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!’