George Gurley has written a profile of Nikki Haskell, a wealthy New York socialite who feels ostracized for her support of Donald Trump (“Nikki Haskell Learns the Social Cost of Supporting Donald Trump,” New York Times, 2/23/2017). Although Gurley isn’t begging you to view Haskell as a victim, he doesn’t do much to dissuade you from buying into the narrative of Trump voters believing their newfound statuses as pariahs is nothing more than a product of having voted for one candidate for another.
I don’t know the word for it—maybe there’s a bit of slang I’m overlooking that could sum it up better than any normal word—but Haskell, at least in Gurley’s piece, comes across as a rich rube, completely oblivious that her unimportant station in life has still afforded her access to channels of real power. She comes across as the kind of person who thinks having dinner with Hillary Clinton is indistinguishable from having dinner with Doris Roberts. The kind of person sports fans throw funny glances at because she’s liable to say she likes one team more than the other because their jerseys were her favorite color. I mean, what do you do with a person like this?:
“[N]othing would make me happier in the whole world than to see Hillary Clinton as president. I never thought that in my lifetime we would have a woman president, and I’ve always been very supportive of the Clintons…
“The way things are throughout the world, men just don’t respect women enough… At this time a president being a woman might be detrimental. I hate to say that, but we live in a very, very antiwoman society.”
And yet she voted for Trump. She believes we live in a “very, very antiwoman society,” and yet she voted for Trump. Her rationale about his ‘grab them by the pussy’ rant?:
“Listen, Donald has more respect for women than anyone I know… I’m not saying he’s not a guy. Guys talk about girls. They talk about getting them into bed. But it’s just guy talk.”
She really must spend a lot of time with The Donald, because she sounds just like him. And it appears that despite whatever beliefs she claims to have, her big reason for voting for Trump was nothing more than he’s her friend: “[I] would never have voted for anyone else except for Hillary, if it wasn’t for the fact that Donald’s running.” The sophistication in her decision was no more than a sitcom character inadvertently getting invited to two swanky parties by two good friends on Friday night, and oh gosh, what are the chances!
Look, I don’t know anything about Ms. Haskell, and I don’t really care to do much research to find out what kind of person she is. (According to the profile, she sells a piece of exercise equipment, hocked diet pills before running into legal trouble in 2014, and now promotes old episodes of a public access show she hosted in the 80s which are now available on Amazon Prime. Yeah, I can see her being friends with Don.) But her seemingly sincere bewilderment at having lost several close friends (“one bestie dropped her after 25 years of friendship”) is not an isolated case. Now, the societal bubble her wealth has undoubtedly formed around her over the last few decades is surely a contributor to her disconnect between her public support for Trump and her confusion at the visceral reaction to that support, but this is a strange (if small) phenomenon occurring in the aftermath of the election that’s afflicted more than just the unaware rich. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post have run pieces about Trump voters who genuinely don’t seem to get why people are upset—at Trump, or at them for supporting Trump.
Those articles are flawed, but I’m not going to go into the flaws here. (And I can’t with the Washington Post piece, not really, because I didn’t bookmark it and can’t find it now. Oh well.) What’s strange about them—and about the 800 other “I’m a white dude with grievances” pieces—is the real push to understand where they’re coming from, as if where they’re coming from is intelligible to anyone paying even a modicum of attention to real news. One of the strangest stories is one told by Arlie Russell Hochschild, a retired UC Berkeley professor of sociology, in her book Strangers in Their Own Land. Here’s the full video of her interview with Democracy Now!:
The story starts at 9:00. It’s pretty simple: Guy’s community gets destroyed by the insufficiently-regulated oil drilling company he works for. Instead of directing his anger at the company, he directed it at the government—because the government gave over $1 billion in incentives for the company to bring jobs to Louisiana. So his reasoning is that government should be smaller because they’re using taxes to not do their jobs, and if the government’s not doing its job, why should he pay taxes? There’s an internal logic to it, but reducing the size of the government is not going to lead to the sort of regulations that would prevent what the company did to his community, and it’s not going to be able to convince a company to bring jobs there. It doesn’t take much to deflate the guy’s entire ‘ideology.’
