The Trump-Fueled Cupcake Rebellion

Armed demonstrators in Lansing, Michigan

Welcome to the Cupcake Rebellion, brought to you by Donald Trump.

Everybody likes cupcakes. What’s not to like? The frosting, almost a separate entity, can be thick and tasty and have an unlimited array of flavors and textures. The cake itself, moist and sweet, is a delight to the senses. It tastes wonderful and makes you feel good after you eat one (or more than one), regardless whether the cupcakes come from a pack in the store, or from a gourmet shop.

The problem, however, is that cupcakes shouldn’t be the main feature of someone’s diet. Depending on cupcakes will give no nutrition, but will give you headaches, ruin your blood sugar, and lead to serious disease.

That’s exactly what’s happening to those people out in the streets with their weapons and without their masks, parading around state capitols bitching about their “freedom” being taken away and wanting their states opened up.

Rational people know those demonstrators could get themselves and others sick, and so they ask: why do they do it?

Demonstrators and political leaders will give you the answer: to own the libs. There’s nothing many of those demonstrators would rather do than get people they don’t like, respect or agree with all riled up. Getting out in the streets, being part of the crew, makes them feel good about themselves.

An interesting question is why they feel so good, and a couple of recent books provide some interesting ideas that also go to the question, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”

In 2016, Katherine Cramer published her seminal book, “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.” A University of Wisconsin professor, Cramer traveled around the state between 2007 and 2012 talking to people about their attitudes toward government, the state and about Scott Walker, the proto-Trumpian governor who ultimately wrecked the state’s economy and attacked working people without letup.

Cramer found that people in rural areas harbor deep resentments against well, everyone who isn’t them. They don’t like city people from Madison or Milwaukee because they don’t understand the rural working-class life and because they siphon off resources that should be going to the people who “deserve” them. The people Cramer talked to said that people in urban areas “ignore people in rural areas, take in all of their hard-earned money and fundamentally disrespect and misunderstand the rural way of life.”

But those resentments go deeper. Some of those in what Cramer calls the “rural class” don’t even like their neighbors who might be civil servants who are not as “deserving” as they are. The rural class believes public employees, even in their own towns, aren’t “rural” because they think those people get paid too much and have advantages they don’t, like having sick leave, when the hard-working rural people go to work even when they are sick, doing manual labor.

These feelings in turn “fed opposition to government regulation,” Cramer found.

“One of the lessons of this book is that animosity toward government is partly about feeling overlooked, ignored and disrespected,” Cramer wrote. They want respect and want to be listened to, and so to the streets they go to lash out.

A companion dive came from Dr. Jonathan Metzl in his book last year, “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland.”

Metzl starts with the sad tale of a man called Trevor (a pseudonym), 41, who lives in Tennessee, drives a cab and is uninsured in a state that consistently rejected Obamacare. He’s got an inflamed liver and hepatitis C. Had he lived a few miles north in Kentucky, which adopted the Affordable Care Act expansion, he might have been eligible for a liver transplant and other treatments.

But Trevor rejects his state’s rejection: “Ain’t no way I would ever support Obamacare or sign up for it,” he said, “I would rather die.” The reason: “We don’t need any more government in our lives. And in any case, no way I want my tax dollars paying for Mexicans and welfare queens.” He would rather die than be part of a system that might “put him on the same plane as immigrants or racial minorities,” Metzl concluded.

He met many people who were dying as a result of political beliefs linked to the defense of “white ‘ways of life’ or concerns about minorities or poor people hoarding resources.”

Metzl’s research picked up where Cramer’s left off as he visited cities and towns in Tennessee, Missouri and Kansas between 2013 and 2018. He wanted to find where all the anti-government sentiment came from that would lead people to choose their own harm over the greater good. He found it over and over, as politics ”gained traction by playing to anxieties about white victimhood in relation to imagined threats posed by ‘Mexicans and welfare queens.’”

Time and again, Metzl found that the self-destructive tendencies that Trevor represents are based in the concept of white, male privilege. “Guns mark forms of family and privilege that the white Missourians with whom I’ve spoken cling to as an inheritance,” Metzl wrote. Guns were marketed as a crucial part of the white identity, Metzl found: “Firearms connoted tools that claimed to help white men maintain privilege or restore it when it seemed under threat.”

Of course, one way of protecting that privilege is to demonstrate against any perceived infringement, bringing the self-fulfillment of public demonstration with it.

I understand how taking to the streets makes you feel good. I’ve been in demonstrations for longer than I care to remember, although not on the same end of the political spectrum as those who bring their long guns, Trump signs and confederate flags to rallies to open the government. You are out on the street because you want a change in policy and feel good contributing the public voice to make that change happen.

A big difference is in the outcome. Going to the first Women’s March, for example, put Trump on notice and did a lot of good in terms of letting Congressional Democrats know it was fine to stand up for what was right, later leading to many women running for office. It felt good to be out there, and the result was a more healthy country than would have happened otherwise.

In the alternative, the only outcomes of the policies Metzl discussed are bad. Failure to take part in expanded health programs leads to more sickness and death. Standing up for the gun culture related strongly to a higher incidence of suicide by white men.

When today’s demonstrators gather in state capitals with the guns and flags to open up the state’s economy, they bring all of that baggage with them, including the bad outcome of COVID-19 spreading among the demonstrators, people they interact with and the populace at large.

That’s why these demonstrations are like cupcakes. They give participants the feeling of pleasure of owning the libs and fighting back against those who in their view are going to harm their rights and privileges. But a steady diet of them will jack up your blood sugar, add weight and worse, leaving everyone worse off.

Communications consultant, recovering journalist

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