Trump won because he cared- letter from Levittown

This is an interesting article on why Trump won the US presidency.

Trump won because he cared.

The common explanation is that Whites without college degrees were motivated, either by economic distress or racial resentments.  But such analysis ignores a fundamental part of Trump’s appeal … voting for Trump was about values and identity

Levittowners feel Trump understood and cared for people like them

Voters like those in Levittown feel like their government has abandoned them’

‘The institutions that used to help you are now working against you’

MAIN QUOTES

‘Trump is telling them “it’s OK to be you” ‘

‘The rest of culture is telling themit’s not OK to be you” ‘

Trump gives them that, and they are willing to overlook nearly everything else in exchange.

For these Americans, Trump’s blunt, crude talk is just another way of showing he understands and values their way of life.

 

Trump won because he cared – lessons from Levittown   Henry Olsen      29 May 2018

Why would Americans elect a crude political novice who calls Third World countries “shithole countries”? That’s a question, 19 months on from Trump’s shock win, that many are still trying to answer. The common explanation is that Whites without college degrees were motivated either by economic distress or by racial resentment. But such an analysis ignores a fundamental part of Trump’s appeal. For many of his supporters, as I found on a recent trip to White, blue-collar Levittown in Pennsylvania,1 voting for Trump was about values and identity.

Levittown, a medium-sized suburban community north of Philadelphia, was created by developer William Levitt, starting in 1951, as one of America’s earliest affordable suburban communities. Over sixty years after its first house was sold, it remains a White, working-class town, but unlike better-known Trump-friendly, White blue-collar places like Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County or Ohio’s Mahoning County it is still economically well-off. Yet despite this relative affluence, it behaved just like these other places, moving dramatically away from a traditional Democratic voting history to make Trump the most successful Republican nominee in these areas in the last thirty years.2

My visit unearthed just how complicated and varied Trump’s appeal to these voters is. Some people mentioned economic concerns as an explanation for Levittown’s shift, while others mentioned immigration and the cultural and economic issues it raises. But more than anything people mentioned a deep psychological resonance that made Levittowners feel Trump understood and cared about people like them. They may not like Trump’s tweets, but his brash manner and his open embrace of the value of work was for them a breath of fresh air in an otherwise long-stale political climate.

Although the town is doing well – the median household income is over $72,000 a year above the US median – economics still resonates because of Levittown’s past. Many of its original residents worked for one of five large manufacturers, the largest of which was United States Steel. As elsewhere in the Rust Belt, the factories gradually closed down or dramatically reduced in size. Jane,3 a sixty-year Levittown resident, told me that the U.S. Steel plant went from a high of nearly 10,000 employees in the 1980s to a current total of about 150. While Levittowners eventually adapted and found new jobs, they paid less and had less generous benefits than the old jobs that had gone. “Bringing manufacturing back was a big thing for Levittowners,” says Jane. It’s a now familiar refrain: “US Steel workers used to make $25 an hour [close to $50 an hour in 2018 money] and get up to 13 weeks of vacation each year. The jobs they have now don’t pay anything near that well.”

For Bill, a retired carpenter, Trump’s economic message was personal. Telling me about how his union couldn’t get work when competing against contractors employing foreign labourers, who may be in the US illegally, it was not hard to see why Trump’s message resonated so deeply. “If Trump had been President,” he says, wistfully, “I probably wouldn’t have had to retire.” Some people even think Trump will get them their old jobs back, says Jane, not just bring back manufacturing more generally.

The sense that these jobs were unfairly lost also helps explain this Trump-friendly narrative. Jane emphasises that US Steel’s foreign competition was subsidised by foreign governments. “We sent our jobs overseas and then we sent money [via foreign aid] to countries that turned around to stab us in the back,” she said. Bill went further: “immigration is a big thing because it is a big handout. We can’t get big handouts like they can.” It was a odd comment, US laws do not offer legal immigrants anything different from what it offers citizens and immigrants not here legally are often not allowed to receive many government benefits, but whether Bill and Jane are correct is beside the point – what matters from a political standpoint is that voters like those in Levittown feel like their government has abandoned them.

“There’s a sense that not everyone is playing by the same rules. Many of these folk think ‘I’m working my ass off, and this just isn’t working for me’.”

