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Under Surface, Middle-Aged Women Push Anti-Trump Movement in U.S.

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ロバート・パットナム氏=五十嵐大介撮影 Dr. Robert Putnam (photo by Igarashi Daisuke)

■For Japanese version, see:盤石に見えるトランプ氏、しかし静かに「中年女性たちの反乱」が起きている

Robert Putnam is an American political scientist and a professor at Harvard University. He has written multiple books, including “Our Kids” and “Bowling Alone,” in which he pointed out the importance of “social capital.”

Photo by Tokitsu Takeshi

――During the Presidential campaign in 2016, you predicted a possible win by then candidate Donald Trump. After two years after Mr. Trump got elected as President, how do you see current situations in the United States—are you more worried or less worried?

More worried. Not because I'm surprised. What I said there turns out mostly to be true. But more worried because I am surprised that he didn't encounter more resistance within the Republican Party to his policies.

I assumed that there would be pushback from adult Republicans who are intelligent enough to know that a lot of what Trump says is “hogwash.” But they have not pushed back.

As you know, most Republican leaders are frightened of Trump because although his support in the country as a whole is 35 to 40%, his support in the fraction of the country that are regular Republican primary voters is more like 80% or 90%. If they're going to get into the general election, Republican candidates have to satisfy that fraction of the electorate. So I understand why the Republican leaders are completely giving in all of their basic principles. Balanced budgets. Completely given in. Free trade. Completely given in. A reasonable compromise on immigration. Completely given in.  I understand it that as a matter of political tactics, but that takeover of the Republican party by Trump is not good for the country.

First of all there's a danger from the policies that he has pursued. The content of his policies on immigration is very bad for America. One of the major advantages that America has in the world is precisely our openness to immigration. So to close the doors to immigration is to shoot yourself in the foot.

There's the problem of his foreign policy. That's actually more dangerous right in this neighborhood. Right here in Northeast Asia. The third danger is the danger to the fundamental norms of American democracy.

――If you look at President Trump’s approval rate among Republicans. It's almost 90%. We found that moderate Republicans is such a small group.

 Because many moderate Republicans have left the party. The total number of Republicans has declined. Therefore, the Trump share has risen just because many people who once were moderate Republicans no longer consider themselves Republicans.

I think Trump was genuinely channeling real resentments. My hometown, Port Clinton, Ohio, is a classic Rust Belt town. When I grew up, it was slightly more Democratic but it was moderate. Moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans. My family were moderate Republicans. It was actually a successful town then, but now people in my hometown have been hurt by trade. They've been hurt by a lot of things, and they're very angry.

かつて鉄鉱石の輸入で栄えた町。若者の薬物汚染が深刻化していた=2018年3月9日、オハイオ州アシュタビュラ、五十嵐大介撮影 
This town once prospered as one of the busiest ports in the region. The town is facing serious drug problems among youth. Ashtabula, Ohio, March 9, 2018 (photo by Igarashi Daisuke)

There is a young woman that I describe in my book “Our Kids” from my hometown. I called her Mary Sue, though that is not her real name. Mary Sue voted for Trump. Mary Sue had no business voting for Trump. Trump is not going to help Mary Sue. She is in an awful situation. Her parents essentially deserted her. She never graduated from high school. She's fallen for a number of very bad men. Although she wasn't when I wrote the book, she's now a single mom. The courts have taken away one of her children because she's not an adequate mother. Her life is a mess. But, Mary Sue voted for Donald Trump, and you might say "What in the world does Mary Sue have voting Donald Trump?”

I can tell you the answer to that. Mary Sue is angry at everybody. Everybody in the world. From her point of view, she's right. She has been deserted by everybody. She has been deserted by her parents, schools, churches and her neighbors. She's been deserted by everybody, and she's really angry. When she was going to vote in 2016, she wasn't worried about policies. Her view on the election was outrage. There was only one candidate who showed outrage. That was Trump.

――How do you see the upcoming mid-term elections?

FiveThirtyEight (a polling site) says it's 80% likely that the Democrats will hold the House. I think that's an underestimate. There is in the country underway a very important grassroots movement, and it's below the radar. It's hardly been covered in the American press, although now the New York Times is picking it up a little bit.

