Author discusses the red state paradox, research in Louisiana

April 5, 2019

A professor emerita of the University of California, Berkeley discussed her research process and novel about understanding Southern politics on Thursday.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, professor emerita of University of California, Berkeley spoke about “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.”

Going into the research, Hochschild wanted to “permit [herself] a great deal of… curiosity for people [she] knew [she] would have differences with.”

Hochschild spoke about the “red state paradox,” which she described as states that could benefit the most from a strong, liberal government, but are the most conservative and the most likely to vote for Republican candidates.

Hochschild traveled to the “super south:” Louisiana. Louisiana is known for having high pollution, poor education and low employment. Despite this, Hochschild found almost all of the white citizens did not vote Democratically in the 2012 presidential election. Her research goal was to explain this phenomenon.

Jumping right into the heart of the action she tried to really understand and befriend the Louisianans. She attended meetings for Republican women, went to church services, played Rook (a popular card game) and went fishing.

In her research, she asked about the red state paradox, only to find that most were aware of this phenomenon, and most brushed it off. They claimed that liberals had it wrong, the government wouldn’t help people like them, she said. Louisiana runs on the oil industry, so a liberal, environmentally friendly government would bring the state to even more ruin. And the government is in the north, so they believe that the north is then prioritized.

Hochschild states that most of the reasoning from Louisiana citizens comes from a “deep story,” creating beliefs based on an emotionally provocative situation. She explains, “you are waiting in a line… at the top of the hill is the American dream… the line has not moved for many years and you are very tired. You are looking at all those in front of you, not at all those behind you… you notice that there are line cutters.” These line cutters are people of color, women, immigrants, anyone helped by affirmative action, environmentalists, etc.

They believed that Obama was not their president; he was the president of the Northerners, the line cutters, said Hochschild. These people felt marginalized, she continued. Southerners are often harshly and quickly judged by Northerners; they feel put down because of where they live, because of what they believe. They felt “marginalized and estranged.” They are “entitled to be Americans, but pushed back [in line].”

When Donald Trump announced he was running, Louisiana rallied around him, Hochschild said. Here was a man who believed the same things they all secretly did, and he was not afraid to publicly announce it. Hochschild theorizes that Trump almost cleared them of their shame. Their beliefs were attacked, but Trump was fighting back. When the press would respond negatively to Trump’s comments, he would respond with something even nastier. Trump allowed these people to live vicariously through him, she noted.

At the end of the project, Hochschild thought about a “blue state paradox.” The Democratic party, the party meant to appeal to the working class, had no appeal to the actual working class citizens in many parts of the country. Perhaps it’s because conservatives are not truly poor, but are “the elite of the losers,” she theorized—not poor enough to be in poverty, but still not upper class.

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