How Trumpism hurts rural America

Paul Krugman in the New York Times: “What, after all, is Trumpism? In 2016 Trump pretended to be a different kind of Republican, but in practice almost all of his economic agenda has been G.O.P. standard: big tax cuts for corporations and the rich while hacking away at the social safety net. The one big break from orthodoxy has been his protectionism, his eagerness to start trade wars.

“And all of these policies disproportionately hurt farm country.”

2 thoughts on “How Trumpism hurts rural America

  1. There’s a constant refrain from liberals that, basically, “Trump is terrible for Trump supporters”. This goes back at least to “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” But I’ve never seen anyone document the case well enough to be convincing, and every exposition I’ve seen has glaring deficiencies.

    If you want to assess who gains and who loses from a set of policies, the frame you want is, How do (these policies) affect the position of (this group) vis-a-vis (the groups it competes with)?

    Trumpistas are basically lower-middle-class, non-college-educated white people. So it’s easy enough list the groups they compete with: the non-white lower-middle class (direct competitors), the poor (both white and non-white) (the class just below them), and the “professional employees”, the (largely white) upper-middle-class, college-educated people (the class just above them).

    Notably absent from this list is “the rich”. In line with traditional witticisms, people in one class have the strongest conflicts with the classes just below and just above them, but have few conflicts with people further away on the ladder, because their lives don’t intersect nearly as much.

    Krugman’s central comlaint is that Trumpistas don’t like taxing to maintain a social safety net. But looking at it, who is getting supported by that safety net? Essentially, it’s the poor (the class below). And if you’re in the lower-middle class and struggling to differentiate yourself from the poor, to maintain the status-markers that you aren’t poor, the last thing you want is for tax money to go to the poor. This is intensified if some of that tax money is extracted from yourself.

    I think this is the root of the valorization of “hard work” (which so annoys liberals). The people who love it are the bottom end of the middle class (where they do work hard and where “work” differentiates them from the class below) and people who hire such people (who don’t want the government to give non-working people benefits which might make it cost more to hire low-wage workers).

    Also beware that in rural areas, those two groups are often dominant. There is a much higher proportion of business owners in rural areas. In many rural places, there aren’t well-paying education-based jobs; the way you move up is to own and run a small business that hires people to do the poorly-paid work you used to do. It’s a situation that doesn’t generate sentiments to tax businesses more.

    Krugman airly dismisses “The one big break from orthodoxy has been his protectionism, his eagerness to start trade wars.” But that may be what put Trump over the top — the states with the highest percentage of manufacturing employment are Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Alabama, and Iowa, all of which (except Michigan) seem rural and all of which went for Trump. At least in Iowa, manufacturing strength isn’t easily visible, but as someone pointed out to me when I was growing up, nearly every town has a couple of steel-fabricating businesses, and my home town there had a full-on industrial park. Those businesses have likely been feeling the heat from Chinese competition.

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