Social disconnection and Trumpism

“Grab them by the pussy.” I’ve striven to understand how any Americans could vote to put such a reptile in the White House.

Columnist David Brooks keeps saying America is insufficiently community-centered. Recently I critiqued one such column. But subsequently he wrote another more on target. Doesn’t mention politics, yet it seems very relevant.

Brooks says a market economy emphasizing competition and self-aggrandizement needs to be balanced by a social culture of “cooperation, stability, and committed relationships.” But that’s not where many working class men are at, according to a recent study.

Economic change is driving social change. Less educated working class men don’t fit into the kinds of lives they used to. This is a big factor in the opioid crisis. Also in the explosion of single motherhood.

“Nearly all the men” in the study, Brooks notes, “viewed the father-child tie as central while the partner relationship was peripheral.” Seeing women like they see jobs — cycling from one to another. And of course their own parenting roles are undermined by weak bonds with their children’s mothers.

Cause and effect here is a tangle. While a working class man used to be a family’s anchor, that breadwinner role has eroded, and meantime women are better able to support themselves. They flourish in service-type jobs, like in healthcare, that less educated men don’t adapt well to. A lot of women see such men as okay sexual partners but pretty useless as husbands.

A single mom may be heroic and all, but their kids mostly do worse than dual-parented ones. So their male children tend to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, repeating the story.

Brooks thinks these economic dynamics are aggravated by the cultural zeitgeist emphasizing personal autonomy, aiming for a life “lived in perpetual flux, with your options perpetually open.” Again inimical to lifetime attachments.

All this subverts broader social cohesion too. Brooks’s basic point is that the sort of men we’re talking about don’t have the connectedness, the embedment in societal structures, like they used to. Seen even in declining church attendance, for example. Many still believe in god, but being part of an organized congregation is not for them.

Brooks’s column again doesn’t touch on politics, but a lightbulb went on in my political brain. The social culture he vaunts includes the body politic — one’s role as a citizen participant in a collective, with government part of it, and seen as embodying our values. And this too suffers from the disconnection Brooks laments.

It partly explains why some Americans, at least, could vote for a vulgar creep and continue backing him. They’re disengaged from and no longer invested in our civic institutions. It used to matter to Americans to have a president we could look up to, a role model for our kids, an avatar of our highest ideals. But pussygrabber’s voters don’t give a shit.

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4 Responses to “Social disconnection and Trumpism”

  1. Axel Kornfuehrer Says:

    While I agree with your commentary, I have one serious criticism. You use the term “less educated working class men”. If you had said “less ACADEMICALLY educated working class men”, I would have no quibble. Why do so many people devalue people who have at best a high school degree? Those people are not less worthy than academically trained people. They develop other levels of knowledge that, while different, are just as valuable to our society as us academically trained ones. They have the practical knowledge to fix the things that keep our society going. How many MBAs and PhDs can fix a roof or a toilet or whatever? Lots of people without even a high school diploma can. When traditional manual jobs dry up, our society must offer those people subsidized retraining so that they can continue to feel like valued contributors to our society.

  2. rationaloptimist Says:

    I think it is commonly understood that the words “less educated” refer to years of formal schooling.

  3. Axel Kornfuehrer Says:

    That may be true amongst us with after-high-school education (formal schooling). But I do have friends without formal post-high-school schooling who do resent the way we tend to state that. And they vote!

  4. Gregory Kipp Says:

    It would seem the old model for male behavior is fading away. No longer are men expected to “wear the pants” in the family, or for the wife to “honor and obey” her husband. In my view, gender equality is a laudable goal for our society, but perhaps it needs to be balanced with a new model for male behavior that doesn’t overly diminish males values. If today’s men are no longer expected to be the “head of the household and the sole bread winner” for the family, then exactly what model should men follow?

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