Sunday, December 11, 2016

Fast Food Damnation


Matthew Yglesias has an interesting post about the fast-food tycoon who has been nominated as Labor Secretary. Even aside from the fact that “when did you stop beating your wife?” would, in fact, be a valid question in this guy’s confirmation hearings, you might think that this nomination would be seen as a total betrayal of the working-class voters who went overwhelmingly Trump a month ago. He’s anti-worker, anti-higher wages, pro-immigration. Won’t there be a huge backlash?
What Yglesias suggests, however, is that his connection with fast food is itself a protection — because the white working class likes fast food, liberals don’t, and the former feels that this shows the latter’s contempt for regular people.
I suspect that there’s something to this, and that it’s part of a broader story. And I don’t know what to do with it.
What I see a lot, both in general political discourse and in my own inbox, is a tremendous sense of resentment against people like Hillary Clinton or, well, me, that isn’t about policy. It boils down, instead, to something along the lines of “You people think you’re better than us.” And it has a lot to do with the way people live.
If populism were simply about income inequality, someone like Trump should be deeply resented by the working class. He has gold toilets! But he gets a pass, partly — I think — because his tastes seem in line with those of non-college-educated whites. That is, he lives the way they imagine they would if they had a lot of money.
Compare that with affluent liberals — say, my neighbors on the Upper West Side. They aren’t nearly as rich as the plutocrats that will stuff the Trump cabinet. What’s more, they vote for things that will raise their taxes and cost of living, while improving the lives of the very people who disdain them. Objectively, they’re on white workers’ side.
But they don’t eat much fast food, because they believe it’s unhealthy and they’re watching their weight. They don’t watch much reality TV, and do listen to a lot of books on tape — or even read books the old-fashioned way. if they’re rich enough to have a second home, it’s a shabby-chic country place, not Mar-a-Lago.
So there is a sense in which there’s a bigger cultural gulf between affluent liberals and the white working class than there is between Trumpkins and the WWC. Do the liberals sneer at the Joe Sixpacks? Actually, I’ve never heard it — the people I hang out with do understand that living the way they do takes a lot more money and time than hard-pressed Americans have, and aren’t especially judgmental about lifestyles. But it’s easy to see how the sense that liberals look down on regular folks might arise, and be fanned by right-wing media.
The question is, what do you do? Again, objectively those liberals are very much on workers’ side, while the characters who play on this perceived disdain are set to betray the white working class on a massive scale. Is there no way to get this across other than eating lots of burgers with fries?
NYT

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