Hidden faultline: how Trump v Clinton is laying bare America’s class divide

With the Republican candidates professed love for the poorly educated reciprocated in the polls, socioeconomic class could swing the presidency in 2016

The sign hanging on Main Street announces, Crawfords Restaurant, Guns & Ammo. In the window an illuminated sign elaborates: Breakfast, lunch specials; cards, gifts, toys, ammo, guns, groc. Inside, there is an unpretentious cafe and shelves of gift cards, tinned food and other sundries as well as camo hats, firearms and ammunition. A deers head is mounted on the wall.

The family that helps run Crawfords, in downtown Boonsboro, Maryland, owns more than a hundred guns. Allen Crawford, Pam Rutherford and their four teenage daughters are deer hunters; a single kill yields around 80 to 90lbs of meat for their dinner table, and they donate the hide and antlers to be recycled as furniture. Come Novembers presidential election, they will vote for Donald Trump.


div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> Crawfords

Crawfords restaurant, Boonsboro. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian

You either have the common man with Donald Trump or the privileged with Hillary Clinton, Rutherford said this week. Clintons supporters could go 50 miles or less from their plush condos and elegant houses and find someone who has to hunt to support their family. I dont think they realise that.

In Britain it might be called a class divide. The nation premised on the American dream is more reluctant to accept such terms. Accent, dress sense and taste are not supposed to matter in the ultimate meritocracy. But the uniquely polarising candidacy of Trump has raised the prospect that, with important faultlines such as age, gender, geography and race relatively settled from election to election, socioeconomic class could swing the presidency in 2016.

Allen Crawford and Pam Rutherford. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian
One marker is education. In 1992, Republican voters were much better educated than their Democratic counterparts,
according to the Pew Research Center. Today registered voters with a college degree favour Clinton by 23 percentage points, while those without a college degree prefer Trump by five. This trend cuts across demographic groups, although it is most pronounced among whites. The Slate website noted: The educational split among white voters is the defining characteristic of this election. If this holds in November, it will be the widest educational divide at the ballot box for several decades.

Another marker is cultural and about optics. When Clinton recently referred to half of Trumps supporters as a basket of deplorables, critics also seized on the context: she was addressing millionaires at a fundraiser headlined by the singer Barbra Streisand at the New York restaurant Cipriani Wall Street. And her backers include those other temples of coastal privilege, Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

Trump, by contrast, was anointed the blue-collar billionaire at the Republican national convention, where Willie Robertson of the TV reality show Duck Dynasty, wearing stars and stripes bandanna and bushy beard, declared that media pundits dont hang out with regular folks like us, who like to hunt and fish and pray and actually work for a living. Heck, I dont even know that they know how to talk to people from middle America. I mean, when I tell em Im from Louisiana, they really start talking real slow and real loud.

In Boonsboro, a town of 3,400 people steeped in revolutionary and civil war history, a giant Trump sign has been spraypainted with the word love. Opposite a Subway restaurant and closed-down bakery, the Turn the Page Bookstore, owned by the romance novelist Nora Roberts, sells soy candles, handmade soaps and organic coffee. Its employees make little secret of their allegiance to Clinton. Two doors away, at Crawfords Restaurant, Guns & Ammo, a handwritten sign behind the laminated counter warns No free refills on drinks and the staff are for Trump.

As a reality show about hunting in the woods played on the TV, Rutherford, who is cashier, dishwasher, shelf stacker and much else, said of Clintons supporters: I dont think they realise the importance of small-town America and they dont see the value of it. Everybody in this community loves this little store but big companies make it harder and harder for us.

People say, You must be doing well with Obamacare. I say, actually, unless you have an astronomical salary or a company to pay for it, its crippling. Our health insurance is $900 per month for the family; thats why I work. Obamacare sounds really good to people not close to the reality of it.


div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> Chevy

Chevy Chase Village, Maryland. Photograph: Eric Kruszewski for the Guardian

Rutherford, 47, who grew up Southern Baptist, has seen the urban-rural divide from both sides. She attended the prestigious Winston Churchill high school in Potomac and still visits friends in the wealthy Chevy Chase area. But she moved to Boonsboro in 2002, where the family keeps horses, dogs and chickens on 30 acres of land and hunts 80% of their own food. Her daughters, aged 13, 14, 15 and 16, all hunt and play volleyball.

Displaying a phone picture of herself with a deer she bagged, Rutherford said: A lot of my friends dont agree with what I do but they dont have trouble wearing a full-length coyote coat to a fundraiser in January. They will wear leather shoes and carry an alligator handbag. The people of Washington dont want to go out to the rural areas; no one wants to go out of their comfort zone. But I would love to go to a Clinton rally just to eavesdrop and hear the interaction.

Along the street, at Marlys Laundry, Wayne Stonesifer was waiting patiently as his clothes spun in a tumble dryer. In his spare time, the maintenance technician goes hunting and fishing or watches TV: Fox News or childrens shows with his grandsons. He belongs to the National Rifle Association and intends to vote for Trump.

