During the last years of Hochschild’s research in Louisiana, something monumental happened. On one of these later trips, she went to a Republican presidential campaign rally and then asked her local friends what they thought of Donald Trump.
Usually, during sociological fieldwork, the field does not radically change from one visit to another. But, in the case of this book, Donald Trump’s meteoric rise to national political promise suddenly sent the minority views of Tea Party Louisianans into the national, public spotlight.
Hochschild sees that “the scene had been set for Trump’s rise” for three reasons: white conservatives feared redistribution because their own economic situation was already so precarious, they felt culturally marginalized, and they suffered a “demographic decline” relative to the rest of the country. The deep story also set the stage for Trump’s rising popularity: Louisiana conservatives felt like “a besieged minority,” united against the “line cutters” and their patron, President Obama.
In Louisiana and beyond, conservatives’ sense of economic, cultural, and demographic marginalization transformed them into a unified voting bloc with a unified self-interest in reasserting dominance.
It is the day before the Louisiana Republican primary, and Hochschild attends Donald Trump’s rally in New Orleans. Supporters bus in from around the state and flood into an enormous airplane hangar. “Two or three thousand fans” wave pro-Trump signs and proudly display their Trump merchandise. Nearly all are white, and many carry enormous American flags—Hochschild wonders whether their patriotic style is “ironic or earnest? Or both?”
Although Hochschild has been meeting conservatives one-on-one and in small groups for years, she now finds herself amidst an anonymous crowd full of them. These conservatives fit the demographic she has been studying, but instead of displaying their politics through their words and opinions, they are outwardly signaling their enthusiasm by displaying patriotic iconography.
Trump steps up to the podium and the audience starts a chant. He cites his rising poll numbers and then starts listing what “we” will do: protect domestic industries, make the country “great again,” build a wall on the Mexican border, etc. The audience cheers after each proposal. One man lifts a sign proclaiming the KKK’s support for Trump, and Black Lives Matter activists lead a larger group of protesters through the door. Eyeing one demonstrator in particular, Trump tells guards to “get that guy out” and wonders “why is this taking so long?” The crowd chants “U.S.A.!” over and over to drown out the protestors. At later events, Trump starts the chant himself, suggesting that “dissent is one thing […] but being American is another.”
Trump rhetorically appeals to the audience’s identification as the rightful in-group of true Americans. He positions himself as leading a popular movement more than running for a party’s nomination and emphasizes his desire to keep outsiders away, from his call to build a border wall to his insistence that a protestor be escorted out. This individual demonstrator is representative of all Trump’s opponents, and Trump draws a clear partisan line by proclaiming that he empathizes with his audience’s disillusionment while refusing to listen to those from the other side.
After the speech, people flock to Trump for autographs and photos. One approaches with raised arms, “as in the rapture.” And the day after the rally, Trump wins the primary with 41% of the Republican primary vote. Over the rest of the campaign, “Trump tells his fans what he offers them”—including his greed and the triumph of white Christian culture over minority cultures (and especially Islam). Trump calls protestors “bad, bad people” and promises to cover his supporters’ legal fees if they “knock the crap out of” one. When another tries to rush the podium, Trump shows the audience how he would have attacked the man had he made it onstage. And Trump wants to abolish the EPA “in almost every form.”
This scene recalls the passionate, emotional activity at Madonna and Glenn Massey’s church. Trump becomes a role model for American pride just like the pastors are role models for forgiveness. His image of pride and honor reinforces many of the conservative beliefs that Hochschild has noted thus far: a reverence for wealthy capitalists like himself; a desire to make Christian morality a national mandate; and a tendency to stereotype his opponents in order to exclude them from the community he defends and cares about.
Hochschild calls Trump an “emotions candidate” because he focuses on provoking emotional responses from supporters rather than proposing policy changes. He acts out the “emotional transformation” he promises his white Christian supporters, chastises his opponents because they fail to “inspire enthusiasm,” and presents his fans’ emotional response as “a sign of collective success.” He promises to convert his supporters’ discouragement into hope and their shame into pride, making them “no longer strangers in their own land” as if through magic.
Trump’s emotional appeals dovetail neatly with Hochschild’s argument that politics is fundamentally grounded in emotional rather than factual narratives. He performs the hopeful energy that, to Hochschild, the American Dream prescribes as a feeling rule. This performance models the transformation he promises his audience.