So I don’t really know what to do with the idea that we should listen to all these poor Trump voters who feel like the world is being mean to them and to their guy, and who look at the protests across the country and are at best confused and at worst convinced all the protesters are bad people (Haskell called the protests “stupid”). I don’t see the point in listening to them because they are now completely consumed by a narrative that has no viable tether to what the rest of us describe as reality, and they’re unwilling to budge an inch, and I haven’t yet read a profile of or interview with a run-of-the-mill Trump supporter that isn’t patronizing or infantilizing—not that the interviewers aim to be, but it’s an inevitable reflex when the people in question live in a parallel universe and complain about things that simply did not happen and/or are less articulate about their grievances than a stock Ray Carver character.
I’ve even seen it in my own life. A good friend of mine who voted for Trump was taken aback by the protests, and his response was that the protesters were largely people who had never lost an election before. When I asked whether he thought the reaction would be the same had, say, Marco Rubio been the Republican nominee and defeated Clinton, he said no. I responded that, well, the protests aren’t really about just losing an election, right? And he said no, the protests were because they lost. The conversation didn’t go on much longer.
In the comments section of a post by Yastreblyansky, one guy summed up this phenomenon as it pertains to Sean Hannity pretty well:
Hannity seems to be presenting a full-blown, coherent alternate narrative in which Trump’s actions not only are incotrovertably successful but aren’t even controversial: a kind of Mao-ist fable of a Beloved Leader who is astonishing everyone with the effectiveness and force of his actions. It’s not the usual “beleagured conservatives can’t get a break” framework; it’s apparently a far more fantastical tale of a Wagnerian Hero President straddling the world like Collossus…while, away from the TV, all these apparently confused liberals are marching and seem to be angry about something.
I think that’s part of it, but I think the really rabid Hannity-watchers—and by extension the rabid consumers of all things right-wing media—aren’t genuinely confused by what’s happening in their personal lives or across the country. The rabid consumers know exactly why liberals are angry, and a lot of them love it. For them, it’s an indicator that what Trump’s doing is correct. They probably aren’t the type of person who would date someone anti-Trump and get upset when they get dumped for their pro-Trump stance. I can’t say that to a certainty, but I do read a lot of comments sections, and the right-wingers who post in comments sections consume tons of this stuff, and they’re fucking insane. Others understand that their vote for Trump was a ‘fuck you’ to the system that has left them behind, and I doubt that they are surprised by the reaction, either.
For these other people who are confused, I don’t think they consume all that much news media. Hannity may be their go-to, but it’d surprise me if they turn him on faithfully every evening, or go to Foxnews.com or Breitbart multiple times a day to feed a media addiction. The really, really big stories don’t get past them (pussygate, or the protests), but events even marginally smaller (Flynn’s resignation/firing, the nonqualifications of Trump’s entire cabinet) can and often do. If you don’t tune in all that often, and if like me you assume the average Trump voter isn’t a big fan of reading, I don’t think it’d be difficult to come away with the picture that Trump is just a candidate like any other—maybe a bit brasher, but hey, that’s refreshing!—who is constantly being hounded by a media they view as liberal, and since there’s nothing in your immediate life going sour in the immediate wake of Trump’s election/inauguration, you have to assume all those people in the streets are off their rockers. At least, that’s what Sean Hannity said.
There’s a line to be drawn connecting Haskell to the struggling people who whole-heartedly believe in and support Trump. But Haskell has the advantage of knowing the biggest inconvenience to her that will come of her public support for Trump is that someone on the street will say something rude to her. But these other people, they have a lot more to lost—much more than friends on Facebook. And I’m afraid many of them don’t and may never realize that.