Do you have hillbillies in your country

United StatesWhat Trump voters want

"These are the forgotten men and women of your country, but they will not be forgotten long ..."

The forgotten men and women of America would not be forgotten for long, Donald Trump thundered in the summer of 2016. And indeed, a considerable part of the population between the rust belt and the Gulf Coast was to elect Trump as president a few months later - as a savior from the swamp of frustration.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist at the University of Berkeley in California, takes a bold step: In her new book "Fremd in Her Land" she appeals for understanding and even sympathy for those people who made Trump possible, many of them white, male Representatives of the lower and lower middle classes.

Left liberal bubble

The book has now been published in German. The original edition caused discussions in the USA a year ago: Most observers considered Trump to be a bizarre system error and his election victory was almost impossible.

Hochschild's motivation: She wants to understand, really understand, what drives the people who seem to support the ultra-conservative tea party against their own interests. On US radio, the author admits that her own life in a bubble of left-liberal like-minded people blocked her view for a long time:

I was living in an enclave, and that I didn't understand the people with whom I knew I had deep disagreements ...

She lived in a completely different world, she says, and simply did not understand people whose views are so different from their own. So she decides to leave her intellectual West Coast enclave and embark on a journey into the heart of the American right.

Understand what drives Trump voters

She chooses Louisiana in the southern United States as her destination. Louisiana is the second poorest of the 50 states. Here 58 percent of the voters voted for Trump.

Hochschild accompanies six people who all feel politically close to the right wing of the Republicans. Her goal: "to overcome the empathy wall", as she writes. The stories of these protagonists are among the strongest passages in the book - the author tells them vividly, carefully and calmly.

Take Lee Sherman, for example. Former worker in a chemical plant. One of his tasks was to dispose of toxic waste in the nearby bayou. He has been disabled since an accident at work; he becomes an environmentalist, fights against the pollution of the river arms. At the same time, he is a firm supporter of the Tea Party, which wants to restrict the powers of the environmental authority.

It is difficult to go together, writes Hochschild: "The life of one man, Lee Sherman, reflects both sides of the great paradox: the need for government support - and its fundamental rejection."

The great contradiction that America experts have been working on since the Trump election: That those who speak out loudest against the welfare state use its services - in the form of food vouchers, for example - most zealously.

Big Government opponents

Or that the enemies of state intervention reject regulation in principle, but want to see the strong hand of the state at work on certain issues:

"For declared opponents of" Big Government "it is astonishing how much power they want to give the state on the question of abortion, which is actually a matter for the individual."

But the author doesn't make it easy for herself. She is looking for an explanation beyond clich├ęs and superficial logic. She looks for a narrative where people's lives "feel", as she writes. Hochschild calls this the "deep story", and she tells it as a parable in three scenes.

"In the first scene, people are waiting in line. After a life of hard work, the American dream will come true for them. They are tired. The line does not move. But the people are patient. But then some people jostle People in front. And who are the pioneers?

It is blacks and women who, as a result of the so-called affirmative action, a series of decrees by the US government, have to be given preferential treatment if they have the same qualifications. It is immigrants who are benefiting from government benefits and are allegedly taking their jobs away from Americans.

Alien world of the suspended

And then there's the one who's supposed to oversee the snake: the president. When Hochschild conducts her interviews, it (was) still Barack Obama.

"He seems to be signaling to people that it is okay to push forward. He even seems to encourage them. And the people who have waited patiently in line feel betrayed, pushed back and treated unfairly."

Almost all of the protagonists in her book would have voted for Trump in the presidential elections, writes the author in the afterword to the German edition. Not a lot because they thought he was the perfect candidate. They reject his ostentatious lifestyle, his divorces and his wild demeanor, but they also see no political alternative.

"Although (Trump) was a billionaire, (they) felt that he recognized the suffering and losses of American working people. (Also) they felt that the Democratic Party had nothing to offer them, but made them feel to be culturally alien in their country. "

Chronicle of the marginalized

With her book, Arlie Hochschild joins a number of liberal thinkers who have recently immersed themselves in the strange world of Trump voters: the historian Nancy Isenberg with "White Trash", a story of the lower class in the USA. Or the entrepreneur J.D. Vance with his autobiography "Hillbilly Elegy".

"Foreign in their country" is a chronicle of the marginalized. What sets the book apart is the tone: curious, observant, immediate and compassionate, but never condescending. Above all, the book does without any strict instructions. That is also what makes it so worth reading, especially in Germany.

Arlie Russell Hochschild: Strange in their country. A trip to the heart of the American right.
Campus-Verlag, 429 pages, 29.95 euros.