This sense of abandonment – of being “left behind” – came up time and again in my discussions with local people. “They want officials to pay attention to them,” Anthony, a young 30-year old anti-Trump Republican, told me. “They aren’t seeing any direct benefit from any of the policies” politicians talk about. In fact, the disaffection goes deeper. Levittowners, one astute local politico named Greg told me, tend to believe that “if I work hard and play by the rules it will work out.” But, as Greg said as we drove round the old steelworks, “there’s a sense that not everyone is playing by the same rules. Many of these folk think ‘I’m working my ass off, and this just isn’t working for me’.” That’s a common view among the White blue-collar workers who turned to Trump.

Disaffection with the status quo – the ‘establishment’ – drove voters to Trump the outsider: “The institutions that used to help you are now working against you, many people think. The game is rigged and it’s time to change it.” Interestingly, as both Bill and Greg told me, that outsider could just as well have been socialist populist Bernie Sanders. I was told about exchanges on primary day where Democratic voters told their GOP counterparts that they were voting for Hillary Clinton’s challenger, Sanders, but they were voting for Trump in November if Clinton won.

These pro-Trump feelings rarely extended to specifics. Time and again I would ask people what exactly voters thought they would get from Trump, and time and again I found only a general sense that things would get better for people like them.

But perhaps they were already getting the specific thing they craved more than anything else: the feeling that someone in power cared. Bill surprised me by repeatedly saying that “Trump is a very compassionate person.” He mentioned a story he had heard from Trump’s personal airplane pilot about how Trump once sent his jet to pick up a young person who couldn’t get to a hospital for medical treatment he needed, but it was clear that this idea of caring extended well beyond that one specific example. “Supporting Trump was the second-best decision I ever made”, he said – quite a statement from a self-described “life-long Democrat” who voted for Obama in 2008.

To really understand this devotion-inspiring appeal, however, you have to look beyond the economic. For many blue-collar Whites, Trump’s pull was personal.  Greg put it this way: “Trump is telling them ‘it’s OK to be you’. The rest of culture is telling them ‘it’s not OK to be you’.”

As Greg told me, whether the message is economic – “you have to go to college to succeed” – or cultural – “I like to listen to AC/DC; what’s wrong with that?” – Levittowners and people like them have felt the brunt of elite disdain. In voting for Trump, these blue-collar workers were rebelling against the idea that America is no longer for people like them.

“Levittowners just want a good Christmas for their kids and go to the Jersey Shore for a couple of weeks. They want some acknowledgement that is OK,” Anthony said. Trump gives them that, and they are willing to overlook nearly everything else in exchange.

It is against this backdrop that another aspect of Trump’s appeal starts to make sense. Anthony told me that one reason his neighbours liked Trump was that he “says what everyone thinks”. And that even extends to some of his cruder comments. “If I was down at the bar, that’s exactly what people would say,” the young Republican says of Trump’s “shithole countries” remark. For these Americans, Trump’s blunt, crude talk is just another way of showing he understands and values their way of life.

Greg put it this way: “Trump is telling them ‘it’s OK to be you’. The rest of culture is telling them ‘it’s not OK to be you’.”

I left Levittown with more questions than answers. How would Levittowners feel if the US economy wasn’t roaring? Would they still overlook Trump’s shortcomings if he suffers a serious foreign policy reverse that threatens America, such as in the dispute with North Korea? Most importantly, I wondered how deep this psychic longing for recognition was.

Like almost everyone I know, I am a college graduate with a good job who enjoys all the benefits the wide global economy brings. My life experiences are largely those that are treated with respect by media and academic elites, and the unsubtle message Levittowners, and blue-collar workers like them across the country, get is that their children should be more like me than like themselves. Returning to Washington from Levittown I couldn’t help but reflect on what it felt like to be, if not on the bottom, then on the downslide. Rather than viewing global blue-collar discontent through an economic lens, we ought to be looking at populist-backing voters more as people like us, holding similarly cherished identities and hopes. And maybe if we did that, we might all be a little bit better off.

