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)
Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield is Director of the Futurus Think Tank

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Reflections one year on – Part 3: Love Europe, hate the EU

I don’t know who invented this phrase, but it sums up a sentiment with which many of us who campaigned for our country to leave the EU can identify. I am an unshamed patriot – proud our our country and its history, but no little Englander. The continent of Europe has always fascinated me ever since I was a small child. My paternal grandparents lived in Ashford, Kent and my family would always spend a week of the summer holidays staying with them. My father had an uncanny knack of always picking a warm, sunny week for our annual vacation and this meant that we would end up spending several days at the seaside, usually Folkestone with its delightful sandy beach.

Until the Channel Tunnel killed off the ferry service to Boulogne, Folkestone shared with Weymouth the distinction of being one of very few classic seaside towns which also served as a ferry port. As I swam in the sea or built sandcastles on the beach, I would watch the boat trains from London running up and down the branch line to the Harbour station and the ferries heading off to France. It all seemed very exciting and adventurous especially when, on a clear day, you could see the French coast in the distance.

Then to round off this glimpse of the exotic  – at lest in my eyes –  as we drove back along the A20, there were road signs telling drivers to drive on the left in French and German as well as English:-  Tenez la Gauche, Links Fahren. (They are still there today and now also include the Swedish  Kör till vänster.)

I never went abroad until I was 26 years old and had turned 34 before I ever boarded one of those cross-channel ferries which I had enjoyed watching as a child, but in the meantime, I had plenty of exposure to Europe with its different cultures and languages both as part of my education and through my hobbies and interests. I was taught French at school while my long-standing love of classical music introduced me to the great musicians of Germany, Austria, Italy and elsewhere, along with a smattering of the languages they spoke and the history of their countries. Collecting stamps also helped broaden my knowledge not just of Europe but the wider world, while the growing popularity of Italian restaurants gave me the chance to sample some rather exciting food which was very different from the rather bland diet of “meat and two veg” which was the norm for most English families during my childhood.

If I was to summarise my feelings towards the European continent before my eyes were opened about the nature of the EU, it was vive la différence! – a real appreciation of the cultural, geographical and linguistic variety which could be enjoyed across the Channel. On the only occasion I have ever travelled outside of Europe, I recall walking past a typical Victorian Gothic church in Melbourne, Australia and reflecting that here was I some 8,000 miles from home looking at a building which, apart from the stone used in its construction, would not have looked out of place in the town where I lived at the time. By contrast, I could have made a much shorter journey to France, Holland or Germany and found myself in an environment which felt far more foreign.

Becoming involved in the withdrawalist movement rather changed my perspective. Hearing, extracts of José Manuel Barroso, Angela Merkel or François Hollande proclaiming the virtues of the EU in their native tongues sounded threatening, not exotic. For two years, I travelled back and forth to Brussels to work in the European Parliament and could not but contrast my very negative feelings for the place with the fond memories I still have of times spent working in Amsterdam and Stockholm before I became involved in politics. I will never forget the sinking feeling in my stomach when the Eurostar slowed for the final station stop at the Gare de Midi in Brussels or the feeling of elation on the journey back when we emerged out of the Channel Tunnel and I could enjoy views of the familiar Kent countryside as we sped past.

It wasn’t until shortly after the referendum that I realised how the EU had tarnished my appreciation of Europe.  A German politician whose name I can’t remember was being interviewed about the result on BBC Radio 4, with a translator offering us his (or perhaps her) comments in English. I recalled that for the first time in ages, I felt as I did when I heard German spoken as a child – that sense of the exotic. No longer did it sound threatening now we were going to leave the EU.

Of course, the European Mainland and its peoples may not seem as exotic to today’s youngsters as it did to me in my youth. Thanks to Ryanair, EasyJet and the Channel Tunnel, travelling abroad has never been easier nor in real terms, cheaper, Schengen or no Schengen. It has often struck me how easy it has been for years for inhabitants of one European country, especially a small nation like Belgium or the Netherlands, to cross national boundaries and it is now much simpler for us too.

All the same, ease of travel has not eroded national identities. When I worked in the Netherlands twenty years ago, I was very struck with the strong and distinctive nature of Dutch culture, which has maintained its identity in spite of bordering much larger Germany. Even in Scandinavia, where the peoples look alike and speak similar languages, there is no move to re-establish the Union of Kalmar, which united Denmark, Norway and Sweden under a single monarch between 1397 and 1523.

So the idea of fusing the nations of Europe into a bland federal union seems foolish in the extreme. When I took part in a TV debate shortly after the referendum, I stated very clearly that I did not wish to see the EU suddenly implode. I still hold to that view. Even were this to happen after Brexit, we would still find ourselves battered by the economic tsunami that would result.

On the other hand, I would welcome the gradual peeling off of one country after another until there is no EU left. While I can fully sympathise with the sentiments of those European leaders who decided some seventy years ago that a federal union was the best way of preventing World War III, things have moved on since then. We can visit and study in each other’s countries so much more easily than we could in 1945 and we can appreciate the different cultures. This ease of travel in and of itself has reduced the likelihood of war. A Europe of diverse (and I use this rather poisoned word in its best sense) sovereign nations is therefore a much better environment in which we can all be ourselves and appreciate each other rather than one which is trying to shoe-horn us into a bland artificial construct to which very few people outside the corridors of Brussels are ever likely to feel the same sense of allegiance as they do to their own country, people and culture.

