Can you stand one more post about the January 6th insurrection?
Investigations in the wake of that shocking assault are steadily turning up evidence that it was anything but a spontaneous response to Trump’s crazed rally speech. It had been planned, and not just by the conspiracy-believing members of the rightwing’s radical fringe, but with the connivance of seditionist members of Trump’s campaign, his White House, and members of Congress.
The identities of these conspirators will eventually be made public, but who they are is ultimately less important than what they are–representatives of White Christian Nationalists who see themselves as losing out in today’s America.
Thomas Edsall writes a weekly column for the Washington Post on politics, demographics and inequality. In the wake of the riot on January 6th, he considered how “racism, grievance, resentment and the fear of diminished status came together” to fuel the fury and violence. He began with the obvious: the dominant role played by “out-and-out racism and a longing to return to the days of white supremacy.”
But Edsall also acknowledged the need to probe more deeply–to try to ascertain the roots of the anger and to identify the elements of contemporary life that serve to “trigger” violent expression.
It may sound trivial at first, in light of what happened, but how important is the frustration among what pollsters call non-college white men at not being able to compete with those higher up on the socioeconomic ladder because of educational disadvantage? How critical is declining value in marriage — or mating — markets? Does any of that really matter?
How toxic is the combination of pessimism and anger that stems from a deterioration in standing and authority? What might engender existential despair, this sense of irretrievable loss? How hard is it for any group, whether it is racial, political or ethnic, to come to terms with losing power and status? What encourages desperate behavior and a willingness to believe a pack of lies?
Edsall posed those questions to a range of academic researchers. Their responses were sobering.
A sociologist at NYU dubbed the rioters “ethnonationalists,” and described Trump supporters as those who want to return to a past when white men considered themselves the “core of America”–when minorities and women “knew their place.” Since they realize that such a return would require the upending of the existing social order, they’re prepared to pursue violent measures.
Another sociologist, a professor at Johns Hopkins, concurred:
They fear a loss of attention. A loss of validation. These are people who have always had racial privilege but have never had much else. Many feel passed over, ignored. Trump listened to them and spoke their language when few other politicians did. He felt their pain and was diabolical enough to encourage their tendency to racialize that pain. They fear becoming faceless again if a Democrat, or even a conventional Republican, were to take office.
There was general recognition from those Edsall consulted that It is incredibly difficult for individuals and groups to come to terms with the loss of status and power. Before Trump came along to provide a culprit, these individuals lacked what one scholar called “a narrative to legitimate their condition.” Trump provided a narrative that gave “moral certitude” to people who believed that their decline in social and/or economic status was the result of unfair and/or corrupt decisions by so-called elites.
According to a professor of psychology at Yale, the insurrection reflected angst, anger, and refusal to accept an America in which White (Christian) Americans are losing dominance.
And, I use the term dominance here, because it is not simply a loss of status. It is a loss of power. A more racially, ethnically, religiously diverse US that is also a democracy requires White Americans to acquiesce to the interests and concerns of racial/ethnic and religious minorities.
Others who responded to Edsell’s inquiry noted that contemporary America is especially vulnerable to right-wing anger due to our high degree of income inequality, and lack of a welfare state safety net to buffer the fall of people into unemployment and poverty.
You can click through and read the various responses, but they all reminded me of an exchange in the film An American President. Michael Douglas, playing the incumbent, points to his opponent during a press conference and says something to the effect that “you have a choice between someone who wants to fix the problem or someone who wants to tell you who to blame for it.”
Trump voters chose the guy willing to tell these deeply unhappy people who to blame.