In an excellent review of the Case-Deaton book by Arlie Russell Hochschild in the Times Book Review, she concludes her review by considering how the book may be received by liberals. She has her doubts about how favorable that reception might be and in the process puts her finger on a key problem bedeviling today's left:
"Readers on the liberal left....are likely to applaud the authors’ many highly thoughtful proposals to counter growing inequality. But while liberals tend to root for the underdog, white males have not been first in line for their sympathy. So one possible source of resistance to this book’s message for them might arise from something else: splitting. This is the tendency to hold apart two apparently incompatible images or ideas, without seeing how the two connect.
Faced with a coal miner suffering black lung disease, or a laid-off factory hand, liberals feel compassion. Faced, on the other hand, with a man in cowboy boots and red MAGA hat, arms defiantly folded, who dismisses climate science and insults overeducated “snowflakes,” many see — and hate — “the enemy.”
Yet what if these are one and the same man? Or almost the same man? What if the man in the red MAGA hat has a brother or high school classmate who died of a heroin overdose? What if his buddy on the road crew drove drunk off an embankment at night and no one called it suicide? What if he fears it’s too late or too expensive to go to college? If we could ask the men in this book, before they swallowed their last pill or swig of whiskey, or fired their last shot, whom it was they would have voted for in 2016, chances are it would have been for that dogged and aggressive great salesman of hope, Donald Trump.
So we’re left with a challenge. The policies the liberal left embraces — affordable B.A.’s, job retraining, fairer taxes, a Green New Deal — are precisely those policies that could best help victims of diseases of despair. Darin [a man Hochschild has interviewed] got into a rehab program, and generously shared with me the silver token given him to celebrate four years of sobriety. He’s now earned his B.A., and has become a well-regarded counselor in a local prisoner release program — both the sorts of publicly funded projects liberals embrace. While Darin doesn’t wear a MAGA hat, his dearest childhood friend, now an unemployed addict, does. The great problem of this highly important book — and indeed of our current political moment — is how to link together the story of Darin’s friend and the jeering man in the MAGA hat."
This continues to be problem for the left. Perhaps if more people read the Case-Deaton book, we might start getting somewhere on this one.
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