A Lifetime Chasing Status

Ask people what they think and they’ll tell you what they think:

Since the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have pushed false and misleading accounts to downplay the event that left five dead and scores of others wounded. His supporters appear to have listened.

Three months after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to overturn his November election loss, about half of Republicans believe the siege was largely a non-violent protest or was the handiwork of left-wing activists “trying to make Trump look bad,” a new Reuters/Ipsos poll has found.

That’s what they think. Ask them what they know to be true, for a fact, and you might get a different answer. But the pollsters didn’t ask that question. This poll was a temperature-check. These people are both defensive – there was no violence at all – and angry – those “other people” rioted with the intent to kill – that wasn’t us. Those two positions are almost comically mutually exclusive but that hardly matters. This was a temperature-check. It’s high.

But everyone already knew that. What everyone knows about that day, for a fact, requires facts not in evidence at the moment, but there are some facts coming now. Someone has to gather them. The New York Times’ Alan Feuer reports on that work:

When the political scientist Robert Pape began studying the issues that motivated the 380 or so people arrested in connection with the attack against the Capitol on Jan. 6, he expected to find that the rioters were driven to violence by the lingering effects of the 2008 Great Recession.

But instead he found something very different: Most of the people who took part in the assault came from places, his polling and demographic data showed, that were awash in fears that the rights of minorities and immigrants were crowding out the rights of white people in American politics and culture.

In short, their world was disappearing. Soon it would be “gone with the wind” – just like the wonderful Old South that Margaret Mitchell missed so much, even if that was long before her time. Feuer interviewed Pape. Here we go again:

If Mr. Pape’s initial conclusions – published on Tuesday in The Washington Post – hold true, they would suggest that the Capitol attack has historical echoes reaching back to before the Civil War, he said in an interview over the weekend.

In the shorter term, he added, the study would appear to connect Jan. 6 not only to the once-fringe right-wing theory called the Great Replacement, which holds that minorities and immigrants are seeking to take over the country, but also to events like the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 where crowds of white men marched with torches chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”

“If you look back in history, there has always been a series of far-right extremist movements responding to new waves of immigration to the United States or to movements for civil rights by minority groups,” Mr. Pape said. “You see a common pattern in the Capitol insurrectionists. They are mainly middle-class to upper-middle-class whites who are worried that, as social changes occur around them, they will see a decline in their status in the future.”

That shows in the data. Pape explained that (those) data in his Washington Post quick summary:

The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by a violent mob at the behest of former president Donald Trump was an act of political violence intended to alter the outcome of a legitimate democratic election. That much was always evident.

What we know 90 days later is that the insurrection was the result of a large, diffuse and new kind of protest movement congealing in the United States.

The Chicago Project on Security and Threats (CPOST), working with court records, has analyzed the demographics and home county characteristics of the 377 Americans, from 250 counties in 44 states, arrested or charged in the Capitol attack.

Those involved are, by and large, older and more professional than right-wing protesters we have surveyed in the past. They typically have no ties to existing right-wing groups. But like earlier protesters, they are 95 percent White and 85 percent male, and many live near and among Biden supporters in blue and purple counties.

This is a new group. They’re not the young rowdy crowd. And they’re from all over, with one odd thing in common:

The charges have, so far, been generally in proportion to state and county populations as a whole. Only Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Montana appear to have sent more protesters to D.C. suspected of crimes than their populations would suggest.

Nor were these insurrectionists typically from deep-red counties. Some 52 percent are from blue counties that Biden comfortably won. But by far the most interesting characteristic common to the insurrectionists’ backgrounds has to do with changes in their local demographics: Counties with the most significant declines in the non-Hispanic White population are the most likely to produce insurrectionists who now face charges.

