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Why economic anxiety is driving working class voters to ‘Trumpism’

March 24, 2016 at 6:30 PM EDT
Economic anxiety has taken center stage in this year’s election, driving many angry voters to rally behind Donald Trump. According to conservative Charles Murray, this anxiety can be traced back to deep-seated feelings of marginalization among working class families, exacerbated by the perceived disconnect between themselves and the political elite. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s no question that one of the key issues in this election year has been the frustration of workers over wages, debt and a sense of economic stagnation in too many households.

Our economics correspondent, Paul Solman, recently sat down with Robert Reich to hear a more progressive take on these issues.

Tonight, Paul gets a more conservative view on how it helps explain the Trump phenomenon.

It’s part of his weekly reporting on financial news, Making Sense, which airs every Thursday.

MAN: The poor are getting everything for free, and the rich are getting all the tax breaks.

PAUL SOLMAN: Marginalized for so long, economically anxious voters are now center stage in the daily drama of the presidential campaign.

MAN: I am currently unemployed. I think the middle class, they really don’t really care about as much as they should.

WOMAN: I lost my job, so my one full-time job is now three part-time jobs.

WOMAN: That’s what America needs. That’s what the people need. They need their jobs back.

PAUL SOLMAN: To which Donald Trump responds loud and clear.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: I will be the greatest jobs-producing president that God ever created.

PAUL SOLMAN: Economics is a key driver of the voter anger Charles Murray calls Trumpism, conservative Charles Murray, who’s been a lightning rod of controversy since “The Bell Curve,” his co-authored book of the 1990s on genetics and economic success.

What is “Trumpism?”

CHARLES MURRAY, American Enterprise Institute: “Trumpism” is the expression by the white working class of a lot of legitimate grievances that it has with the ruling class.

Everything from the cultural disdain that the ruling class holds the working class in, to the loss of all kinds of manufacturing jobs, the importation of low-skilled labor, all the ways in which, if you’re a member of the working class, you have over the last 30 or 40 years been screwed.

PAUL SOLMAN: Murray says he would never vote for Donald Trump, but he’s been forced to acknowledge the appeal of, say, Trump’s diatribes against outsourcing jobs.

MAN: The best way to stay competitive is to move production from our facility in Indianapolis to Monterrey, Mexico.

PAUL SOLMAN: This cell phone video gone viral from February showed workers, at an Indianapolis Carrier plant, getting prospective pink slips.

Although it’s been widely reported that Donald Trump’s own products are made overseas, on the campaign trail, he denounced Carrier, and issued a threat.

DONALD TRUMP: I’m going to call up Carrier, and I’m going to tell the head of Carrier, I hope you enjoy your stay in Mexico, folks, but every single unit that you make and send across our border, which now will be real, you’re going to pay a 35 percent tax.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

DONALD TRUMP: No more Oreos.

PAUL SOLMAN: And there’s the campaign chant Trump initiated after Oreo maker Nabisco said it was moving jobs from Chicago to Mexico.

DONALD TRUMP: No more Oreos. Oh, it’s going to be tough getting off Oreos.

PAUL SOLMAN: Another familiar, yet grave grievance of Trump supporters, insourcing of cheap labor via immigration. The recent furor over it has forced Charles Murray to change his mind.

CHARLES MURRAY: I have always believed in enforcing the border, and doing that before you do amnesty. I have always considered myself to be, you know, very stern on those issues.

But I also have not written about saying, maybe we shouldn’t have so many low-skilled people coming in anymore, and because my libertarian principles are in favor of immigration and all that. And until the last few months, it didn’t hit home to me the degree to which the immigration policy that I, as one of the elites, find good is good only because I don’t pay any of the price for it.

PAUL SOLMAN: And that’s the great revelation of Trumpism.

CHARLES MURRAY: That the ruling class in this country is governing in its own self-interest, and ignoring the legitimate complaints of the working class and, for that matter, of the middle class.

PAUL SOLMAN: I spent a day with Murray in 2012, exploring his book on inequality, “Coming Apart.” It featured a “Do you live in a bubble?” quiz.