This grassroots anti-Trump movement is sometimes said to be the Democrats' equivalent of the Tea Party. That's completely wrong. It's not ideological. It's a very special group, and I'll say more about what group it is. But I first of all want to say that as the author of Bowling Alone, I think this new grassroots movement happening right now is the most important wave of civic engagement since the 1960s.

My own daughter, Lara Putnam, is a historian at the University of Pittsburgh, and is collaborating with a well-known sociologist named Theda Skocpol. Lara and Theda have written a series of articles about where the grassroots opposition is coming from. It's in a very interesting group. It's among middle-aged and older college educated women. It's the mothers and grandmothers of America. It's not young radicals and it's not leftists. It's ordinary middle-class, middle-aged women. They're very anti-Trump, but they're not far left. For that matter, they're not far right. They're moderates. Many of them actually are Republicans.

This new movement is based on real face to face door-knocking. Facebook is part of it, but it's not just a “virtual” community. It began with the Women's March on Washington, which was a Facebook organized movement.  But afterwards, these women began having coffee meetings in their homes and they began going to Starbucks and meeting. They are motivated to some extent by real issues. Healthcare is probably the most important issue that motivated them, but it's not trade policy, it's not big policy issues. It's the disgust that a mother would have for an administration that enacts its immigration policy by taking babies away from their parents and rejection of a President who speaks in such disgusting language about his opponents.

――How much are you concerned about technological advance or SNS in order to solve inequality issues?

Whether Facebook is part of the problem or part of the solution, the digital revolution is exacerbating inequality too. What I say in Our Kids is that there is no longer a physical digital divide because Mary Sue has an iPhone. Everybody has smartphones now. But Mary Sue uses her iPhone in very different ways from my grandchildren.

Kids coming from upper class homes or from middle class homes are surrounded by adults and peers who can encourage them to use the internet in ways that are productive. Mary Sue is not surrounded by anybody. If she were, it would not be by people who are going to encourage her to use the internet, to use LinkedIn to find a job. They're using it to play games or other forms of mindless entertainment. That's the digital divide.

――Why is trade so unpopular in the US?

I think that globalization, which is partly trade, partly international finance and partly migration, has brought terrific advantages to half of America. It's brought terrific advantages to better educated Americans. It's brought terrific advantages to Americans who do not make things but make a living by manipulating symbols, that is writing or speaking or managing—in short, it’s brought advantages to Americans like me. But my sister didn't go to college, was a hardworking decent person, worked in several factories making washing machines and telephones and so on. But all of those factories where she worked are now in Southeast Asia.

I'm not worried about losing my job to a peasant from Southeast Asia, but she did lose her job to a peasant from Southeast Asia. In principle, economists will tell you, that's simple. As a country we are better off, so I should just pay higher taxes, and have the government do things to support my sister. People on the coasts and in the upper class, that group of people, have not done our duty. Our Kids is written to that group of people and says, "Look. We have failed our fellow citizens.”

道路の奥に、操業が止まった工場の建物が見える=2016年3月16日、オハイオ州ヤングスタウン、五十嵐大介撮影
A closed plant by the roadside. Youngstown, Ohio, March 16, 2016 (photo by Igarashi Daisuke)

I was at dinner in Seoul five days ago. There was a young woman, very intelligent, very well educated Korean woman who works for one of the big multinationals in Korea. We were talking about this range of issues and she described a presentation she'd heard  by an office in Audi which is responsible for thinking ahead.

Here's what Audi is thinking about for 2030. There will be, in every country, some really well off, affluent, well educated, gated communities. Think of them as 21st century castles with walls and surrounded by peasants. And within Tokyo there will be a really high castle with moats around it. There will one of those within Cambridge, Massachusetts, Seoul, Shanghai and Johannesburg.

All of those castles will communicate with one another because they'll have really great telecommunications but none of them will communicate with the peasants in their own country. Audi thinks that's likely to happen and they're figuring out how they can sell cars to these gated castles. But I think that's a really dangerous social and political scenario.

Therefore, we have to think, not how to stop internationalization, but what we can do within our own countries to be sure that we spread the benefits of globalization to other people in our communities. I want to increase my taxes a lot. That's why I think Trump's tax policy is crazy. It's crazy because what we rich folks ought to be doing is paying higher taxes so we can invest in the education of those I was calling peasants.

――Some education experts say school should focus more on soft skills. How do you think about the view?