FOOTNOTES

  1. .89 percent of Levittown’s residents are non-Hispanic Whites and over 83 percent do not have a four-year college degree. Yet it remains firmly middle-class: the median household income is over $72,000 a year, above the U.S. median and more than 60 percent higher than more well-known Trump-friendly white, blue-collar places.
  2. Trump received 45.6 percent of the vote in Levittown the highest share received by a Republican nominee since at least 1988. Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, received less than 38% of the vote and lost by over 24% to President Obama. Trump, however, lost by less than 6%, an improvement of over 18% on the margin. Trump’s improvement over Romney on the margin was roughly 24% in Lackawanna County and about 25% in Mahoning County. See https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/
  3. All names of interviewees are pseudonyms, allowing their ability to speak openly about their community
Photo by Heblo (Pixabay)
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Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield is Director of the Futurus Think Tank

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25 comments

  1. Adam HileyReply

    love Him or hate Him Trump gets on with things unlike May & Corbyn with Trump We would be out of the EU system by now Our prosperity would be better and Our Military would be rebuilt no one would walk over us the last real We had was Thatcher

    • StevenReply

      I would be careful to not praise the ‘blessed Margaret’ as Tories are apt to do too much. She did, after all, campaign in 1975 in the referendum then to KEEP US in the so-called ‘Common Market’ even though it should have been evident to people then that it was ALWAYS going to develop into a political union and crucially for today’s debate it was she whose so-called ‘bright idea’ was to create a vast Single Market covering the whole of the then European Community and which is a huge building block of the EU. She did, belatedly, realise what the EU was all about but it came too late. No, any praise for Tories should go to the likes of John Enoch Powell who was against our Common Market membership in the first place and never deviated from that opinion.

      At the present time in Britain, our only hope for a real Brexit seems to lie with Jacob Rees-Mogg but sadly he appears to lack the courage to put himself forward for the leadership of his party.

  2. Thomas BussReply

    If you read Margaret Thatcher’s autobiography, you would find she campaigned to keep us in the Common Market purely on economic grounds, and at the time did not foresee the dangers of European federalism that lay within it. She later came out firmly against EU integration and any idea of us losing our sovereignty. She eventually campaigned for what she called a looser single market, free from any ideas of federalism, that included the US and Japan. Margaret Thatcher worked wonders for the economy, drastically improved living standards, and was a committed Eurosceptic. What’s not to like?

    • StevenReply

      She done a great deal of damage to the economy through wrecking our industrial base. Her medicine to repair its many admittedly marked faults was worse than the disease. Unfortunately, this medicine, instead of gently nursing the patient back to good health killed the patient off hence the problem of the British underclass today. Yes, she did become a Eurosceptic but only in the last few years of being in office after having caused what any truely intelligent person ( I believe John Enoch Powell warned her about its likely effects) signing the barmy Single European Act – a huge and major building block of today’s EU.

  3. StevenReply

    Mrs Thatcher’s economic policies were also a failure for the most part. This should come as no surprise since they were borrowed from classic 19th Century Liberal Party ideas of the so-called inherent value of unrestricted free trade and free markets. SENSIBLE NATIONALIST countries like Japan have free market economics WITHIN their national territory but put moderate restrictions upon this operation of free market forces so that they combine them with their national interests and thus have a robust NATIONAL economy still. Maggie was more of a market radical than a true Tory. Her own party had a history (as recent as the 1930’s) of believing that it should be possible to have a moderate degree of protectionism to protect British manufacturing industry. She dispensed entirely with that history.

    No, the last time we had a non-globalist in No10 was when Neville Chamberlain was PM. He was a British patriot who done what he did through a sincere conviction he was protecting our longterm national interests (I believe some members of his own family, like many from his era, died in World War One) Sadly, his actions were naive with the benefit of hindsight but no one should accuse him of being an appeaser for appeasement’s sake. I get annoyed when people compare the tawdry likes of Sharia Maybe/Mayhem with Neville. As I said, he was a patriot, she isn’t and as a result of that isn’t fit to lick Neville’s shoes.

  4. Thomas BussReply

    Even most lefties would agree that Thatcher’s economic policies worked. During her time in office, thousands of people could finally buy their own home, the pound was strong, and unemployment was at a record low. She stood up to the undemocratic trade unions and the people loved her.

