Of all the commentators writing about Donald Trump's appeal, Charles Murray (author of The Bell Curve and Coming Apart: The State of White America) probably has the best understanding.
Murray claims that prior to the JFK assassination in 1963, America had a “common civic culture." At that time, nearly all men between the ages of 30-49 were married regardless of class. Today that trend continues in the upper middle class, but among the lower classes it is about half, with a third never having been married at all.
The Hollywood “Hays Code," a self-imposed set of rules about what should and should not be displayed in movies, ensured that divisive issues such as abortion were never portrayed, or if they were, were quickly condemned.
Television networks "standards and practices" divisions, along with the FCC, enforced similar standards in those mediums at the same time. Because of efforts like these, Hollywood and other media outlets worked to promote a high level of moral standards through their products. These efforts eventually collapsed, with one of the most famous events of the time being an episode of the 1970s sit-com “All in the Family,” when Archie Bunker flushed a toilet -- the first time that sound had ever been heard on American television.
Starting in the sixties, Americans of all classes experimented with divorce, new age religion (or none at all) and the sexual revolution. In the upper classes, social norms did not entirely collapse, but they did so in the lower classes, who didn't have the same material and personal resources the better off relied upon to cushion any fallout from their lifestyle experiments. For example, a woman who was divorced with children, and who came from a better economic and educational background, was better able to deal with her new circumstances than a woman of modest means.
Murray suggests that today, America's most pressing social divide isn't between black and white but between white-collar and blue-collar. Hundreds of millions of people are living in the same country, but they might as well be in different worlds.
This division was exacerbated by the increasing importance of brain power over brawn in the economy. As new standards were put in place to determine who was accepted to the best schools, intelligence became more valued even than wealth.
Also, it used to be the case that smart men were likely to marry a woman within their immediate community, and likely a woman of average intelligence. Today, however, doctors marry other doctors, rather than nurses marrying doctors as they had in the past. Now these couples pass down their talent along with their money to their children. This arrangement, in the macro, creates more familial stability -- and less upward mobility.
The lower classes, compared to their wealthier fellow citizens, are fatter, raise their children differently and drink cheaper beer, among other indicators. Murray even created a quiz to determine just which class (or silo) one might belong to, and therefore, how "thick" or "thin" one's "bubble" might be.
The upper-classes have abdicated their responsibility to set and advocate standards. In our "age of non-judgementalism," no one, including the upper classes, believes in right and wrong anymore. We teach our children to be nice, rather than good.
Because of all this, America risks losing the unique character which Alexis de Tocqueville described in his book Democracy in America. The fledgling United States, he noticed in his travels, was home to countless voluntary groups that emerged spontaneously, without the iron-fist of government enforcement, to organize people as a community. Anything not strictly related to the individual and the government falls under the category that Edmund Burke called "the little platoons." Sports teams, religious groups, community and charitable organizations, fraternity clubs -- all these things and many more make up the civil society. America threatens to abandon this tradition if it maintains its the current societal trajectory.
Dinesh D’Souza, an American movement conservative advocate who recently served time in prison for an illegal campaign donation, says his fellow inmates did not fit the stereotype of prisoners who claim they are actually innocent. Those he mit admited to committing crimes, but insist that the real criminals are the elites who rig the system.
This is a common complaint among the non-incarcertated lower classes, too. It helps explain why Trumpeters do not care that their candidate lies, buys political influence, swears, uses the government for personal gain, has been divorced three times or is ignorant about most political issues. These things, they reason, are really not that bad -- if you could get away with them, wouldn’t you too? -- and since everyone else does these things, too, so who cares?
When William Kristol in the National Review's "Against Trump" issue calls him “vulgar”, the Trump supporter (if he bothered to read the article at all) simply identifies with Trump even more. Even in my own personal life, I can only think of one person I have ever heard use the word "vulgar" and it was memorable because it sounded so unusual and patrician.
The upper class individual rarely owns a TV while the lower class watch 35 hours of TV a week. Television, like other forms of entertainment, is an escape, and an even better escape if you can personally identify with one of the characters on screen.
Trump on his own reality show, The Apprentice, is shown firing other rich people, those whom the new lower class envy and resent. This makes the audience identify with Trump even more.
This identification with Trump explains why they prefer him over presidential candidate Ted Cruz. Cruz may be advocating policies that will better ensure the outcomes that Trump voters claim they want: respect for the military, dealing with immigration, growing the economy. Cruz's positions may in fact be more anti-establishment, but he talks and sounds like "one of them," not "one of us."
There are stories of journalists going to Trump rallies and being shocked by the type of people they see there. These people are members of the upper classes, and so rarely interact outside of their own bubble to learn just how divided America really is. (The bubble also explains why Obama thinks the American economy is doing well...)
We need to address the concerns of Trump supporters even if their hero is not elected. I have great sympathy for his supporters, but more for the world, if he is.