Hillary Clinton wont come round here, the 48-year-old said. Were too low class for her.


div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> Wayne

Wayne Stonesifer. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian

Clintons followers would object to him hunting deer, Stonesifer believes. They have their opinions and I have mine. As long as we dont bother each other, thats fine. If you try to interrupt me when Im hunting, thats different.

The country has a bigger divide now than ever, he added. Youve got your gay rights, abortion laws, racism. Everybodys split. It wasnt this bad when I was growing up. Everybodys afraid to say something cos youre going to hurt someones feelings. The 80s were better. I think God needs to be back in the picture; everyones taking him for granted. Times are getting nearer.

Kevin Dobereiner, 36, owns two small businesses and complains that taxes are too high. He is also supporting Trump. Hes not a liberal and were $20 trillion in debt and unemployment is too high and our healthcare is terrible. The community organiser-in-chief has no qualifications and Hillary Clinton is just an extension of that.

I dont care what Trump says; I care what he does and hes not a billionaire because hes stupid. I like a guy who puts his foot in his mouth because at least he tells the truth.

Trumps plain speaking has been identified as one of the sources of his appeal to voters angry at the status quo in general and Republican establishment in particular. Even his outlandish gaffes are said to humanise him, emphasising his status as outsider and non-politician. His anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim diatribes have disgusted liberals and been cheered at raucous rallies, where he declares his love for the poorly educated.

John Hudak, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, said: I think supporters look at Donald Trump and see a bit of an everyman, even though his biography completely opposes that worldview. Then they look at Hillary Clinton and see her as more elite than her background would actually suggest. Trump is the person you want to see on TLC; Clinton appears to live the way an average wealthy person lives.

There is a crucial gender dimension, Hudak argues. A female candidate would not be allowed to ramble like Trump does or Bill Clinton did. Only in a race between a man and a woman could her polish be a liability and his freewheeling be an asset.

Trump has scrambled the orthodoxy of class, for example by tweeting a picture of himself eating McDonalds fast food and drinking Coke on his luxurious private jet. He loves both boxing and golf. He has named Orson Welless masterpiece Citizen Kane as his favourite film but also once told the New Yorker that Bloodsport, a violent action flick starring Jean Claude Van Damme, is an incredible, fantastic movie. The music at his rallies ranges from Nessun dorma, an aria from Giacomo Puccinis opera Turandot, to Elton John. His properties are crammed with chandeliers, gold leaf, mirrors and marble tacky to some, aspirational to others. Both patrician and plebeian, his reading list is said to consist mainly of articles about himself.


div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> Bloodsport,

Bloodsport, starring Jean Claude Van Damme right up there with Citizen Kane, according to Trump. Photograph: Everett Collection / Rex Feature

Some would say he lacks class, in every sense. And there is a tenacious myth that, free of the ossified layers of agricultural and industrial Europe, America is a class-free land of opportunity, where someone born into poverty can become president. It is not so simple, according to sociologists. Arlie Hochschild of the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, said: Class is profoundly important, imprinting all aspects of childhood, self, character and behind, and the denial of it is in the service of keeping alive the hope of lifting out of it. But America would be far better off talking about the realities of it.

Robert H Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University and author of Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, added: People here, if you ask them, will say they are middle class. Even relatively rich people will answer middle class because we deny theres such a thing as class here, which is of course preposterous. The barriers are different from England but theyre real.

Research suggests that Trumps core support should not be simply characterised as the white working class. Many earn an average of $70,000 but are caught in the downdraft of deindustrialisation, losing jobs to factory or mine closures, lacking the skills for a digital economy, anxious that their children will be worse off than they were. Joe Sims, a member of the national board of the Communist Party USA, said: My sense is that Trumps support comes not so much from the white working class but the lower middle class and small business people who have been pushed into the ranks of the working class. The wages are flat and theyre pissed off.

But in a supposedly classless society, there is often a gap between perception and reality. Sims added: During the 1950s and 1960s there was a myth propagated about the American dream and the American way of life and the sense that everyone was middle class and upwardly mobile. Certainly during that period there was at least a steadiness in increase in income and their children were able to do a little better than them. But this idea of everyone being middle class has crashed on the rocks of reality. Wages have been stagnant since the 1970s.

Numerous academic studies have found that the extent of social mobility was probably always exaggerated and, in the past generation, may have become deteriorated. The soaring cost of studying at university has been blamed for stifling upward movement and allowing middle-class families to entrench their advantage. Pews research, published last week, found a growing ideological divide, with highly educated adults holding increasingly liberal attitudes, while under a third of the less educated held liberal views.

