The 2016 presidential electoral process has inspired many writers to examine the social-psychological factors of the US population’s candidate affinities. Some of the best analysis has taken up the challenge of comprehending the appeal of Donald Trump; unfortunately, even the best analysis of this kind is performed within the parameters of popular sociology. That is to say, even the best texts draw from traditions in the social sciences with long-known blind-spots related to demography. Such blind-spots are also prevalent in contemporary anarchist writings and activities.
Under the scrutiny of political analysts, Donald Trump’s campaign successes and failures are thought to strongly correlate with a variety of historical social-economic factors. In sum, the strongest of affinities for Donald Trump are supposed to be from rural white men, especially those whom have been the subjects of factory closures and big agriculture, due to the extension and reconfiguration of capitalist production. In part, this affinity seems to come from the antipathy of rural whites to a political culture (Washington DC elitism), represented by his opponent and her established social position. To the extent that the pro-Donald Trump demographic is white and male (and racist and sexist), it is thought to be so primarily because of the particular historical conflicts between races and sexes, reducible to economic consequences.
This sort of analysis is fundamentally structuralist in perspective. The individual subject is thought to be a Trump-supporter because they have been determined by historical conditions to recognize their own interests in the image of Donald Trump. For the analyst, what the individual is a subject of is their own worldview. A worldview that is composed of particular emphases and biases; overall, built-up with regional material facts, socially reinforced by ongoing cultural relations that structure the social identity of the subject. Ultimately, it is a view of the individual as a subject of demographic truths. An almost entirely determined individual who is incapable of adopting a worldview that corresponds to larger scales of context. An individual incapable of recognizing their own interests in the national and international policies of liberal candidates because for such individuals, a world that large and complex has very little effective reality. Too parochial, as they say.
Elsewhere, analysts ponder the female support for Donald Trump by building from the image of the Parochial Man. So it goes, unlike the Cosmopolitan Woman, rural women are undeterred by Donald Trump’s sexism because they resent women who are successful in this capitalist economy, one that they are alienated from. Whereas Cosmopolitan Woman sees herself as an independent, economic agent (or at least aspires to be one), Parochial Woman sees herself as dependent on the patriarchal arrangements her home region had long-ago adopted. If policies help Cosmopolitan Woman become equal with Cosmopolitan Man, they further a process of capitalist atomization that has been breaking down the patriarchal Nuclear Family generation after generation. The Parochial Woman is not skilled for today’s global post-Industrial marketplace and the dual-income family life of the Cosmopolitan Couple. She is a subject whose skills have been oriented towards the private economic life of the home. Therefor, Donald Trump does not threaten her on an existential level by proposing policies that would limit her potential independence; her self-determination is entirely oriented towards the Good Marriage. Reinforced by those rural forms of Christianity, of course.
While there are articles on the demographic breakdown along racial categories, I have yet to read one that attempts to explain the psychology of Black or otherwise non-White Trump-supporters. I’m sure that there must be some, but I’m just as sure that their author(s) would likewise elaborate on the City/Rural divide to focus on its racial components. All-in-all, this sort of structuralist analysis is typical and these examples are only some timely highlights of an otherwise pervasive approach to the social sciences; one as common among anarchists and other radicals as it is for the mainstream political parties. Where it succeeds in explaining the determinations of big, abstract decisions (like choosing a religion, political ideology, or presidential candidate), it also fails in accrediting individuals with anything resembling the capacities for self-determination that us rebels advocate the fostering of.
The problem is not simply one of ideals versus realities, of advocating for individual self-determination while simultaneously omitting such a capacity from a comprehensive understanding of individual decision-making. This analysis doesn’t merely describe real demographic differences that determine individual choices. Instead, it’s an analysis that through its omissions, aids in the construction of the subject it seeks to study. It works backwards from the actual choices its subjects report through a vast ecosystem of supporting assumptions about the world that take for granted the imagination of individuals.
Its historical conflicts are ones that some have won and some have lost. Conflicts where numerous alternatives have been tested and only a few have been realized; yet, it reads that history as if each facet of the conflict represented determined forces …the strongest forces winning. In this case, alternatives to the electoral politics itself are omitted. They simply do not count because they have been neither pro-Republican, nor pro-Democrat. No matter how numerous, since such alternatives can take the form of unexamined organizational structures, the count of non-voters, or the fantasies (and not the prefabricated choices) of those surveyed, its agents are eliminated from the study entirely …skewing the entire analysis by only including those whose activity supports the case for determination. As one fact, those at least 49% of US Citizens that will not vote or are undecided are eliminated from whatever demographic categories they may have otherwise been placed into. In the end, everything appears to be determined, while the reality is that a relatively small number of individuals have been used to construct a group with demographic coherence and a formulaic narrative explaining its unity on the choice of Donald Trump for president.
It does not discover that Donald Trumps supporters are rural white men. It finds rural white men that support Donald Trump and questions their narrative comprehension of the world. For anarchists and other radicals, it does not discover that Leftists are working-class. It finds working-class Leftists to target for propaganda. Nowhere does it find individuals who think and imagine and dream of futures for themselves without regard to historical context. And nowhere can this sort of analysis discover potential activities such individuals can participate in to liberate themselves. Beginning with these demographic categories, such analysis only ever arrives at the conclusion that those individuals ought to change the qualities of the categories they are put into a priori. For electoral behavior, such analysis only ever arrives at the conclusion that those individuals ought to make different electoral choices …beginning with the other choice. For insurrectionary behavior, it simply limits the scope of those who are capable of participating in insurrections. It can not move from a study of electoral decision-making to the suggestion of an alternative worldview and practice. Everything is already determined, there is no imagination to speak to. Only definite populations with absolute motivations, determined by a history of conflicts between coherent socio-economic and political categories.
So, what we see with political science performed towards the ends of understanding Donald Trump’s popular support is what we see with the Marxists and Left-leaning anarchists when they attempt to (and fail to) organize rebellions. We see that sociology is perpetually in service of its own categories, demonstrating time-and-again that its concern is that its categories are useful and robust with evidence to support their place in deterministic models of social life. While sometimes useful for explaining motivations that have been ubiquitous in historical conflicts, these categories become representations capable of producing the motivations they initially set out to discover. Whether for campaign strategy or for revolutionary propaganda, these categories can only be useful to the extent that they successfully define individuals into coherent units; and as the world changes, we can see that the quantity of individuals these categories are capable of capturing diminishes. For this problem, sociologists invent new categories to define new demographics. However, there can not be a new category that defines self-determined individuals, capable of imagining and realizing their own futures without reference to the determinations of history. If our aim is to break with the lives we’ve been encouraged to live and to instead live together differently, looking to social inheritance can only be useful insofar as it is explanatory. To revolt, it is our social imagination that we ought to embrace; the ideas of what we want instead of the prefabricated social order we’re given.