Fight it!

August Kleinzahler

Ron White is a comedian from Texas who delivers his monologues, to large crowds, in an amply tailored suit with an expensive bottle of scotch on a small table at his side. One of his most famous routines is ‘You Can’t Fix Stupid’. He’s speaking, unkindly, of his ex-wife and cosmetic surgery, not the body politic, but throughout the 2016 presidential campaign the title of his disgruntled riff has looped in my brain.

There are self-interested, hateful monsters, like Rupert Murdoch, Rudy Giuliani, Peter Thiel, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon et al., who are not in the least stupid, quite the opposite, but 99 per cent of the Americans casting their votes for Donald Trump are gullible, ignorant, disaffected and mean-spirited. They are the ‘basket of deplorables’, as Hillary Clinton called them, before walking it back. Obama referred to the people 'in small towns in Pennsylvania and the Midwest’ who ‘cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them’. He walked that one back too.

Clinton and Obama were both correct. Trump, who isn’t in the least stupid, if marginally psychotic and a menace of unimaginable proportions, targeted the stupids from the outset of his campaign. The bien-pensant class tends to refer to these people as the ‘angry white males’, and chastises itself, after the fact, for its blinkered insensitivity to working men who’ve had their jobs shipped abroad, those whom America has turned its back on, who have been set adrift. As it happens, however, Trump supporters appear to be rather better off than the average American, and there’s no evidence that the working-class voter is any dumber, nastier or more blinkered than the middle-class voter. Laid-off workers with any sense or moral compass are not going to vote for Trump, no matter how disaffected or angry they may be about Nafta or how put off they are by Clinton.

Region plays a greater role in all this than class. The Republican Party, which has evolved into something monstrous over the past forty years, certainly from Nixon and Reagan on, has consistently targeted the middle, southern, southwestern and interior western parts of the country. 'Angry white male' Trump voters inhabit these regions in great clusters. They live in small towns, listen to Fox News and right-wing talk radio, are prayerful and gun crazy. They comprise at least 45 per cent of the American voting public. They were there long before this current election and they’ll be there for the next (though perhaps not for ever; they are a demographic in decline).

I used to have a dear friend, now deceased, who grew up in the 1950s in Rochdale, the son of an alcoholic, abusive plasterer. He suffered from a congenital malady in one of his legs which gave him a pronounced limp. But he somehow made it to the Architectural Association School in London and wound up teaching architecture at a college here in San Francisco. One day one of his students, annoyingly entitled in manner and clearly from an affluent family, came to visit him during office hours with a letter from a doctor which said that the young man’s overdue essay would be later still because he suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder – this near the very end of a semester during which there had been no previous indications of such a disability. My friend read the letter, put it down on his desk, looked the student in the eye, long and hard, then bellowed in rage: ‘FIGHT IT!’


  • 8 November 2016 at 11:53pm
    Carson B says:
    I deplore Trump and have worked to dissuade others, but this kind of broad-brush spleen venting against the 99% of Trumpists who are stupid, etc., by enfranchised intellectuals with their own access to media and their vituperative screeds against the Neanderthals among us is part of the divide that keeps Trumpists in their own camp and is grating to the rest of the choir.

    Who do you think reads this -- Trumpists? The readers are just like you, so say something new, not self-congratulations on how you aren't one of the unwashed. Gaghme.

    There are decent people -- we know one, a retired nurse, 94, husband passed, lives alone, frightened by news she sees on network channels about police shootings and fiery protests -- and she voted for Trump. She doesn't need to be abused by a self-confident, 'write-off-40%-of-American-voters' patronizing TV evangelist delivering his weekly sermon to the already anointed. She needs to be comforted and assured. She isn't gun crazy, she and her granddaughter started a local organization bringing OTs to work with refugees in our area, self funded, she provides medical information, she cares. Why blow those people?

    I'm really tired of these annoyingly self-satisfied and patronizing over simplifications that end up being self-congratulatory. Sorry for this screed of my own.

  • 9 November 2016 at 2:36am
    tony lynch says:
    I'm with you on this. At the start of all this I thought of myself as a liberal/progressive, but then, as time went by, I looked at what this meant for my self-declared l/p fellows. It meant that on days they were feeling good (about themselves) they patronised downwards. On days they weren't so happy, they contemptualised downwards; and on their bad days, they were simply murderous that way.

    It has been wonderfully clarifying.

  • 9 November 2016 at 4:48am
    rupert moloch says:
    The US electorate is presented with a choice of two venal, depraved opportunists. Lets hope they make the right decision

  • 9 November 2016 at 4:50am
    Carson B says:
    Right now Nate Silver/538 is saying 40% chance HRC wins. Guess what -- when Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and all the endowed columnists call small town rural people stupid and gun clingers and xenophobes, they take it personally. You spend so much time in your compound telling each other how enlightened you are you polluted the message and now we are literally looking at the real possibility of an absolute catastrophe. All the really smart people missed this revolution -- doesn't that cause at least the teeniest bit of humility? That maybe they all saw something happening that the gimlet-eyed columnists missed because they were using their columns to get in the first shots are the upstart riffraff and blazing away with their high-brow put downs.

