Helping the hopeless

Once again, The New Yorker, like many daily newspapers where coastal elites dwell, dips a toe gingerly into the pool of poor white resentment. What Peter Hessler found will surprise no one since November 2016:

Before Trump took office, people I met in Grand Junction emphasized pragmatic reasons for supporting him. The economy was in trouble, and Trump was a businessman who knew how to make rational, profit-oriented decisions. Supporters almost always complained about some aspect of his character, but they also believed that these flaws were likely to help him succeed in Washington. “I’m not voting for him to be my pastor,” Kathy Rehberg, a local real-estate agent, said. “I’m voting for him to be President. If I have rats in my basement, I’m going to try to find the best rat killer out there. I don’t care if he’s ugly or if he’s sociable. All I care about is if he kills rats.”

After the turbulent first two months of the Administration, I met again with Kathy Rehberg and her husband, Ron. They were satisfied with Trump’s performance, and their complaints about his behavior were mild. “I think some of it is funny, how he doesn’t let people push him around,” Ron Rehberg said. Over time, such remarks became more common. “I hate to say it, but I wake up in the morning looking forward to what else is coming,” Ray Scott, a Republican state senator who had campaigned for Trump, told me in June. One lawyer said bluntly, “I get a kick in the ass out of him.” The calculus seemed to have shifted: Trump’s negative qualities, which once had been described as a means to an end, now had value of their own. The point wasn’t necessarily to get things done; it was to retaliate against the media and other enemies. This had always seemed fundamental to Trump’s appeal, but people had been less likely to express it so starkly before he entered office. “For those of us who believe that the media has been corrupt for a lot of years, it’s a way of poking at the jellyfish,” Karen Kulp told me in late April. “Just to make them mad.”

As a complement, read a story in yet another publication issued by coastal elites, in which the reporter ventures into Doylestown, Pennsylvania:

In 2012, when The New York Times talked to Mr. Brahin and others here in Bucks County, Pa., a perennial swing district outside Philadelphia, their attitudes on the law tracked with national polls that showed most Americans viewed it unfavorably.

But now, too, sentiment here reflects the polls — and how they have shifted. Many people still have little understanding of how the law works. But Democrats and independents have rallied around it, and many of those who opposed it now accept the law, unwilling to see millions of Americans stripped of the coverage that it extended to them.

“I can’t even remember why I opposed it,” said Patrick Murphy, who owns Bagel Barrel, on a quaint and bustling street near Mr. Brahin’s law office here in Doylestown.

He thought Democrats “jammed it down our throats,” and like Mr. Brahin, he worried about the growing deficit. But, he said, he has provided insurance for his own dozen or so employees since 1993.

“Everybody needs some sort of health insurance,” Mr. Murphy said. “They’re trying to repeal Obamacare but they don’t have anything in place.”

Also included is an interview with a fifty-two-year-old diabetic whose budget limits her to monthly instead of daily blood sugar tests. She has not looked into whether she might qualify for the Medicaid expansion; she was not aware Pennsylvania had expanded the program,” the reporter observes, wielding a semicolon like a fencer’s épee.

As miserable as these hardscrabble lives are, for which I have deep sympathy, the temptation to turn into a sharp-toothed serpent ready to bite an elite out of malice overcomes economic necessities. I’ve written about Cuban-American fealty to the GOP. I have written about modern conservatism as a shuck: a matrix of philosophical justifications for enriching the powerful and extirpating the poor. Positing Richard Nixon as the architect of this resentment, Corey Robin notes the president’s talent for making whites “into white ethnics burdened with their own histories of oppression and requiring their own liberation movement.” If these people are lucky, the Rob Portman Clause kicks in: the principle whereby a person shows sudden sympathy for a minority he once disparaged. Hence, the residents of D0ylestown discovering they like the Affordable Care Act after all. What “reaching out” to these people will turn them into Democratic voters?

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