“Aspirational Incapacitation” May Account for Much of Donald Trump’s Appeal

“Joe the Plumber” came to national attention during the 2008 presidential election because he was very willing to denounce the economic “safety net” programs from which he was then actually benefiting in order to argue for the lowest possible taxes on the wealth that he was certain that he would eventually earn. The last that I heard, he had taken a job in a Jeep plant, and although the U.S. can certainly use more high-end manufacturing jobs such as those in our auto plants, no one has ever claimed that working in a plant is an easy way–or any way–to become a millionaire.

I think that Joe the Plumber’s delusions about his possibilities for joining the ranks of the wealthy may provide an explanation for the surprising appeal of Donald Trump that most political commentators have missed. It may be less that the voters who support Trump admire him for achieving a level of success and wealth that they will never achieve and more that they admire him for embodying whatever level of success and wealth that they believe that they themselves will eventually achieve. Likewise, it may be less that a billionaire seems to think and talk as they do and more that they see in his expression of his opinions evidence that the gap between them and the wealthy may be much narrower than what others might suppose.

In a 2011 piece for the progressive blog Daily Kos, Laura Clauson reported:

“Less than 1 in 20 American households has a million dollars, but 2 in 10 Americans believe they’ll become a millionaire in the next decade, according to a new AP-CNBC poll.

“That’s clearly undue optimism for most, but maybe less optimism than there was not all that long ago:

“Even before the crisis, however, Americans tended to overestimate their chances of becoming wealthy. A 2003 Gallup poll found that 31% of Americans thought it was likely they would ever be “rich,” with the median definition of “rich” being income of $122,000 or more (though nearly a fifth said they needed at least $500,000 a year to be rich).

“In a fascinating research paper in 2005, titled “Is This a Great Country? Upward Mobility and the Chances for Riches in Contemporary America,” Thomas A. DiPrete found that Americans in the Gallup poll overestimated their chances of becoming rich by a factor of at least two. And that the chance of becoming rich improved the higher up the income ladder you started.

“Those in the middle and upper-middle (the 50th to 75th percentile) had between a 15% and 18% chance of reaching income of more than $200,000 a year. They have only a 5% to 6% chance of making more than $340,000 a year. . . .”

In short, among the working-class voters for whom Trump’s candidacy has a strong appeal, “class warfare,” or an envious resentment toward the wealthy, seems to have been replaced by a delusional identification with the wealthy.

Until someone comes up with a better coinage, let’s call it “aspirational incapacitation.”


Clauson’s complete post is available at: https://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/09/19/1018325/-Two-in-10-Americans-expect-to-be-millionaires-within-a-decade



2 thoughts on ““Aspirational Incapacitation” May Account for Much of Donald Trump’s Appeal

  1. Possibly – but if you read this week’s Atlantic article compiling the opinions of Trump supporters (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/trump-nation-speaks/398411/), you don’t see very much evidence of that. People who thought they were going to get rich would not be supporting a candidate because of his stances on immigration or protectionism, would they? In fact, since the one thing all the other candidates can be counted on to do is support the rich, folks who plan to get rich have a wide field to choose from.

    It looks to me as if most of these voters have Trump pegged as the one candidate who is not firmly in the pockets of the donors and who might do something for the people who aren’t getting rich. And really, given the data that show citizens’ opinions have no impact *at all* on what legislators do, is there anything voters can do about the country’s trajectory besides support somebody completely independent of the machine?

    I think the same impulse that makes many leftists supprt Sanders is making many rightists support Trump. It’s called desperation.

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