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Why Trump? The ‘deep story’ reveals that white men are tired of standing in line

It’s a wonderful feeling to learn something and know that, finally, someone has put into words what you’ve felt to be true in only some sort of murky sense—even if the knowledge that crystalizes into what you know to be true is a painful, ugly, nauseating reality. The feeling of being led to this capital-T Truth, or of discovering it yourself in a moment of revelation, is little different than if it were some sort of beneficial construct. Bad or good, doesn’t matter. It is there, you have conceived it, and it makes undeniable sense. It represents the verity-of-the-moment, even if it should fade away into obscurity almost as soon as it resolves into clarity.

NPG 212; William Blake by Thomas Phillips

William Blake making note of his latest hallucination (by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807).

This dogged, undeniable event is a common occurrence among those who imbibe in cannabis or other mood-altering substances. “Wow, dude, I get it! I really get it! Heavy.” Often, after a moment of unfocused reflection, comes the sheepish admission: “What were we talking about again?” These epiphanies seem unrelated to the specific mood-altering substance in question. Yet they contain a certain insight that can hold up later to sober analysis. This is maybe what William Blake referred to when he said that “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom” (Proverbs of Hell).

One of my recent palaces of wisdom was constructed by author Arlie Russell Hochschild, who spent five years talking to Louisiana tea partiers about their lives and the appeal of Donald Trump (Mother Jones, September/October 2016). In the course of her research Hochschild developed a brief narrative—which she called the “deep story” of the Right—that she read to many of her interviewees to get their response, refining it as she went. Here is the passage, which is included in the article:

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side. In fact, isn’t he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.

Hochschild wrote: “I checked this distillation with those I interviewed to see if this version of the deep story rang true. Some altered it a bit (‘the line-waiters form a new line’) or emphasized a particular point (‘those in back are paying for the line-cutters’). But all of them agreed it was their story. One man said, ‘I live your analogy.’ Another said, ‘You read my mind.'”


Arlie Russell Hochschild, author and teacher.

Whether Trump ends up attracting educated women or not, minorities or not, immigrants or not, suburbanites or not, the “deep story” Hochschild developed, in my opinion, is the sine qua non of the Trump phenomenon. It is revealing to note that 66% of them believe that Obama is Muslim.

In many other ways Hochschild’s article describes how Trump has come to the rescue of these lost white men, shaming virtually every one of the line-cutting groups—women, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees—while sparing the blue-collar white male’s pride by legitimizing certain government handouts, such as unemployment insurance, food stamps, and other assistance, things that a “real man” avoided in the past.

So if you’ve been wondering, as I have, what the hell Trump’s appeal is all about, this is it: a rat-infested palace of wisdom that gives form to what for many of us might have been formless opposition, and is more than likely to tumble down as soon as the American public sobers up.

Poultry worker in Lake Charles

Hochschild’s Mother Jones article centered on Lake Charles, Louisiana, where you can’t throw a chicken without hitting a Trump supporter.


Hochschild did make the point that a young man named Bailey, the son of Sharon Galicia, a major figure in the Mother Jones story, was a Bernie Sanders supporter, now frantically trying to decide where to aim his progressive aspirations. Don’t bogart that joint, my friend.

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