Society for the Anthropology of North America
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
Since election night 2016, pundits and scholars have offered conflicting theories regarding the victory of Donald Trump. These explanations often fall into two broad categories, class politics and cultural politics. Did Donald Trump tap into and exacerbate latent anti-immigrant/racial resentment that simmers just below the surface for many Americans? Or were Trump supporters motivated by economic dislocation in primarily rural America brought about by globalization? I offer a theoretical approach to understanding many Trump supporters and the attraction of right-wing populism that blends these two approaches. Building upon Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of symbolic capital, I argued that many Trump supporters base their support on the perceived value of their symbolic capital in relation to those they perceive as liberal, political and cultural elites. These often rural “deplorables” view their communities as suffering at the expense of coastal, urban areas containing liberal elites advocating multiculturalism. However, instead of being silenced through symbolic violence, the deplorable label becomes the foundation for the fashioning of activist political identities. This perspective provides an effective means of suturing the nativism explanations of Donald Trump supporters with explanations favoring class dislocation. I draw upon interviews with North Carolina Tea Party supporters with whom I have conferred since 2011 and who only eventually became Trump supporters. Long term engagement with Tea Partyists illustrates a similar outlook which shifted with the rise of Donald Trump. I argue that the similarities and shifts in Tea Partyists’ outlooks offer insight into the mobilization of right-wing populist movements.