Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Rate this book
In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country – a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Russell Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets – among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident – people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.

Strangers in Their Own Land goes beyond the commonplace liberal idea that these are people who have been duped into voting against their own interests. Instead, Russell Hochschild finds lives ripped apart by stagnant wages, a loss of home, an elusive American dream – and political choices and views that make sense in the context of their lives. Russell Hochschild draws on her expert knowledge of the sociology of emotion to help us understand what it feels like to live in "red" America. Along the way she finds answers to one of the crucial questions of contemporary American politics: why do the people who would seem to benefit most from "liberal" government intervention abhor the very idea?

242 pages, Hardcover

First published September 6, 2016

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Arlie Russell Hochschild

30 books435 followers
Arlie Russell Hochschild is the author of The Outsourced Self, The Time Bind, Global Woman, The Second Shift, and The Managed Heart. She is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her articles have appeared in Harper's, Mother Jones, and Psychology Today, among others. She lives in San Francisco.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
5,732 (36%)
4 stars
6,793 (43%)
3 stars
2,562 (16%)
2 stars
482 (3%)
1 star
121 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,318 reviews
433 reviews103 followers
August 9, 2017
In many ways, this book reveals more about the nature of our national divide than "Hillbilly Elegy" does. The author spent a good bit of time with people on the far right -- self-identifying Tea Party members from coastal Louisiana. She came to know them, got them to speak candidly about their values and how they see their lives and their country. What evolves over the course of "Strangers" is a complicated portrait of people who have tried to "play by the rules" and live "good Christian lives," but feel themselves demeaned, betrayed and left behind by politicians and many of their countrymen. It would be, I think, a hard-hearted reader who did not feel at least some measure of respect for Hochschild's interview subjects: they come across as normal, decent people trying their best to live dignified lives and take care of one another, the kind of people you would probably feel perfectly comfortable having as neighbors; you might disagree with them about politics and religion, but you'd know they'd be there for you if you needed them, just as you'd be there for them.

It is precisely the decency of Hochschild's interviewees that gives the book its power. I found myself profoundly frustrated by their -- to my mind -- seemingly willful blindness to the forces that most threaten them: the oil and chemical firms that poison their water and land, that literally cause their homes to collapse, yet that they welcome and defend because of the promise of jobs. They shake their heads at the state government that has sold them out (the details are astonishing!), but are repulsed by the notion that the federal government should have a role in fixing things. In their minds, life is hard and bad stuff happens; that's just the way it is. The right response is not to complain or seek remediation but to bear it as best as one can and seek strength through religion, family and community.

There is a good deal more to the book than I have suggested here. I wish that everyone on my side of the divide (Hochschild calls it the "wall of empathy") -- the Left -- would take the time to read "Strangers." It will frustrate them, make them want to take these people by the shoulders and try to 'shake some sense into them'. But mostly it will enlighten them and, if they are willing to open themselves to it, make them look beyond stereotypes and see the humanity of those on the Other
Side. I'm not hopeful that this knowledge will bridge the gaps between us, but at the very least it might dampen some of the anger.
Profile Image for Julie .
3,977 reviews58.9k followers
March 12, 2017
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Horchschild is a 2016 New Press publication.

Recently, there has been a rash of books published that highlight the ‘angry white American’ movement, that attempts to explain the cultural and class divisions our country is experiencing, which are designed to give us insight into the mindset of those who voted for the republican candidate.

I feel like this book, written by someone about as far removed from this culture as one could be, is a telling and insightful look at how the country came to be so divided. The author keeps her mind as open as possible, genuinely likes the subjects she has chosen to spotlight, and works very hard to understand their point of view without bias.

It’s always difficult to write personal reviews, especially when my online friends come from such diverse backgrounds. I know I risk offending someone along the way, so I apologize in advance if my political views do not match up with yours.

I tend to call ‘em like I see ‘em- so here goes:

Axiall – A chemical company located in St. Charles, Louisiana had an enormous explosion in 2013 and again in 2014. A safety inspector for Axiall had the job of trying to reduce the risk of accidents. The young man climbed the towers and squeezed under machines to check pipes and valves and attach small red flags to pipes that needed replacing or valves tightening. Operators didn’t like him coming around because each red flag meant extra work, he said. Some waved him away, “No, not today.”

Then he said, “They would gang up. I’d have to call their boss, and they hated that. So, when they saw me, they’d say, ‘Here comes Big Brother.” It was a stressful job.

On hearing this story, a man hired as a corporate industrial hygienist, tasked with sampling acid mist in the battery-charging area in a Ford battery plant, recounted this:

“To set up the air monitors, I had to wear a respirator. The staff asked me to take it off since it might make workers who saw me with it to worry about the ill effect of the air on them. But, they needn’t have worried. Some of the guys started to taunt me, the corporate sissy who couldn’t tough it out like they did. But when they laughed at me, I could see their teeth were visibly eroded by exposure to sulfuric acid mist.”

For those living in Louisiana, people make sacrifices, expose themselves to toxic dumping, harmful chemicals, and devastating effects to the environment for various reasons. Some, believe they must learn to cope because of the jobs it provides, some think of it as the sacrifice made for capitalism, and some consider it respect for bravery. No one considers themselves a victim. In fact, they are critical of liberal sounding talk of victimhood.

And, so it goes- What the author refers to as the great paradox.

If you are looking for a way to understand why the conservative right is so angry, why they voted the way they did, what issues they face, this book will put you in their shoes, and give you an up close and personal view of their concerns, where they form their opinions and ideals, and why they are so important to them.

The state has a strong Christian population and their faith, church, and the Bible is the cornerstone of their lives. They don’t have a large Hispanic population or Muslim population, but, they get their world view from Fox news, and have a strong contempt for the ‘liberal’ media.

The most important thing for the residents of this state, next to their faith, is jobs. Many are quite aware of the health and environmental risks involved. But, they also hate the EPA and the government poking their nose in.

It’s no secret that our country is deeply divided. For at least eight years, folks like these felt frustrated by welfare recipients, immigrants, refugees, all getting special opportunities they would love to have come their way. They felt betrayed. They felt like Obama was ‘their’ president not ‘our’ president.

Now, the tides have shifted, with the feelings reversed. But, before the country can come together, we must take a long look at our history, to be sure mistakes aren’t repeated, to understand the situation from another angle, which is why I think this book is so important. For people, like those featured in this book, Trump’s win feels like winning the jackpot, while those who oppose the new president, feel like it’s been a reversal of fortune.

While, liberals feel compassion for those who are fleeing persecution, for the ‘slaves’ of society, these folks don’t share that sympathy, and resent the implication that they should, because their situation is just as poor and downtrodden, and their livelihood is at stake, which stretches their limits of compassion. Often their point of view is quite harsh.

Looking at things through their eyes will most assuredly give you some perspective if you happen to walk on the liberal side and are having a hard time understanding why, even knowing the environmental risks, these proud, hardworking, loyal people, still voted for the republican candidate.

I’m not a sociologist, just a patriotic American, wishing and hoping, against insurmountable odds that this country can decrease the gap that has only widened after the election. I may be one of the few people who understands both sides of the spectrum. While my personal upbringing was strictly conservative, and those values are deeply ingrained, and I live in a very conservative leaning small town in Texas, my politics tend to lean to the left, and yes, my heart bleeds- (insert ‘snowflake’ insult here) Sorry, not sorry. But, my heart doesn’t just bleed for Syrian refugees, or immigrants, or for women who struggle for equal pay, for the ill effects of oil, coal, and chemicals on our environment and on the health and quality of life of those who will suffer from it, but for those like the people featured in this book. People who are struggling to keep their heads above water, who want to work, need to work, struggle with educational funding, and see their values and way of life slowly disappearing, or even reviled.

While, I may not be all that skilled at multitasking, I am capable of feeling compassion for more than one group of people or feel passionate towards more than one 'cause'. That compassion alone separates me from some of the people in this book, who seem to think feelings are overrated and they don’t much care for them.

However, attempting to understand the whys and the wherefores can at least bring about the possibility of open dialogue, although I think the ability to communicate reasonably is still a long way down the pike, and despite my openness and willingness to understand the plight of those living right here in America who could use a little of that liberal compassion we are so willing to extend to other people, my cynicism, my skepticism, and activism, and realism, doesn’t leave much room for hope that things will work out quite the way these folks were hoping and of course the divide is stronger than ever, at least for now, and I think compassion has to work both ways. At the moment, neither side seems to be willing to budge, even a little. A little 'do unto others' might go a long way towards bridging the 'great divide", and Christian values can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Remember, Jesus was very compassionate. So, there is that.

But, this book did help me tamp down on some of my frustrations, did give me a different view of what some of my fellow Americans are going through, and provided me with enough information to consider possible solutions other than just lashing out at those who are holding fast and hard to their way of life, while the other half of the country are progressing, adapting, and hoping to move forward with their vision of what America should be like.

It’s a kind of flip flop that I see taking place now, where the left is feeling as though they are strangers in their own country and they too have come out swinging.

I think this is a must read for those still struggling with our current political climate. I pray for our country and hope that at the very least, we can begin speaking to one another again, in calm, reasonable voices, in order to bring about the solutions and compromises that must take place if we ever hope to bridge the gap that is keeping us separated. This is something that bothers me a lot. I worry constantly, and feel uneasy about our future as a country the longer we continue to fight against one another's vision of what America stands for.

Overall, I felt the author did a very fine job with this book. She allows the voice of the people to be heard, she works very hard to understand the psychology, and is fair to the subject and the people. She does have to work at it pretty hard, at times, and I did pick up on her frustration at times, a feeling I also had to work to keep under control. Her liberal convictions never wavered, no one convinced her that the future should revert to the past, but she does come away with a better understanding, and with a new -found respect for the people she studied. This book is very thought provoking, no matter which side you come down on politically and is definitely worth looking into and strongly recommend it!

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,381 reviews11.7k followers
May 26, 2017
The thing is, no matter how well Trump voters' psyche and worldview are explained to me (and this book does a fantastic job of presenting the Right's "deep story"), I can never truly comprehend them, especially the lack of generosity in their version of morality, aversion to objective facts and constant voting against their best interests. There are flaws in their logic that are driving me insane.

In addition, this is quite a damning portrait of state of Louisiana. The republican voters of this state have been complicit in damaging the environment of their allegedly beloved state, suffered greatly because of it, and are determined to continue voting against environmental regulations. Paradox indeed.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,394 followers
February 2, 2018
The concept of this book is exactly what I had been thinking about for the past two years. I am so grateful for Hochschild for structuring a study to investigate the political divide in the United States as evinced by Louisiana, a deeply conservative red state facing environmental degradation and widespread poverty. Hochschild focused on a single issue upon which voting age people might be expected to converge in attitude--environmental pollution--and ended up asking a question which illuminated other attitudes: why do those living in polluted states want less federal oversight from environmental agencies rather than more?

Hochschild found that many attitudes are not based in economic self-interest so much as emotional self-interest, something with which every person struggles in our lifetimes. Our emotional response to a problem or issue may color our perception, and put our economic self-interest at odds with what we decide to believe. (There are lots of examples of this in everyday life anywhere: a mother allows an adult child to move back home rent-free while looking for a job, a sister lends money to a drug-addicted sibling promising repayment, etc.)

Hochschild postulates that the individuals she interviewed belonging to the Tea Party in Louisiana were reacting to preserve emotional self-interest rather than economic self-interest with regard to environmental pollution controls (or the lack of them). She concludes these folks experienced a psychological high of belonging to a powerful, like-minded political majority, and as a part of this group felt released from politically-correct rules that usually govern polite society. [A similar phenomenon is exhibited by liberal groups with the campus demonstrations refusing permission to conservative speakers, or by destruction and violence during protest marches.]

Looking over the work Hochschild did in Louisiana, we realize that doing sociological research in the field is messy and hard to categorize. In order to determine if there was a shared narrative that connected the attitudes and emotions of the people she interviewed, Hochschild generated something called a “deep story,” which removes the particular facts and judgments that define individuals and just tells us how things feel to those individuals.

The Tea Party supporters she interviewed agreed that the deep story Hochschild generated did resonate with them and could be said to define them: That life is hard, and they must endure; that they felt like they were waiting in line, patiently, for their rewards for working hard but they see federal government-subsidized line-cutters getting benefits before the hard workers, i.e., Negroes, women, immigrants, refugees; the government appears to be helping the line-cutters using taxpayer money and is therefore antithetical to the hard-workers; God teaches how to endure; gay people were not godly; America, especially the America of their youth when fish and fowl were plentiful and air and water were clean, was something to preserve; everything was changing so much they’d begun to feel like strangers in their own land, not getting the benefits citizenship in America promised.

The connection between pollution and jobs gets tangled in the subjects’ emotional self-interest and they can’t seem to extricate themselves from a loop created by what they hear from their former corporate employers, from their state representatives (Bobby Jindal was in office), and from Fox News. It almost seems as though when corporate representatives said they would not clean up the river/lake pollution, that the pollution is not that bad, or they could not afford to clean up, residents felt powerless. In order not to feel powerless, they blamed someone else, like the federal government, or the line-cutters.

The people Hochschild interviewed for this study* were subject to the most egregious environmental pollution I have ever heard of. In some cases their houses were destroyed or blown up by gas leaks, the rivers surrounding their houses were so polluted plants and animals died when in contact with it. The interviewees were retired or near retirement. Their neighbors and spouses were dying of various cancers.

At the end of the study, when she was drawing her conclusions, Hochschild was remarkably restrained. She’d become friends with these folks, and though she might occasionally, gently, point out areas of disagreement with them to see what they might respond, for the most part it did not appear that she interfered with their belief system. Her conclusions were that these people, who struggled their entire lives to make a living, who were often lied to by those with power over them, felt a kind of collective excitement to be part of Donald Trump’s supporters where they felt secure and respected, and were released from the bonds of political correctness, e.g., caring about those further back in the line, the needy around the country, around the world.

Personally, I think it might be the release from political correctness that made everyone so giddy to be part of Trump’s team, because let's face it, the man was not respectful. Though he was rich, he was low class; he made it look as though his level of success was attainable to ordinary folk. There is a certain amount of willful delusion and economic self-interest in these beliefs, it seems to me. I understand compassion fatigue, particularly when one’s own world is so needy, so I am not going to criticize that. There is, however, something we [should] all learn as we grow older that these smart, mature, experienced folks don’t seem to have grasped, and perhaps this is our fundamental disagreement: happiness and satisfaction in life is not a zero-sum game.

