While at the library a day or two after the election, I added to my pile The Gilded Rage: A wild ride through Donald Trump’s America, by Alexander Zaitchik. I did so with reservations, wondering if I had the heart for more election coverage.
But Gilded Rage sounded more colorful than exit polls and less filtered than punditry, and I thought it might shed light on the question that Amanda and I had been asking: “Who are these Trump voters?” We have a few in our family, but I was looking to hear from outside this circle; and Amanda knows plenty from her hometown in northern Michigan, but Facebook does not lend itself to lengthy sharing of thoughts.
Review: The Gilded Rage
In the introduction Zaitchik explains that, “Trump is the looming and unifying presence, but this book is not really about him.” This is true, and the book is therefore a refreshing break from 24-hour coverage of the President-elect.
The Gilded Rage is a series of casual and unrehearsed interviews with regular Trump voters, connected with Zaitchik’s travelog through the states of Arizona, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Mexico, and California, roughly following Trump’s plane through the primary season. It sounded like Zaitchik would lurk in the parking lots of rally venues, and then spend a few days in the region afterwards stopping at VFW halls, local bars, and private homes for more one-on-one time.
Zaitchik is generally non-judgemental and avoids the role of fact-checker or devil’s advocate. He injects crucial context — like a history of the town he is in and some biographical information about the interviewee — and then essentially lets them speak.
The Rust Belt
I find border issues uninteresting relative to economic ones, and so personally I took most interest in the Rust Belt chapters.
While reading I thought many times of one particular exchange in an international economics class at Duke. After the professor’s explanation of comparative advantage, a student asked about policies to help America’s low-skilled labor that would be displaced by freer trade. The professor mentioned advanced manufacturing, job retraining, and relocation subsidies, perhaps along with a few other suggestions, and then did not address the topic again for the remainder of the semester.
As politicians and policymakers were approving trade deals over the last 25 years, they showed about as much interest in effected parts of the country, and essentially paved the way for Trump and Bernie.
The Gilded Rage is a quick read. It’s not long, and the non-dialog portions are written well.
But it’s not — nor meant to be — a comprehensive analysis of the Trump voter. Interviews with ten people cannot possibly touch on all of the the relevant themes. So long as Zaitchik did not cherry-pick his interviews, which I don’t think he did, at best they are representative. For a more academic approach to part of Trump’s coalition, consider White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by Nancy Isenberg, which I just started.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, try Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance. This biography is narrower in scope, but it’s a richer, more in-depth story, and the sense of connection between the reader and the characters is much greater. Gilded Rage, which covers the issues much better than the sound-bite media, almost seems superficial compared to Hillbilly Elegy.
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