    • 9 November 2016 at 5:04am
      rupert moloch says: @ Carson B
      Well & plainly said. Thank you

  • 9 November 2016 at 6:57am
    farthington says:
    Perhaps they're getting their own back for thet New Yorker poster.
    The answer clearly is to deprive the ill-tutored of the vote.
    The powers-that-be are already working furiously on that strategy.
    Not fast enough it appears.

  • 9 November 2016 at 9:22am
    semitone says:
    Charming. Not content with trivialising paedophilia ( Kleinzahler expands his lrb blogging repertoire to the rehearsal of a simply *hilarious* anecdote, the moral of which is that students suffering from ADHD should just try harder to deal with their condition: that's the trick with mental illness and psychological conditions, isn't it? Just a bit of willpower, that's all you need, get over it.

    The classification of 99% of Trump voters as "gullible, ignorant, disaffected and mean-spirited" is another opinion Kleinzahler might have done well to keep to himself.

    • 9 November 2016 at 11:22am
      Parissing says: @ semitone
      Not charming. Perhaps I'm reading too many articles about the unfolding process of Brexit, but "stuff it" seems to be more and more the template for opinionated replies. Without touching on the other article by Kleinzahler (haven't read it), he's entitled to his opinion of Trump supporters. Having lived through Nixon, Reagan and two Bushes, I don't like being told what I can and cannot say.

  • 9 November 2016 at 11:12am
    Greencoat says:
    The Left/Liberal Axis has had it all its own way for over 50 years and this has bred within it a tremendous sense of complacency and entitlement.

    However, its constituency on both sides of the Atlantic has been shrinking for some time.

    And now that right-thinking people have finally found themselves some effective leaders, the Left/Liberal Axis is beginning to choke on its own hubris.

    • 9 November 2016 at 12:54pm
      RobotBoy says: @ Greencoat
      'The Left/Liberal Axis has had it all its own way for over 50 years...' You're joking, right? Fifty years, hunh? So Maggie Thatcher, Dubya, Reagan, all are part of the Left/Liberal Axis? I wish someone had told them.

  • 9 November 2016 at 11:32am
    RobotBoy says:
    "‘Angry white male’ Trump in small towns, listen to Fox News and right-wing talk radio, are prayerful and gun crazy. They comprise at least 45 per cent of the American voting public."
    This smug dismissal of a significant number of Americans typifies the general attitude of the mainstream media toward a populist upsurge.
    Never mind that, according to the 2000 census, 'more than 80 percent of the nation's population resided in one of the 350 combined metropolitan statistical areas.' Or that it would be equally impossible for "'Angry white male' Trump voters" to comprise 45% of the electorate when women make up a roughly equal number of voters, not to mention African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos, etc.
    Clinton's advisers assured her that she could win an election without white working-class support, even though Obama gained 1/3 of the cohort's vote in 2012. Her response to defeating the populist uprising in her own party was to immediately begin courting Republican elites and offering assurances that under her command, it would be business as usual (the ruling Republicans obliged her by distancing themselves from the unsavory charlatan with the orange hair). Her counterparts in the Republican primaries shared her sense of entitlement even as Trump stomped them into obscurity. As with Romney in the last election cycle, I frequently wondered how Clinton could be the best the Democrats had to offer.
    Trump is a sleazy buffoon but his political instincts and charisma overcame all that the pollsters, analysts, career politicians and other Beltway insiders could muster.
    Among my liberal friends, I frequently heard, 'No one I know is voting for Trump.'
    Perhaps they should get out more.

    • 9 November 2016 at 11:42am
      RobotBoy says: @ RobotBoy
      BTW, Kleinzahler seems to waver between typifying the position of mainstream liberals and embracing it. If he's doing the former, he should be clearer. This is perhaps an editing issue.

  • 9 November 2016 at 1:05pm
    Higgs Boatswain says:
    I'm not at all sure that this can be pinned on 'religion' (ever the go-to scapegoat of the befuddled secular liberal). Trump is arguably the least obviously religious candidate for the presidency of any major political party since Goldwater. He simply doesn't seem all that interested in religion, though he has called Pope Francis "disgraceful" and his own denomination (the Presbyterian Church of the USA) has criticised his position on immigration.

    Trump is famously unpopular with evangelicals (who always preferred Ted Cruz) and with Mormons and with Catholics. In all honesty it's really hard to find a religious constituency in America that Trump does appeal to: this is perhaps why he was driven to choose the old-fashioned, uncharismatic white-bread Protestant Mike Pence as his running mate - a means of paying lip-service to God while openly worshiping Mammon. It's the guilt-free Gospel of unlimited wealth that Trump preaches, but then that's always been America's true national religion.

  • 9 November 2016 at 1:31pm
    IPFreely says:
    It might be said that democracy has won here. As MacMillan once said, you get the politicians you deserve in the democratic system. I don't think anybody deserves Trump, frankly but there was just enough of an odour about Clinton to scare off many an undecided. Trump wants to be pals with Putin (bear hunting, putting his name on hotels in Moscow) and he had a good word for Saddam Hussein which should gives us some useful clues. I'll leave out his racism, his contempt for women, his contemptible treatment of employees, but when I hear that he plans to make waterboarding 'and lots of much worse things' possible I fear for the lives of many, many people.
    Bush and Blair are responsible for the deaths of thousands but Trump threatens to be much worse.

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