The deep story went like this: You are an older white man without a college degree standing in the middle of a line with hundreds of millions of Americans. The queue leads up a hill, toward a haven just over the ridge, which is the American dream. Behind you in line, you can see a train of woeful souls—many poor, mostly nonwhite, born in America and abroad, young and old. “It’s scary to look back,” Hochschild writes. “There are so many behind you, and in principle you wish them well. Still, you’ve waited a long time.” Now you’re stuck in line, because the economy isn’t working. And worse than stuck, you’re stigmatized; liberals in the media say every traditional thing you believe is racist and sexist. And what’s this? People are cutting in line in front of you! Something is wrong. The old line wasn’t perfect, but at least it was a promise. There is order in the fact of a line. And if that order is coming apart, then so is America.
Hochschild tested this allegory with her Republican sources and heard that it struck a chord. Yes, they said, this captures how I feel. In the past few years, she’s kept in touch with several of her connections from the Deep South and keenly tracked their philosophical evolution. She’s watched the locus of their anxiety move from budgets (“They never talk about deficits anymore,” she told me) to the entrenched and “swampy” political class. She also witnessed the Trumpification of everything. “There used to be a Tea Party,” she said. “Now it’s all Trumpism.”
If we want to understand this movement, Hochschild told me, we have to understand what happened in the past five years to the people in the line. “I now see that the line metaphor in my book was only Chapter 1 of the deep story,” she said. “What I’m seeing now is there are more chapters.”