Summary of Resentment, Classes and National Sentiments
At the beginning of this chapter, we set out a sociology of resentment, in which the loss of power, entitlement, lack of voice and declining material position, in classes and fractions of classes, served to foster a collective set of resentful dispositions. The sociology of resentment drew on the foundational work of Scheler and more recent interpretations of Barbalet and Hoggett. Then we looked at the specific case of the deindustrialising working class, a group characterised by industrial decline but also by age, region and neighbourhood. From the specific case of deindustrialisation we set out the much wider picture of a radically changing capitalism, marked by its increasing global character, by the changes summed up as ‘financialisation’ and by the dominance of a political ethos which has been labelled ‘neo-liberalism’. In describing these changes, we were able to show that not only working-class British people but also middle managers, the small business people and self-employed, and the flexible workers in service, semi-skilled and unskilled occupations were all subject to new disciplines in the market and the world of work, downsizing, persistent uncertainties and the loss of a familiar world centred on occupation and place. In the final section we exemplified some of the responses to these changes, which were often articulated via a set of resentful ‘nationalist’ attitudes, which provide the ‘demand side’ of populist, racist and nationalist politics in the UK and in many other countries.
The views expressed and statements made by resentful actors are not always coherently organised, indeed frequently they are not. But they provide a kind of ground bed of sentiments to which populist politicians can appeal. Whether through contact with constituents or, more likely, through focus groups and opinion polls, politicians like Blair and Osborne must have been aware that there was a ‘bed’ of opinion hostile to the misuse of benefits and welfare support. These views were held by both middle-class and working-class voters, because benefit abuse offended their sense of sturdy independence or of entitlement, or both. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) was able to blend a number of these themes with anger about immigration, fear of crime, anger at ‘political correctness’ and the demise of their neighbourhoods and high streets. The same kinds of concerns have been articulated by similar constituencies across Europe and in the USA; in many cases populist-nationalist movements have been able to harness these resentments in an appeal to ‘national revival’ and national identity, two of the most successful being the Front National (France) and the Danish People’s Party.
We shall suggest, in Chap. 4, that UKIP comes close to becoming an English nationalist party, and that many, though not all, nationalist sentiments in England are expressed in a resentful modality (cf. Gifford 2015; Vines 2015). We know, too, that UKIP gained much of its support from people in declining working-class areas, and that in the 2015 election UKIP drew support from former Labour working-class voters as well as more expected middle-class and self-employed support. Across the Atlantic, Donald Trump, and before him Sarah Palin, the darling of the Tea Party, have appealed to both the anger of ‘over-taxed’ middle classes and to the resentful sense of dispossession among working-class (white) Americans.
In Europe the populist and nationalist right and far right have gained support from disenchanted working-class voters and the ranks of small business and the self-employed (Ivarsflaten 2008). The USA has had a long history of populist movements on both the left and the right. In the nineteenth century, the Populist Party movement led by Tom Watson shifted from racial alliance to racist demagoguery during Watson’s later career. In the twentieth century, in the 1960s, US society saw the first Democrat and later Independent, George Wallace, to oppose desegregation, especially in his native Alabama and the wider South. Some of these traditions are followed by present-day populist politics with appeals to distrust and even hatred of the federal government, liberal spending programmes, political correctness and Washington-led politics. Trump has added a strong combination of anti-globalisation, xenophobic hatred and profound hostility to Muslims.
There are similarities between UKIP, continental right-wing populist and nationalist parties and the Tea Party movement, as others have observed (Carroll 2014). Both parties and movements are laden with resentment and disgust towards a political establishment which they see as leading in an over-liberal and politically correct direction. UKIP want to restore so-called common sense, the Tea Party want to restore a version of traditional values of rugged independence. Although UKIP’s most consistent supporters have been the ‘left behind’ working classes, we know that in various elections, UKIP has gained at least half of its support from non-working-class voters. The Tea Party has been described as a movement of wealthy white old men (Zernike and Thee-Brenan 2010, New York Times), but this may be misleading. To be sure, Tea Party voters are disproportionately older, male and white and have a higher income profile than non-supporters. But there may be more to the story.