CHARLES MURRAY: And I got a really high score, because, after all, I made up the quiz. So, I’m supposedly not in the bubble at all.

PAUL SOLMAN: Right.

CHARLES MURRAY: But I have been shocked by the degree of self-recognition of the ways that I, too, am in the bubble, except it’s been an unpleasant shock, and it’s because of the presidential campaign.

PAUL SOLMAN: Though he lives in a small town in rural Maryland, by education, income and social class, Murray now realizes he is also in an elitist bubble.

CHARLES MURRAY: You now have the option of going to live in communities which are filled with interesting people, people who do share your tastes and preferences, who get your jokes, who know about the allusions, who, for that mater, share your politics. That’s happening all the time.

PAUL SOLMAN: While so many average Americans pine for the good old days.

MAN: Make America great again $5 rally flag right here. I got one left. Who wants it?

PAUL SOLMAN: But popular TV, a product of those in the upper echelons, makes fun of those below.

ACTRESS: The plant called and said, if you don’t come in tomorrow, don’t bother coming in Monday.

ACTOR: Woo-hoo! Four-day weekend.

CHARLES MURRAY: There is one group that is more consistently portrayed as ineffectual, as unvirtuous, as incompetent, as objects of fun, and that is white working class guys.

ACTOR: Evel Knievel gloves. I bet I could do a wheelie with these. How much for the gloves?

ACTOR: Peter, those are yours.

ACTOR: Ten bucks, two, seven, four, 5.50, 10. Sold. Sucker, I would have gone to 15 easy. I am so stupid.

PAUL SOLMAN: How much of the anxiety and resentment of the working middle class is due, do you think, to the attitude of the elites in this country with respect to those working middle-class people?

CHARLES MURRAY: A big chunk. You don’t think that they don’t notice when we talk about flyover country? Try to think of any kind of ethnic slur that you can get away with at a dinner party you attend without getting immediate pushback.

PAUL SOLMAN: Oh, you would get kicked out of the room.

CHARLES MURRAY: I will give you one. I will give you an ethnic slur where you won’t. Try it out at your next dinner party. Refer to rednecks.

Talk to a friend of mine who bought a weekend place in West Virginia, and have him tell you what his Georgetown neighbors said without the slightest sense of shame about their expectations of what his neighbors would be like, that they would be dumb, illiterate, have missing teeth.

PAUL SOLMAN: It’s not as if Trump supporters like John Lehanka haven’t noticed the condescension.

JOHN LEHANKA, Greensboro, NC: We’re not stupid. We’re not clowns. We’re not zombies. We know what we want. We want America to be great again.

PAUL SOLMAN: As any number of recent plays illustrate, many artists have deep sympathy for the economically subordinated.

ACTOR: They squeeze us like a sponge. They drain out every last drop of blood, and then they throw us away.

PAUL SOLMAN: Though, arguably, the artists are members of the elite themselves, not to mention their audiences.

ACTOR: I thought I would be settled by my age, but, man, it never ends. Mortgage, car payments, Internet. Our dishwasher just gave out.

ACTOR: Oh, man.

ACTOR: Yes. Yes. Don’t you think it should cost less to be alive?

PAUL SOLMAN: And yet, says Murray, even the most aware among the socially elite have done little to cut the widening distance between them and more typical Americans.

CHARLES MURRAY: There is a sense that the people who run the country are a separate group of people who don’t like them, who don’t understand them, and who have been punishing them.

PAUL SOLMAN: Donald Trump’s sales pitch, of course, is that he does understand them, and will protect them.

DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to build a wall, folks. Don’t worry about it.

PAUL SOLMAN: For the “PBS NewsHour,” this is economics correspondent Paul Solman.

DONALD TRUMP: Who is going to pay for the wall?

AUDIENCE: Mexico!

DONALD TRUMP: Who?

AUDIENCE: Mexico!

JUDY WOODRUFF: And on our Web site, you can take Charles Murray’s bubble quiz to see if you live in a social and cultural bubble. That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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