CLASS CONFLICT (HIGH SCHOOL)
You remember your high school class. It was broken up into groups. There were the athletes, strutting around and looking so depressingly healthy. There were the class officers, always getting elected to things, year after year. There were the brainiacs, who, if you were in high school recently, often spoke the foreign language of computing. And, there were the outright slobs who no one wanted to be seen with. And then there were all the rest.
If you were among the “all the rest” you certainly had good reason to resent some of the others. The athletes were just up there. Girls liked them. The class officers you could make fun of, but they did seem to live in a world of their own (teachers seemed to treat them as equals). There was nothing you could do about the brainiacs, but you had the clear impression that their minds were elsewhere. They just didn’t care about people like you. You just felt that you were drifting and no one cared. There was no way to make any of those people care. At least you weren’t one of the slobs.
If you were a girl and among “all the rest” in some ways you were worse off than the boys. Nobody cared what they wore. Their looks were important but not all that important. They could “hang out” and talk about cars. The standard for you was different, appearance seemed to be almost everything. The world that the more socially successful girls lived in just seemed out of reach. It was obvious to you that no matter what you did, nothing made a difference. You would never be an equal. You learned to be second class and live with it.
Looking back now, whether you are male or are female, think about what has happened since you graduated. If you were one of “the rest” who resented the unfairness of it all, even if you weren’t “political” then, there is a good chance that you now think of yourself as a Republican. Resentment continues on. You find yourself angry with people in Washington who think that they are better than you, all those liberal lefties, all those people who think they are so smart. They’ve done so well while you’ve had to struggle. You struggled in high school and you are still struggling. Without always consciously doing so, you look for someone to blame, to get back at.
There is life after high school and some of that life will naturally involve changes in political identity. Some of that change will be a kind of carry over from the frustration we felt in high school. We just find new targets for that anger. The Republicans often benefit. For now, the national Republican Party has become the party of resentment. It attracts people by providing targets for their anger. Those far off lefty liberals provide an ideal target. They are far away. They won’t fight back. The truth is that we don’t even know who they are (the Republicans never say who they are). We do know that they are trying to take our guns away, to encourage abortion, and promote socialism, to limit our freedoms. We find friends who agree. We become Republicans.
The people who were class officers in high school, or were on the Student Council, probably thought of themselves as Republicans. And that was reasonable, their families were usually Republican. That was what they knew. Now, having become successful adults, they worry about the way things are going in Washington. The former class officers have begun recognize that others like them across the country think of Donald Trump as embarrassing. Particularly those in suburbs, those who have the most contact with people like themselves begin to move to the Democrats.
As you read this, it doesn’t matter whether you were in high school ten years ago or forty years ago. Our memories of high school are usually more vivid that those of any four year period afterward. That is hardly surprising. Never since then have we been forced to be together day after day with people that we can afterward avoid. Resentments which began in that hot house atmosphere can color our view of the world long afterward.
People puzzled by Donald Trump’s continued appeal should remember that his appeal is very limited, limited to about thirty percent of the voting population. And, those people indicate that they will continue to support him no matter what he might do. Any criticism of him is simply dismissed as part of some mysterious liberal plot. People wishing to understand the strength of that continued support would do well to study the anger of “all the rest” back in their high school years. Trump’s appeal may truly be based on class conflict even if that class conflict was long, long ago.