The recession of 2008 was marked by the filing for bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, a large financial services company; this was the largest bankruptcy in US history. As the extent of the damage was revealed in banks, insurance companies and mortgage lenders, the consequences for both working-class and middle-class Americans were devastating, most notably in job losses and home repossessions. The effects were longer- lasting because the US economy recovered employment more slowly than after previous recessions (Freeman 2013). In 2009 a New York Times report told the story: ‘in 2008 as a whole nearly 800,000 manufacturing jobs were lost, and 630,000 construction jobs disappeared as home building slowed. Jobs also dried up in the financial sector, in publishing houses and trucking companies, department stores and hotels’ (Uchitelle 2009, New York Times). In the period November to December 2008
‘professional and business services lost 113,000 jobs’. Writing about white working-class and populist politics, Freedland (2016) comments that:
While the rest of the economy has grown, albeit inconsistently, and while the richest have grown ever richer, they have seen their own spending power and standard of living remain static. Indeed, median net worth fell for every group in the US between 1998 and 2013, except one: the wealthiest 10 %. Working-class Americans saw their net worth decline in that period by a staggering 53 %. Meanwhile, the richest tenth got 75 % richer. (Freedland 2016, The Guardian)
The best known survey of Tea Party support came just after this period, a 2010 New York Times/CBS poll which showed a higher proportion of Tea Party supporters in the higher income groups and has often been cited as evidence of the Tea Party as a movement of the affluent (Zernike and Thee-Brenan 2010, New York Times). In a separate study Abramovitz (2011) found that the ‘widely held stereotype’ of Tea Party supporters as ‘older white males is largely correct (Abramovitz 2011: 9). He went on to describe the supporters as ‘somewhat more affluent than non-supporters’ but ‘less likely than non-supporters to have graduated from college’ (p. 9). But if Tea Party supporters were disproportionately ‘rather more affluent’, many were not. In the New York Times/CBS poll, reproduced in full in Zernike (2010), 35 % of Tea Party supporters had a total family income of less than US$50,000, and for 18 % that figure was under US$30,000. Again, whilst half described themselves as ‘middle class’, 31 % described themselves as working class or lower class (Zernike 2010: 213ff-). Indeed, Lundskow (2012) has described Tea Party supporters as ‘bifurcated by class’ and suggests that many were small business entrepreneurs in construction and services, the groups whom we saw lost so much in the aftermath of the recession. Like UKIP supporters’ ‘polite xenophobia’ directed towards immigrants, Tea Party supporters are more likely to express opposition to federally funded social programmes which primarily assist minorities and the poor (Zernike 2010: 213—243).
The Trump candidacy for the Republican nomination for the 2016 presidential election has shaken centrist US politics even more than the Tea Party did. The two (Trump and Tea Party) share some aims, in particular their proposals to reduce federal spending and reduce taxes (Marcus 2016, Washington Post). But Trump has also attacked corporations which move jobs out of the country and protect their profits in offshore investments. And although he speaks of balancing the budget, he says he will protect entitlement spending in the Social Security budget (Marcus 2016, Washington Post). No doubt the Trump campaign is aware that, like the Tea Party, many of its potential supporters among whites might fear loss of benefits which will support them in retirement. So if the Tea Party support was rather more common among affluent voters than others and had a subset of working-class and small business support, there are indications that Trump is gaining more support among the disenchanted white working class (Bump 2015, Washington Post, Harris 2016, The Guardian). Another indication of this is where he gets his strongest support in, for example, economically distressed states like West Virginia. He is:
.. .strongest among Republicans who are less affluent, less educated and less likely to turn out to vote. His very best voters are self-identified Republicans who nonetheless are registered as Democrats. It’s a coalition that’s concentrated in the South, Appalachia and the industrial North. (Cohn 2015, New York Times)
Thus, support for Trump shares some similarities with the base of support for populist right-wing parties in Europe and elsewhere, where people have seen the foundations of their lives and livelihoods come under threat: ‘
They are the ones whose incomes have been squeezed, whose jobs have been shipped abroad or who simply have seen their neighbourhoods transformed before their eyes, by a changing, diversifying population’ (Freedland 2016, The Guardian).
Tea Party and Trump politics are inspired by resentment expressed in the Tea Party phrase ‘Give Us Our Country Back’ and Trump’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. In these phrases, popular discontents are projected onto the nation—which has been lost because of the long-time neglect of political elites. Resentment is found when classes experience a downward trajectory from a once more secure and respected position. People’s experience of loss and uncertainty is set within the decline of neighbourhoods, the loss of civility and the political sense of being ignored. It is also found when classes fear that privileges that they have long held, and believe they have worked hard for, are threatened by redistributive measures, taxation and rewards for undeserving groups: these sentiments may be found in ‘middle-class’ anger at changes which do, or appear to, disadvantage them. These resentments are directed towards the nation, which they see as changing beyond recognition.