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Why red states depend on and distrust government the most

November 1, 2016 at 6:15 PM EDT
Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild set out to explore what she saw as a paradox in American political life: red states depend the most on the federal government, but also distrust it the most. It’s the topic of her new book, “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” for which she traveled to Louisiana to research the phenomenon. She sits down with Jeffrey Brown.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now back to the campaign and to the latest edition in our Political Ink series.

We look at what is behind some of the underlying anger that has permeated this election.

Jeffrey Brown is in charge.

JEFFREY BROWN: From Berkeley, California, to the Louisiana bayou country, several thousand miles and a deep political and cultural divide.

In the new book “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild draws a portrait of that divide through the lives of people in and around Lake Charles, Louisiana.

And the book has just been nominated for a National Book Award.

So, welcome and congratulations.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD, Author, “Strangers In Their Own Land”: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: You start by writing that you were looking for an answer to a great paradox in American political life.

Explain that.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: And that is that the red states are states with a lot of needs, needs for their schools, needs for their health. They have lower life expectancy, more disruptive families.

They depend more on the federal government than blue states. And they resist and distrust the federal government more. And Louisiana seemed to exaggerate that, as the poorest state, as receiving 44 percent of its state budget from the federal government, and being overwhelmingly very conservative.

JEFFREY BROWN: And you — and you’re clear throughout this book you’re coming from not only a blue state, but a capital of blue culture, right, from Berkeley, California.

So, you’re coming as an outsider to see what?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: To take my own alarm system off and to try and cross an empathy wall and to really understand mainly why it is people feel so negatively about the federal government.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, your way in is through the environment, environmental damage, well-documented in Louisiana.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: But the people that you’re talking to, they don’t see government as the answer. You see, coming from the outside — you would imagine that they would.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Right. I would imagine that they would. And they are victims of tremendous pollution.

There are different reasons why they don’t like the federal government. One is, they think of the federal government as the finger-wagging North, always with its moral judgment.

JEFFREY BROWN: There’s much history there, yes.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Much history.

The second is, they see the companies as the givers of jobs and gifts, gifts which the company can afford because the state is giving it $1.5 billion. It’s given to the Audubon Society and various things.

So, the state looks — the company looks very generous, and the state doesn’t really regulate the polluters. And so victims of the pollution blame the state.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, and, in fact, as they tell you over and over again, the evidence they see is that they have not been benefited. So, why would they look to government for more regulation?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: I understand that, actually, in a way I didn’t when I set out. But I feel like the companies are making the state do the moral dirty work of not — promising to protect, but not protecting.

But there’s another reason that I think that they don’t trust the government. They see it as an instrument of their own marginalization, because they feel especially Democratic administrations have favored blacks, women, immigrants, refugees. And all of these groups, they see as getting ahead of them, as almost like line-cutters, pushing them back in line.

JEFFREY BROWN: I know you started this several years ago, but, of course, here we are in the middle of a campaign. What does Donald Trump offer? What do they see in him?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: I feel as if I had studied for four years the kindling, and then, when I went to see Donald Trump in his primary rally in New Orleans, I saw the match that lit the kindling.

They see in him someone who recognizes their sense of loss and discouragement and someone who is going to rescue them, almost in a secular rapture.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, where does this all leave you, personally and in thinking about the country?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: I think it leads me to realize that we have a job to do to heal this big divide, and that it’s a very important thing for us to do it at this political moment, and that…

JEFFREY BROWN: Is it doable?

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: It is doable.

It leaves me optimistic, because, for example, there are crossover issues. I heard many people say, let’s get money out of politics. I thought, well, the two sides can agree on that. And let’s clean up this environment for real. And two sides can agree on that.

Let’s lower prison populations. Two sides can agree on that. Let’s stop insulting each other and really get to know people. I mean, have a few beers and go on a fishing trip, and you will find a friend who won’t see the world the way you do, but where you can have a really good conversation about it.

JEFFREY BROWN: The book is “Strangers in Their Own Land.”

Arlie Russell Hochschild, thank you very much.

ARLIE RUSSELL HOCHSCHILD: Thank you.

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