Red States, Blue States, and the “Empathy Gap.”

Kathy Pollitt has written an important article that drives home some of the points about which I’ve been posting since the election.  It’s not long and you really owe it to yourself to read the whole thing.

Ms. Pollitt notes the by-now-cliched articles we keep reading about white working-class Trump supporters.  (She makes the important point that most of Trump’s supporters   weren’t out-of-work coal miners or auto factory workers.  They were people making $70,000/year who were racist, sexist, and xenophobic.)  She then takes on the familiar trope that it’s those mean Democrats being mean  that literally forces these poor, decent, racists to vote for the racist candidate:

Just within the last few weeks, the New Republic had Michael Tomasky deploring “elite liberal suspicion of middle America” for such red-state practices as churchgoing and gun owning and The New York Times had Joan Williams accusingDemocrats of impugning the “social honor” of working-class whites by talking about them in demeaning and condescending ways, as exemplified by such phrases as “flyover states,” “trailer trash,” and “plumber’s butt.”

I lived with an abuser and “See what you made me do?” is what they always say when they want an excuse for the abusive behavior that they enjoy and in which they were going to engage in any event.  Any “what” will do, but it is always going to be your fault that he had to hit you, break the dish, ruin the long-planned family dinner.

This whole trope is made extra ridiculous by the fact that Trump supporters have made an art of threatening and insulting anyone who isn’t a Trump supporter.  They’ve even created entire new categories of insults for anyone who doesn’t look like, sound like, and believe like they do.  “Snowflake” (aka, someone who melts under the least criticism; these people project like a movie theatre).  “Trump that bitch!”  “Fuck Your Feelings”   “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some Assembly Required.”  Pictures of the object of their ridicule in a gas chamber with Trump or Pepe the Frog pulling the switch.  Not to mention the old standbys:  Libtards, the Democrat Party, Ni**er, Wop.  As I’ve noted before , somehow, no one warns Trump supporters that such comments will make us vote for Trump’s opponent.

Ms. Pollitt makes the point much better than I did:

But here’s my question: Who is telling the Tea Partiers and Trump voters to empathize with the rest of us? Why is it all one way? [They] have plenty of demeaning preconceptions about liberals and blue-staters—that distant land of hippies, feminazis, and freeloaders of all kinds. Nor do they seem to have much interest in climbing the empathy wall, given that they voted for a racist misogynist who wants to throw 11 million people out of the country and ban people from our shores on the basis of religion (as he keeps admitting on Twitter, even as his administration argues in court that Islam has nothing to do with it). Furthermore, they are the ones who won, despite having almost 3 million fewer votes. Thanks to the founding fathers, red-staters have outsize power in both the Senate and the Electoral College, and with great power comes great responsibility. So shouldn’t they be trying to figure out the strange polyglot population they now dominate from their strongholds in the South and Midwest? What about their stereotypes? How respectful or empathetic is the belief of millions of Trump voters, as established in polls and surveys, that women are more privileged than men, that increasing racial diversity in America is bad for the country, that the travel ban is necessary for national security? How realistic is the conviction, widespread among Trump supporters, that Hillary Clinton is a murderer, President Obama is a Kenyan communist and secret Muslim, and the plain-red cups that Starbucks uses at Christmastime are an insult to Christians? One of [them] complains that “liberal commentators” refer to people like him as a “redneck.” I’ve listened to liberal commentators for decades and have never heard one use this word. But say it happened once or twice. “Feminazi” went straight from Rush Limbaugh’s mouth to general parlance. One [Trump supporter], a gospel singer and preacher’s wife, uses it like a normal word. Equating women who want their rights with the genocidal murder of millions? How is that not a vile insult?

You have to ask yourself qui bono?  Who, other than Republicans, benefits from this continued insistence that it’s the Democrats who need to bend over backwards to “understand” red-state conservatives?  And the answer is that it benefits those within the Democratic Party who want to continue to center white people — mainly white men — and to ignore the fact that the party’s base is black women, feminists, and other minority groups.  Ms. Pollit sums up:

Sorry, self-abasing liberal pundits: If you go by actual deeds, liberals and leftists are the ones with empathy. We want everyone to have health care, for example, even those Tea Partiers who in the debate over the Affordable Care Act loudly asserted that people who can’t afford treatment should just die. We want everyone to be decently paid for their labor, no matter how low they wear their pants—somehow the party that claims to be the voice of working people has no problem with paying them so little they’re eligible for food stamps, which that same party wants to take away. We want college to be affordable for everyone—even for the children of parents who didn’t start saving for college when the pregnancy test came out positive. We want everyone to be free to worship as they please—including Muslims—even if we ourselves are nonbelievers.

As Joy-Ann Reid notes, red-state voters’ fervor to destroy the social safety net, mainly because they enjoy “pissing off liberals,” is leading to an even greater red-state/blue-state divide:

[B]lue states and cities, led by the world’s sixth largest economy, California, have begun to drive past the [Trump] circus, toward international climate pacts, expanded healthcare access and perhaps eventually, trade pacts as well, along with advances in education, civic opportunity and green technology that will leave red America behind as the White House begins to lose its position as the center of gravity in America. Sure, Trump will remain our primary spectacle — the 20-car pileup we can’t stop staring at. But functionally, it’s easy to foresee the next three and a half years as a time of backing away from Washington, for those determined to protect those within their state and city lines and the progress this country fought so hard to make on everything from education to civil and immigrant rights to climate change.

Many will continue to fight to unite the country in forward motion, but others will look in the rear view mirror and say, “let them choke on their oil and coal.” Such is the level of disgust felt by the horrified majority toward Trump’s America.

Blue America, as defined by the 500 counties won by Hillary Clinton, accounts for 64 percent of this country’s economic activity; while the 2,600 counties Trump won account for just 36 percent. Blue America has a per capita income $10,000 higher, and lower rates of poverty and violent crime.  And Blue America hands Trump Country $300 billion more in tax revenues each year than they pay in. Blue state governors and mayors have a duty to defend their citizens against a sputtering president and his destructive party.

As Ms. Reid explains, this isn’t necessarily an unalloyed good.

The further disintegration of the United States into Balkanized red and blue parts is a fate that is as tragic as it feels inevitable. Indeed, it may be the reality that never really ended at Appomattox, despite our best pretense. America after Trump may be more like the European Union; a rambling alliance of interstate compacts, rather than the forced marriage of a country that emerged after the Civil War.

But it’s likely to continue to happen and, frankly, it’s better than allowing the red states to pull all of us back into the Stone Age.

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2 responses to “Red States, Blue States, and the “Empathy Gap.”

  1. I’ve recently been re-watching Weeds, one of my all-time favorite shows. In the final season, pot has been legalized, but southern states invoked “states’ rights” to block it for themselves. One character, a tobacco company owner who had the foresight to see legalization coming and pivot to pot growing, notes that the states that legalized have all that great tax revenue funding education and health care and infrastructure, meanwhile his benighted region falls farther and farther behind. Don’t know what made me think of that… 😉

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