Part 4—Drum lists the ways we sneer: On December 9, Matt Yglesias was thinking hard about fast food.
Nothing he said was actually "wrong." But it led to a mindless debate.
More precisely, Yglesias was thinking hard about the politics of fast food. More specifically, he was talking about the politics of fast food in relation to those rude blokes, the white working class.
You see, Donald J. Trump had nominated a fast food baron to head the Department of Labor. To some sensibilities, this was the latest in a succession of nominations which have seemed a bit like a serial from The Onion.
The nomination got Yglesias thinking about the way we liberals disapprove of fast food—more precisely, about the signals we liberals send when we display this cultural prejudice.
Nothing he said was necessarily "wrong." He closed his piece like this:
YGLESIAS (12/9/16): Working-class people who enjoy both fast-food burgers and beer are well aware that Trump likes Big Macs too, while Democrats think it’s very important to make sure SNAP benefits are redeemable at farmers markets so rich and poor alike can enjoy the benefits of eating local, seasonal produce. Trump doesn’t drink beer, but he doesn’t advertise that fact.None of this was necessarily "wrong." But it led to a silly debate.
This is identity politics just as much as campaigning with the Mothers of the Movement is. Neither Trump nor Puzder is, obviously, a real working-class person. But there’s an old joke about two barefoot guys in the woods who come across a bear.
One starts lacing up his sneakers, and the other asks why, pointing out that he’s never going to outrun the bear.
“I don’t need to outrun the bear,” he explains. “I just need to outrun you.”
A Thickburger or two doesn’t make Trump a member of the white working class. But it’s good enough to outrun the vast majority of Democratic Party elected officials from either of the main factions.
First in was Professor Krugman. He linked to Yglesias' "interesting post," then said, once again, that he thinks Those People in the white working-class are just imagining things when they say that We ridicule Them.
Krugman had made that specific assessment in this column just two weeks before. On this day, responding to Yglesias, he said this in a Times blog post:
KRUGMAN (12/9/16): Do the liberals sneer at the Joe Sixpacks? Actually, I’ve never heard it—the people I hang out with do understand that living the way they do takes a lot more money and time than hard-pressed Americans have, and aren’t especially judgmental about lifestyles. But it’s easy to see how the sense that liberals look down on regular folks might arise, and be fanned by right-wing media.Long ago and far away, Times film critic Pauline Kael became famous for saying that she knew only one person who'd voted for President Nixon. (Nixon had won 49 states, gaining 61 percent of the vote.)
Now, in response to Yglesias' post, Krugman said he's never heard any liberals sneering at "the Joe Sixpacks." He did say it was easy to see how this misimpression might arise—and after that, the misimpression would be fanned by right-wing media! It would be all Their fault!
Kevin Drum said this was totally nuts. In saying this was totally nuts, Drum was totally right.
Having said that, we must also say this—we think Drum may have been pulling some punches this day. At best, we're forced to compare his analysis to a value-sized fries, as opposed to a full Happy Meal:
DRUM (12/9/16): I'm not here to get into a fight with Krugman, but come on. Sure, the right-wing media fans the flames of this stuff, but is there really any question that liberal city folks tend to sneer at rural working-class folks? I'm not even talking about stuff like abortion and guns and gay marriage, where we disagree over major points of policy. I'm talking about lifestyle. Krugman talks about fast food, and that's a decent example. Working-class folks like fast food, which explains why Donald Trump liked to show pictures of himself eating McDonald's or KFC. It's a sign that he's one of them. Ditto for Trump's famous trucker hat. (Did you even know that it's a trucker hat, not a baseball cap? He did.)Drum rolled his eyes at what Krugman had said. He listed millions of ways we liberals sneer at Those People. "It's hard to believe that anyone is really blind to this," he said.
If I felt like this was something that actually needs evidence, I could produce a million examples in a very short time. But everyone gets this, don't they? We sneer at their starchy food. We sneer at their holy-roller megachurches. (But not at black churches; never that.) We sneer at their favorite TV shows. We sneer at their reading habits. We sneer at their guns. We sneer at their double-wides. We sneer at the tchotchkes that litter their houses. We sneer at their supermarket tabloids. We sneer at their music. We sneer at their leisure activities. We sneer at their blunt patriotism. We sneer at—
Again: come on. Maybe you personally don't do it—though judging from the comments here, a lot of you do—but you hardly need to be an anthropologist to recognize that this kind of sneering shows up on TV, in newspapers, on Twitter, in books, on Facebook, and in private conversations all the time. It's hard to believe that anyone is really blind to this.
