It's the rise in mortality...
Emmanuel Todd after the American elections
…I believe that it’s the rise in mortality for white Americans between the ages of 45 and 54 that really convinced me. Mortality went slightly down for the whites who are highly educated, it has stagnated for those who had an unfinished higher education, it has risen for those below that level, bringing about a rise of the general rate for the whites. We have arrived to the point where the majority group, the whites, representing 72% of the electoral body, is distressed to the point where its mortality is on the increase. The causes of that increase are not “natural:” it’s a matter of suicides, alcohol, drugs, poisoning through pharmaceutical drugs. Instinctively, I have told myself : at this stade, the neoliberal ideological system may break down. This indicator is truly the sign that economic globalization has ended up bringing about an individual and societal insecurity insufferable even in an Anglo-Saxon country. Exit polls showed clearly that at bottom, the main motivation of the Trump vote was the will for change. Anything but that which Clinton represented.
In fact, I have reverted to the first prospective intuition in my life, predating my hypothesis and my research about ideologies being determined by family structures. In 1976, I had predicted, instinctively, in La Chute finale (« The Final Fall »), the collapse of the Soviet system in basing myself, fundamentally, on the rise in infant mortality in Russia between 1970 and 1974. I am able today to close the circle of this interpretation: the Russian communitarian family – egalitarian and authoritarian – did indeed bring about communist ideology. But at a certain stage, the economic and social absurdity of Communism has become such that Russia ended up getting rid of it, thus transcending its own anthropological determination. Something of the same kind is happening today in the United States. An exaggerated implementation of the individualistic and un-egalitarian ideological potential of the Anglo-Saxon “absolute nuclear family” has lead America into another form of absurdity. The population ends up reacting and takes off in another direction. What is happening in America can therefore probably be put in a parallel, as far as historic importance is concerned, with what happened in Russia in 1990. In both cases, a rate of mortality is alerting the researcher. Demography is so much more reliable than the economy.
The fall of neoliberalism thus follows the fall of Communism. I hope that the parallel is ending here. Capitalism has plasticity, it is multiform: it should allow for a fairly rapid reconstruction of the American nation.
Atlantico: You look at the Trump vote as an egalitarian democratic reaction. What are you making of the racial dimension of the vote? The Republican Party is still a white party. The Democrats protect the Blacks and the Hispanics. Trump is called the elected of the “little whites.”
The sociological reading of this election has occurred foremost along criteria of education and race. But still, we must consider the themes of this election. The American campaign started with a double surprise, the powerful rise of Bernie Sanders and of Donald Trump, who had in common a denunciation of free trade. Sanders failed, but Trump succeeded in emancipating himself ideologically from the Republican Party. I can see everywhere in France and other places those who like to think that Trump will not implement his program. But we must accept some heavy dynamics in American society, to the left as well as to the right of the ideological chessboard. The true American ideology is at present what I would call “globalization fatigue.” And in a certain way, the Trump program already started being implemented under Obama. The United States are the country which has taken the most protectionist measures since the beginning of the crisis and the expenses in the reconstruction of infrastructures have already started. So let’s begin by validating a Marxist dimension of the interpration. As well as an economic choice.
It is true that Donald Trump scored best with the uneducated whites, but it remains that Trump is also a middle-class phenomenon, and that he is scoring slightly better than Clinton with the educated white electorate. Blacks voted at 88% in favor of Clinton, yet with a lower participation rate than for Obama. But the most important movements, by comparison with previous elections, happened indeed in function of levels of income. Whereas the Republican Party used to be the party of the rich, it must presently content itself with levelling up with the Democrats among those earning over 200 000 dollars a year. Granted that on the whole, one has the impression that the economic level is no longer that much of a determinant. But this is the result of an extraordinary mutation: many of the rich have fled away from the Republican Party. Indeed, during the campaign, money flowed towards the Democrats. Wall Street voted for Clinton. Just like the famous singers and actors who are perceived as being « to the left, » as being liberals in the American sense, but who still are, in their own way, very rich people benefiting from globalization.
Atlantico: You are shying away from the racial question.
Not at all, you’ll see. I am going to start with a joke so as to cast doubt on some common place assumptions. These so-called “uneducated white lowbrows” of the Rust Belt, between the Great Lakes and Pennsylvania, voted democrat when the candidate was black, and stopped voting democrat when the candidate was white.
But let’s be serious. If we want to understand the racial question, we must go back to the very foundations of American democracy.
In America, the racial problem is of an extraordinary thickness and resistance. There is no equivalent to it in France. There doesn’t exist in France a population group where the rate of intermarriage is as low as it is for black women in the United States. Loïc Wacquant showed clearly, in Urban Outcast, that the most rotten of the French suburbs are nothing like the American hyper-ghetto. Worse: the United States have been from their origins a racial democracy. The Englismen who founded America didn’t believe in the equality of men. The only way of explaining their conversion to an egalitarian democratic ideal is to admit that the whites became equal in America because a notion of inferiority was stuck on racial groups; first on the Indians, then on the Blacks.
Atlantico: How is this racial question structuring American political space today ?
Already at the time of Nixon, Republicans used white resentment against desegregation and the political emancipation of the Blacks as an instrument in electoral struggle and conquests. Subtly, by making use of a coded language, they have established the idea that the welfare state was something made for the Blacks. The Republican Party, the party of Lincoln and of the abolition of slavery, rapidly became a white party. The racial question has been, from Reagan on, a fundamental lever in the neoliberal revolution. It’s largely out of racism that the electorates of Reagan, of Bush père et fils, applauded tax cuts and the destruction of Roosevelt’s social State. It’s by hitting on the Blacks that the white middle- and popular classes self-destructed… A large part of the white electorate voted for decades against its own economic interests, silently against the Blacks, noisily in favor of religious interests or against abortion. In 1984, they did so specifically against the protectionism of Walter Mondale, the democrat candidate crushed by Reagan....
But today, on all planes, American opinions and sensibilities are shifting. The irrational is retreating. The fundamentalist religious wave is regressing, as has been shown by Putnam. The idea of the intervention of the State is becoming popular again. This is the real background of Trump’s election. This is also why he has been able to put the real economic interest of the people – protectionism, a return to the Nation – at the core of the election, rather than religious or racial passions. The question of racism must be faced without illusions, but the discourse aiming at saying that the Trump vote was the vote of racist “little whites” is not only absurd, it’s just the opposite.
But the Blacks didn’t vote for Trump…
True, but at this stage, one must ask who is responsible for the persistent racialisation of the vote. I am convinced that this time around, it came from the Democrats, by way of an inverted racist discourse. The Democrats proposed a perverted, or vitiated - I don’t know - electoral alliance associating the truly economically and educationally privileged of the system, who are always white in their majority, with some kind of electoral foot-troops made up of the minorities, Hispanics and Blacks, in order to break up the white core of American democracy. What most disgusted me in this process is the way that Hillary Clinton ousted Bernie Sanders, with whom I felt very close, of course. I followed the democratic primaries state by state. It was indeed the black electorate which prevented Sanders’ victory. In 2016, political alienation changed color. We have gone from a system in which the core of the white electorate voted against its own interests to a system in which the black electorate voted against its interests. Indeed, the Blacks, who are overrepresented in the working-class, who are less educated despite important progress in the matter, are the group who has most suffered from free trade and who continues to suffer the most. The ultimate paradox of the election which just happened is that if Trump truly applies his protectionist program, the Blacks will be the first to benefit.
Translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia