National Journal: Trump’s ‘Middle American Radicals’ Changing 2016 Race

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AP Photo/Brynn Anderson

From John B. Judis writing at National Journal:

In 1976, Don­ald War­ren—a so­ci­olo­gist from Oak­land Uni­versity in Michigan who would die two dec­ades later without ever at­tain­ing the rank of full pro­fess­or—pub­lished a book called The Rad­ic­al Cen­ter: Middle Amer­ic­ans and the Polit­ics of Ali­en­a­tion. Few people have read or heard of it—I learned of it about 30 years ago from the late, very ec­cent­ric pa­leo­con­ser­vat­ive Samuel Fran­cis—but it is, in my opin­ion, one of the three or four books that best ex­plain Amer­ic­an polit­ics over the past half-cen­tury.

While con­duct­ing ex­tens­ive sur­veys of white voters in 1971 and again in 1975, War­ren iden­ti­fied a group who de­fied the usu­al par­tis­an and ideo­lo­gic­al di­vi­sions. These voters were not col­lege edu­cated; their in­come fell some­where in the middle or lower-middle range; and they primar­ily held skilled and semi-skilled blue-col­lar jobs or sales and cler­ic­al white-col­lar jobs. At the time, they made up about a quarter of the elect­or­ate. What dis­tin­guished them was their ideo­logy: It was neither con­ven­tion­ally lib­er­al nor con­ven­tion­ally con­ser­vat­ive, but in­stead re­volved around an in­tense con­vic­tion that the middle class was un­der siege from above and be­low.

War­ren called these voters Middle Amer­ic­an Rad­ic­als, or MARS. “MARS are dis­tinct in the depth of their feel­ing that the middle class has been ser­i­ously neg­lected,” War­ren wrote. They saw “gov­ern­ment as fa­vor­ing both the rich and the poor sim­ul­tan­eously.” Like many on the left, MARS were deeply sus­pi­cious of big busi­ness: Com­pared with the oth­er groups he sur­veyed—lower-in­come whites, middle-in­come whites who went to col­lege, and what War­ren called “af­flu­ents”—MARS were the most likely to be­lieve that cor­por­a­tions had “too much power,” “don’t pay at­ten­tion,” and were “too big.” MARS also backed many lib­er­al prorams: By a large per­cent­age, they favored gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee­ing jobs to every­one; and they sup­por­ted price con­trols, Medi­care, some kind of na­tion­al health in­sur­ance, fed­er­al aid to edu­ca­tion, and So­cial Se­cur­ity.

On the oth­er hand, they held very con­ser­vat­ive po­s­i­tions on poverty and race. They were the least likely to agree that whites had any re­spons­ib­il­ity “to make up for wrongs done to blacks in the past,” they were the most crit­ic­al of wel­fare agen­cies, they re­jec­ted ra­cial bus­ing, and they wanted to grant po­lice a “heav­ier hand” to “con­trol crime.” They were also the group most dis­trust­ful of the na­tion­al gov­ern­ment. And in a stand that wasn’t really lib­er­al or con­ser­vat­ive (and that ap­peared, at least on the sur­face, to be in ten­sion with their dis­like of the na­tion­al gov­ern­ment), MARS were more likely than any oth­er group to fa­vor strong lead­er­ship in Wash­ing­ton—to ad­voc­ate for a situ­ation “when one per­son is in charge.”

If these voters are be­gin­ning to sound fa­mil­i­ar, they should: War­ren’s MARS of the 1970s are the Don­ald Trump sup­port­ers of today. Since at least the late 1960s, these voters have peri­od­ic­ally co­alesced to be­come a force in pres­id­en­tial polit­ics, just as they did this past sum­mer. In 1968 and 1972, they were at the heart of George Wal­lace’s pres­id­en­tial cam­paigns; in 1992 and 1996, many of them backed H. Ross Perot or Pat Buchanan. Over the years, some of their is­sues have changed—il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion has re­placed ex­pli­citly ra­cist ap­peals—and many of these voters now have ju­ni­or-col­lege de­grees and are as likely to hold white-col­lar as blue-col­lar jobs. But the ba­sic MARS world­view that War­ren out­lined has re­mained sur­pris­ingly in­tact from the 1970s through the present.

Read the rest of the story at National Journal.

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