That was the one thing they had in common. At home, the White folks were leaving, getting squeezed out or leaving by choice, but leaving:

For example, Texas is the home of 36 of the 377 charged or arrested nationwide. The majority of the state’s alleged insurrectionists – 20 of 36 – live in six quickly diversifying blue counties such as Dallas and Harris (Houston). In fact, all 36 of Texas’s rioters come from just 17 counties, each of which lost White population over the past five years. Three of those arrested or charged hail from Collin County north of Dallas, which has lost White population at the very brisk rate of 4.3 percent since 2015.

The same thing can be seen in New York state, home to 27 people charged or arrested after the riot, nearly all of whom come from 14 blue counties that Biden won in and around New York City. One of these, Putnam County (south of Poughkeepsie), is home to three of those arrested, and a county that saw its White population decline by 3.5 percent since 2015.

The trigger here became clear:

When compared with almost 2,900 other counties in the United States, our analysis of the 250 counties where those charged or arrested live reveals that the counties that had the greatest decline in White population had an 18 percent chance of sending an insurrectionist to D.C., while the counties that saw the least decline in the White population had only a 3 percent chance. This finding holds even when controlling for population size, distance to D.C., unemployment rate and urban/rural location. It also would occur by chance less than once in 1,000 times.

Put another way, the people alleged by authorities to have taken the law into their hands on Jan. 6 typically hail from places where non-White populations are growing fastest.

And that means that many of them buy into the new general theory:

CPOST also conducted two independent surveys in February and March, including a National Opinion Research Council survey, to help understand the roots of this rage. One driver overwhelmingly stood out: fear of the “Great Replacement.” Great Replacement theory has achieved iconic status with white nationalists and holds that minorities are progressively replacing White populations due to mass immigration policies and low birthrates.

Oh, and there’s this too:

Extensive social media exposure is the second-biggest driver of this view, our surveys found. Replacement theory might help explain why such a high percentage of the rioters hailed from counties with fast-rising, non-White populations.

And then social media exposure does the rest, and it might be time to do something about this:

While tracking and investigating right-wing extremist groups remains a vital task for law enforcement, the best intelligence is predictive. Understanding where most alleged insurrectionists come from is a good starting point in identifying areas facing elevated risks of further political violence. At the very least, local mayors and police chiefs need better intelligence and sounder risk analysis.

To ignore this movement and its potential would be akin to Trump’s response to covid-19: We cannot presume it will blow over. The ingredients exist for future waves of political violence, from lone-wolf attacks to all-out assaults on democracy, surrounding the 2022 midterm elections.

And those are the facts, although Digby (Heather Parton) says this:

I don’t know about you, but I just assumed that the people who flew into DC for January 6th, dressed in fancy MAGA gear and staying at the Hyatt were all indigent coal miners who just wanted to make a statement about outsourcing…

Racism and xenophobia are All American characteristics going back to the beginning. But this latest paroxysm of hate has been bubbling up for quite some time and the arrival of a racist demagogue to bring it into the mainstream should have been expected. It certainly should have been recognized by the mainstream media when it happened. Instead we got all that bullshit about “economic anxiety” and years of forays into the wilds of Trump country to take the temperature of racists.

And there is that Feuer interview with Pape:

Mr. Pape said he worried that a similar mob could be summoned again by a leader like Mr. Trump. After all, he suggested, as the country continues moving toward becoming a majority-minority nation and right-wing media outlets continue to stoke fear about the Great Replacement, the racial and cultural anxieties that lay beneath the riot at the Capitol are not going away.

“If all of this is really rooted in the politics of social change, then we have to realize that it’s not going to be solved – or solved alone – by law enforcement agencies,” Mr. Pape said. “This is political violence, not just ordinary criminal violence, and it is going to require both additional information and a strategic approach.”

Mr. Pape, whose career had mostly been focused on international terrorism, used that approach after the Sept. 11 attacks when he created a database of suicide bombers from around the world. His research led to a remarkable discovery: Most of the bombers were secular, not religious, and had killed themselves not out of zealotry, but rather in response to military occupations.

