Updated: Oct 28, 2021
In the 1970 bestseller Future Shock, Alvin Toffler wrote about the “shattering stress and disorientation” suffered by people who are exposed to too much change in too little time. He focused on the impact of the technology revolution on individuals and society, concluding that most social problems were a result of future shock. In reality, a society takes time to adapt to change and, in the meantime, people are cast adrift.
I see the Trumpies as victims of future shock, though technology has transformed our media landscape in ways Toffler never could have imagined. In addition, Trumpies are faced with other profound agents of change. Globalization of the world economy has brought wage stagnation and workforce reorganization. The sexual revolution altered traditional gender roles and courtship behaviors. The multicultural society challenges stereotypes and prejudices. The Trumpies are overwhelmed by all of this and unable to make sense of the world around them.
Dazed and Confused
When faced with stress and disorientation, people feel less capable and yearn for simpler times. This is why Trumpies look back to an idealized version of the ’50s – a time when their beliefs and attitudes were rewarded rather than punished. Back then, they were the “good guys.” But now the behaviors they’ve been honing all their lives are not working outside their group.
The attitudes and beliefs that define them as a social group are now scorned by the greater society. What was once tolerated as benign racism is now taboo. Gay jokes are out. Jews aren’t evil. The boss might be a woman. The doctor might not be a fatherly white guy.
As they find their public personas now drawing criticism, Trumpies feel accused of political incorrectness. Their tried-and-true moves that once raised one’s status inside their group don’t work anymore. So they start distorting even the most minor gestures of greater tolerance into a personal attack, such as, “Now they won’t let you say Merry Christmas” or “You can’t pray in school.” They wallow in their victimhood, nest within their group and reject mainstream society.
Hucksters like Donald Trump and the late Rush Limbaugh played them for fools, and many still are doing so. They convince Trumpies that their woes are the result of some vast liberal conspiracy, legitimizing their grievances and giving them an enemy to blame. A grievance against anything and anyone is welcome – from new math and fluorescent lighting to low-flush toilets and the supposed socialist superstate being secretly created by George Soros, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton and Tom Hanks.
Not Entirely Wrong
They are right about a couple of things: It has gotten harder to make a decent living, and the government is not helping very much. Wages have stagnated for two generations as automation and the shift to services have sapped worker pride. Corporate-controlled government has sacrificed public welfare for economic growth, and we are still burdened with a runaway war machine.
But the Trumpies mistake the overall economic as the result of a liberal plot rather than predictable developments in a modernizing world.
What holds the Trump mob together is fear, a need to band together against the onslaught and strive to return to the ways that made them feel safe. Fear motivates them – fear of people who are Black, fear of Spanish speakers, fear of antifa murder squads, fear of feminists, fear of 5G phones. When you’re a Trumpie, the bewildering modern world is frightening and confusing.
Can we bring these people back into the fold? Sorry, I don’t think so. They are so publicly invested in Trumpism they would be ashamed to renounce it. Our best hope is that repeated losses ramp down their enthusiasm for politics. At some point, Trumpies’ rallies will begin to feel pointless.
How do we heal the rift in our society? Some advocate one-on-one contact, attempting to convince any Trumpies in our social circles that our side is right. This may split off a few but it does not stop the train headed for QAnon country. No, they need to be resocialized – that is, given the training and confidence they need to engage with the modern world. They need to know how to feel at home in the emerging mass culture by modifying the social skills in which they invested so much effort.
We can try to find a cultural common ground. The older Trumpies will never like hip-hop, but their kids do. On the other hand, country music has matured to the point that it can enjoyed by everyone (thanks, Lil Nas X). Until recently, football was something both sides got into. Everybody likes Dolly Parton. We all like barbeque.
The Kids Are All Right
On the other hand, their kids are ours. They aren’t so invested in Trumpism. Born into a world of social media, they are being socialized into the mainstream. Many will move into urban areas for better jobs and adopt the norms of their new communities. Others will rebel against the confining ’50s culture being infused by their schools and churches. They won’t necessarily become Democrats, but the opportunity is there.
Here’s how we break them out of the cocoon: Cool beats safe. Cool sets you apart rather than blending you in. Cool gets you attention. Cool offers the prospect of status. As Democrats, we need to play it cool.