Taking the Nostalgia of Trump Supporters Seriously

Roundup
tags: election 2016, Trump



Stephanie Coontz teaches history at the Evergreen State College and wrote the newly revised The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. She is Director of Research and Public Education at the Council on Contemporary Families.

I have spent most of my career pointing out the dangers of imagining a Golden Age in the past that we should try to recapture. Nostalgia offers a warped explanation of what actually did work in the past and airbrushes out what did not. It leads to the scapegoating of those who supposedly ruined “the good old days” while providing no tools for coping with the new realities that underlie contemporary challenges. 

That said, nostalgia often arises out of a real experience of loss. It needs to be addressed and redirected, not ridiculed or denounced. And that applies to the nostalgia that motivates so many Trump supporters.

True, the Trump campaign has mobilized the crudest alliance of racists, nativists, misogynists, and “know-nothings” that America has seen in any national election since before World War II. Winning over most of his supporters is probably impossible. Half of those who voted for Trump in the primaries favor a return to “traditional” gender roles; and although ethnocentrism is widespread among white voters of most persuasions, it is especially strong among Trump backers.

But many have been deeply wronged by the system that Trump claims to attack and understandably infuriated by how politicians on both sides of the political spectrum have ignored their needs. Their grievances are real and we should not ignore their pain in our distress at their misdirected anger.

Take the strong support Trump enjoys among older white voters without a college degree. Moderates and liberals often write such people off as a lost cause, counting on African-Americans, college graduates, and young millennials to outvote them. According to Conventional Wisdom, African-Americans and Latinos ensured Obama’s victory in the last presidential election.  ...




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