In 1960, only three years after the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the German economist Wilhelm Röpke had begun to feel uncomfortable about what was evolving. “To try to organise Europe centrally, to subject the Continent to a bureaucracy of economic planning, to weld it into a bloc, would be nothing less than a betrayal of Europe and the European patrimony,” he wrote. “The betrayal would be all the more perfidious for being perpetrated in the name of Europe and by an outrageous misuse of that name.” Indeed. If you truly love Europe with its different languages, architecture, cuisine and culture, it makes perfect sense to hate the EU.

Photo by TheJRB

How Brexit could save the EU from itself

This article by Allister Heath first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 14th March. while not addressing the issue of how we withdraw, it does draw attention to the basic failings of the EU project – the fact that the nations of Europe do not constitute a single people which, in the author’s view, dooms the EU to either totalitarianism or collapse.  A UK withdrawal, rather than being seen as a disaster for the EU may be of great benefit to the continent as a whole. 

It is those who love Europe, its diversity, its history and its humanity who should be the most enthusiastic about Brexit. A paradox? Not at all. The European Union, as currently constituted, has run out of road. It is doomed to fail, sooner or later, with catastrophic consequences for our part of the world, and the only way forward is for one major country to break ranks and show that there can be a better alternative consistent with Europe’s core enlightenment values.

It would be far better if we, rather than a more socialist or nationalistic country, were the first to break the mould: Britain would have the opportunity to show that free trade, an open, self-governing society and a liberal approach could ensure the peace and prosperity at the heart of the European dream. Others would soon join us. If we vote to stay, we will lose the moral authority to speak out, and other, less benign, inward-looking, illiberal approaches may triumph instead.

The eurozone is broken, and another, far greater economic crisis inevitable. The next trigger could be a fiscal meltdown in Italy, or another banking collapse, or a political implosion in Spain or France, or another global recession. Nobody can be sure what the proximate cause will be – but there will be one, and the fallout will be turmoil of a far greater magnitude than anything we saw in Greece. At the same time, the tensions fuelled by the migration crisis will grow relentlessly, especially if hundreds of thousands or even millions of people are settled across the continent over the next few years.

Many in the Remain camp agree that the eurozone requires drastic surgery, but their solution is naive. They believe that even more integration – a pan-eurozone welfare state, greater transfers between countries, central powers over fiscal policy – would help cancel out the currency’s inherent defects. I doubt that this would actually work in purely economic terms, but even if it did, it is delusional to believe that such a model can be politically sustainable.

Democracy, the term, is derived from the ancient Greek: it denotes a system whereby the people (dêmos) are in power or in which they rule (krátos). One cannot, by definition, have a genuine democracy in the absence of a people; and there is no such thing as a European demos. The French are a people; the Swiss are a people, even though they speak multiple languages; the Americans are a people, even though Democrats and Republicans hate each other. But while Europeans have much in common, they are not a people. Danes don’t know or care about Portuguese politics; the Spanish have no knowledge or interest in Lithuanian issues.

One could hold pan-European elections, of course, with voters picking multi-national slates of candidates; but, then, one could also ask every person on the planet to vote for a world president. Such initiatives would ape democratic procedures, but would be a sham. They would be Orwellian takedowns of genuine democracy, not extensions of it. There would be no relationship or understanding between ruler and citizen, zero genuine popular control, nil real accountability; coalitions of big countries would impose their will on smaller nations, and élites would run riot. We would be back to imperial politics, albeit in a modernised form.

Governments can forge cohesive cultures by using state schools, propaganda and government media; they can impose languages and a common, national identity where none existed before. There was plenty of such nation-building in the 19th and 20th centuries, with national cultures created from scratch. Yet to construct a new Euro demos today would be totalitarian: it would require, despicably, wiping out many of Europe’s cultural differences and rewriting history.

Given that there can be no meaningful Euro-democracy any time soon, the only other logical solution would be to ditch the very idea of rule of the people, embrace a radical fiscal and political centralisation of the eurozone, and entrust power to unelected bureaucrats.

Such a solution would have equally disastrous consequences. While retaining a few trivial trappings of democracy, a new, fully integrated eurozone would become a technocracy: a trans-national conglomerate run by officials. Some intellectuals privately argue that the nation state was merely a momentary aberration in humanity’s long history, and that representative democracy is failing.

But the public would rightly reject such nonsense: the real problem is that the people have too little, rather than too much, power. The next European treaty, which will represent another integrationist leap when it is eventually drawn up, will be an almost impossible sell.

We are therefore at an impasse. The EU faces a long-term economic, demographic and cultural implosion, and is staring down the abyss of illegitimacy. A small subset of European countries may be able to pull something off, and merge. I’m sceptical even of that, but it’s certainly one possibility. But we need a new model of European cooperation for those who realise that neither the status quo nor more integration is the answer.

That is where Brexit comes in. A British departure from the EU, if executed correctly, could save Europe from itself: it would create a plan B, a workable alternative for those countries that want to be part of an integrated Europe but are unhappy at the direction of travel.

Within a few years, Britain could be at the head of a network of at least six or seven self-governing but closely integrated countries; these would surely include Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, but others would join in too, including perhaps some non-euro nations such as Denmark and even the Netherlands, an increasingly anti-EU country. As to the eastern Europeans, membership of the EU was the way they redefined themselves as post-Soviet, with Nato membership the route to security.

But if Europe were to split into two, very different groups, a decentralised one led by the UK and another, increasingly integrated bloc controlled by Berlin and Paris, there would suddenly be more than one option. Some Eastern European nations would hopefully end up following Britain.

The UK’s new economic community could even be extended to other, non-EU states in the Mediterranean, such as Israel, or even further afield. Preaching and whining is no longer enough: Britain needs to lead by example, and show our neighbours that being good Europeans no longer requires being part of the EU.

Photo by Jon Ingram