cripple and I learned to fight.”
I was like, “What about the Confederate flag?” He says “That’s what I’m proud of. I’m proud of Southern heritage. I’m proud of hunting and fishing.” For him, that’s what he escaped into. He had been beat up and felt like a nobody and he found a community. That community was this sense of identity through the Confederacy, through racial identity. That flag represented to him some pride. It gave him a sense of place. Does that make sense?