Now we know. There are two groups of economic losers who supported Donald Trump, and who support him still. There are remarkable differences between the two, however.
The first group, described as working-class folks, reside predominantly in economically blighted counties. According to Brookings, the counties where Donald Trump beat Joe Biden contribute less than 30 percent to the production of America’s total output. The balance of 70 percent? Those are the counties where Joe Biden prevailed.
Imagine. Counties won by Donald Trump produce less than one-third of America’s GDP. Compared with Blues, Red counties tend to be older, whiter and less educated. Their workers tend to cluster in jobs within static or declining industries, especially agriculture, mining and extraction, and traditional manufacturing.
WHO ARE THE INSURRECTIONISTS?
The poor and undereducated are not more likely to join extremist movements, according to experts. Indeed, the second group is distinguished from the first, this way. Its members are more conventionally middle class. Many are economically fragile, however. Many have tasted middle class lifestyles, then later found themselves marginalized by shifting economic realities, unpaid debts, bankruptcies and the like.
This brings us to the January 6 insurrectionists. According to Todd Frankel of the Washington Post, a huge percentage of people facing charges stemming from the insurrection showed signs early on, of having been economic winners, but then more recently, having shifted into the ranks of economic losers. Their anger borne of humiliation and resentment, bare some connection to their participation in the insurrection, it appears.
Researchers are now piecing together possible links between economic calamity and motivations for the attack. Nearly 60 percent of those facing criminal charges have exhibited money difficulties including bankruptcies, evictions, and unpaid debts and unpaid taxes, based upon The Post’s public records analysis of 125 of the defendants. Bankruptcy, at 18 percent for this group, is nearly twice as high as the national average, Frankel reports. A quarter have been sued for failure to pay a creditor. And 1 in 5 have faced losing their home, according to court filings.
Does this explain, at least in part, why many small business owners and some with professional careers—and few with prior violent criminal histories — were willing to participate in an attack egged on by the president’s rhetoric that painted him and his supporters as undeserving victims? It does. Fear of falling out of the middle class appears to be a huge motivator.
According to American University professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss who studies extremism, insurgents may harbor deep-seated feelings of precarity about their personal situation, combined with a sense of betrayal or anger that something is being taken away from them. “These are people who feel like they’ve lost something,” Miller-Idriss told Frankel. “They know it can be lost. They have that history — and then someone comes along and tells you this election has been stolen,” she says. “It taps into the same thing.”
It was difficult for them to ignore during the Trump presidency, that the America they thought they knew and loved appeared to be going away, and therefore they’re going to protect it, observes Donald Haider-Markel of the University of Kansas. “They feel, at a minimum, that they’re under threat,” he told Frankel. “Somehow, they’ve been wronged, they’ve developed a grievance, and they tend to connect that to some broader ideology.”
THE LAST WORD
In his latest book, Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel spells out the consequences. The politics of humiliation is at the heart of Trump’s appeal, he observes.
In conversation with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Sandel noted “Trump was elected by tapping a wellspring of anxieties, frustrations and legitimate grievances to which mainstream parties had no compelling answer.” These are moral and cultural, he observes. “They are not only about wages and jobs but also about social esteem.”