The fruits of oligarchy

Two years ago, Professor Martin Gilens created one of the simplest, saddest graphs in the nation. It represents the degree to which the policy preferences of ordinary Americans affected policy making when their desires differed from those of the political elite. The graph is a straight line: Since 1981, ordinary Americans and the mass organizations they joined had no effect on policy. Instead, Gilens found, the 1,779 policy choices he studied had all been most decisively influenced by economic elites and organized business groups.

This election was a scream of anger from millions of people who had never read Gilens’ research, but felt it in their bones; who felt they had more voice on TripAdvisor than on trade, more say in “American Idol” than in American policy.

The media has suddenly rediscovered the white working class — those Reagan Democrats whose support handed the former Hollywood actor the presidency. It’s true that these same voters came out in large numbers for Trump in the few states that mattered to give him the same office. Places hardest hit by manufacturing losses to China were surprise areas of Trump support, and many Trump voters had been hurt personally by such job losses or by the economic wallop of rising Obamacare insurance premiums.

But Trump’s coalition was not just angry, unemployed whites. In fact, Hillary Clinton won among voters who said the economy was their biggest concern, and she won the struggling working class most strongly. The people who voted for Trump had jobs — he did 4 percent better among those earning $50,000-99,000 a year, and 1 percent better among those in the $100,000-199,000 income range — but they may have lost the dignity that went with their work.

Nor were Trump voters all racist or ignorant. Only 1 percent more whites voted for Trump than came out for Reagan and Romney, while 29 percent of Latinos picked a man who wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Yes, Clinton supporters were better educated, but Trump garnered 45 percent of all voters with a college degree and 37 percent of those with graduate degrees.

In other words, the people who voted for Trump were not voting from their pocketbooks — they were voting from their sense of pride. They were people from the working class, middle class, and even upper middle class whose dignity had been denied, whose views had been denigrated, and whose lifestyles had been deteriorating thanks to the choices of “others.”

Lees verder op Carnegie Endowment