Stanley Greenberg, a veteran political consultant and senior pollster for Bill Clinton, said: I think well see the biggest divide between working-class voters and those with a college degree in this election. Its already there in the polls. Trump is reinforcing it by the nature of the campaign hes running and the issues hes running on. Hes driving away college graduates as well as the whole Republican party.

In the Republican primaries, Trump the class warrior made Ted Cruz, the conservative Christian ideologue, look quaint. Greenberg admits that he was surprised. The college-educated Republicans keep moving year after year more to the Democrats but this election has really accelerated it because its the first time weve had a candidate running on a straight working-class campaign. [George W] Bush was very much centred on faith; thats legitimate but it wasnt an economic argument.


div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> Bernie

Bernie Sanders stressed income inequality in the primary campaign but Hillary Clinton has yet to emulate his success with the issue. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

However, he warned against an oversimplified binary split, pointing to the success of Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, in the Democratic primaries. Sanders stressed issues of economic inequality and access to college education, to the extent that he was criticised by some for neglecting race.

There were a lot of Democrats who were voting for somebody who was a self-described socialist, running against big money, getting big money out of politics, going after Wall Street and big banks, attacking Hillary for being a creature of the big banks, so you need a third bucket, Greenberg said. There are others who are not so focused on the racial and cultural issues who are quite ready to rally. Sanders, in the polls at least, was stronger than Hillary against Trump because he actually was winning both millennials and working-class voters.

But now Sanders is out, there are two historically unpopular candidates and a fear of two classes, or tribes, or nations, mutually hostile and suspicious. Like the Brexit vote in Britain, a painful rift has been exposed and polling day itself will not necessarily heal it. If diehard Clinton and Trump supporters sat down to dinner tonight, would they find much to talk about?

In Chevy Chase, an affluent neighbourhood in north-west Washington DC, an area where deer roam audaciously in the gardens of multimillion-dollar houses, Trump fans are hard to find. The owner of the retro American City Diner has endorsed Clinton with a giant billboard and sign that says: Trump exercise: lifting bags of money. Up the road, the Avalon Theatre, an independent cinema that opened in 1923, sells organic ice cream and shows films including the French-language Les Cowboys.

Levon Avdoyan, a 69-year-old librarian strolling nearby, said: There are people who live the life of the mind and people who live the life of emotion. Trump is a regrettable example of the latter. He has no politics and caters to the worst part of the American psyche. He caters to people who dont know what fascism is.

Asked his opinion of Trumps supporters, Avdoyan replied: Theyre scared little people.

And how would they regard him? Im gay. Im an atheist. I have a PhD. Its almost a trifecta.

Howard Shaker, 64, had just been to see the Beatles documentary Eight Days a Week. He said: Trumps a vulgar man who knows nothing. Hes a very privileged individual who came from wealth. Youd think he would be cosmopolitan but theres something primitive about him. I dont think he would fit here in Chevy Chase but he should because of his background.

Wendie Lubic. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian
The retired IT contractor added: Theres a tremendous chasm in the US. In many respects it comes down to urban verus rural. The people who go to a Trump rally are a different crowd. There is a divide between them and other Americans. It confounds me that hes doing so well in the polls.

Sitting in the alfresco dining area of the Chevy Chase Lounge were Diana Blitz, a school counsellor, and Wendie Lubic, an education consultant, both of whom intend to vote for Clinton. Blitz, 59, rejected the notion of a class divide. There are some poor people who are Clinton supporters; there are wealthy people who are Trump supporters, she said. Hes playing to a disenfranchised group in the US. After a black president, the idea of a woman president is abhorrent to them. They feel this isnt their country any more.


div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> Ellen

Ellen Anderton. Photograph: David Smith for the Guardian

Lubic, 54, added: I dont think you can call it a class divide when you have people of colour that are not supporting him. It may come down to an education divide. Colleges try to encourage empathy with others. Many of the Trump supporters are lacking in empathy for people who are not like them.

At another table, Joel Cohn, 52, a lawyer, and his partner Ellen Anderton, 50, a freelance writer, disagreed on one point. Anderton said: I wouldnt want to talk to people who were Trump supporters. I wouldnt want to engage with them.

Cohn responded: I would, even if theyre deplorables. Bring them on. Those voting for Trump think its two different countries and two different cultures. They see liberals and Democrats as alien life forms. I grew up in a rural environment and its not like guns are totally alien to us. Its part of class, educational, geographical resentment: its more their perception than my perception.

America has been described as a split-screen nation and it is, of course, about much more than class: some polls show Trump <a href=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/07/13/new-polls-in-pennsylvania-and-ohio-show-donald-trump-with-0-percent-of-the-black-vote/” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>at 0% among African American voters. But this is the year that a Republican, campaigning as an anti-intellectual vulgarian, won over many who feel neglected by what they view as the metropolitan intelligentsia. America, home of the class divide that dare not speak its name.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/02/trump-clinton-election-class-socioeconomic-divide

No Comments
Add comment

Comments are closed.

Copyright © EP4 Blog