Many white men, in particular, feel “shoved back in line,” she writes. Unable to draw confidence from their wealth, which is in many cases nonexistent, or their jobs, which are steadily being moved offshore, they turn to their pride in being American. “Anyone who criticizes America—well, they’re criticizing you,” she writes.
Trump, meanwhile, has allowed his male supporters “to feel like a good moral American and to feel superior to those they considered ‘other’ or beneath them,” she writes. Trump might not always represent his supporters’ economic self-interest, but he feeds their emotional self-interest. Trump is, in essence, “the identity politics candidate for white men.”
For a new book, Hochschild is talking with people in eastern Kentucky, another heavily conservative area. One trend she’s noticed is local white men’s lost sense of pride, and how they turn to Trump to restore it. To them, Trump seems to say, “I’m taking the government back and having it serve you,” she told me. “I’m your rescuer.”
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In Strangers, some of the Louisianans Hochschild interviewed were upset that women were competing for men’s jobs and that the federal government “wasn’t on the side of men being manly.” Some of her male Kentucky interviewees, especially those who have a family history in coal, feel even more strongly that men’s rightful place in the world is slipping away.
Men in this community, she told me, “are starved for a sense of heroism. They don’t feel good about themselves. They feel like they haven’t done as well as their fathers, that they’re on a downward slope.” Coal jobs have evaporated, and liberals, they feel, are making enemies of white men. “Their source of heroism, of status, is humming; it’s fragile,” Hochschild says. This analysis comports with some polls of Trump voters. An Atlantic/PRRI poll conducted in 2016 found that Trump supporters were more likely than Hillary Clinton supporters to feel that society “punishes men just for acting like men.”
As far as their leader’s pandemic response, Hochschild’s Kentuckians feel that Trump is doing the best he can, and as good of a job as possible under the circumstances. Though her subjects are worried about catching COVID-19, many see it as one of the unfortunate but acceptable risks of life. Confronting the coronavirus is a way to show stoicism and to feel heroic again. “I’ve heard it said that ‘This is hitting older people, and I’m an older person, but it’s really important to get back to work, and I’ll take the hit,’” Hochschild said. Her subjects think they can handle the virus just like Trump handles everything. “He’s a two-hamburger-a-meal guy,” she said. “He’s kind of a bad boy, and they relate to that.”
This part of Trump resonated with Kurtis, who told me he likes that the president “comes off as a man. He doesn’t come off as weak.” Trump’s strength is a benefit in the foreign-policy arena, Kurtis feels.