    Chamberlain, on the other hand, was willing to allow Austria and Czechoslovakia to be overrun by Nazis, so we could remain at peace. If we had acted in 1938 instead of 1939, millions of lives would have been saved. We didn’t, the Nazi menace grew in strength, and by the time Belgium and the Netherlands were subjugated, it was so clear his policies were a failure, that his position became untenable, and he chose Churchill as his successor. If Churchill hadn’t got in, we might all be living under a Nazi regime now.

    • StevenReply

      Our industrial capacity collapsed in 1980/1981 which helped to increase unemployment to a post war record high of over 3 million people (some people believe it was even higher due to the many changes as to how the figures were calculated) Many industrial areas were laid to waste and the decent, well-paying jobs for the most part haven’t returned.

      Chamberlain was RIGHT to allow Austria to unify with Germany. After all, many Austrians then (the majority) believed they were part of a pan-German ethnic community so what business was it of ours to intervene to disrupt this natural situation? That wouldn’t have been correct and even if we had done so we would have incurred serious bloodshed for no real national interest as Austrians would have fiercely resisted us.

  5. StevenReply

    The mania for political correctness with its associated naked disrespect for true freedom of speech and freedom of thought also started to gain a real grip on British society in her period of office through her government’s passing of measures like the tyrannical Public Order Act of 1986.

    I believe that Enoch Powell said in 1983 that if we failed to leave the then Common Market around that time we would never leave it. Sadly, his prediction is probably correct. It would help if we had someone utterly committed to leaving the EU but we have a Remainer in the position of the most powerful politician in the land and also as Chancellor of the Exchequer so it is no wonder the EU is currently taking the mick and walking all over us.

  6. Thomas BussReply

    I would say politcial correctness began properly under Blair and New Labour. Thatcher was committed to freedom of speech.

    I have great respect for Powell though; he and Thatcher were basically agreed, it’s just that he had the foresight that she lacked. The years have certainly proven Powell right.

  7. StevenReply

    Yes, PC got totally out of control during Bliar’s time in office but Mrs Thatcher laid additional foundations for it (the first restrictions were before her time) with the passing of that act of legislation which should never have passed.. It was and remains a terrible blueprint for tyranny and should be removed from the statute books so as to allow true feedom of speech and thought.

  8. Thomas BussReply

    The only aspect of the act which could really be seen as verging on political correctness is its stated purpose to “control the stirring up of racial hatred.” Most people find racism abhorrent, which is what the act set out to tackle. The trouble is that the lefties have deliberately made racism an umbrella term, leaving its original definition as the belief of the superiority of one race over another, and encompassing anyone who believes in restricted immigration, or even those who simply patriotic. It is these people who need to be stopped from threatening freedom of speech. Last time I checked, though, even they can’t restrict your freedom of thought.

  9. Thomas BussReply

    Chamberlain did not allow Austria to unify with Germany. He allowed Germany to INVADE Austria the night before a crucial referendum which would determine the fate of the Austrian state. Since the Germans were so afraid of what the result might be, one cannot concusively say that Austrians were in favour of unification, especially given the fact that the referendum was never held. As the Austrains have not tried to unite with Germany since the war, I would say most Austrians value their independence.

    • StevenReply

      Austrians before the war had no real sense of a coherent national identity of their own. This explains why most Austrians didn’t oppose the Anchluss when it came and Austrians welcomed back Hitler to his homeland with a fervour which nowdays would be reserved for the likes of the Beetles or other pop groups. Nowdays, the vast majority of Austrians believe they are Austrians first though quite a few still think of themselves as having some shared identity with Germany. This history of theirs is one reason why the Sound of Music isn’t a popular film in Austria (one of the few countries in the world where it isn’t). Even if many Austrians wanted to unite with Germany again (they don’t) I believe they are unable to due to neutrality being enforced upon Austria after a peace treaty was concluded in 1955.

  10. StevenReply

    It is a matter of historical record that the vast majority of Austrians welcomed the Anchluss with open arms as can easily be seen by watching old Youtube videos depicting these events. To these people, Hitler’s joining together of Austria and Germany was in no sense an ‘invasion’ even if in the strict sense it was. The nationalist
    Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) which currently shares power in Vienna used to contain a significant ‘pan-German’ element under its former leader of Jorg Haider but now ho longer does.