Incomparably, we read many of the 539 comments which readers appended to Drum's post. We'd have to say Krugman wasn't alone. In our view, the substantial bulk of those people seemed to be "blind to this" too,
And uh-oh! Perusing the long list of Drum's examples, we'd almost say that he might be a tiny bit blind to this too. He'd ordered the McDonald's hotcakes, but he'd passed on the sausage!
Sneermeisters, let's be fair! Drum was right in every example he offered. And yes, we sneer at Them about fast food. Just consider what Sarah Kliff did.
In service to Vox, Kliff recently ventured to wildest southeastern Kentucky to talk to some of Those Voters. Why had these idiots voted for Candidate Trump? More specifically, why had people receiving insurance through Obamacare voted for a candidate who had vowed to repeal the program?
Kliff's report is lengthy; it's also very much worth reading. That said, before Kliff began exploring those questions, she sketched the cultural landscape:
KLIFF (12/13/16): Corbin is a small town in southeastern Kentucky, a place where cross-country truckers driving up and down I-75 will stop for the night. Its biggest tourist attraction is the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, which boasts an impressive collection of Harland Sanders memorabilia.Beneath that bit of travelogue, Kliff included two color photos.
One was a photo of Sanders himself—the colonel, not the senator. The other photo was a close-up of some Christmas decorations. "By early December, downtown Corbin was heavily decorated for Christmas," Kliff's caption analytically said.
In the photo proffered by Kliff, the decorations look a bit kitschy. That said, the level of decoration doesn't look very heavy. Cities and towns all over the country prepare for Christmas this way.
Was Kliff perhaps sneering at Corbin a bit on a fast-food basis? We stopped to wonder why this passage had been included in her valuable piece at all. The population of ridiculous little Corbin stood a bit above 7200 in 2012. Do we normally describe such towns in terms of their tourist attractions?
We ourselves grew up in two towns—Winchester, Mass. (population roughly 18,000 at the time) and San Mateo, California (roughly 65,000). Today, each community lands on the affluent, chic-and-cool side of the cultural scale. But does either town boast a "tourist attraction?" When did that become the way we introduce such places to readers?
A sensitive soul could have seen a quick sneer in Kliff's excursion into Kentucky Fried Chicken and kitschy Christmas fare. That same soul might have taken giant offense at what happened after Kevin Drum commented on Kliff's report.
Drum posted excerpts in which three Obamacare enrollees discussed their reasons for supporting Trump. "We can complain about this all we want, but that's the reality out there," he wrote, or perhaps almost sniffed.
A person could have heard a bit of a sniff in that comment. Drum had also included an aside about one of these voters, Ruby Atkins, which seemed to suggest that she'd made a very dumb comment to Kliff. (Based on Kliff's report, we can find no reason to think that.)
Drum's readers ran with this tone. In his post, Drum cited "several smallish problems" with Obamacare. Mainly, he discussed the way the Obama Administration didn't "bust the budget" to fund the program and didn't "oversell" it.
To our ear, Kliff's report seems to suggest that those "smallish problems" were actually very large problems for Corbin enrollees. More specifically, they said their deductibles were so high that, while they technically had health insurance, they simply weren't able to use it.
To our ear, Drum blew past the gist of Kliff's essay; his readers took things from there. As we noted yesterday, they began staging the standard discussions of what "idiots" Those Corbin Folk were.
What other word could they possibly use? Inquiring minds couldn't imagine!
Those readers didn't give a flying fark about the problems confronting Those People. Meanwhile, at the very top of our liberal food chain, the most important journalist of the past fifteen years had just said, for the second time, that Those People are just imagining things when they say that we liberals sneer.
Back to Drum's rebuttal to Krugman:
Drum listed roughly a thousand ways we liberals sneer at Those People. That said, the most obvious ways we liberals sneer were missing from his list.
Tomorrow, we'll consider those omissions from this Christmas list. We'll also return to the resentment of Scott Seitz—the resentment Van Jones didn't have time to explore in his kitschy "town hall" CNN special.
We'll also mention one key part of what Professor Lilla said. For today, we'll issue a spoiler:
"Say their name," Lilla said.
Tomorrow: The sneering that didn't bark