Renowned French sociologist Émile Durkheim used the term “collective effervescence” to describe the “emotional excitation felt by those who join with others they take to be fellow members of a moral or biological tribe.” A group organizes around a powerful shared symbol, or totem, which in this case is Trump himself. That totem unifies the crowd—Trump begins to consider his followers a “movement” and promises that they will be uplifted. “Emotionally speaking,” the crowd gets an “ecstatic high.” People signal their solidarity with Trump and one another by wearing merchandise and agreeing to expel outsiders: the Muslims and Mexicans that Trump wants to keep out of the United States and the protestors he wants out of his rallies.
Durkheim’s concept of collective effervescence helps explain how latent political beliefs transform into fervent political activity through the experience of community. Crucially for Hochschild, trust in one’s community and empathy with fellow members’ concerns are foundations for this kind of political mobilization. Earlier in the book, most of Hochschild’s interviewees felt powerless and forgotten, but the availability of a totem allows them to become a powerful and active political force.
Another important dimension of Trump’s emotional appeal is that he rejects “politically correct” standards of speech for the public sphere. In doing so, he also rejects the liberal feeling rules that so frustrated his supporters. Ultimately, far-right conservatives felt both that “the deep story was true” and that liberals denied the deep story, telling them that their resentment was misplaced. They felt as though the left was using a “false PC cover-up” to silence their deep story, but Donald Trump finally lifted the constraints of that cover-up by stereotyping and mocking marginalized groups. This allowed conservatives “both to feel like a good moral American and to feel superior to those they considered ‘other’ or beneath them.”
Trump wants to roll back the 1960s and 1970s shift in national feeling rules: he promises to replace the cosmopolitan self of the “line cutters” with the endurance self of white Christian conservatives. In addition, his mere presence as a totem rolls back those feeling rules on a limited scale, allowing conservatives to openly express racist, sexist, and xenophobic attitudes that they previously had to conceal. Trump allows his supporters to chalk their hate up to class conflict and continue feeling like morally upstanding Christians.
Hochschild argues that this release from the rules of political correctness created a “high” that conservatives wanted to hold onto. Sticking with Trump became a matter of “emotional self-interest,” a factor that many analyses tend to ignore in favor of economic self-interest. Hochschild sees that her initial questions about the Great Paradox were framed in the language of economic self-interest, which “is never entirely absent,” but is nevertheless often overwhelmed by “the profound importance of emotional self-interest.” People will protect Trump to “protect [their] elation,” like a woman who talked about him continuously for six hours and fended off possible liberal concerns with a “shield of talk.”
Hochschild finally introduces her concept of emotional self-interest, which has driven much of her argument behind the scenes up to this point. The woman’s “shield of talk” shows how maintaining a coherent sense of identity (even when that identity is defined by outside narratives from Trump) can be more important than voting for what improves one’s standard of living.
On her last visit, about half of Hochschild’s friends in Louisiana backed Trump. Janice Areno and Donny McCorquodale were ardent supporters; Mike Schaff preferred Ted Cruz. Jackie Tabor, Harold and Annette Areno, Sharon Galicia and others Hochschild encountered were worried about Trump’s antagonizing personality but still willing to vote for him if he won the Republican nomination.
Unsurprisingly, Hochschild’s more unapologetic friends are the most enthusiastic about Trump, while her more diplomatic friends feel uncomfortable with the sharp lines he draws between his in-group of supporters and the out-groups that seem to be launching an assault on them.
Many Louisianans appreciate Trump’s business success, exhibiting a faith in capitalism that Hochschild contrasts with the turn to socialism during the Great Depression. They also appreciate his outward hypermasculinity—he promises to vindicate “both fist-pounding, gun-toting guy-guys and high-flying entrepreneurs.” He was, Hochschild declares, “the identity politics candidate for white men.” And, as multinational corporations gain more power than many governments around the globe, right-wing political ideologies “focused on national sentiment, strong central rule, and intolerance for minorities or dissent” have spread like wildfire. Russia, India, Hungary, and Poland are now run by such right-wing parties, and similar groups are gaining traction even in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.
Trump displays the facets of identity in which white men after 1970 realized they could still invest their senses of pride and honor: traditional morality (especially Trump’s daring, protective, and sexist form of masculinity) and capitalism (in which wealth indicates hard work, which indicates merit and grit). This gives conservative white men the politics of victimization they want. Trump tells them they have been left behind, while letting them continue to harp on people who admit they feel like victims and want justice. By identifying a pattern of right-wing strongman rulers around the globe, Hochschild points to the parallel conditions that working people increasingly suffer as corporations decreasingly have to answer to government of any sort.