Although we might be able to feel sympathy, empathy, compassion—something other than steaming anger—for individuals in the world Hochschild studied, I don’t think it is so easy to do the same for a group. I found myself steeled against their resistance to coherent argument on commonsense pollution controls. They can react with their emotional self-interest if they wish, but I don’t think it is healthy if I do as well, because then we’re at loggerheads. If I react with my economic self-interest, we are likewise at loggerheads. These people want what I want, e.g., family, community, a measure of security. They must want a clean environment as well. We disagree on how to get there. I don’t see that changing unless perhaps we agree to set standards of accountability and hold each other to those standards.

This was really a spectacular study, enormously important, and deeply skilled in execution. I am in awe of how the author was able to approach the problems she could see in our society, measure them, and explain what she found to us. This book was published in 2016, the result of at least five years of labor and study. It was a 2016 Finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

*[We never get an explanation why younger people, with presumably more at stake, less history in the area, and more energy for resistance to corporate interests, were not interviewed for the study, except maybe it was necessary to limit the scope of the interviewees so they could all operate from the same deep story.]
44 reviews4 followers
February 4, 2017
It’s been a little under two weeks since Donald Trump won the presidential election. Since then, I’ve been hearing a lot of gloating from conservatives and self-flagellation from liberals to the effect of: this happened because out-of-touch urban elites ignored the pain of the white working class, while denigrating their values as racist and backwards.

I must confess that I’ve been morally conflicted as to how to respond. On the one hand: yes, many have been left behind by globalization, and many in the American heartland have watched their communities decline as a result. And I sympathize. I really do.

And yet…! I am having trouble reconciling the pleas to address the pain of the white working class with my visceral disgust at the candidate they’ve chosen to elect. This book deals with the fact that many on the right are frustrated that liberals keep telling them that they should feel sympathy for (insert historically marginalized, non-Christian/white/male group), when they don’t WANT to feel sympathy for them. Well, maybe this is poetic justice, but I’m experiencing the same feeling now. Because while I know the white working class is suffering – and is far less optimistic about their own future than other, more disadvantaged groups (e.g., blacks and Latinos) – what I find myself wanting to say to Trump voters is:

“Well I hope you feel good about yourselves. You were so angry at us and our ‘political correctness’ that you’ve elected a blatant racist and open misogynist. You were so angry about ‘establishment politics’ that you elected a lying, know-nothing reality TV star. Well, great job! I hope you’re feeling as good about your big ‘Fuck You' to 'The System’ in four years when you’re still economically depressed (no, those manufacturing and coal mining jobs are NOT coming back), and Latinos, gays, Muslims, and all those other people who weren’t important enough to deserve your consideration have suffered through four years of President Trump.”

Yes, I know, I’m the very embodiment of a condescending urban progressive (a more fervent Trump devotee might also throw in the words "libtard" and "femi-Nazi").

But, I’m aware of the toxic level of hyper-partisanship that’s been causing political dysfunction for years, and I think that, as a democratic citizen, I have a duty to understand the views of my opponents. While I believe that liberal Americans have a moral duty to stand up for the rights of minorities, LGBT, and women under President Trump, I do also think that they should try to find common ground with Republicans where it exists, and compromise where it’s acceptable. I also know that nationalism is on the rise throughout the world, and is likely to get a lot worse before it gets better – so it’s good to have a better understanding of what we’re in for.

But, another and yet…! This book and others call for us to understand and work with the right, and to understand their viewpoint. But what I think is missing in these kumbaya calls for tolerance is that – at the risk of sounding hypocritically hyper-partisan – much of the current dysfunction is political discourse is coming from the right, not the left. The book hints at this briefly – in one passage where the author mentions that the widening gulf between parties is because “the right has moved right” – but, in general, maintains the false equivalence that characterized much of the media narrative of Trump vs. Clinton.

I think everyone should try to understand their political rivals’ views. But, for all the talk in the last twelve days about liberal snobbery, it seems clear to me that the left is far more open and conciliatory than the right. For instance: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Bernie Sanders have all called for having an open mind and giving Donald Trump the chance to lead. Now, compare this with Donald Trump saying (when polls indicated he was losing) that the election was “rigged,” and his calling for “Second Amendment people” to deal with Hillary Clinton. Compare it with John McCain and Ted Cruz pledging earlier this month that they would refuse to confirm ANY Clinton nominee to the Supreme Court (and this isn’t even touching the Merrick Garland fiasco).

Another element of this that I think needs to be discussed, but which I think is currently being somewhat hushed in the name of avoiding elitism, is the impact of anti-intellectualism on the right. Donald Trump’s support came overwhelmingly from less educated whites. Trump has developed his base of support by ignoring easily verifiable facts and appealing to conspiracy theories. This was cheered by his base, who took it as his being “anti-establishment” and “non-PC.” Huge portions of the electorate view Breitbart, Alex Jones, and YouTube videos as valid news sources (the book mentions the importance of Fox News but doesn’t mention Breitbart), and take fake news stories they see on social media as gospel without bothering to do basic fact-checking. And to address the economic side of things: how much could communities devastated by the loss of manufacturing improve the lots of their citizens if they invested in their schools and promoted the importance of higher education, rather than portraying these as effete, liberal pursuits that brainwash good Christian youth?

In all that I’ve seen imploring liberals to understand and sympathize with the right, what has gone unanswered is: how do you have a productive discussion if one side is willing to abandon facts entirely? 89% of Trump’s primary supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim. Many of these people still don’t believe Obama was born in America. How do you even work with this?

I’m afraid that liberals won’t be able to fully bridge the gap between the left and the right without completely abandoning the principles of tolerance to minorities and adherence to basic facts. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do what we can. We need to be open to reasonable right-wing views, and try to join forces with principled, intelligent conservatives, who are, by and large, opposed to President-Elect Trump.

For that purpose, this book is helpful -- and it's a good read for anyone wanting to understand why Trump won. As for breaking down my "empathy wall", as the book puts it: maybe I’ll be able to do that more easily when I'm less sad/angry/disgusted/fearful about the election result.
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,323 followers
August 19, 2017
I listened to the audio of Strangers In Their Own Land. Arlie Russell Hochschild is a self described liberal Democrat sociology professor at Berkeley. She set out to climb what she describes as the "empathy wall" for the purpose of understanding what has motivated the Republican base in the US in recent years. She does so by conducting extensive interviews in a number of smaller communities in Louisiana -- a state with high levels of pollution and poverty that has consistently voted Republican. Her research started well before she could have predicted the outcome of the 2016 election, but her book ends up being incredibly timely. I found Hochschild's book really interesting -- she does a good job describing the social, economic and environmental context in Louisiana while presenting many of the people she met with respect and empathy. She ends up telling what she describes as her subjects' "deep story", describing their core values and what may explain their voting choices. But climbing the empathy wall seems like a far cry from bridging the chasm between Hochschild's values and those of her subjects. Interesting but hardly the basis for any kind of optimism.
Profile Image for Trevor.
1,279 reviews21.3k followers
February 26, 2019
I liked this quite a lot. This is a ‘walk in mile in my shoes’ book, in many ways. That is, the author wants to know why people in ‘red’ states in the US – where, unlike the rest of the world, ‘red’ means deeply conservative (yeah, I know, yet another of those US oddities) – seem so consistently to vote against their own best interests. In some ways it is cross between The Righteous Mind and Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant. Oh, and also perhaps Owen Jones’s Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. In fact, I spent most of the book thinking of Jones’s book. I really must do a review of that soon.

The premise of this is that people vote from their values rather than their interests. This goes against much of the received wisdom that we base the rest of our existence on, that is, on the idea of utility maximisation. We see the world as being composed on the basis of the economically rational human, someone who is fundamentally selfish and always seeking to get as much as they can in life and while they also minimise the effort they put in to get it. That, by the way, is the foundation premise of economic theory. But it seems that doesn’t apply to the poor people in the Southern states of the US.

And the red states are among the poorest in the US – they have the worst labour laws, they have poor protections for the environment and for health and safety, and they sound pretty close to being among some of the worst places you can imagine to bring up a family. And yet, the people in these states vote to ensure that their jobs will continue to be poorly paid, that their rivers will continue to be polluted, and that their children and grandchildren will be poisoned and badly educated.

One of the problems with trying to work out why so many people vote against their own best interests is that they have so many ‘interests’ and so it could prove almost impossible to keep up with the score card. The author addresses this by only focusing on environmental issues. She quickly learns that the state she is focusing on, Louisiana, has particularly bad environmental issues and yet does next to nothing to address them. The situation is so bad that at first she thinks that she may have picked the wrong problem to look into, since perhaps Louisiana might prove to be a kind of crazy outlier on this issue. But no, it turns out that the worst states in the US for environmental destruction, and for weak environmental protections are invariably the red states. And the more polluted the local area, the more people in that area gleefully seem to choose to reduce protections and make things worse.

So, this proves to be a perfect case in point for what it is she is looking into, since, from the outside, the only reasonable explanation for such a state of affairs is that the people of Louisiana must be completely crazy. A lot of the book then explains the intersection of religious, political and ideological views that make supporting environmental protection so hard for many of these people. It isn’t that they don’t love the environment, it isn’t that they don’t see it being lain waste – rather, the Protestant Work Ethic means that having a job is the only way to be truly moral. And the companies that are killing the world are also providing jobs.

The other problem here is that these people see themselves as ‘the salt of the earth’. They are the ‘real’ Americans. And real Americans aren’t ‘victims’ – all of those up north are victims. They don’t have enough self-respect to look after themselves and their families – they always have their hands out – they always want more. And they make terrible life choices (having a dozen children while on welfare) and expecting hard working people like them to pay for those bad choices. And they see everyone else as a queue jumper – Mexicans coming into the country taking their jobs, single mothers having babies out of turn, sick people expecting to be made well, even birds needing to be saved from oil spills seem to be ahead of them in the queue. The world is, according to this narrative, being taken over by idiots and these good people are being expected to pay for this insanity.

While it was interesting to get to walk along with some of these people through this book – I have to admit I had a stone or two in my shoe for long parts of this, which these I was walking beside certainly didn’t have (I don’t know, when people talk god and guns and abortion, I’m always likely to suffer a bit from an empathy gap) – and I couldn’t help thinking of Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death (yet another book I’ll need to review soon). In that he says something that helps to explain why people can see that the system is grinding them into the dirt, but still fight to the death to defend it. You know, a couple of people in this have worked in jobs where their boss almost literally kills them by not providing protective clothing they ought to wear around the chemicals they are expected to work with. But the people don’t even seem to get upset that this is has been the case.

Well, according to Baudrillard, this is because what the boss gives these workers ‘symbolically’ is life. That is, the gift these workers receive from their boss is not at all the Marxist ‘a chance to be exploited and have your labour power converted to surplus value that will be stolen from you by your employer’, but rather a gift that forestalls death – that literally forestalls death. And the worker can never repay that debt. The gift from the boss is simply too much. In fact, in some cases the ‘gift’ received from the employer allows the person to ‘live the American dream’. The debt accrued from being in receipt of such a gift is such that if there is a chemical spill or you find out you have been slowly poisoned, well, it is all part of the costs involved in holding an unrepayable debt.

This book remains terrifying throughout – the author says at one point that she came to respect and even like many of the Tea Party people she interviews – and I get that, but even so, they remain terrifying to me, even the nice ones. Their loathing of the government terrifies me in particular. The myth of the glorious individual facing the challenges life poses alone and from their own reserves is something I find deeply repulsive. We really do need to move beyond the myth of the super-hero, cowboy with the 50-mile stare and a hand on his warm gun. Such people are sociopaths.

Like I said, this was an interesting read.
Profile Image for HBalikov.
1,695 reviews629 followers
November 20, 2017
“You are patiently standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage. You are situated in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, and predominantly male, some with college degrees, some not.

“Just over the brow of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line. Many in the back of the line are people of color --- poor, young and old, mainly without college degrees. It’s scary to look back; there are so many behind you, and in principle you wish them well. Still, you’ve waited a long time, worked hard, and the line is barely moving. You deserve to move forward a little faster. You’re patient but weary. You focus ahead, especially on those at the very top of the hill.

“The American Dream is a dream of progress --- the idea that you’re better off than your forebears just as they superseded their parents before you --- and extends beyond money and stuff. You’ve suffered long hours, layoffs, and exposure to dangerous chemicals at work, and received reduced pensions. You have shown moral character through trial by fire, and the American Dream of prosperity and security is a reward for all of this, showing who you have been and are --- a badge of honor.

“…Look! You see people cutting in line ahead of you! You’re following the rules. They aren’t. As they cut in, it feels like you are being moved back. How can they just do that?...Through affirmative action plans, pushed by the federal government, they are being given preference for places in colleges and universities, apprenticeships, jobs, welfare payments, and free lunches…women, immigrants, refugees, public sector workers---where will it end?”

I start with this long quote, this complex analogy, because the author says this has been validated by her research as the acceptable “explanation” for the “anger and mourning” referenced in the title and why those who see the world through this lens are willing to support both Donald Trump and the Tea Party vision.

This is a timely book that I have to admit I approached with a bit of trepidation. Was it going to be an “in your face” reality book? Or, a “we can work it all out if we only try” plea? Or, a “this is what the other side thinks and why they are wrong” screed? Fortunately, it was none of these. She starts by sharing what interests her: “I had a keen interest in how life feels to people on the right---that is, in the emotion that underlies politics.” Hochschild had several contacts that helped her start meeting Tea Party people in Louisiana. She built on that. For example: “I thanked Sharon…for allowing me to follow her in her rounds, but later in my mind, I thanked her again for her gift of trust and outreach. And after a while it occurred to me that the kind of connection she offered me was more precious than I’d first imagined. It built the scaffolding of an empathy bridge. We, on both sides, wrongly imagine that empathy with the “other” side brings an end to clearheaded analysis when, in truth, it’s on the other side of that bridge that the most important analysis can begin.”

For the most part, the book divides between Hochschild’s in-depth interviews and her attempts to put this into some larger context. I have thought about why it took me a significant chunk of time to make my way through this book. Was the author’s patch-quilt style the cause? Was it that there was so much mind-wrenching opinion to process? Maybe it was some of both. For a long while, I was doubtful that she would be able to elicit the empathy that she so obviously sought. On the balance, I have to say that she succeeds. I suspect that is why the book became a National Book Award finalist.


Some of the author’s observations and quotes from interviews:

“Over five years, I accumulated 4,690 pages of transcripts based on interviews with a core of forty Tea Party advocates and twenty others from various walks of life---teachers, social workers, lawyers and government officials---who enlarged my perspective on my core group.”

“I came to realize that the Tea Party was not so much an official political group as a culture, a way of seeing and feeling about a place and its people.”

“Indeed, Tea Party adherents seemed to arrive at their dislike of the federal government via three routes---through their religious faith (the government curtailed the church, they felt), through hatred of taxes (which they saw as too high and too progressive), and through its impact on their loss of honor…”

“To many on the right, that government itself was a power-amassing elite; creating bogus causes to increase its control and handing out easy money in return for loyal Democratic votes.”