    Generally-speaking, I am not in favour of interventionism in foreign policy if it doesn’t serve the most essential British national interests. To me, this is just another manifestation of globalism to which all our main political parties adhere to. There are many forms of this philosophy – economic, political (EU membership), social (mass immigration). This country would be wise to learn to wean itself off it.

  11. Thomas BussReply

    Austria had a long history and a wonderful culture ( e.g. the music of Mozart), which certainly contributed to a national identity before the war. Even if no identity had existed, there is still no justification for Hitler’s actions. The Austrians only properly considered unification when the Nazis threat toward them was growing as a way of retaining peace. Once Austria was captured, its 180,000 Jews were made to suffer dreadfully, and some were put in the concentration camp at Mauthasuen. Videos capturing a few seconds of the Anschluss cannot adequately show how the terror most Austrians felt.

    Whilst military intervention is not always the answer, there are times when it is a country’s duty to defend those who cannot defend themselves, especially to save lives. A few months later, Hitler used the same excuse of a German minority to annex Czechoslovakia. Nation by nation was knocked off one by one until Britain found itself isolated and alone because of its disastrous peace policies.

  12. StevenReply

    I’m afraid I do not agree with your apparent contention that Britain or any other country has a “duty” to help others to defend themselves. If this were taken to its logical conclusion Britain would be at war almost constantly. Our armed forces (if Britain were a normal country which unfortunately it isn’t) would be used ONLY to defend our own nation at home or abroad and our MOST VITAL NATIONAL INTERESTS and not for any other reason. Ultimately, it is up to each individual country to defend itself and to ensure it has sufficient military capacity to do this.

    Hitler only overstepped the mark when he took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. We agreed to let him have the part with a large number of people of German ethnicity and this was a good policy of Mr Chamberlain (at least at the time). Of course, after the Versailles Treaty many borders were drawn-up which could be considered to have been drawn badly and not in accordance with the spread of various ethnic groups and their national identities/interests.

  13. Thomas BussReply

    I do not argue that Britain has a duty to help other countries defend themselves, but that it is morally right to aid an innocent, defenseless country, especially when they do not have the military capacity necessary. Austria had no desire to be invaded, otherwise they would not have spent the early 1930’s in intense military preparation and rearmament. In the end, this was not sufficient to withstand the German Army, and they were forced to rely on the Italians, who eventually deserted them.

    If nations invaded on the basis of the existence of ethnic minorities, Poland could invade France, India could invade America, and Pakistan could invade Britain, all of which have significant minorities of the aforementioned nationalities . If every nation simply did as they wished, world order would crumble and tyranny would rule. As a result of the appeasement policy of Chamberlain, we ended with a far stronger enemy than we started with because we let it grow, and Hitler believed we would do nothing to stop him. The principle of looking out for “number one” does not work.

    • StevenReply

      It does in the right circumstances. Neville Chamberlain was correct to pursue appeasement up until Hitler broke the Munich Agreement. Hitler’s demands and actions post February 1939 then became unreasonable and if he had just seen sense and not broke the Munich Agreement there would have been “peace in our time” as Chamberlain and the vast majority of the British people wished for. History has been unkind to Chamberlain but his intentions were noble and he used the time bought to rearm partially which if hadn’t done so would have led to certain defeat in 1940. British governments today too often spill the blood of our servicemen and women without really considering the lives of our service personal and the possible emotional consequences for their loved ones should they die in action. Politicians who want to play world policeman rarely, if ever, put the lives of their own relatives on the line yet have no qualms about doing this with regard to others. There is nothing shameful or selfish about putting our own country and our people’s interests first. It’s a pretty natural stance. Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe rejects the siren call of globalism for the most part like his predecessors have done and Japan doesn’t seem to me to have done too badly on the whole since WW2 though like all countries it does have its problems. We shouldn’t go to war just because we don’t like a particular regime or the internal policies it practices within its national territory unless it poses some real threat to us or our most essential national interests.

      Neville Chamberlain’s only ‘crime’ was one of personal naiviety about the alleged good intentions and characters of others.

