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On Entitlement

I feel like a lot of America, the NYT included, has spent the last two years thrashing about trying to explain what/why people support Trump, and are so ready to defend/embrace/be excited by his policies.

There are a lot of shallow answers to that question, painting entire swaths of Americans as "Ignorant", "Racist", "White Trash", etc... Those answers involve dehumanizing and *unfocusing* on the details of the problem, neither of which ever seems the path to solving vexing complicated issues.

But I am here to offer a hypothesis that *possibly* explains their support and their very real human reasons for it

Originally I was going to describe it as "privilege", but am going to avoid that term because it sounds too close to the concept of "white privilege", which is really the concept of "living with the absence of person of color hardships day to day". Instead I'm going to go with "Sense of Entitlement".

The tricky thing about Trump voters, is that they seem to be both well-to-do and not. How can such vastly different economic castes of people team up politically?

The answer, is that people are able to feel entitled be either:

  • "Seeing themselves as better than everyone else"
  • "Seeing that everyone else seems to be doing better than them"

The first one seems pretty straightforward. Some people think they are better than others, and therefore deserve preferential treatment.

The second one, is the case of "Since everybody else is doing better than me, I deserve something". Arguably a plea to fairness, but strictly for your own self.

I sometimes play the lottery, and I actually sometimes dread winning, because of this second rule of human nature. The expectation that extraordinarily acts of luck in-debt that user to everyone around them.

Lottery winners to a one are forced to change their phone numbers and often addresses to avoid pleas for money. Some from scam artists, some from people in genuine plight, *all* from people who truly believe that they are entitled to some of that windfall.

The important thing about the entitlement I'm talking about here, is not the place upon the economic fulcrum. This teeter-totter can be ridden freely from either end.

Money, lack or excess is not the infection vector here. There are plenty of poor and rich people who do *not* feel entitled.

I believe it was the Buddha who said "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems", by which he was trying to say that rich or poor, everybody has problems in their lives. Rich and poor people have *must different problems* (with different stakes) but we are ultimately all just troubled humans imperfectly spending their limited time on this planet.

So yes, yes, "everybody has problems", what's the point?"

My point is that people generally do one of two things with problems. They admit that they exist, and work on them, or they ignore them and pretend they don't exist and/or that the problems *are not in their control to fix*.

As an example. Let's say a successfully banker, who has sacrificed much achieves all he wanted, all the success he hoped for, and yet, after the elation of his promotion, and new car, and new house, and new wife... Still feels unfulfilled. This guy has a problem. Now, he can either admit that money has limitations in it's ability to bring him sustained joy... Or, he could squint at his tax bill and blame "high taxes" for his restless unease. "If only he didn't have to give all that money to the government, then, surely, he'd be happy.".

Choosing to feel entitled and victimized is a great distraction from facing into the onyx eyes of a terrifying problem that has no clear easy solution.

On the lower economic spectrum, there are no end to problems. Jobs are changing in this country with terrifying speed. There are certainly people out there facing stark economic choices, with few answers. Some might be able to weather it via going to college or job training. Some by pulling up stakes and moving. Some, possibly a majority, there might not be a good answer.

You could see, why some of these people might choose to not face those problems. Not admit that they have those problems, or any power over them, but rather choose to feel entitled and victimized. Clearly somebody *did* this to them maliciously, and if we could just stop them from doing it, things would go back to how they were. Somehow be made great again.

So that sounds pretty sympathetic, but I believe much of these poorer, white Trump supporters are riding both sides of the entitlement teeter-totter.

While they definitely have an accurate reason to see themselves as "less well off", they still feel, individually superior to several classes of people.

And I know I said "racist" was too broad a brush, so I really want to dig into it.

Racism, the belief that one race is superior to another.

I honestly believe that none of them believe that.

That said. If you asked them whether they thought that *they themselves*, as an individual was *better* than most members of a race, and/or was entitled to better treatment because they were "more/better American". I think they would secretly think so.

And it is certainly not just race. Maybe they're fine with gay people marrying, but they totally still believe that they are *better* than gay people. More pious, more just, more entitled to them.

This feeling of superiority is a splendid and convenient distraction from the numerous problems they have. Feeling "above" someone is a super helpful way to not think about your precarious economic position.

So poor Trump supporters definitely field besieged at both ends, victims both economically and they see the raising up of people who have, for so long, been reliably below them as a personal threat to their "righteousness buffer" from the bottom.

Which ultimately, the desire to not be *last* seems a sympathetic one. In the great game of globalism dodgeball, nobody wants to be picked last. So when it comes down to a poor white man and a Mexican immigrant. You gotta believe that poor white man is going to shout some hateful stuff to try to convince you to pick him over the immigrant. Stuff he might not believe and certainly wouldn't say in other circumstances.

The thing I like most about this, is it also explains Trump's policy behavior.

Giving more money to poor people might have softened and addressed their problems. So he didn't do that. Giving more money to rich people is *not* going to be a balm to them either. In fact, the worse he makes the problems they are trying to avoid thinking about, the more they will want for distraction, the stronger their feeling of victimhood ("If only those late night comedians weren't mocking us!").

All this is not to say that non-trump supports never hide from problems or are plagued by delusions or other self-reinforcing cycles. Trump supporters certainly didn't invent hiding from your problems. Perhaps this is how conservatives felt when Obama was elected. "It is so obvious you're all just doing this so you don't have to thoughtfully consider the everyday plight of African-americans!"

We're all flawed beings. The extent to which we allow ourselves to be driven and weaponized against the collective good by those flaws seems to be the major disagreement.


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Meta Information:

Title: On Entitlement
Date posted: 13 Jul '18 - 00:08
Filed under: General
Word Count: 1,241 words
Good Karma: 20 (vote)
Bad Karma: 6 (vote)
Next entry:  On Absurdity
Previous entry:  On Certainty

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