“And the more that people confine themselves to likeminded company, the more extreme their views become.”

“Across the country, red states are poorer and have more teen mothers, more divorce, worse health, more obesity, more trauma-related deaths, more low-birth-weight babies, and lower school enrollment. On average, people in red states die five years earlier than people in blue states. Indeed, the gap in life expectancy between Louisiana (75.7) and Connecticut (80.8) is the same as that between the United States and Nicaragua”

“….Out of the 50 states, Louisiana ranked 49th and in overall health ranked last...And the problem transcends race; an average black in Maryland lives four years longer, earns twice as much, and is twice as likely to have a college degree as a black in Louisiana.”

“Given such an array of challenges, one might expect people to welcome federal help. In truth, a very large proportion of the yearly budgets---in the case of Louisiana, 44 percent---do come from federal funds…”

“People in red states who need Medicaid and food stamps welcome them but don’t vote, (Alec MacGillis) argues, while those a little higher on the class ladder, white conservatives, don’t need them and do vote ---against public dollars for the poor….the affluent who vote against government services use them anyway. Virtually every Tea Party advocate I interviewed for this book has personally benefitted from a major government service or has close family who have.” [this is an example where it would be helpful to have better data and less opinion]

“When asked (by LSU researchers), “Have your views about other issues such as global warming or protecting wildlife changed as a result of the (massive Gulf) oil spill?” seven out of ten answered ‘no’…Why? Loss of drilling revenue was one thing. But federal government ‘overregulation” was another. ‘It’s not in the company’s own interest to have a spill or an accident. They try hard,’ one woman told me. ‘So if there’s a spill, it’s probably the best the company could do.’”

“Companies made money and were beholden to stockholders; it was understandable if they tried to “cover their ass,” people told me. But the government was paid to protect people, so one could expect much more of them.”

“The logic was this. The more oil, the more jobs. The more jobs, the more prosperity, and the less need for government aid. And the less the people depend on government…”

“Take Social Security. If you and I hadn’t had to pay into it,” he told me, “we could have invested that money ourselves---even given the 2008 downturn---you and I would be millionaires by now.”

“New businesses pay no taxes for the first ten years and can, by changing their name, qualify for another tax exemption for the next ten.”

“…a gun vendor in Louisiana can keep no records, perform no background check, and sell guns to an array of customers forbidden in other states”

“I count all the reasons Mike disdained government. It displaced community. It took away individual freedom. It didn’t protect the citizenry. Its officials didn’t live like nuns. And the federal government was a more powerful, distant, untrustworthy version of the state government. Beyond that, Mike was surrounded by a local culture of endurance and adaptation…”

“As a powerful influence over the views of the people I came to know, Fox News stands next to industry, state government, church and the regular media as an extra pillar of political culture all its own…To some, Fox is family. One woman, a great reader who is highly attuned to world news, tells me she listens to Fox throughout the day.”

“A lot of liberal commentators look down on people like me. We can’t say the ‘N’ word. We wouldn’t want to; it’s demeaning. So why do liberal commentators feel so free to use the ‘R’ word [redneck]?”

(Speaking of the ‘N’ word says one interviewee) “I haven’t used the word since (I was in college in the 60s). I look forward to a day when color just won’t matter at all. I think we’re halfway there. “
“As I and others use the term, however, racism refers to the belief in a natural hierarchy that places blacks at the bottom, and the tendency of whites to judge their own worth by distance from that bottom.”

“Blacks, women, immigrants, refugees, brown pelicans---all have cut ahead of you in line. But it’s people like you who have made this country great. You feel uneasy. It has to be said: the line cutters irritate you. They are violating the rule of fairness. You resent them, and you feel it’s right that you do. So do your friends. Fox commentators reflect your feelings, for your deep story is also the Fox News deep story.”

“You may not yet have the biggest house, but you can certainly be proud of being an American. And anyone who criticizes America---well, they’re criticizing you. If you can no longer feel pride in the United States through its president, you’ll have to feel American in some new way---by banding with others who feel as strangers in their own land.”

“Missing from the image of blacks in most of the minds of those I came to know was a man or woman standing patiently in line next to them waiting for a well-deserved reward”

“When I asked one couple what proportion of people on welfare were gaming the system, the woman estimated 30 percent while her husband estimated 80 percent.”

In the undeclared class war, expressed through the weary, aggravating, and ultimately enraging wait for the American Dream, those I came to know developed a visceral hate for the ally of the ‘enemy’ cutters in line---the federal government.”

Most of these people had learned to “tough things out, to endure. Endurance wasn’t just a moral value; it was a practice…Not claiming to be a victim, accommodating the downside of loose regulations out of a loyalty to free enterprise---this was a tacit form of heroism, hidden to incurious liberals….I was discovering three distinct expressions of this endurance self….the Team Loyalist, the Worshipper, and the Cowboy…the Team Loyalist accomplishes a team goal, supporting the Republican Party. The Worshipper sacrifices a strong (and personal) wish. The Cowboy affirms a fearless self.”

“Her feeling about work is part of a larger moral code that shapes her feelings about those ahead and behind her in line for the American Dream. ‘Hard’ is the important idea. More than aptitude, reward, or consequence, hard work confers honor. It comes with clean living and being churched. Those getting ahead of her in line don’t share those beliefs, she feels.”

“That 44 percent of the Louisiana budget that came from the federal government, much of it for welfare to the poor, she would just as soon give it back. Giving money in return for nothing? That broke her moral rule: reward for work So for her, there was no paradox in Louisiana coming in 49th in the human development index and 50th in overall health and right-wing resistance to the idea of federal government aid. They could have whatever rank they wanted, if they didn’t work….I ask my ultimate question: what about children born poor? Is she so indignant about idle parents that she won’t reach out to the child? Does she oppose Head Start or subsidized lunch? ‘I would hope that the child would say, “I’m going to work hard and get me an education and a god job and get myself out of this environment,”’ Janice answers. Beyond that, her solution is to get children “churched” and to limit the fertility of poor women.”

“Ten percent of the people have 90 percent of the money, okay?” she says. “But if you even it out, in a year---even in six months---10 percent of the people would still have 90 percent of the money. A lot of people who win the Power Ball $247 million jackpots are bankrupt.”

“As for government ownership of public lands, ‘We should hold on to the Grand Canyon, part of Yellowstone, a few others, but sell the rest of the national parks for development and jobs.’”

“The number of federal workers also seems to her ‘plumb out of whack.’ She doesn’t venture a guess, but many I interviewed estimated that a third to a half of all U.S. workers were employed by the federal government---a common estimate was 40 percent. (Not knowing the figures myself, I looked them up. In 2013, 1.9 percent of American workers were civilian federal employees…”

“It’s not just the moral laxity of the Democrats that galls Janice, but the imposition of such laxity on her. She is badgered for sympathy, she feels, and made to feel bad if she doesn’t grant it.”

[one woman]“She was doing yet more emotional work disregarding the downside of life in the buckle of America’s energy belt. She was focused on the upside. Industry was a loyal friend to her, and she to it. As for pollution, “A company has a job to do; it’s making things people want and need. Just like people have to go to the bathroom, plants do too. You can’t just say, ‘don’t do it.’”

[another woman]“Pollution? I don’t talk about it much with friends…This whole town operates off of oil. So I could be talking to two moms whose husbands work in the plants. They think government regulation will hurt jobs, or stop new plants from coming in. You don’t want to remind them of dangers. Or make them think you’re blaming them for the work they do. It’s too close to home.”

[still another woman]“For her part……(she) allowed herself to feel sad about these things. It was a terrible shame this had happened, she felt. But having permitted herself to feel sad about environmental damage, she renounced the desire to remediate it, because that would call for more dreaded government….I’m not against stopping pollution, of course. I’m for regulating polluters…I would be all for it if the government didn’t use pollution as an excuse to expand.”

[one man] “Once something is regulated it’s hard to un-regulate it. And so, year after year at first---it’s just a little at a time---but then after a while it’s like it is now, hardened cement. Everything is regulated. We’re all stuck in cement.”

[another man] “(He) was not one to think of himself as a victim. That was the language of the ‘poor me’s’ asking for government handouts The very word ‘victim’ didn’t sit right. In fact, they were critical of liberal-sounding talk of victimhood.”

“They were braving the worst of an industrial system, the fruits of which liberals enjoyed from a distance in their highly regulated and cleaner blue states.”

[still another man] “He didn’t agree with liberals on funding Head Start, Pell college grants, Obamacare or Social Security. And that was fine. But in the back of his mind…(he) wanted to add the environment to the agenda of the Tea Party.”

“On the heels of these movements for social change (justice, civil rights, Native American rights, women’s rights, and later gay rights) a certain culture of victimization had crept in. And where did that leave the older white male? As an ideal, fairness seemed to stop before it got to him.”
“If in the nineteenth century the big planters had reduced the lot of the poor white farmer, twenty-first century corporations had gone global, automated, moved plants to cheaper workers or moved cheaper workers in, and deftly remained out of sight over the brow of the hill.”

“The right looks to the public sector as a service desk for a growing class of idle ‘takers.’ Robert Reich has argued that a more essential point of conflict is in yet a third location---between main street capitalism and global capitalism, between competitive and monopoly capitalism. ‘The major fault line in American politics,’ Reich predicts, ‘will shift from Democrat versus Republican to anti-establishment versus establishment.’ The line will divide those who ‘see the game as rigged and those who don’t.’”

“But being Christian and taking Jesus as your savior was for Janice, Jackie, Madonna, and others a way of saying, ‘I commit myself to being a moral person. I daily try to be good, to help, to forgive, and in fact to work hard at being good.’ ‘If I know a person is a Christian,’ one woman told me, ‘I know we have a lot in common. I’m more likely to trust that he or she is a moral person than I would a non-Christian.’”

The author identifies an “empathy wall” that exists between those who identify as “red” or “blue.” Her experience with the many “churched,” Tea Party people of Louisiana she says shows “…with their teasing, good-hearted acceptance of a stranger from Berkeley, the people I met … showed me that, in human terms, the wall can easily come down. And, issue by issue, there is possibility for practical cooperation…Young conservatives are far more likely than their elders to care about the environment. The last time I saw Mike Schaff, he surprised me with another crossover issue. ‘Big money escalates our differences. Let’s get it out of politics—both sides!’”
Profile Image for David M.
442 reviews393 followers
September 29, 2016
Recently it's occurred to me that perhaps I'm not doing enough to defeat Trump...

I may be complacent. It's still hard to take the idea of him as president seriously. Whatever the outcome of this election, however, it's clear that he's captured a huge percentage of the electorate - millions and millions of my compatriots. What accounts for this baffling phenomenon? a populist movement built around a multi-millionaire who brags about cheating his workers and personally benefiting from economic collapse?

I tend to think that too often liberals offer facile and self-serving answers to this conundrum. This makes Arlie Hoschschild's new book all the more welcome. A noble attempt at empathy and a serious contribution to understanding our present crisis. The central chapter, 'The Deep Story,' seeks to reconstruct the way the world feels to a Trump supporter. It should be required reading for all of us on the left. Most of the rest of the book consists of case studies or portraits of right-wing activists the author came to know in Louisiana.

A liberal academic from Berkeley, Hoschschild always strives to treat her interlocutor with the utmost respect. Occasionally, however, she has to report things that are simply beyond salvage. One fervent tea-partier, for instance, thinks that the problem in the Middle East is too much gun control - if more people had guns then there would be democracy.

A statement like that is of course incredibly stupid, to the point that dialogue as an end in itself starts to seem like an empty ideal. You don't get any closer to the truth by compromising with such nonsense. Nonetheless, I don't think this is any reason for liberals to feel smug or superior. It's possible that the solution lies not with a deeper understanding of another's culture, but rather a more intense criticism of one's own. As always, a plague on both houses.
Profile Image for Jean.
1,699 reviews737 followers
February 7, 2017
Hochschild is a University of California Berkeley sociologist. She states she was attempting to understand the Great Paradox: the fact that people in the poorest states who most need federal programs consistently vote for candidates who oppose those programs. The author traveled to Louisiana one of the poorest states and the one hardest hit by environmental pollution.

The people see their homes fall into sink holes caused by toxic waste, see deformities in wildlife and cancer in people including children caused by industrial pollution. They support deregulation of industry and cuts in federal aid. Hochschild says they tell her pollution is the sacrifice they have to make for capitalism. They apparently have a great mistrust of the federal government even more so than state government.

One comment the author made stuck with me. “She quickly realized that many of the stated views held by the tea party members were often not fact based but rather grounded in what life FEELS like to them.”

I gained some information and understanding from this book. I was amazed at the destruction of Louisiana by industrial pollution. I learned enough to know we have some big problems in this country that have created this situation and will tolerate the massive dangerous pollution. Louisiana is such a beautiful area; it makes me sick to learn about all the pollution. I liked the fact checking section at the end of the book; I found that most helpful. I also did a random check of the fact-checking and found the ones I looked up to be correct.

Suzanna Toren did a good job narrating the book. Toren is an award-winning audiobook narrator.
Profile Image for Jessica J..
1,008 reviews1,878 followers
February 8, 2017
I liked Hillbilly Elegy but this is the book we should all be reading if we want to understand the extreme polarization in this country from the point of view of the white working class. I think Arlie could have gone even deeper than she did, because she mostly wanted to focus on environmental issues and only barely brushes up against many of the moral issues and other ideas that are important, but the fact that these ideas would be novel to anyone confuses me and frustrates me, because these ideas are the things that I've been saying to anyone who might listen to me since Donald Trump was elected.

There’s been a lot of talk in the weeks since the 2016 election about bubbles. A lot of liberals in large urban areas were angered by the suggestion that they, too, live in a bubble. They peacefully live next door to black people and immigrants and gay couples, so they can’t possibly live in a bubble. But the thing is, they have no idea what life is really like in places like Coolville, Ohio or Lake Charles, Louisiana. And most of them don’t care to. Places liked that are full of racist evangelicals who think Mexicans and Muslims are the devil and are too dumb to know they’re being poisoned by the factories they work in, so why should they care?

Sure, I knew people who more or less fit that stereotype, but I knew way more people who didn’t. The reality is way more nuanced than that. People back home might be living in a bubble if they aren’t willing to be open to the diversity of our nation, sure. They don’t meet a lot of people who are different from them and so they’re never really forced to accept those differences. But that doesn’t mean they are the only ones in a bubble.

