When Trump first won the presidency in 2016, legacy media outlets, including the New York Times, wrung their hands in anguish for having missed the story of profound public anxiety about the future. They raced to diners and truck stops across the Midwest in an effort to find out what “ordinary Americans” — those who rejected the Roosevelt coalition and bicoastal liberalism — were thinking and feeling.
The stories that resulted painted a picture of the American Dream in a considerable state of decay, if not outright shambles. To anyone familiar with those areas, this was less a revelation than a confirmation that the myth of the hard-working family building a better future in the land of opportunity was just that. The deep residues of racism from the Civil War and its aftermath in the Jim Crow South were just the most flammable components of a promise gone awry, thanks to persistent ethnocentrism and racism, the enduring power of class stratification, and the ability of the wealthiest to game the system for advantage in taxes, regulatory neglect, and evasion of legal accountability.
Trump’s success as a demagogue was to give voice to growing frustration in a way that had never been done publicly before. Until he came along on the national stage, the anger, resentment, and entitlement of lawless transgression was always present, but relegated to the margins of mainstream politics. [Continue reading…]