  14. Thomas BussReply

    No doubt Chamberlain’s intentions were noble, indeed, Churchill says as much in his book on the war, but the key point is, he was wrong. He actually resisted rearmament for years despite Churchill’s warnings, and as I have said, because he beat around the bush for so long, he excacerbated the problem. As for Hitler, in his book Meine Kampf, written before the war, he talks a lot about the restoration of Germany and its pride. The argument about a German minority was a facade for a much darker ideaology which restored Germany’s prestige whilst taking revenge on those who damaged it in the first war. He was not simply unreasonable, he was evil.

    I do agree though about the need to prioritise British interests, and of course it was this attitude which propelled Trump to the White House. I have friends who have lived in Japan, and the system is absolutely rigid, with no thought to individuality. The economy is strong not because they have rejected globalism, but because they force their workers to work extraordinarily long hours with no holidays ever. As a result, the suicide rate is one of the highest in the world.

    • StevenReply

      Whilst Japan’s economic success isn’t entirely due to its rejection of the worst excesses of economic globalism (ie Thatcherism) I do believe quite a bit of it is. The Jap government post WW2 deliberately used interventionist policies to shield their infant industries from what was then far superior foreign competition by using a selective protectionism. Despite having a name we wouldn’t associate with nationalism, Japan’s governments formed mostly by the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan are nationalist and they have used economic nationalism as well as being nationalist in other respects. If they hadn’t used these kind of nationalist measures to protect their industries and nurture them there is little doubt the Japanese economic miracle of the 1950’s to 1980’s wouldn’t have happened. I remember watching a series of programmes in the early 1990’s on the BBC about this economic miracle and the contrast with the non-interventionism and radical market liberalism with no national restrictions of Thatcherism couldn’t be greater.

  15. StevenReply

    Without a doubt, Mr Shinzo Abe of Japan and his predecessors are pretty nationalist and their primary concern is to put Japan and the Japanese people first.

  16. Thomas BussReply

    Japan’s economic success is built on the same foundation as China’s; an extremely strong industrial base with labourers that quite often work hours from about six a.m. to eleven p.m. seven days a week, combined with some elements of capitalism. It’s also worth pointing out that the biggest economy in the world, America, openly subscribes to free trade and capitalism; that is why the left hates it, because it is a clear example of the benefits free trade brings. The U.K, which adheres to free trade principles, is a larger economy than Japan, with a larger GDP. During the Thatcher years, Japan’s GDP growth was dwarfed by the U.S. and western European economies GDP growth, and growth was so strong, some were worried the economy was growing too quickly. Leaders like Thatcher showed it was possible to be patriotic and put the interests of Britain first (like her brave stand on our unfairly high monetary contribution to the EEC during the 80’s) and still believe in free trade. Protectionism, on the other hand, benefits producers over consumers. If you start bailing out ineffecient industries, the price of whatever that industry produces automatically goes up without cheaper imports. Jacob Rees-Mogg compelling makes this point on a number of videos on Youtube. This is why we must leave the EU, because it is a protectionist organisation.

  17. Thomas BussReply

    For many people, Brexit was about the economic benefits of leaving the EU. Once we’ve left the protectionist bloc, we can forge free trade agreements with other countries. This kind of “globalism” will deliver huge benefits for the economy and for the general population. With our newly regained sovereignty, we can be a far bigger player on the world stage. We can achieve Thatcher’s goal of free trade with Europe, Japan, and America. We will have reached Churchill’s “broad, sunlit uplands.” I, for one, can’t wait.

  18. Adam HileyReply

    if Britain is to compete once outside the EU regime the unemployed must be helped find Work I have been there myself it is horrible and stop big business from employing Foreigners over Britons once the Conservatives have the brains to wisely ditch May the liability

  19. Thomas BussReply

    Absolutely right. It is completely unacceptable that EU citizens and immigrants can get jobs here but there are still thousands of unemployed Brits. I think most people would actually prefer British people to do a lot of the jobs immigrants do; it’s not right that some people can’t understand what their Eastern European doctors are telling them, or that some delivery drivers can’t read the name of your house. Credit to Theresa May though, unemployment is at a forty year low.

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