When I first moved to the wealthy suburbs outside of Philadelphia for grad school, one of the first things that hit me was how little the people I was meeting knew about life outside of their environment. I was experiencing some culture shock at how different the suburbs were from my hometown in poor rural Ohio, but I am absolutely convinced that if the tables were turned their culture shock would have been about a thousand times more head-spinny. That’s because their world was similar to the one that’s reflected in the vast majority of pop culture that I’d grown up consuming. TV shows take place in the city and the suburbs. The actual world that I grew up in was not really reflected back to me at all unless it was through a stereotypical hayseed or yokel meant to be the butt of a joke. But so many of my peers seemed completely oblivious to the fact that other parts of the country could be different unless they were making fun of "Pennsyltucky" rednecks.

This book came about because Arlie Russell Hochschild, a bluer-than-blue liberal from Berkeley wanted to understand why rural Americans are drawn to the Tea Party message of smaller government when it seems counterintuitive. So she went to Louisiana, a state that consistently ranks near the bottom of every index in the country, to ask them. She wanted to construct what, as a sociologist, she calls their “deep story.” Essentially, that’s how things feel to someone. Not necessarily the facts, but the emotion that they feel that drives their understanding of the world around them.

The “deep story” that she draws from a group of conservative, white, largely working class people in Louisiana rings so true to me and what I heard from the people I grew up around in southern Ohio and West Virginia. I’m a liberal who believes in things like civil rights and government regulation and assistance for the less fortunate, but I grew up with a lot of people whose “deep story” is more or less the same. And it boggles my mind that so many people are so incapable of seeing that story. Or, really, that they don’t seem to get that listening to that story and understanding it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that they have to agree with it or endorse it. You just have to stop applying your point of view and your life experiences to their lives.

Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,056 reviews683 followers
May 9, 2017
I was attracted to this book because it promised to answer the question, "Why do the people who would seem to benefit most from "liberal" government intervention abhor the very idea?" I have puzzled with this question ever since I read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas.

Arlie Russell Hochschild is a sociologist and who better to explain the behavior of large groups of people. Thus I thought perhaps she would be able to explain what a political writer like Frank couldn't comprehend. She is also professor emerita at University of California, Berkeley so it's reasonably safe to assume she understands the questions that need to be addressed to progressive liberals on these issues.

Hochschild worked on this book for five years collecting interviews and information during multiple trips deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right. This is a part of the country that has suffered significant environmental damage and increased incidence of cancer due to industrial spills and discharges. Logically, they would have everything to gain from strong environment controls and compensation for damages from careless industrial operations. But instead this region is home for many Tea Party loyalists who in recent years have morphed into supporters of Donald Trump.

In the first part of the book Hochschild introduces the reader to various individuals through accounts of her interviews with them. In general the reasons expressed for opposing government programs are based on jobs, faith and honor. Hochschild's writing keeps the attention of the reader by inserting notes and explanations regarding the data and statistics that often contradict the understandings expressed by the interviewees.

At about the halfway point in the book Hochschild—probably anticipating the feelings of many readers—describes the feelings of repeatedly sliding back down the "slippery empathy slope." She concludes that she is understanding their words but doesn't feel the emotion that motivates their attitudes.

In order to cross this "empathy gap" she develops a metaphor filled allegory that she proposes to explain the "deep story" underlying the inner feelings of older, white, Christian and predominately male conservatives.
Waiting In line.
You are patiently waiting in a long line leading up a hill like a pilgrimage. You are situated in the middle of this line along with others who are older, white, Christian, and predominately male, some with college degrees, some not. Just over the brow of the hill is the American dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line. Many in the back of the line are people of color, poor young and old, mainly without college degrees. It's scary to look back there are so many behind you, and in principle you wish them well. Still you've waited a long time, worked hard, and the line is barely moving. You deserve to move forward a little faster. You're patient but weary. You focus ahead especially on those at the top of the hill. The American dream is a dream of progress, the idea that you're better off than your forebears just as they superseded their parents before you, and extends beyond money and stuff. You've suffered long hours, layoffs, and exposure to dangerous chemicals at work, and received reduced pensions. You have shown moral character through trial by fire and the American dream of prosperity and security is a reward for all of this showing who you have been and who you are, a badge of honor. The source of the American dream is on the other side of the hill, hidden. Has the economy come to a strange standstill? Is my company doing OK? Will I get a raise this year? Are there good jobs for us all, or just a few? Will we be waiting in line forever? It's so hard to see over the brow of the hill. The sun is hot and the line unmoving. In fact, is it moving backward? You haven't gotten a raise in years and there is no talk of one.
... ... ...

The Line Cutters
Look, you see people cutting in line ahead of you! You're following the rules, they aren't. As they cut in you feel as though you are being moved back. How can they just do that? Who are they? Some are black through affirmative action plans pushed by the Federal Government they are being given preferences in colleges and universities, apprenticeships, jobs, welfare payments, and free lunches. And they hold a certain secret place in people's minds ... ... ... Your money is running through a liberal sympathy sieve you don't control or agree with.
Hochschild elaborates on this theme considerably more, but I think this is enough to get a feel for how this story unfolds. She reports that she read her story to a number of her interviewees, and they acknowledge that it accurately reflected their feelings. One of them said, "You took the words out of my mouth."

Hochschild proceeds through the rest of the book on the premise that her "deep story" as described in her allegory is a significant explanation for the political positions taken by her interviewees. I believe this story (the full version, not just the excerpt included above) helped me as a reader to feel empathy for how they express their political position. At least I'd like to think I do, though I recognize it's a touchy thing to claim to understand the feelings of others.

The portion of the "deep story" excerpted above focuses largely on economic issues, but Hochschild also includes chapters that address issues of faith and honor. On issues of faith they resent having a type of morality imposed on them by liberals they don't respect. On issues of honor they believe such feelings are absent in liberal thinking. I suggest reading the book for a more thorough discussion of these issues.

It is apparent that the majority of the book was written during the Tea Party era. A final chapter was added to address the Trump phenomenon. Hochschild explains that the "deep story" within the typical Tea Party member prepared the kindling so that all Trump had to do was light the match. The rest is history.

It is interesting to note that this book was published three months prior to the November 2016 election so Hochschild didn't know Trump would become president. She mentions that blue collar workers of the "rust belt" north have similar "deep stories" to those of the South, and based on the election results the message of this book was prophetic.

Toward the end of the book Hochschild suggests that people of liberal and conservative persuasions talk to each other. She includes notes to both the liberal and conservative sides with abbreviated versions of the "deep story" for both sides to help foster empathy in both directions. I guess I need to carry with me copies of these alternative "deep story" versions to booster my empathy quotient when needed.

The following link is to an article titled, "Beyond Economics: Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump | PRRI/The Atlantic Report," by Daniel Cox, Ph.D., Rachel Lienesch, Robert P. Jones, Ph.D., 05.09.2017
Profile Image for The Pfaeffle Journal (Diane).
156 reviews11 followers
November 7, 2016
Gosh, reading this got me no further in understanding the conservative point of view than reading Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis or What’s the Matter with Kansas?
The most interesting part of the book is where Hochschild explains the “deep story” how the general consensus of the Tea Party she interviewed, over a five-year period, feels that “other people” are cutting to the front of the line to the American Dream. Affirmative action, immigrants, refugees, an overreaching federal government, job killing environmental regulations, cultural diversity, and taxes are standing in the way of reaching the American Dream.
The most horrifying part of the book was the environmental impact that the oil industry has had on Louisiana and the total acceptance of that devastation. Maintaining some ecological balance seems so important to me that the thought of selling or opening public lands to the private sector makes my heart palpitate.
This was a great book, I enjoyed reading about Louisiana, what a mess the state is. I don’t necessary agree with Hochschild’s “deep story”. I believe that the difference between a conservative and liberal is one of perception about world around us and where we fit as a species in it.

This review was originally posted on The Pfaeffle Journal

463 reviews8 followers
September 27, 2016
I learned a lot about pollution in Louisiana from this book, but I'm not sure I learned anything new about the "deep story" of the tea-party right. It could be that I have read enough about this phenomena, both past (it swept Europe between the two Great Wars) and present, that I already had a fairly good grasp of what is driving both the right and the left. This book did reinforce the concept that people hold on to their beliefs regardless of facts. In the end, I was left where I was when I started the book, I understood why this portion of America is turning to ultra-conservatism in an attempt to hang on to their way of life, but I still don't get how they reconcile it with the fact that they side with the very people/corporations who are often the driving force behind the decimation of their land and jobs.
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
489 reviews678 followers
May 24, 2017
Arlie Hochschild has gone the extra mile, and then some, to understand conservatives. I would say that she exemplifies the (pseudo-) Indian saying, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins,” except that is not politically correct, so I will not say it. Nonetheless, Hochschild has spent a lot of time and effort genuinely trying to understand a group of Louisiana conservatives, and the result is a very interesting book. Sure, it’s not perfect, in part because Hochschild, like most of us, can’t fully overcome her own biases that sometimes lead her to engage in unsophisticated analysis. But she is never once contemptuous or patronizing of these people, whom she seems to really regard as her friends, and she never caricatures the individuals, who actually vary from each other quite a bit. This enables her to, overall, do an excellent job (and a better job than Joan Williams in the more recent "White Working Class," which covers very similar topics in an obtuse way).

In today’s American society, it’s easy for anyone on the Right today to understand the Left, or at least to comprehend everything the Left thinks, as well as the putative justifications for their positions. Someone who is conservative is, as soon as he reaches the age of reason, constantly bombarded with leftist history, culture and views. He absorbs them on the news, when he walks down the street, when he goes to school, when he watches any kind of television or movies. Leftist views of the world are wholly inescapable and are broadly and constantly presented as the only possible opinions. Moreover, many leftist views are simplistic, and therefore easy to absorb while requiring no engagement or thought. “Love is love is love is love.” A stupider phrase is hard to imagine, but it sure sounds good on first hearing, doesn’t it? Or “everyone should pay his fair share.” Or a zillion other such morsels of facile propaganda, which in a more educated age would have marked their user as an imbecile, but today are held up as signs of deep virtue. Conversely, a person on the Left can go his entire life never being exposed in any meaningful way to any viewpoint on the Right, other than as caricatured, irrational views he can (and usually does) dismiss without thought, and be praised for doing so, usually with a mental note “That must come from Fox News.” This imbalance in inherent bias, where the Left has it much more than the Right, makes Hochschild’s accomplishment even more notable (although she does constantly fall into the trap of using “Fox News” as a lazy shorthand for “irrational” and “erroneous,” while naturally never demonstrating anything of the kind, or suggesting there could be any doubt).

Despite her best efforts, though, Hochschild doesn’t fully succeed in understanding conservatism. She lumps anyone to the right of, say, John Kasich, into “far right”—a term that she uses so often I stopped counting at twenty-five. And she prepares for her journey into Darkest Louisiana by reading "Atlas Shrugged," a theme to which she returns at the end of the book in a hypothetical letter to “a friend on the liberal left,” where she says “Set aside Ayn Rand; she’s their guru.” I doubt very much that any of the Louisianans she talked to have read Ayn Rand, or mentioned her to Hochschild, much less are devotees of Rand’s philosophy, objectivism. Objectivism has been anathema to mainstream conservatives since Whittaker Chambers, at Bill Buckley’s behest, read Rand out of the conservative movement as a crypto-totalitarian, in 1957. Today, there are many strains of conservatism, often contradictory to each other, but Hochschild overtly treats “Tea Party” as the equivalent of a monolithic “far right,” which apparently means everyone who might stand out in Berkeley. She does not make even the basic distinction between libertarians, traditional conservatives, and Chamber of Commerce conservatives.

Of course, that distinction has now broken down, a fracture exposed by (but not created by) Donald Trump. A more fruitful dichotomy for Hochschild’s analysis would have been to view American political thought today as roughly in the form of a quadrant. In the upper left square are corporatist liberals—so called “neoliberals.” They endorse progressive social stances, but are as equally fond of open borders, globalization, and corporate hegemony. Hello, George Soros! (Are you dead yet? No? Too bad.) In the lower left square are progressive liberals—say, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. In the upper right square are corporatist conservatives—somewhat more conservative than neoliberals on some social issues (but by no means all) and generally in favor of lower taxes and less government regulation, but also fond of open borders, globalization, and corporate hegemony, and happy to have government regulation if it serves crony capitalist purposes. In the lower right square are neoreactionaries—a growing group, aggressively socially conservative, vigorously opposed to government overreach in the social sphere, but opposed to all forms of corporate hegemony and crony capitalism, and willing to not maximize GDP if it will help society as a whole, in particular disadvantaged groups. Neoreactionaries have traditionally been subordinated in (Republican) party politics to corporatist conservatives, but no longer. Think Jared Kushner vs. Steve Bannon. Hochschild’s Louisiana friends are all neoreactionaries (although some have a reflexive sympathy for corporate conservatives).

But let’s talk about the book. Hochschild divides it into two major sections. The first is an examination of what she calls the “Great Paradox,” a term she never defines precisely, but which amounts to the supposed glaring contradiction of conservatives disliking and opposing the federal government even when it can and does offer useful benefits to them of various kinds. The second is a “Deep Story,” her sociological frame for understanding the Great Paradox. Both of these are reasonable and clever ways to view the world in which she immersed herself, and she deserves a great deal of credit for them, though neither is a wholly perfect prism.

As to the Great Paradox, Hochschild repeatedly marvels that “one might expect people to welcome federal help,” given that Louisiana ranks close to dead last on important indices of health, education, and so on—but her interlocutors don’t. Rather, they loathe the federal government (and the state government, too, though they perceive it as more hands off). This is true even though, as we are repeatedly told, 44 percent of the Louisiana budget comes from federal funds (though Hochschild does not subtract taxes paid by Louisianans from that amount). The paradox results from her being unable to understand any possible solution to any problem other than via the federal government. She asks rhetorically, “If they call for smaller federal government, how do they propose to fix the problems that form part of the Great Paradox that has led me to Louisiana?” This is a false dichotomy, and suggests a lack of sophisticated thinking. In any case, within the Great Paradox, Hochschild’s primary frame, her “keyhole issue,” as she puts it, is pollution and environmental regulation. Most of the book revolves around this issue (and not, for example, around benefits such as Social Security disability).

Louisiana has a lot of heavy industry, much of it centered around the production of petroleum, petroleum derivatives, and other chemicals. Various environmental disasters have resulted, including most famously the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf in 2010, as well as two specific events Hochschild focuses on: contamination of the Bayou d’Inde by chemical waste and a sinkhole created by the rupture of a salt dome cavern underneath a lake at Bayou Corne. Hochschild gets to know people personally directly affected by these events, which have had ripple effects well beyond the immediate residents of the afflicted areas, and uses them to examine her Great Paradox.

