A Rich Man’s War, a Poor Man’s Fight
Why do the poorest Americans blindly support a self-proclaimed billionaire?
The chart hereunder was shared all over social media in the past few days. It represents the share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) “won” by each candidate when adding up all the counties that voted for them. Looking at the definition of GDP in an IMF publication, we read that
GDP measures the monetary value of final goods and services — that are bought by the final user — produced in a country in a given period of time.
It also commonly agreed amongst economists that “GDP serves as the key indicator of development and progress.”
The differences between the economic circumstances of those who voted for Biden or Trump are staggering.
While Biden only won about 17% of the country’s counties, they represent 70% of the national GDP. More significantly, Biden won all 32 counties with a GDP over $100B with an average lead of +38.66.
In the meantime, Trump won 83% of the nation’s counties but these only represent 29% of the GDP. Moreover, he also claimed 36 of the 50 counties with the lowest per capita income with an average +47.98 margin. Interestingly, and not surprising at all, the poorest counties that voted for Biden either have a small white population or a large Native American one.
People from the poorest counties in the country vote en masse for Trump and support his fasco-capitalist rhetoric while they stand not only to gain nothing from it but also to lose the very government support they rely on.
Trump supporters tend to rely more on food stamps, as a 2018 Bloomberg article citing an analysis from the same source shows:
12.9 percent of residents of states that backed Trump in 2016 used food stamps in February, the most recent month for which data are available, compared with 11.4 percent in states won by Democrat Hillary Clinton. That amounts to 23.8 million people in Trump states compared with 16.2 million in Clinton territory.
Similarly, Trump voters are much more likely to benefit from the ACA, as a 2017 Los Angeles Times article demonstrated
Among those hit the hardest under the current House bill are 60-year-olds with annual incomes of $30,000, particularly in rural areas where healthcare costs are higher and Obamacare subsidies are greater.
In nearly 1,500 counties nationwide, such a person stands to lose more than $6,000 a year in federal insurance subsidies. Ninety percent of those counties backed Trump, the analysis shows.
The real question is: why? Why do people who stand to lose the most from Trump’s contemplated destruction of social welfare not only vote for him but also adore him and, to a certain extent, worship him?
Because, as AdamSerwer brilliantly put it in his must-read piece from 2018 The Cruelty Is the Point, “Trump and his supporters find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear.”
Going further, Serwer concludes that
Trump’s only true skill is the con; his only fundamental belief is that the United States is the birthright of straight, white, Christian men, and his only real, authentic pleasure is in cruelty. It is that cruelty, and the delight it brings them, that binds his most ardent supporters to him, in shared scorn for those they hate and fear: immigrants, black voters, feminists, and treasonous white men who empathize with any of those who would steal their birthright.
Similarly, a brilliant long-form from Jonna Ivin dives into this topic, tracing the roots of the populist white support for rich white elites to the Civil War. In her conclusion, she writes this (in relation to the election of Trump in 2016):
Once again, this country is seeing poor whites rise up to fight a civil war that will not benefit them. They are being used as puppets for the wealthy because they can not or will not come to terms with their own racism. It’s easier to be racist and blame the “other guy” than get honest with yourself and realize you have been duped. Poor whites have been sold the lie that the American dream is right at their fingertips, just so long as they keep everyone else off the playing field. Many will spend so much time chasing others off the field they will never have enough time to pursue the very dream they desire.
Poor men are drawn by racism, jealousy, and spite to fight the wars of a rich (albeit highly indebted) wannabe dictator. What binds them is their hatred of the other, their focus on self-interest and their disdain for society as a whole, and for any liberal views in particular.
“A rich men’s war, a poor man’s fight” was a common saying during the Civil War, the Confederate government having passed an unpopular Conscription Act (after all, conscription by a central government goes against states’ rights) that provided for a “substitution clause” and an exemption for plantations overseers (one white man for every 20 slaves).
It is said that History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as a farce. Let’s hope this is the latter case.