American officials eventually used the findings to persuade some Sunnis in Iraq to break with their religious allies and join the United States in a nationalist movement known as the Anbar Awakening.

Could that happen here? Paul Waldman sees this:

The Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 had a number of things (mostly) in common, including their race, their gender and their belief that when an election doesn’t turn out the way you want, the appropriate response is violence.

But now it’s more than that:

There has already been a good deal of social media response to Pape’s study of the, “Duh, it’s racism, not economic anxiety” variety. But while this result may not be surprising, it is a vivid illustration of the forces that helped propel Donald Trump to the presidency and still hold the Republican Party in their grip…

Of course, the people who were arrested in connection with the events of Jan. 6 are hardly a representative sample of Trump supporters. But they are an extreme representation of important larger phenomena. The forces that acted on them also act on people who are less crazy and violent.

Many at the Capitol seem to have experienced the kind of cultural change that the entire conservative world – including both ambitious politicians and an entrenched right-wing media – is intent on not just drawing attention to but also focusing on as a source of resentment and fear.

Looking back, it seemed almost destined that the Trump era would culminate in a violent right-wing insurrection.

So now the facts are these:

We’ve known for some time that many Trump supporters felt a deep cultural anxiety, the sense that the world is changing in ways they don’t like and can’t control, and is leaving them behind. To a great degree, they’re right: Popular culture is far more diverse now than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and, in many ways, it reflects liberal values. If you think it’s an abomination for people of the same gender to marry, TV is going to make you feel very uncomfortable (as will your own kids’ opinions, in all likelihood).

And if you’re a White person living in a town that is steadily becoming less White, just like the country as a whole? Many such people will welcome that diversity, but some will see it as a threat to their status.

That may be the key to all of this:

Status is complicated. It comes not only from your income, the prestige of your occupation or the esteem of your neighbors. It can also come from the feeling that you and people like you are in charge. And sometimes you don’t even notice it until it’s threatened, which is part of how cultural hegemony operates. If you start hearing people speaking Spanish in your local grocery store, the universality of English might suddenly become a political issue for you.

As someone who spent a lifetime chasing status, Trump understood that the feeling of status threat could be turned into a powerful political weapon. For instance: The point of insisting Mexico would pay for his border wall wasn’t that we needed the money, but that we’d regain status and potency by dominating and humiliating that country. Vote for Trump and that status and potency would be restored, he suggested.

All that was left was humiliating others. All else was lost. But that would do:

It is almost impossible to overstate the role that the conservative media plays in creating and sustaining the feeling that White people’s status is under threat – and that the appropriate response is resentment and fear. The encroachments of liberalism are a daily drumbeat on Fox News and conservative talk radio, as is the message that everything you cherish is on the verge of collapse. You may have thought a “Happy Holidays” sign at the department store was just a seasonal decoration, but Fox will tell you it’s actually part of a war to outlaw your religion, so you’d darn well better get mad.

After the past couple of decades, we should understand that there’s almost nothing Democrats can do to diffuse those feelings of cultural displacement. Fox is gonna Fox, and politicians like Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) are going to see culture war rabble-rousing as their key to rising within the GOP.

The degree to which Democrats “reach out” to guys in Midwestern diners or try to show them “respect” by paying homage to their cultural markers won’t make a difference. President Barack Obama spent years trying to demonstrate respect, but in the end his Blackness was an affront that too many on the right just couldn’t forgive. And Trump didn’t show his voters much respect; he could barely contain his contempt for them. He told them he’d be a vehicle for their rage. That’s what they loved.

And that’s the problem now:

That rage still burns, because the forces of societal change that feed it continue inexorably, and some people will always try to profit from it, politically or financially. That’s true even if conservatives find it harder to loathe President Biden than they did Obama or Hillary Clinton.

And sometimes, even if – or especially when – Democrats assemble electoral majorities, that rage is going to burst out in violence. Again.

Okay, Things are clearer now. But now what?


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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