When Hochschild refers to the Great Paradox, mostly she means that it is incomprehensible to her how the people she gets to know can loathe the federal EPA given that real environmental problems exist. But her analysis is simplistic, while that of her interlocutors is frequently sophisticated, though Hochschild thinks the reverse is true. Unlike Hochschild, her friends distinguish between the past actions of the EPA and its present actions, and they see that regulation frequently benefits the giant corporations that are supposedly regulated, at the expense of small business and individuals.

So, Hochschild notes of one man’s response to environmental regulation, “he appreciated [the] reforms—but he felt the job was largely done.” But she does not follow up or engage the implied question—whether the work is in fact largely done, and if so, what does that mean? She assumes, without any reasoning or discussion, that more federal regulation is necessary and imperative, and this should be obvious to all and sundry. But dumping occurred since the 1920s at the Bayou d’Inde, so much of the contamination occurred prior to regulation, which began in the 1970s. Hochschild makes much of the fact that illegal dumping has since occurred (at least according to one man, although she provides no evidence for that other than his word and she cites no enforcement actions against anyone)—but she does not dispute that dumping was illegal at the time, has now stopped, and in fact the Bayou d’Inde is currently being remediated. And with respect to Bayou Corne, Hochschild notes “On the books were regulations that were disregarded by both company and state.” It seems reasonable for a person to doubt that new, fresh regulations are the answer, when existing regulations have either eliminated the source of the problem or have failed in way that could not be solved by new regulations. Yet Hochschild never engages this obvious point. (We should also not forget it was Republicans who led and implemented all the environmental regulation of the 1970s; it is a myth that conservatives opposed those actions.)

She thinks she finds the answer to her paradox, through her “Deep Story” I discuss below, but there really is no paradox, at least as it relates to environmental regulation, the focus of her book. After all, we have had aggressive federal environmental regulation from the EPA for fifty years, which has gotten increasingly more aggressive, to a degree that would be unbelievable to someone from 1970, with ever diminishing returns, since the low hanging fruit was picked decades ago. Yet federal regulation has not prevented the environmental problems at Bayou d’Inde or Bayou Corne. Maybe people just realize that more regulation won’t make everything perfect, and will have its own costs, in jobs and government interference and power. After all, in 2016, when EPA personnel released millions of gallons of toxic waste into the Animas River in Colorado, the EPA tried to cover it up, refused to pay a cent for damages, and not a single person was punished in any way (and in fact staff were rewarded with cash bonuses)—although we can all be certain that if a private operator had done exactly the same thing, billions in damages would have been levied and decades of jail time handed out. Why should such an entity be trusted with more power? And, more generally, why should the federal government and its monstrous bastard child, the unaccountable administrative state, be given more power over the lives of the citizenry?

Hochschild also does not engage another way in which her interlocutors demonstrate a more sophisticated understanding than hers. She quotes, in passing, one of her friends, “I think they overregulate the bottom because it’s harder to regulate the top.” This is a powerful insight, that the burden of regulation falls on small business, although it’s not because it’s harder to regulate the top, it’s because most big corporations welcome government regulation, since they can afford compliance costs much more easily than small business and new entrants to the industry, so they benefit at the expense of smaller competitors. (The classic example is Mattel, caught importing toys from China illegally containing lead paint, pushing an ultra-expensive testing law—then getting a regulation that allows them, and only them, to test cheaply internally, while small businesses have to outsource testing on each and every toy at huge expense). Hochschild seems to not understand this at all. She keeps referring to another supposed contradiction, that lack of (some unspecified) government regulation creates monopolies that harm small businesses. She gives no examples of this, because today’s monopolies don’t exist from a failure of regulation, which does indeed prevent illegal monopolies—they exist, like Amazon and Google, for other economic reasons, which regulation does not address, or from regulation itself. Similarly, she claims that voting “to roll back regulation of Wall Street [is] a measure that would strengthen monopolies and hurt small business people,” when those two things are actually totally unrelated. You could imagine a legal regime that helps small business compete—but it is one that would involve less regulation, not more regulation.

So economics is not Hochschild’s strong point. Fair enough. But it is certainly a legitimate question why the people Hochschild surveys dislike the federal government so strongly, even if there is not as great a paradox as Hochschild thinks. To answer this, Hochschild develops their “Deep Story,” what she calls a “feels-as-if” story. In short, she says her friends feel like they have been standing in line for the American Dream, which is just over the hill. The line has been slow or stopped for a long time—yet they see people cutting in line, helped by the federal government. Mostly these are the non-working poor, given money by the federal government without a requirement to work., along with minorities given affirmative action, and Syrian refugees. “They are violating the rules of fairness. You resent them, and you feel that it’s right that you do.” Hochschild does not dispute that “You’re a compassionate person. But now you’ve been asked to extend your sympathy to all the people who have cut in front of you.” And you don’t feel like doing that, especially when it delays your own hardworking progress toward the American Dream. I think this is probably an accurate, if broad-stroke, summary of how a lot of neoreactionary conservatives feel, though it ignores the separate, actual and well-known costs of the regulatory state.

The American Dream is not just economic advancement, of course. An integral part of this Deep Story is the search for dignity and respect. The federal government is constantly showing contempt for these people, and their morals and values. With Democrats, it’s overt contempt for the “deplorables.” With Republicans, it’s contempt as shown by lip service for issues important to them—and then actual service to big business, in an alliance of neoliberals and corporate conservatives, usually at the expense of the little person, with private expressions of contempt for the morals and values of the little people. (See, for example, the 2015 crushing of religious freedom in Indiana by a vicious national coalition of bigots led by Marc Benioff of Salesforce, with the active cooperation of state businesses and Republican placeholders.) Hochschild is doubtless right that “everyone I was to talk with . . . felt like victims of a frightening loss—or was it theft?—of their cultural home, their place in the world, and their honor.” So they feel they are being robbed of dignity as they are pushed back in line. And they are right, on both counts.

Hochschild ultimately answers the Great Paradox by saying that she had failed to understand that “emotional self-interest” often trumps “economic self-interest.” This is true up to a point, but again it is an unsophisticated understanding. “Emotional” implies “irrational,” or at least “non-rational.” But on the very same page she cites one of her core friends, a conservative who is nonetheless an environmental activist, that “the important things were small government, low taxes, guns, and the prohibition of abortion.” These are not emotional issues—they are highly rational issues that combine economic benefit, for both the individual and the community, and moral values. Emotion, that of honor, plays a part, but even at this late point in the book Hochschild seems unable to comprehend that her Ayn Rand stereotype of economic paramountcy has no relevance to the people she’s gotten to know so well, and that they just have other values than she does, which are just as rational, if not more so.

There are also a few other false notes. The biggest one relates to guns, which for some reason constitute a miserable blind spot for liberals. Hochschild mentions guns a few times, but she does not seem to understand the critical importance to many conservatives of the issue, and the symbolic and practical importance of guns as a defense against the government and other predators. Then she compounds this by what may be the grossest mis-statements about guns ever in an actual, serious book, claiming that in Louisiana “gun vendors” are uniquely free of regulation relative to other states, and can sell to terrorists, drug addicts, juveniles, and felons freely, without background checks, and keeping no records All this is utterly and totally false, and any decent editor should have caught it. Then she twice, in the same paragraph, refers to the gun company “Smith and Weston.” This is inexcusable and shows total failure of any close thought. (It’s “Wesson,” and it’s not obscure.)

Again to her credit, Hochschild ends her book on a positive note, saying that “the people I met in Louisiana showed me that, in human terms, the wall can easily come down. And, issue by issue, there is possibility for practical cooperation.” But what is that practical cooperation? Why, of course, it’s that conservatives can change their minds to agree with liberals, on everything from more regulation to cutting jail sentences to restricting conservative-funded speech in campaigns. The number of examples of areas the author gives where liberals should move toward conservative views? Zero. And that’s why we can’t have nice things—because, at the end of the day, Hochschild can’t bring herself to suggest there is any substantive, rather than emotional, legitimacy to a single conservative view. When someone like Hochschild concludes a book like this calling for less regulation; or rolling back gun control; or aggressive restrictions on abortion—then we’ll know that real progress is being made. I’m not holding my breath.
Profile Image for Kristina.
1,202 reviews464 followers
May 17, 2017
Reading Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right is definitely a walk on the weird side. I wasn’t surprised by her revelations that the Right doesn’t believe in regulations or hates the federal government. I already knew all that. What is amazing is how the Right (in this book, Tea Party Republicans) came to those conclusions. The amount of energy involved in having these beliefs and continuing to champion them in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary boggles the (sensible) mind. I’ve been digesting this book for days, even after finishing it, and my overwhelming conclusion is that Tea Party Republicans (TPR) have merely replaced the federal government with business/industry. Regulations, seizure of land, loss of freedoms and poor quality of life—all things they will not/would not accept from the federal government they gratefully and referentially not only accept, but see as akin to religious blessings, from business and industry. This welcoming attitude towards business/industry is rooted in the area’s religious faith, historical resentment of the North, pride of ignorance, and a childish, rebellious “you’re not the boss of me” response to regulations of any kind.

From 2011-2016, Hochschild, a Berkeley-dwelling liberal sociologist, made repeated, extended trips to Louisiana; mostly to Lake Charles and the towns in that area. She wished to get over the “empathy wall” and explore the political divide in America; the Blue vs. the Red. I would say she also covered some of the North vs. the South as well. In this book, Hochschild explores what she calls the “Great Paradox”: intense hatred for the government by the people who need its help the most. In order to answer this question, she focused on the environmental policies of Louisiana; that is, their policy of lax regulations that has turned Louisiana into a cesspool of industrial pollution. With that as her focus, Hochschild was able to explore citizens’ feelings towards the EPA and, essentially, the federal government. Most (if not all) of the people she interviewed identified themselves as Tea Party Republicans. For the purposes of this review, whenever l refer to Louisiana residents she interviewed as a collective group, I will call them TPR (Tea Party Republicans). I am referring only to the people discussed in this book (unless I say otherwise).

The text of this book is presented in short, well-written, easy to read chapters. Hochschild provides three helpful appendices and lots of endnotes. I suggest reading the entirety of the former and skimming through the latter. There is very little scholarly jargon. The residents interviewed are identified by name and as you read, you see them as individuals with their own stories (Hochschild calls them their “deep stories”). This is a fascinating and somewhat fast-paced read. It took me longer to read this book not out of difficulty, but because I found the people and their thinking so alien to my own (and so destructive) that it enraged and depressed me. If these TPR represent the greater perspective of Trump voters, then both the Democrats and Republicans (or whatever political parties emerge from the ashes of those two) have challenging work ahead of them. When people consistently refuse to accept scientific facts, view news coverage that doesn’t agree with their worldview as “false,” and basically cover their ears and scream “nah nah nah” to drown out reality, then American democracy is in a fight for its life.

“People on the right seemed to be strongly moved by three concerns—taxes, faith, and honor” (47). This is the shortest summary for the whole book. They hate taxes because they feel that the government is taking their hard-earned money and giving it to the undeserving (welfare recipients) and to keep government workers in their cushy, non-essential jobs. Because their religious faith is very important to them, they want their political representatives to be like them—Christians who speak openly about their faith and who hold the same values they do. The TPR’s sense of honor is extensive and, apparently, fragile. They take pride in historical values: Christianity, heterosexuality, white skin, and labor. Today’s world/culture is telling them that their traditional values should be discarded; they are called homophobic, xenophobic and racist. What do they have left? Pride in working and identifying with businesses/industries. Being gainfully employed is the only avenue of pride they have left, and unstable economic conditions have caused them to vehemently defend what they have.

Dislike of the EPA stems from its regulations, which TPR see as intrusive and job-killing. Despite evidence to the contrary (highly regulated industries provide both financial stability and environmental safety), TPR consistently vote for government officials who loosen already lax state regulations and allow Louisiana to become what it is today—an environmental disaster. Because industries are seen as job-providers, it is not popular to link sinkholes, death of flora and fauna and cancer in local residents to pollution. What is so bizarre about these people is that nearly everyone Hochschild spoke to loves the wilderness, is a hunter, fisher, wildlife enthusiast, etc. They should all be profiled in National Geographic. However, because the argument is framed in black and white (environment vs. jobs), these wildlife enthusiasts always side with the pollution-causing industries. The idea that you could have both jobs and a healthy environment is not even an option. It’s one or the other. At the end of the book, Hochschild writes an imaginary letter to her TPR friends (she calls them friends) and compares Louisiana to Norway. Norway, she writes to them, has oil. However, Norway demands much from their government and because of this, Norwegians are wealthy, happy, and healthy. She asks plaintively: why can’t we be more like that? (Cue much laughter.) Oh, Hochschild, you are so naïve (she is). Louisiana can’t be like Norway cuz them’s furrineers! We’re Muricans! We do things OUR WAY, even if the results are fucked up and produce the exact opposite results of what we want. This inflexible thinking is evident in Louisiana. Bobby Jindal was elected on the promise to cut taxes and make the state more industry friendly. After eight years in office, Jindal has left the state a shambling wreck with a $1.6 billion deficit. What’s even crazier is that these industries don’t infuse much cash into either the state or local economies. The state offers industries a lot of financial incentives to do business with them, incentives that reduce the state’s budget. Most of the labor needed to maintain the oil industry is not only from out of state, but out of the country because highly-skilled employees are needed—employees Louisiana cannot supply. So while the oil provides only 14% of the state’s budget, it takes in a large portion of the state’s budget, doesn’t support local schools, and inhibits other industries (tourism and seafood) due to its excessive pollution. And sure, the oil companies give “gifts” to the local Audubon or other environmental groups, but that money doesn’t come from the oil companies’ profits. They are basically regifting the economic incentives they received from the state back to the state (or non-state environmental groups that TPR hate). Is that a scam or what? So TPR gracefully accept the dead fish, the dead animals, dropping dead of cancer, losing entire communities to gigantic pollution-caused sinkholes (Bayou Corne swallowed up by a 37-acre sinkhole) because for them this is the price of doing business with the industries. You accept it, literally thank Jesus and the Good Lord for providing you with a job, try not to breathe the air and above all—don’t light a match.

