In the bottom ranks of educational achievement, they continued, trends in inequality are
consistent with the decline in the odds of marriage between high school dropouts and those with more education since the 1970s, a period over which the real wages of men in this education group declined.
Christopher Federico, a professor of political science and psychology at the University of Minnesota, described the key roles of education and employment opportunity in the right-wing mobilization of less-educated white men:
A major development since the end of the “Great Compression” of the 30 years or so after World War II, when there was less inequality and relatively greater job security, at least for white male workers, is that the differential rate of return on education and training is now much higher.
In this new world, Federico argues, “promises of broad-based economic security” were replaced by a job market where
you can have dignity, but it must be earned through market or entrepreneurial success (as the Reagan/Thatcher center-right would have it) or the meritocratic attainment of professional status (as the center-left would have it). But obviously, these are not avenues available to all, simply because society has only so many positions for captains of industry and educated professionals.
The result, Federico notes, is that “group consciousness is likely to emerge on the basis of education and training” and when “those with less education see themselves as being culturally very different from an educated stratum of the population that is more socially liberal and cosmopolitan, then the sense of group conflict is deepened.”
None of these forces diminishes the key role of racial animosity and racism. Instead, they intensify racial resentment.
Jennifer Richeson, a professor of psychology at Yale, wrote by email that there is
very consistent and compelling evidence to suggest the some of what we have witnessed this past week is a reflection of the angst, anger, and refusal to accept an “America”’ in which White (Christian) Americans are losing dominance, be it political, material, and/or cultural. And, I use the term dominance here, because it is not simply a loss of status. It is a loss of power. A more racially, ethnically, religiously diverse US that is also a democracy requires White Americans to acquiesce to the interests and concerns of racial/ethnic and religious minorities.
Trump, Richeson continued,
leaned into the underlying White nationalist sentiments that had been on the fringe in his campaign for the presidency and made his campaign about re-centering Whiteness as what it actually means to be American and, by implication, delegitimizing claims for greater racial equity, be it in policing or any other important domain of American life.
Michael Kraus, a professor at the Yale School of Management, argued in an email that
Racism is the key construct here in understanding why this sort of violence is possible. The other explanations would be the pathways through which racism creates these conditions. An individual experiences their standing in society as relative and comparative, so sometimes the gains of other groups feel like losses to Whites. Whites in the last 60 years have seen minoritized folks gain more political power, economic and educational opportunity. Even though these gains are grossly exaggerated, Whites experience them as a loss in group status.
Emily G. Jacobs, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of California-Santa Barbara, argued that all the rights revolutions — civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights — have been key to the emergence of the contemporary right wing:
As the voices of women, people of color, and other traditionally marginalized communities grow louder the frame of reference from which we tell the story of American is expanding. The white male story is not irrelevant but it’s insufficient, and when you have a group of people that are accustomed to the spotlight see the camera lens pan away, it’s a threat to their sense of self. It’s not surprising that QAnon support started to soar in the weeks after B.L.M. QAnon offers a way for white evangelicals to place blame on (fictional) bad people instead of a broken system. It’s an organization that validates the source of Q-Anoners insecurity — irrelevance — and in its place offers a steady source of self-righteousness and acceptance.
Jane Yunhee Junn, a professor of political science at the University of Southern California, was outspoken in her view:
People of color in political office, women controlling their fertility, L.G.B.T.Q. people getting married, using their bathrooms, and having children go against the state of nature defined by white heteropatriarchy. This is a domain in which men and white men in particular stand at the apex of power, holding their “rightful position” over women, nonwhites, perhaps non-Christians (in the U.S.), and of course, in their view, sexual deviants such as gay people.
Herbert P. Kitschelt, a professor of political science at Duke, wrote in an email that “compared to other advanced countries caught up in the transition to knowledge society, the United States appears to be in a much more vulnerable position to a strong right-wing populist challenge.”
Kitschelt’s listing of some of the reasons for American vulnerability to right-wing forces illuminates current events.
First, Kitschelt noted,
The difference between economic winners and losers, captured by income inequality, poverty, and illiteracy rates within the dominant white ethnicity, is much greater than in most other Western countries, and there is no dense welfare state safety net to buffer the fall of people into unemployment and poverty.
Another key factor, Kitschelt pointed out, is that
The decline of male status in the family is more sharply articulated than in Europe, hastened in the U.S. by economic inequality (men fall further under changing economic circumstances) and religiosity (leading to pockets of greater male resistance to the redefinition of gender roles).
Unlike most European countries, Kitschelt wrote,
The United States had a civil war over slavery in the 19th century and a continuous history of structural racism and white oligarchical rule until the 1960s, and in many aspects until the present. Europe lacks this legacy.
On top of that, in the United States.
Many lines of conflict mutually reinforce each other rather than crosscut: Less educated whites tend to be more Evangelical and more racist, and they live in geographical spaces with less economic momentum.
Coming days will determine how far this goes, but for the moment the nation faces, for all intents and purposes, the makings of a civil insurgency. What makes this insurgency unusual in American history is that it is based on Trump’s false claim that he, not Joe Biden, won the presidency, that the election was stolen by malefactors in both parties, and that majorities in both branches of Congress no longer represent the true will of the people.
At the same time, hostility to Trump on the left can make it easy to overlook the shortcomings, such as they are, of the center-left political coalition in this country — and I think it is important that liberals, among whom I count myself, keep this in mind.
Bernard Grofman, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, put it this way in an email:
We would not have Trump as president if the Democrats had remained the party of the working class. The decline of labor unions proceeded at the same rate when Democrats were president as when Republicans were president; the same is, I believe, true of loss of manufacturing jobs as plants moved overseas.
President Obama, Grofman wrote,
responded to the housing crisis with bailouts of the lenders and interlinked financial institutions, not of the folks losing their homes. And the stagnation of wages and income for the middle and bottom of the income distribution continued under Obama. And the various Covid aid packages, while they include payments to the unemployed, are also helping big businesses more than the small businesses that have been and will be permanently going out of business due to the lockdowns (and they include various forms of pork.
The result, according to Grofman, was that “white less well-educated voters didn’t desert the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party deserted them.”
At the same time, though, and here I will quote Grofman at length:
More religious and less well-educated whites see Donald Trump as one of their own despite his being so obviously a child of privilege. He defends America as a Christian nation. He defends English as our national language. He is unashamed in stating that the loyalty of any government should be to its own citizens — both in terms of how we should deal with noncitizens here and how our foreign policy should be based on the doctrine of “America First.”
He speaks in a language that ordinary people can understand. He makes fun of the elites who look down on his supporters as a “basket of deplorables” and who think it is a good idea to defund the police who protect them and to prioritize snail darters over jobs. He appoints judges and justices who are true conservatives. He believes more in gun rights than in gay rights. He rejects political correctness and the language-police and woke ideology as un-American. And he promises to reclaim the jobs that previous presidents (of both parties) allowed to be shipped abroad. In sum, he offers a relatively coherent set of beliefs and policies that are attractive to many voters and which he has been better at seeing implemented than any previous Republican president. What Trump supporters who rioted in D.C. share are the beliefs that Trump is their hero, regardless of his flaws, and that defeating Democrats is a holy war to be waged by any means necessary.
In the end, Grofman said,
Trying to explain the violence on the Hill by only talking about what the demonstrators believe is to miss the point. They are guilty, but they wouldn’t be there were it not for the Republican politicians and the Republican attorneys general, and most of all the president, who cynically exaggerate and lie and create fake conspiracy theories and demonize the opposition. It is the enablers of the mob who truly deserve the blame and the shame.