Categories
essays Politics

Understanding power and status

The past four years of the Trump presidency have been dizzying. Watching Trump, honestly a master communicator, whip audiences into frenzies of rage over shared grievance was like, “Damn, he’s a master of triggering his audience” … but what are the sources of the rage? Well, racism was explicit, as was precarity, well larded with disdain/rage for ‘the elites.’

Yet the right wing is and has been dominating. McConnell completely controls the Senate, the House was Republican in 2016, Trump of course, and the Federalist society clones are stuffing the judicial branch with remorseless reactionaries. They have power, and lots of it, well fortified with antimajoritarian structures of electoral college, gerrymandering, Census manipulation and of course the Senate. So where’s the rage from?

All of the above made much more sense after reading this NYT column by Thomas Edsall titled “The Resentment That Never Sleeps” – the two keys are status and last place aversion. Let me explain.

Last place aversion, from this paper of the same name, is a terrible aspect of human nature. We don’t want to be last. Politicians have long understood this on a visceral level:

“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” – LBJ

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/lbj-convince-the-lowest-white-man/

Trump uses the combination of precarity and last place aversion to drive his base: “The black and brown people are bad and they’re going to be higher status than you.”

Status is more interesting and more complex. They key thing I learned from Edsall is that the two parties have different status measures and goals – the Democrats use “prestige” based on “notable achievement in a field” and Republicans are using “dominance” based on threats and bullying.

Re-read that last bit. Think: any Trump speech, ‘Fuck your feelings’ campaign shirts, rolling coal, police riots, “owning the libs”, right wing militias and much more. They all make sense if the goal is to intimidate, to cause fear, to dominate.

There’s a ton more in the Edsall piece, it’s superbly researched and linked and worth reading several times.

It’s a bleak read. I don’t expect Biden to be effective in this climate, and I fully expect Trump and McConnell to continue their sabotage. At the same time, as well explained in “Listen, Liberal” the Democrats remain focused only on their white collar constituents and seem deaf to the plight of everyone else:

They are a party of the professional class—a.k.a. the “learning class” or the “creative class”—and they are infatuated with the idea of a post-ideological society in which competence is all that matters.

https://tcfrank.com/product/listen-liberal/

Sound like the prestige status hierarchy to me.

I fear for my country, and that’s no joke.

By Paul Hubbard

Computer engineer from San Diego. Obsessed with hardware, software, timekeeping and elegance.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.