So much of TPR’s thinking and rationale is based on resentment and ignorance. One man in the book talks about how useless he finds the federal government and how it doesn’t do anything. He then proceeds to tell Hochschild a story about how he and his family were out boating and had an accident but were saved by the Coast Guard. She points out that’s a service of the government, as is building highways, checking the safety of our food and drugs, hurricane relief, the military and Medicaid. This man grudgingly conceded that yeah, those are good things. If these things were taken from them, the TPR in this book would be the first to bitch about it! They cannot conceive of the idea that the government is a force of good; while Hochschild (and myself) think that it can be, when staffed by people who actually want to make it work. That’s important. You can’t fill the government with people who are obstructionist and prevent the government from functioning then later point to government dysfunction and say: see! I told you the government doesn’t work. That’s what Republicans have been doing for years and that’s what the TPR did to Louisiana. They voted for candidates who were against the EPA and wanted to loosen regulations. So when the pollution was so bad that it couldn’t be ignored and citizens howled to the government, they were pissed because the pollution-friendly officials they voted for turned a blind eye to their concerns and didn’t help. “See,” the TPR said to Hochschild, “this is why the EPA and the federal government is useless. They never do their job.” (Amusingly, these residents were more disappointed by the polluting industries telling them to fuck off than the government’s inability to help. TPR: we thought you was our friends!) I say: you’re all a bunch of fucking morons. This is on you! You voted for people to ignore pollution. They did that. So you can’t complain when they fulfill your expectations.

While I can comprehend the frustration that the TPR feel—the world is changing quickly and that makes them fearful—I find it difficult to be sympathetic. Why do they think they deserve special treatment? Everyone is affected by the changing values, by technology, by global trade. But, despite their refusal to see themselves as “poor mes,” that’s exactly how they behave. “It’s not fair” is a phrase uttered often by TPR. Well, fuck you. Life isn’t supposed to be fair. Historically, as technology has advanced, people have had to either gain new skills or starve. Why do these TPR think they are so different? One answer can be found in a sign displayed at the Women’s March on January 22, 2017: “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” White male Christians have been at the top of the heap for too long. The progress of women and non-white minorities is freaking them out. Also, TPR men have been laborers, meaning physical labor. They do not understand, nor have the skills for, today’s highly-skilled, highly-educated job market. The other reason TPR think they are special goes back to their religious faith. Like supplicants before a capricious god, TPR want to be rewarded. They’re white, heterosexual, they work, they keep to traditional values, they let corporations shit all over their backyards, they’ve sacrificed but it’s not paying off. Instead, godless heathens and sodomites are daring to criticize them and they’re reaping the rewards!

TPR think of themselves as being free, but they’re not. They’re dupes of corporations. The oil industries pollute Louisiana freely, make a huge profit off of the state, return very little of the profit with the state and yet residents are still grateful for what they receive. How stupid are they? Hochschild points out that TPR want to be “free to” do things (own guns, pollute, not wear seat belts), but don’t conceive of being “free from” things (pollution, gun violence). They don’t see regulations as giving them freedom (by ensuring a healthy environment for them to enjoy the wilderness) but think that a lack of regulations makes them free to live how they want (apparently in stinky, oil-encrusted houses surrounded by dead animals while they, themselves, die of cancer caused by pollution). So many times I wanted to reach through the book and slap these people for being pawns of their elected officials and the corporations. You’re not free, you idiots. It’s so weird to think they just bend over and take it from the oil companies, but my god, it’s the GOVERNMENT that’s the real culprit here! Damn them for wanting you to have safe drinking water and being able to enjoy your bayous! Their concept of Christianity as being passive is weird too. I was raised on the image of Jesus as a rebel who fought against corruption and the accepted wisdom of the time. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve graced the interior of a church for something other than a wedding or a funeral, but I don’t think Jesus was a wuss who would just say: oh, accept the pollution and being screwed over by these big corporations. It seems to me that they’ve taken Jesus’s acceptance of his fate (to be nailed to the cross) as an excuse to be meek with everything. What I also find disturbing is how MEAN these people are. Mean, as in, they have such a hatred for the other.

The Right’s complaint (that I’ve heard incessantly since Trump appeared on the political scene): the PC culture is destroying America. I could never fucking figure that out. What did that mean? Again, it’s a matter of perception. I don’t care so much about whether I’m PC or not, but I’ve never felt the need to call someone a racial epithet. I don’t think of it as being “PC”; I’m just not wired to be hateful to people I don’t know. Until I read this book, I didn’t know what all the PC bitching was about. Hochschild explains that (as she does so much). Being politically correct is how liberals “force” TPR to express sympathy to those undeserving of it. They feel “forced” to, I don’t know, think of people NOT LIKE THEM as human beings. When Trump appeared, he freed them of all that worrisome forced liberal sympathy. Not only that, he has given them permission to once again take pride in their whiteness and to let loose their meanness. Have you wondered why so many Trump supporters were not put off by Trump mocking a disabled reporter? I mean, he was a white guy and being disabled isn’t the same thing as having the black or brown or Muslim disease, right?
Trump jovially imitated a disabled journalist by physically shaking his arm in imitation of palsy—all deeply derogatory actions in the eyes of Trump’s detractors but liberating to those who had felt constrained to pretend sympathy. Trump allowed them both to feel like a good moral American and to feel superior to those they considered “other” or beneath them (228).
Let me take this opportunity to be very un-PC—these people are assholes. There’s a world of difference between being sympathetic and being sorry for someone. There’s also a big difference between being indifferent/unsympathetic to actively deriving pleasure from mocking someone. I used to interact with a lot of handicapped students when I worked at a university library. Sometimes I had to fetch books for them, copy papers for them, put on their hats and zip up their coats. Some of these students couldn’t talk and communicated via slowly typed-out commands on computer keyboards. Dealing with the more physically-challenged students was unpleasant because they couldn’t communicate well and often they had food stains on their clothes and other examples of poor hygiene, probably because their money for personal attendants was limited. Was I sympathetic? I guess I was, because I’m not an asshole, but I didn’t feel sorry for them. I treated them like any other student, like human beings who deserve respect—not derision.

This review is way too long, but I’ve left so much out. I didn’t like the people in this book at all. I get that they are worried, that they are fearful of their future, but their response is to double down on ignorance and hatred. Their hatred of the government and worshipful attitude towards polluting corporations exposes their irrationality and ignorance. They yammer on and on about being “free,” but they’re not free. They’re captives of their ignorance, their fear, their hatred, of polluting corporations. They’re being played by the politicians they elect. Because they rely so heavily on conservative media (Fox News is their Svengali), they are duped on all sides and wouldn’t know a fact if it came up and smacked them over the head with their Bible. Their religion reinforces their acceptance of oil as their savior and pollution as merely a burden of faith. Their sympathy is reserved for those of their own kind. They are resentful because they feel the “wrong” people are given assistance to get ahead. They voted for Trump because he is an “emotions” candidate: “More than any other presidential candidate in decades, Trump focuses on eliciting and praising emotional responses from his fans rather than detailed policy prescriptions. His speeches—evoking dominance, bravado, clarity, national pride, and personal uplift—inspire an emotional uplift” (225).

Trump is a disaster not just for America, but for the world. His campaign was based on untruths, racism, misogyny, xenophobia—all the flavors of hatred and fear brought to you by a looming, sneering orange-faced bully. His rise to power is seen as encouraging to other right-wing candidates in other countries (thinking specifically of Marine Le Pen of France). He is a threat to American democracy, an ideal I thought all Americans considered precious, but I was wrong. Apparently democracy is in the eye of the beholder, and some of those beholders think democracy applies only to people like them.

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,663 followers
December 15, 2017
I was avoiding reading this one because it seemed so hyped up by everyone about "how to understand Trump's people" and I admit that maybe I just didn't want to understand them. But this book was wonderful. So well written and so insightful. I don't resonate with the Tea Party in any respect and in fact, I think I am the embodiment of who they believe is the problem with the system (an immigrant from a Muslim country who has succeeded here), but I gained a lot of empathy and indeed, understanding. I haven't seen things quite the same way. I am still disturbed by the racism and nativism of these groups, but I get the worldview from which it springs now. Everyone should read this book.
46 reviews20 followers
June 11, 2018
This book has a race problem.

I'm not calling Hochschild a racist—I would hesitate to call anyone who participated in the Freedom Summer a racist, as doing what she said (in a throwaway parenthetical, no less) is arguably the ultimate act of allyship.

But reading the book, I had a creeping sense that I wasn't included among the target audience for Hochscild's book, despite being a young liberal who has lived his whole life in what most would probably see as the coastal bubble. This creeping sense was pretty much confirmed in the book's final chapter, wherein Hochshcild writes two letters: one to liberal friends in Berkeley, and one to her newfound Tea Party friends in Louisiana. I'll focus first on the letter she writes to friends on the right wherein she outlines what she calls the liberal "deep story"—i.e., the story she believes to motivate her liberal friends' political beliefs:

"In [the liberal deep story], people stand around a large public square inside of which are ...museums, public art and theater programs, libraries, schools. They are fiercely proud of it. Outsiders can join those standing around the square, since a lot of people who are insiders now were outsiders in the past." (pg 235).

This last line forms the crux of what I see to be this books inadequate, borderline incompetent handling of race. First, although she states the people who are insiders now were outsiders, she is still referring to them as outsiders. These outsiders—namely people of color and the broader :GBTQ community—are excluded from her vision of the liberal deep story. In her liberal deep story, these outsiders join the people having the story—but their story isn't acknowledged, erased even.

Thus, some of the frightening writing from throughout the book, which seems to willfully ignore race, becomes exposed for what it is—race-ignoring. Take, for instance, this line from the book's second chapter. Hochschild is describing the socioeconomic geography of Louisiana, in particular how it has changed over time: "Along the great Mississippi, between it and New Orleans, stand majestic plantation manor houses surrounded by gracious skirts of green lawn where once lived the richest families in America," she writes. "Now tourist sites, they are overshadowed by giant neighboring petrochemical plants" (26). The glaring omission here, which I would hope is obvious, is any mention of slavery. Plantation families built their wealth on slavery. Here, Hochschild conveys to the reader an image of wealth that has left, even though the wealth she is describing is wealth built on one of the nation's greatest moral failures. I don't expect her as a sociologist to come out and call out that immorality for what it is, but why leave out any mention of slavery? I found this mystifying.

These omissions become even more questionable later on, in the first chapter of the book's closing section, when Hochschild ponders how the events of the 1860s and 1960s contributed to the rise of the Tea Party. Specifically, she examines the lives of poor southern whites during reconstruction, using a paraphrase of W.J. Cash's The Mind of the South. She writes: "Poor whites were driven back 'to the red hills and the sand lands and the pine barrens and the swamps—to all the marginal lands of the South.' To plant cotton and sugarcane, plantation owners destroyed forests, which deprived 'the farmer's table of the old abundant variety'... Marginalized and without demand for their labor, poor whites bore up under rude epithets—crackers, white trash, po buckra" (pg. 209).

In light of the current political climate, I don't have much left in me to pity whites in the South during reconstruction, much less see them as "marginalized," or see the "rude epithets" they had to bear as anything comparable to what Black people and communities have endured during the same time period. But her choice of language—"marginalized," "epithets"—felt like the construction of a false equivalency.

Hochschild does manage to interview a wide array of people, far from the broad brush people—myself included—used to paint Tea Partiers. But as a liberal queer person of color, I felt like this book was written with an idea of liberals that excluded marginalized liberals. Most damning is
the letter Hochschild writes to a liberal friend in the book's final chapter:

"Why not get to know some people outside your political bubble? You'll probably meet some very fine people who will teach you volumes about community, grit, and resilience" (emphasis mine, pg. 234).

And why should I want to get to know people who fail to consider me as fully human? Reasons unclear. What could they teach me about community, grit, and resilience that I haven't already learned from many family members and close friends that have endured hardship because of their identities?

And while Hochschild had no way of knowing this, I shuddered at the phrase "very fine people"—the very phrase Trump used to describe the neo-Nazis who killed a peaceful protester in Charlottesville, which, at the time of my writing this review, occurred just two months ago.

All in all, this book, while at times fascinating, ultimately left me feeling angry at liberals AND conservatives. Hochschild talked often about her attempt to scale the "empathy wall" that keeps liberals and conservatives from recognizing one another's struggles. I wish she had thought to help marginalized readers scale that wall with her.
119 reviews11 followers
March 16, 2017
As a left-winger who has spent most of my life in the kinds of places this book depicts, I was curious to see if the author, who is pretty much the caricature of the liberal elitist my conservative friends and neighbors imagine, could figure out what's going on in rural America. Unfortunately, I couldn't stomach the book long enough to figure out her thesis.

Books that ostensibly describe political phenomena are not credible if they can't get basic facts right. If the author can't be trusted with verifiable, obvious statements, why would I trust her analysis (or her recounting of her experiences with her subjects)? By page 13, things had gone very, very wrong for me in the trust department.

First, on page 12, she states that between 1972 and 2014, whites went from "composing 41 percent of all Democrats to 24 percent and from 24 percent of Republicans to 27 percent." I couldn't accept that she really believes that a demographic group that composes roughly 65% of the population is only a quarter of the two main political parties, so I checked her end notes. There, she says white Democrats composed 24% of the electorate as a whole and white Republicans 27%, but that's not even close to being the same thing. Nor, for that matter, do those line up all that well with numbers from Pew and Gallup, which both put white Republicans around 35% of the electorate.

Just one page later, we get this gem: "Just 158 rich families contributed nearly half of the $176 million given to candidates in the first phase of the presidential election of 2016 - $138 million to Republicans and $20 million to Democrats." $158 mil is far more than "nearly half" of $176 mil - it's "nearly 90%". Back to the end notes, where the NY Times article she references, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2..., makes totally different claims - the 138 and 20 are NUMBERS OF FAMILIES, not contributions, and the $176 million figure was the total they contributed. Not to mention the fact that her sentence construction indicates the contributions were directly to the candidates, which would have obviously been illegal with the limit of $2700 per candidate per person. Basic reading comprehension and numeracy should have been enough for her (and frankly, her editors) to realize she was off in the weeds.

At that point, I just started skimming, but when she put "Smith and Weston" [sic] into the mouth of one of her conservative friends on page 68, I gave up. Maybe her thesis (whatever it is) is actually correct, but one doesn't normally get to correct conclusions with faulty premises. If it infuriates me when the Trumpers get reality wrong, it's not fair to take liberals seriously when they can't handle basic facts either.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,636 reviews26 followers
March 26, 2017
My bookclub switched our choice for this month from Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis to this one. I think everyone who read it was glad we had made this choice. Two of our members, a couple, read Stranger in a Strange Land by mistake :)

This book is written by a professor and sociologist from UC Berkeley. She wanted to study white working class members of the Tea Party in order to understand what drove them to this position. She decided that study issues of environmental pollution would be a window into their world view, and chose Louisiana as one of the most environmentally endangered state. Not only Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, but numerous other disasters along the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana's bayous.

The New York Times review reveals the question at the heart of this book : "Why Do People Who Need Help From the Government Hate It So Much?". Hochschild spent five years in the homes of bayou and coastal residents who were Republicans, and Tea Party members. She portrays the residents as decent people who love their part of the world. Some are in mourning because they have lost the land and homes they love. One of the horror stories was that of the Bayou Corne sinkhole. Caused by oil company drilling, the sinkhole swallowed 37 acres in 2012. The destruction of their beautiful area, death of wildlife, and the prevalence of cancer in friends and family hasn't been enough for many residents to call for more environmental regulation. Most are opposed to the EPA and "government interference".

