I've been reading books in the effort to understand where those Trump supporters may be coming from - what is their worldview. Right now I'm of the view that there are two kinds of Trump supporters: 1) the deplorables who are racists and bigots supporting the philosophies of David Duke and the white nationalists (which seems to be a close cousin to Nazi nationalism) and 2) the economically disadvantaged or feared to be soon economically disadvantaged. The books that I have read are: 1) The Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, 2) Strangers In Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild and 3) Dream Land by Sam Quinones (actually I'm in the midst of reading this now).
The first book mentioned I already did a post on and the book tells the story of the author's upbringing in the white poor community (probably regarded as white trash). He was able to pull himself out of poverty because his grandparents taught him the value of education. His mother, although she graduated from high school as valedictorian of her class, she seemingly was unable to have a stable life. She had a multitudes of boyfriends and moved frequently. At some point, maybe early in the author's life, she became addicted to drugs. The author really didn't go into the how's she got addicted. Maybe he didn't know or maybe the reason was just too ugly to face. Unlike his mother, the
author was able to stay away from drugs and get into college; thus, beginning the steps toward a law degree. He was successful in escaping poverty.
The second book, Strangers In Their Own Land, traces the author's attempt at understanding the Trump voters. The author came from blue liberal California and she decided to seek out the reddest of the red, which in her opinion was Louisiana. In addition, she wanted to focus on a single issue that she thought would be an obvious choice of who to pick as their representatives but yet consistently vote against their own interests: environmentalism. A lot of the people she spoke to started out as Democrats and even environmental activists. Over the years though, they gradually shifted over to the Republican side, even though they had to contend with environmental disasters such as sinkholes or grossly polluted rivers. I think the cause of the switch was the combination of the Culture Wars and dissolution of economic opportunity. As the economic opportunity dwindled away, the idea that we should aid the disadvantaged such as the blacks, the Hispanics, the immigrants over the white poor started to anger them. It became "What about us? What about your own white people?" The road to economic prosperity is steep and long and watching others "cut in line" in the road to prosperity just made them mad, as they fell further and further behind.
The last book, Dream Land, is more about the drug crisis but I think it is important to the Trump supporters' thinking. A lot of the Midwest and the Deep South supported Trump and those states also suffer from the drug crisis that is ravaging the country. The drug problem used to be just centered in the big cities, but now the rural towns are having drug problems and it is just devastating. Myself, I have a hard time understanding why anybody would get into drugs. The only ones I could understand or empathize with are those whose doctors have prescribed them OxyContin and thus they unknowingly got hooked. I have a harder time understanding why those start using drugs as a past time or even as a method of avoiding their life. Avoiding life by using drugs is just a terrible way to go - your life just gets worse in a really bad way. I just don't understand the impulse to try drugs. My boss said that some users start when they are ten which is just mindboggling. I sympathize with those children who start before they even understand what they are getting into. But who is giving them those drugs?
Dream Land describes how doctors came to believe that pain medication such as OxyContin was really not addictive, especially for people in pain. The pharmaceutical company started a marketing campaign centered on that new belief. If I remember correctly, that new belief stemmed from a little known letter to a journal describing a study, limited in scope and scale, which appeared to show that people in pain don't get addicted to pain killers because the pain offsets or neutralizes the euphoria that normally accompanies opioids. The pharmaceutical company started to market this belief right around the time that pain management became a big deal in the conference circuit. So doctors started to believe in this new philosophy, which overturned decades of belief that opioids prescription needed to be carefully regulated by the doctor because they were extremely addictive. Most doctors were probably trying to aid their customers and tried to do the right thing, but there were others who were not ethical. Those others started pill mills because they prescribed so many pills that you just know those people receiving the prescriptions had to be addicted.
So we had unethical doctors prescribing too many pills because the business was very lucrative. At the same time, the pharmaceutical company might have been unethical too because the only support for the belief that OxyContin/opioids was not addictive was that single study. All other studies showed the addictive nature of opioids. The company made money, mainly because the people were so addicted that they had to keep consuming the pills.
All of this was happening in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and the Carolinas. The book also talked about how those rural towns were economically distressed by the pull out of manufacturing firms. There were no job prospects in those towns; everything just became shuttered. Then came the OxyContin and an economy centered on OxyContin developed. People started to profit off of the OxyContin - both users and non-users. Users because they were addicted and needed a way to get money in order to buy those pills and non-users because there were no other jobs to be had. This is the economic destruction of the shareholder value where companies make money for only a selected group of people and leaves the workers behind. The rural towns were softened by the economic destruction and thus were vulnerable for what happened next with the unscrupulous doctors.
Then along came heroin called Black Tar. This drug came from Mexico and the distribution of this drug was based on customer service. The drugs were cheap, cheaper than OxyContin, and would be delivered to the user's location rather than the user driving to poor and dangerous areas to procure drugs. The Mexican had a business model that was very professional and they hooked those that were addicted to OxyContin by offering a free trial version of Black Tar. The drugs they offered were cheaper and pure so the hit was strong. Those rural towns already ravaged by OxyContin were susceptible to Black Tar, and so the Mexicans moved into those rural towns.
And I think this may be why so many voters supported Trump's contention that Mexico is sending in bad people. If your small town is being devastated by drugs, the latest of which is being sold by Mexicans, naturally you will think that the Mexicans are bad. However, we are forgetting that the problem began before the Mexicans arrived: the problems began with OxyContin which is an American drug. But I think it is an ugly thing to think that our own American company (companies?) brought about the drug disaster, so it is easier to demonize the Mexicans. But we really must not forget that it began with the profit motives of an American company.
The author also wrote about the livelihood of the Mexicans - how they came from destitute areas of Mexico. These Mexicans were so poor that the only way out of poverty was to go into the drug business. There was no other way for them to climb out of poverty, just like those devastated rural towns turned to OxyContin as a way of making money when there were no jobs to be had.
We have to figure out a why some towns make money and others are destitute. It can't be just capitalism because those rural towns had capitalism until it decided to pull up and go elsewhere. Why did India have so much poverty and the wealthy Indians couldn't or didn't provide economic opportunity until the Americans came? Now India has the beginnings of a thriving middle class. Some would say capitalism brought about the new middle class, but I would think it is more like shareholder values seeking out the lowest cost. Shareholder value decamped from rural America and went to India in search of the greatest profit possible for those wealthy few. How can we counter that pernicious thinking of always finding the lowest labor cost? Of always seeking ways to send money to those lucky few? How can we get society in general to start thinking in terms of the greatest good for the most? Right now, society is about the extreme greatest good for the few. And with automation coming along, it is only going to get worse. Are we going to have more people hooked on drugs because life has no hope?