Needless to say I was both shocked and appalled by the results of the 2016 presidential election. Could this be the American version of a trend in European politics based on the compelling urge to "throw the rascals out?" And was Donald Trump’s election a one-time deviation or the beginning of something new in American and European politics closely related to Brexit in Britain and the rise of right-wing candidates in France, Germany and elsewhere?
The more we look into this political/social revolution the hairier it gets. In Western Europe in the past decade and now in the U.S., the lower middle-income and blue-collar workers increasingly feel left out and deprived of much of what was promised them. They feel outsiders have cut in front of them in line while they patiently waited their turn at the good life. First it was African Americans, then the feminists and now it’s the illegal immigrants. They feel especially hostile toward those whom they believe are getting something for nothing, the welfare cheats. But instead of trying to right some of the wrongs and restore equity, the Trump Republicans have fanned these flames of resentment to a feverish pitch with accusations and vague promises.
A parallel paradox is the puzzle of how these people who need government assistance the most are such adamant supporters of the GOP and Tea Party viewpoint. Much conservative support comes from voters who were once the backbone of the old Democratic "Solid South." But this all changed when Lyndon Johnson sponsored voting rights legislation in the late 1960s. The massive exodus of Southern Democrats to the Republican Party was an act of emotion, not one based on rational self-interest.
Although a standard GOP test of faith is independence from the government, the former states of the Old Confederacy receive more federal aid compared to the taxes they pay than most other states of the Union. Mississippi and Louisiana, two consistently Republican strongholds, rank first and second in financial dependency on Washington, receiving back almost twice what they pay in federal taxes. Georgia, incidentally, is ranked eighth with Tennessee third. Is this bald-faced hypocrisy or what?
From judicial, legislative and sociological trends over the past five decades, southern blue-collar wage earners have been in constant fear of total cultural submersion and collapse. They fear losing their identities and values, their total way of life accompanied by a steady economic decline. They feel they have been cast adrift in a world that no longer has a place for them in it. They have also been taught to mistrust all Democrats. Paraphrasing Ronald Reagan’s 1980 statement, they didn’t leave the Democratic Party, they feel the Party left them. And in one sense it did. In 2016 they were genuinely afraid Hillary Clinton intended to open the flood gates to Hispanic and Muslim immigration to increase Democratic voter totals. This also fit in with their smoldering racism.
The end of an era? I feel that our values and our institutions are too strong and too firmly rooted for this transient anomaly to portend the end of anything. In fact, it may mark the beginning of something. But what?
George B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at email@example.com.