The biggest bad guy in this book is Governor Bobby Jindal. He gave away $1.7 billion to oil and other big multinationals to come to Louisiana. He came up with the funds through draconian cuts to education, health care, and just about any function identified with the well being of the state's citizens.

I finished this book with a better understanding of the people portrayed. I mourn the loss of so much of our nation's natural resources and have a deeper understanding of the wanton destruction done by the multinationals that have flocked to the Gulf Coast to exploit it. I highly recommend this book to readers who want to understand white working class Republicans, and who are concerned with our environmental future.
Profile Image for Jamie Smith.
471 reviews65 followers
March 9, 2022
Take the Toxic Dumpster quiz, and add up your points:

1) Do you live in a state with a Republican governor (10 points)?
2) Is your state legislature controlled by the Republicans (10 points)?
3) Are you Catholic (3), Southern Baptist (5) or Pentecostal (10)?
4) Do you believe that pollution is unimportant, because the world will be ending soon and you expect to be Raptured up to heaven (20)?
5) Highest level of education: Some high school (15), high school graduate (10), some college (0), college graduate (-10)
6) Do you believe that jobs should always come before the environment (15)?
7) Do you believe that real men show how tough they are by ignoring pollution’s effects on themselves and their families (15)?
8) Do you think the government should be limited to police, military, and road building, and all other functions should be abolished (10)?
9) Did you support the Tea Party in 2016 (or, contemporary update, do you believe Donald Trump won the 2020 election) (15)?

If you scored more than 100, congratulations, you are what politicians and lobbyists call a Least Resistant Personality, meaning they can dump any amount of toxic waste into your backyard and you won’t protest. Note that there is no category asking whether you are black or white, because black communities are automatically a top priority for toxic dumps.

Arlie Russell Hochschild did not write this book for the people who appear in it. She is a sociologist at Berkeley, and wrote it for people who think like herself, to try to understand those who vote against their own best interests. Louisiana is a mess, running neck and neck with Mississippi for the lowest quality of life of any state. It is heavily polluted, with industries treating public lands and water as their private property. There is almost no regulation, and what little exists is rarely enforced, so the companies are free to pump whatever poisons they want into the land, air, and water, secure in the knowledge that the state government will always come to their aid. If they need new roads the government will pay 90% of the cost; if they need private land they can count on eminent domain to get it; if they fail to do restoration that they contractually agreed to do, the state will pay for the work out of public funds. Who continues to vote for politicians that allow things like this? The good, god-fearing people of Louisiana do.

Part of the author’s plan for this book was to humanize these people, to explain that they are not, as many liberals would say, just dumb and ignorant. She spent a great deal of time with them over several years, and with their families and their friends, learning their backgrounds, their hopes, and their outlook on life. She emphasizes that these are good family men and women, hard working, compassionate, caring, and deeply religious. I got the feeling, though, that she was eliding some of their less commendable traits in order to show their goodness and decency. These people are squarely in the demographic of casual racism and ardent Confederacy worship, but the reader never hears anything about this, not even to deny it. Mentions of racism are broad and general, and never appear in the conversations she reports, and there is just one sentence in the entire book that makes even an oblique reference to Civil War sentiments, “They also felt culturally marginalized: their views about abortion, gay marriage, gender roles, race, guns, and the Confederate flag all were held up to ridicule in the national media as backward.” If the people she befriended did not express racist or Confederate beliefs, it would have taken only a single comment to make that clear, and yet while she spends a great deal of time talking about their beliefs and feelings, these topics were never reported. I suspect the omission was intentional.

The stories in this book of exploitation and suffering are depressing. For instance, “On average people in red states die five years earlier than people in blue states. Indeed, the gap in life expectancy between Louisiana (75.7) and Connecticut (80.8) is the same as that between the United States and Nicaragua.” The landscape is poisoned, ruined, a dead place. Swimming in the water is dangerous, but the state does not post signs telling people so. Some people still want to, or need to, eat the fish they catch, yet they are so heavily contaminated that there are official booklets telling which parts of the fish must be discarded and which are somewhat less dangerous and can – if you’re feeling lucky – be eaten.

The companies act with impunity because they know they can. When one of them caused an environmental disaster in Bayou Corne the company spent its resources suing everyone around them rather than helping the people who had lost their homes, and almost two years later many were still living in trailers or motels.

People remember the environmental disaster of the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, but this book puts the enormity of the catastrophe in perspective by noting that it was the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez oil spill every three to four days – for 87 days.

If there is one particular villain who stands out – one among many – it would be Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana from 2008-2016. Had a foreign army invaded and marched through the state, it is arguable whether it would have caused as much devastation as Jindal’s terms in office. He ripped $1.3 billion out of the state budget to give away to companies as incentives, and then made up for the hole in the budget by firing 30,000 teachers, halving support for universities, and cutting social services programs until they became non-operational. Making the situation even worse, the author points out that companies go where the resources are, so if there is oil in Louisiana to get, that is where they will go, with or without incentives.

Based on her conversations with many people she developed a thesis, which she calls a “deep story.” In it people work all their lives, playing by the rules, anticipating that their sacrifice, loyalty, and hard work would eventually be rewarded with the American Dream of happiness, prosperity, and security. Somewhere along the line, however, the dream got derailed. Wages stagnated and jobs became more precarious, even as these people pressed on, hoping to finally reach the prize. What they found was that others were getting preferment, others that they considered less deserving or not deserving at all, such as immigrants and refugees. They had been caught up in the great societal changes, where the world was no longer solely for the sole enjoyment of whites, and they deeply resented the changes.

During this era a long parade of the underprivileged came forward to talk of their mistreatment – blacks who had fled a Jim Crow South, underpaid Latino field workers, Japanese internment camp victims, ill-treated Native Americans, immigrants from all over. Then came the women’s movement. Overburdened at home, restricted to clerical or teaching jobs in the workplace, unsafe from harassment, women renewed their claim to a place in line for the American Dream. Then gays and lesbians spoke out against their oppression. Environmentalists argued the cause of forest animals without forests.

They felt angry, betrayed. They had lost faith in the government and were looking for someone to set things right, to raise them up, hate the people they hated, and Make American Great Again. And then came Trump.

When she started researching this book Donald Trump was not even a blip on the horizon. Back then he was just a reality-TV buffoon and lifelong failure: failed businesses, failed marriages, failed promises, a loser trailing a long line of lawsuits and unpaid creditors. As Republican strategist Rick Wilson has said, everything he touches dies. He enters this book in its last chapter, as he starts campaigning for president in 2016, and the author could not have asked for a better focus for her thesis. Trump embodies all the worst qualities of the people in this book: their resentment, their aggrievement, their belief that the country has been taken over by forces they don’t understand and don’t trust. Trump is willing to say the racist, sexist, hateful things they may think but don’t dare say out loud. Some of them had initial, and well founded, doubts about him, but at least he wasn’t a Democrat, and they would come to support him wholeheartedly, even rapturously. Nothing I have ever read does a better job than this book of explaining who Trump’s core supporters are, what they see in him and why they embrace an obvious grifter who embodies everything they claim to despise in terms of honesty, ethics, and religious morality.

The book’s main weakness is that the author centered her research on people of her own race and age group, and apparently never interviewed any young people. It is no surprise to anyone that older white males tend to get their information and opinions from Fox News, but those people are a fading demographic, with fewer and fewer each election, which of course leads the Republican party to embrace voter suppression. It would have been interesting to hear the views of people in their twenties and thirties, who have been raised in a more multicultural environment and who may be more willing to challenge the things their elders passively accept.

Nevertheless, this is a fine book. For anyone seeking insight into hearts and minds of the people who today form the bedrock support for Donald Trump and the Republican party, this is the place to start. It is clearly written and extensively documented, although it follows the annoying modern practice of not identifying footnoted material in the main body of the text, so readers must flip to the back of the book and hope to be able to identify the key phrase the author uses for the citation. Otherwise, there is no way to tell what is an opinion and what is a scholarly citation.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
962 reviews349 followers
February 6, 2017
I read this book to broaden my understanding of the Donald Trump victory in 2016. In some ways it accomplished this. I also learnt of the extensive pollution in the area of Louisiana under scrutiny in this book. Many of the people living there, rather than wanting more government control on the industries responsible for dumping chemicals into their environment, want less of it. Some even feel the industries should be self-regulating. And also think, fatalistically, that this is the cost for having jobs.

This book is focused only on a small area of Louisiana, and of predominantly white, middle-aged and senior citizens who have lived in this region their entire lives. Louisiana is the second poorest state in the U.S. (although my internet findings suggest more that it is one of the 10 poorest states in the U.S. (Mississippi by all measures is the poorest)).

The author’s personal portraits of the individuals were revealing. In many ways I could not relate to these people; my jaw drops and the conversation would end at a statement such as this:

Page 54 (my book)
“We’re on this earth for a limited time,” he says ...“But if we get our souls saved, we go to Heaven, and Heaven is for eternity. We’ll never have to worry about the environment from there on. That’s the most important thing.”

On the other hand I have also worked with people who said weird stuff, but in the interests of the work underway we got along (more or less) and progressed through the job. So people everywhere say weird stuff, but you get on at the end of the day!

The author’s main theme is that the people under scrutiny in this book are waiting in a line for “The American Dream” – but “new” and “different” people are cutting into that line – and taking a more prominent position. These people would be African Americans, minorities, the poor, the disabled, gays... The most prominent example is that of Barack Obama cutting into the line. And who is responsible and who is to blame for all this, well, it’s the federal government.

This “cutting in line” theme is used repeatedly in the book. But there are others ways of looking at this. One is that “you are no longer the centre of attention” – or the changing face of America. All cultures change, and the dominant “middle class white culture” - its value system of the 1950’s - is now long gone. I came away with the impression that many of the people questioned in this book were isolated in their bubble and unaware of the world outside their community. They were resistant to change.

Also they hated and despised the federal government. They did not want government regulations and control on the environment, on guns, on consumer goods... However, they were very adamant about preventing abortion.

In a sense I can see why they despise the federal government – since the 1960’s it had done very little to protect their environment from industrial and chemical pollution. Many were living in homes they could not sell due to physical pollution and a landscape dotted with refineries. Its fine for the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to publish reports – but there appears to be little action to clean up the water, land and air. There was a telling conversation in the book when the author went on a motor-boat tour with one of her interview subjects where he explains that his boat has to have EPA regulations and then points to the large refineries across the lake and wonders what regulations they have? For more about what the EPA does not do in another area of the U.S. see Yellow Dirt: An American Story of a Poisoned Land and a People Betrayed.

I had issues with the methodology. The people she interviews are older folks (45 plus) – there are no young people. She mentions nothing about a drug culture which is sometimes prevalent in rural communities. I wondered what these people were saying behind her back, or how much they were obfuscating certain issues (like race) in front of her. She interjects her own interpretations, something I usually don’t mind, but in a sentence like

Page 228
One woman with whom I spent six hours talked about Trump continually...It occurred to me that the reason for this shield of talk was to protect her elation.

I don’t buy the “protect her elation”; maybe the woman just admired Trump. And obviously the author was not elated with Trump.

By examining a small niche group I really don’t feel the author can provide a true insight as to the motivations of the American right. How this can represent the right-wing in, for example Montana, I do not know.

Instead of being sub-titled “Anger and Mourning on the American Right” it should have been “Pollution and the Impact of Big Business in Louisiana”.

Profile Image for Lauren .
1,680 reviews2,291 followers
August 1, 2018
Strangers in Their Own Land is a detailed look at the cultural divide in the US. The scope of this divide is deep (and wide), and Hochschild, a Berkeley sociologist, chooses to focus on a specific sector: the environment, corporate pollution, and regulatory practices. It's an interesting shift as so much rhetoric on the divide focuses on religion, race, and even healthcare. Those are mentioned here, but only as supporting the theme of environmental factors. She chooses to focus her studies on Louisiana, where corporate responsibility and regulations are very low, and pollution of land and waterways are very high, yet right-wing politics continue to thrive.

Bayous and riverways completely ruined with toxic waste, pets and livestock sickened and killed by pollution, higher risks of tumors and cancers in the human population, and sinkholes as big as football fields swallowing land, houses, and cars as a resulting of fracking...
"Pollution is the sacrifice we make for capitalism."

Hochschild uses this metaphor of the "empathy wall" that she must climb over to view situations as her subjects do. As a reader, I found it difficult to climb this empathy wall with her. I was frustrated, and angered by this level of corporate irresponsibility, and the inaction (and even incentivization!) of the people and politicians. Hochschild constructs this larger "deep story" or myth of the right that she refers to a number of times in the book. This deep story in itself is quite compelling, and while it isn't MY myth, I can sympathize (rather than empathize?) with the plight. It's ruggedly individualistic, could be described as Randian in some cases, very "fend for yourself" (unless you look, talk, and worship like I do, then I'll help you... that is where I get tripped up on understanding...).

Needless to say, this is a challenging read, but one that I think truly gets to the heart of the political divide in the US. This same title could be used for a deep study on healthcare, race relations, etc. I appreciated that Hochschild focused on the environmental angle though, as it is one that is drastically underreported, and devastating on the personal and community level.

Profile Image for Christine Ward.
185 reviews8 followers
November 18, 2016
This is a must-read for anyone who is struggling to understand how Trump was elected president.

I will admit that I had to take a break from this book after Election Night. I was too raw; too brokenhearted; too angry; too sickened to read more about people who not only voted against their own interests (so it seems to me), but who voted against who I am as a person - multiethnic, female, feminist, agnostic, Californian, liberal, progressive - and everything I stand for.

But in the days that passed, I began to ask "why" - and thanks to a friend who asked about an NPR piece that specifically mentioned this book, I was motivated to pick this up again. Once I did, I couldn't put it down.

It is still frustrating to read about people who - to me - are willfully voting against their own interests, as I said above; and who also are rejecting science, and facts, in favor of feelings and (to me) blind adherence to a dogma over reality. But I realize I must learn more about these people, even if they do not wish to learn anything about me. I need to know "why" - and this book does a pretty good job of explaining this.

I say "pretty good" because only these people will truly know in their heart of hearts why they vote and voted the way they do and did, but Hothschild lays out a "true story" as to why they do, and the people she spent time with validated it. And while I understand that this book does not provide a "one-size-fits-all" solution or answer, it provides *some* understanding and *some* insight into these particular people profiled, which is worth reading about, if for nothing else than I will never meet these people, nor be able to have a calm, friendly conversation about these topics with these people or people like them.

But we all must, in order to live with one another; and also in order to keep this wondrous experiment that has been the United States of America alive and seen as the beacon of hope and freedom that it has stood for.

Go read. Then decide what your next course of action will be. There can be no unity without understanding, and I have to believe we will all come through this.
Profile Image for Sarah Jaffe.
Author 7 books846 followers
May 20, 2016
The best book yet for those who want to understand the rise of the Tea Party and Trump. Arlie Russell Hochschild's work on emotional labor is the hottest thing on the social justice internet, but she's using her decades of experience and turning her lens on the Right and the emotional work that undergirds all of our political thoughts.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,168 reviews542 followers
October 22, 2017
I wanted to give her 4 stars for the effort, but I can't because the scope here is excellent but just too small. Louisiana and her survey points and conclusions are correct and with just a few exceptions spot on. But that is also not completely or even partially a parallel to other parts of the country, especially the Middle West and upper central of the USA. They (latter group) have been preached to endlessly and put at the end of the line for fully the last 20 years. And they also have immense winter conditions necessities in regard to heating fuels or natural gas costs and much, much harsher condition of living than you have in Louisiana despite sink holes or hurricanes. Because I am there and have active intersect (both North in rural Michigan and also was just in Louisiana for some time and journeyed slowly on the land going up the Mississippi River besides being all over the South in the last 5 winters- at least 10 different states). Because of that I have current "eyes" and in groups of witness (as at the food pantry distribution days in MI), I listen for hours. The crew of us are from 3 states to cooperate a food pantry in rural Michigan. Some of us also pay for multiple, multiple lake issues, mainly with regard to keeping out plant overgrowth of invasive species.

So yes, I hear and listen, actually far, far more than I speak.

So this is my take. Arlie Russell Hochschild gets supremely high marks for her concept to connect and her methods to straddle the divide. But she has also defined terms here in the "conversation" almost entirely by the mindset and worldview of her own "side". But those who are not Adorable Deplorables fail drastically to know the difference in what liberals and their mainly urban life experiences have basically nearly 180 degree redefined in the "same words" vocabularies. So I have to forgive her. Ayn Rand and Limbaugh references are perfect examples. She picks what SHE wants to hear in their messages that is most repugnant to herself, and has basically at the same time not "heard" 98% of the context or logic of common sense that is a base for the culture for happiness or success (as they define it) for the listeners who "listen" every day. 100's of issues that only a talk radio or FOX approaches as essentials in their own societies or churches or neighborhoods. Priorities are much more 3rd or 2nd world problems for them. And their priority is essentially one of strong self sufficiency. And believe me, they are. This doesn't include disdain for the community they know and which is RECIPROCAL to their own efforts. And doesn't chide them for being themselves.

What I wanted to give the 4th star for was the point she makes about liberal reaction and attitude. How she wants to change it. She's absolutely correct. The more foul satire, erudite ridicule, name call vitriol in protesting or in personal online exposure or in Media or celeb personal aggression (those especially)- the more that occurs in the future, the more the reaction will go toward a turning from any liberal based agenda voting for any portion of that most offended category of "deplorable" American as Hillary defined them in her example of stereotype in typical liberal condescension of style.

So I do think this is a book that "gets" more than half of the issue for the long divide- deeper every year, IMHO. Empathy is not action either. Although in this age, it seems to be "counted" in some circles as being equal to it, or at times superior to it.

This is also probably a book that any group of Americans anywhere would not be amiss to read and would in some ways help to see how "tone" matters. More than words, TONE matters.

People, conservatives or Republicans or rural, all of those people of both genders on the right of the divide- they are not stupid. And to be told in every frame of pejorative that they are for decades is not a successful progressive argument. Mocking used to convince them that their own cultures and beliefs of individual self sufficiency as prime- or with secondary work ethic of the other highest importance is something vile to be discarded? No, not a "tolerant" liberal progression. Until that lesson begins to be learned- that manners in politico themselves have NOT been equal playing fields either (well, maybe now with Trump's tendency to bombastic effusions that may be changing)? Tolerant behavior and tolerance is a condition that needs to be OBSERVED, not cited by using all the correct PC nuanced words that all the "knowing" people need to hear.

I have to add at the end of my reaction, that there were a few reviews on this book that were BETTER than the book. Because they start to ask the right questions about their own common behaviors to "the other".
Profile Image for Chance Lee.
1,311 reviews120 followers
December 12, 2016
Allegiance to a political party "now beats race as the source of divisive prejudice" according to the first chapter of this book, in which a sociologist lives with Tea Party supporters and reports on them. Hochschild seeks to understand why this is. What lies behind what she labels "the Great Paradox"? On the surface, they are allied with a certain party that goes against their own best interests. They're anti-taxes, federal support, and "entitlements," yet they depend on them to live. They want to be "un-PC" and express any attitude they want, yet "blue-state insults" cut to their very core. They feel that their "values" are constantly under attack for being "wrong," yet they have to constantly find loopholes in basic logic to make their own beliefs seem "right." It seems exhausting to me.

Hochschild presents us with many case studies, like a man whose clothes were literally burned off in his job at a chemical plant. His managers reimbursed him for only about half the cost of his clothes, because they were worn, not new. Yet he is against government regulation and thinks that private business, such as the ones that have exploited workers since the beginning of time, will regulate themselves. They want to attract business and jobs to their state, poaching them from other states, instead of /creating/ new jobs so that the country can benefit. It's isolationist and selfish, yet they accuse people who receive government benefits of being selfish, when their entire /state/ is a welfare state.

There are so many frustrating hypocrisies in this book. They think public servants should be poor, because then they'll have the best interests of people in mind, yet they support a billionaire like Donald Trump to work for them, and they all harbor fantasies of themselves being millionaires. They accuse CNN and MSNBC of being biased and opinionated (true) but they think Fox News is God's honest truth.

All of these people, every single person interviewed in the book, see themselves as strong in moral value, but don't see that they are rich with entitlement and lacking in empathy.

Personally, I learned very little from this book. If anything, it made me angrier at these people. They don't like being told how they're "supposed to feel," a common phrase, yet they let their party and their religion dictate their behavior, and they want American to be a nation "under God," a Christian God. Although the introductory chapter says "partyism" is our greatest divide, the book reveals that party allegiance is like a mask (or a white hood). Underneath lie race, class, sexuality, religious prejudices and more. The party allegiance wraps them up in a convenient Christmas- and American-flag-patterned bow. Blind allegiance to party and to religion consumes these people. It's scary. The whole "dominion over earth" thing in the Bible? Many of them think that climate change is a welcome sign of the end times, that they're all going to fucking float into heaven. The callous nihilism is frightening. And I bet very few, if any, would accept a Muslim's equally ridiculous and destructive religious beliefs.

The poor white men look up to rich white men because they think they can be them, gaining wealth on the backs of others. But if they looked beside them and behind them, they might see the same struggle in others who feel displaced. The displacement is real, even for poor white men. But they let, I don't know, racial and religious prejudices over-ride their best interests. It's hypocritical. It's sad. It's frustrating.

The subjects of this book are like someone who watering your houseplants with bleach. They act like they mean well, yet they won't stop. Maybe Rush Limbaugh told them that bleach is good for houseplants, so they keep doing it. You keep replacing the plants, but they keep dying because they keep pouring chemicals all over them. What can be done to educate people who actively refuse wisdom?

However, putting anyone under a blanket term is destructive. I do it in this review out of a sense of economy. I'm pondering the ideas in this book, not a talking head on TV, running for office, or anyone in any power whatsoever. It's necessary for our leaders to break the habit of simplistic binary thought. Calling large swaths of people "rednecks," "libtards," "feminazis," or anything else does no one any good.

I'm off track. Strangers in Their Own Land is intended to persuade those on the "left" to empathize with those on the "right." Great. But is there a book on the "right" that does the same?
Profile Image for Katia N.
569 reviews619 followers
February 2, 2017
First of all, I have to say that I absolutely admired the author’s work. It is a rarity to come across such an extremely clever, emotionally intelligent and compassionate researcher. To be honest, I always believed that sociology is pretty useless as a profession and the field of study - some hybrid spin-off from the anthropology mixed with economics. But Mrs Hochschchild has proved me wrong.

This book is based on 4 years of her research into the lives and beliefs of the republicans’ supporters in Luisiana, (most of them are tea party members).

She came across paradox - Luisiana is highly polluted state with high record of dreadful industrial accidents and environmental disasters. Some people she talked to were the direct victims of this. However, they do not consider this issue as a cornerstone of their political demands, even if it would be totally in their economic and health interest. Mrs Hochschild takes this issue as a tool for helping to understand how is that possible. She courageously attempts to break “the empathy wall” between her and these people. (Which is a risky business - i would definitely suffer either from the cognitive dissonance or Stockholm syndrome).

During her research she came to the conclusion that the values and beliefs of these people are the result of their feelings rather than their economic or other rational self interest: the feelings of their sense of honour, pride, but also anger, humiliation and fear. Mrs Hochshild constructs a metaphoric visualisation which she calls “a deep story”. “A deep story is a feels-as-if story -it’s the story feelings tell, in the language of symbols. It removes judgement. It removes fact. It tells us how things feel.”

Imagine a long queue to get to American dream. Those people were told all their life if they work hard and obey the law, they would get their eventually. So they are patiently standing in the middle of this line (They are predominantly white, middle aged, male, Christian). The line has stopped moving and it feels even that it moves backwards. But they are not complaining (complains are for the “poor-dears” on welfare), though they feel stuck. They are used to endure the difficulties. And now they see people are cutting in front of them:

“Black, women, immigrants, refugees, brown pelicans - all have cut ahead of you in line. But it’s people like you who made this country great. You feel uneasy It has to be said: the line cutters irritate you. They are violating rules of fairness. You resent them, and you feel it’s right that you do. So do your friends. Fox commentators reflect your feelings…And now you’ve been asked to extend the sympathy to all the people who have cut in front of you.” So they feel betrayed. They feel patronised, as in their view, they are told what they should feel, without naturally having those feelings. “Liberals are saying your ideas are outmoded, sexist, homophobic, but you are not clear what their values are”.

Their daily reality and political views are constructed on the basis of this story. Of course social- economic factors exist: demographics (less and less white people), religion - belief in rupture for example, disappearing of blue colour jobs. But it is appeared to be secondary to their perception of the world.

Mrs Hochschild describes quite a few of individual cases. Some of those people are easier to relate to than the others. Some of them are really the victims of circumstances around them, such as dreadful environment. Although you cannot call them “victims” as they do not like that word.

But for certain cases, I have to admit, even reading their perceptions is very hard. For example, there is that woman in her early 60s, college educated with the stable white collar job. She thinks: 1) “Liberals do not give personal morality is full due, probably because they are not churched”; 2) to give some people jobs America needs to dig up veterans’ graves from WWII and bring them from France as “it has not been a good friend” 3) “there is a positive side of the war- manufacturing missiles, Humbles, sewing uniforms - it’s work.” 4) to create democracy on the Middle East everyone there should be handled the gun. “If the government takes the guns away. The same thing as the Middle East would happen here as people would no be able to stand for themselves.”

It is difficult to get over the state of shock and anger when you read such a view. But it is very necessary, as otherwise the whole democratic way of life might be at stake. Mrs Hochschild thinks that there are ways to bridge this abyss - there are issues which could unite people from the different side of the empathy wall. So it is worth trying.

Initially, I thought that people who support populists and demagogues are uneducated, ignorant bunch, misguided by the media (some of them are plain stupid). But this book has revealed much deeper roots of the problem. I really found this book invaluable as a starting point for understanding Trump’s phenomena.
Profile Image for Heather.
186 reviews3 followers
November 28, 2016
I read this book the week before the presidential election. I was a lot more able to follow the author on her quest for Empathy then. Yes, let's listen patiently as "nice" people repeat counter-factual nonsense and prejudice. Let's defer endlessly to their feelings of grievance and irrational, misplaced rage.
Now, post-election, as the President-Elect queues up a team of anti-regulation, climate-change-denying, corporate profiteers to seize our country, I think these "nice" white Louisiana Tea Partiers are going to get their wish to be free of government protections. May their joy be short-lived. May the next hurricane wash them away, and the next sinkhole swallow them up.
I will save my EMPATHY for the Brown Pelicans and the brown people of Louisiana, the imagined "line-cutters" who are INVISIBLE in this book except as paranoid formations of white fantasy (and nostalgic memories of kindly darkies in the good ol' days).
Hurricane Katrina showed us how poor communities of color suffer even more greatly from the wretched neglect and depredations of a selfish, deluded, corpocratic state. They have the least mobility to move away from poisoned, ruined communities, and the fewest resources to advocate for change.

Here is the passage from the book that has stayed with me most ominously:

"One cultural contribution the South has made to the national right may be its persistent legacy of secession. In the nineteenth century, the secession was geographic: the South seceded from the North . . . The modern-day Tea Party enthusiasts I met sought a different separation: one between rich and poor. In their ideal world, the government would not take from the rich to give to the poor. It would fund the military and the national guard, build interstate freeways, dredge harbors, and otherwise pretty much disappear.
So in the Tea Party idea, North and South would unite, but a new cleavage would open wide; the rich would divorce the poor, since so many of them were "cutting in line." . . [it is] a movement of the rich AND THOSE IDENTIFIED WITH THEM, to lift off the burden of help for the underprivileged. Across the whole land, the idea is, handouts should stop. THE RICHER AROUND THE NATION WILL BECOME FREE OF THE POORER. They will secede." (end of chapter 14, emphasis mine!)
Profile Image for Andy.
1,320 reviews455 followers
October 22, 2017
“Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” --Voltaire

The right-wing talking points that the author's Louisiana friends keep repeating are not just quaint local opinions, they're stinking lies. This gnawed at me throughout the book, and was finally addressed in Appendix C, where the author engages in some fact-checking.

When policies that harm the whole population and the planet are based on dishonest propaganda, that's not okay. The Ninth Commandment is "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Good Christians should be opposed to evildoers who use positions of power to systematically mislead the American public for their own short-term selfish gain. So describing a "deep story" that explains how these good folks support official falsehoods is useful, but it is only a first step. The real challenge is to figure out how we can have a national dialogue based on shared DEEP REALITY. What is the truth-based story we can all get behind????

In any case, "Strangers" is certainly much better than other recent books purporting to explain the appeal of Trump. The method underlying the author's work is to have empathy for her subjects and so she's able to get at what they feel, and thereby explain how they vote. Fair enough. Clif's review here on Goodreads describes the central "deep story." It makes sense to me and the author has done a good job of presenting her thesis, digesting 4,000 pages of interviews into a readable book.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,318 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.