I agree that Americans are underinvesting in soft skills. One of my recommendations is about the decline in extracurricular activities. This is not nostalgia. We know from hard evidence that playing football or playing in the band or orchestra in fact teaches soft skills. It teaches teamwork and it teaches grit.

In my youth, in every place in America, extracurricular activities were free for all kids and most took part in them and the evidence is very clear that taking part in those activities, including sports, increases your soft skills and raises your lifetime income. Employers now will pay more for the skills that were learned playing trombone or playing football. I think extracurricular activities are particularly good at that because they're also fun. I think extracurricular activities are actually are almost a magic bullet.

But now, in Port Clinton if you want to do extracurricular activities, your parents have to pay about 800 dollars a year. Eight hundred dollars is nothing if your annual income is half a million dollars. But if your annual income is 15,000 dollars, it's a big deal. That's why in this book I said to the reader put the book down, go down and pound on the table of your school board and say, "Stop charging for extracurriculars."

Most of that gap between rich kids and poor kids is formed before kids get to school. The school is the site where you can see the problem because schools test. So you can see the problem in schools, but it's not the source of the problem. My favorite solution is universal, high-quality early childhood education to try to get at the deeper roots of the problem.

――What would be a possible solution in order to tackle inequality issues?

The most important issue facing America now, is not exactly what policies we should pursue like high schools or early childhood education, but rather, how do we create the political will in America to deal with that problem. Because at the moment, nobody's dealing with it. I think the solution will have to be found in a decentralized way. It'll have to be found at the state and local level, not in Washington, because Washington is much too polarized. It will have to be found by ordinary citizens in local communities getting together to solve the problem and then turning out the solution that they find in Toledo or the solution that they find in Atlanta, works across the country. That's how the high schools evolved a century ago. It came from the bottom up. It didn't not come from Harvard professors. It came from ordinary people.

――While we have more foreigners in Japan, we don’t have a clear immigration policy and they usually lack social capital in our society. How do you see the situations in Japan?

I'm always reluctant to comment on some other country because it's not my country--partly I don't know enough and partly it's not my role, since I’m not a citizen of Japan.

But, let me respond. In America in the last fifteen years, I have never been in a taxi cab that wasn't where the driver was not foreigner. One hundred percent of the taxi drivers in New York or Washington or Boston or Cleveland are immigrants. But, so far I've taken about twenty taxi rides here and none of the drivers have been foreigners. They've virtually all been middle-aged Japanese men. Maybe you're right when you say that Japan is becoming more diverse, but it hasn't yet reached taxis, so by that simple measure, you have a long way to go before you reach the level of diversity and immigration characteristic of other advanced countries.

I think Japan is an amazing country. But your Achilles heel is the fact that this is not an immigrant society. It is a very homogeneous society, certainly in comparison to other countries. And here's the dilemma. Becoming an immigrant society causes further problems. That is, in the short run, rapid immigration hurts social capital. Exactly for the same reason Japanese people resist immigration.

But, in the long run, being an immigrant society is a big advantage. It's America's biggest advantage. The most important asset that America has is that we're a diverse immigrant society. We don't do it perfectly, of course. That is why Americans are now fighting about immigration, but for historical reasons we’re less bad at it than more homogeneous societies.

In our history, we have learned how to get through the process of becoming an immigrant society and then to reap all the benefits of being an immigrant society. Becoming an immigrant society in Japan would cause problems. But, not being an immigrant society is becoming more dangerous every year for this country in my opinion.

You can see it in the age structure of your population. Every modern society faces a problem of declining birthrates and therefore, aging, but this problem is much worse in Japan. Who is going to pay for your retirement? There just aren't that many Japanese kids. That's a big problem. If I were in Japan, I would be really worried. I would be more worried about this problem than any other problem. Honestly, I'd be more worried about this problem than the North Korea nuclear weapon.

Maybe you can try the temporary guest workers idea which you were describing. But that solution was tried in Germany, and it turned out to be a disaster. The idea that in the long run you can have a class of people who are living here, increasingly important to the Japanese economy, but are going in and out and not really an accepted part of this society is the worst of all possible worlds. Every successful immigrant society has got to learn how to create a more encompassing sense of “we,” and how to create a national identity that is not limited to the national identity of the original people.  That’s not easy, but in the long run the alternatives strike me as worse.  But I repeat, I’m not Japanese, and I’m reluctant to tell you how to balance these risks.

■For Japanese version, see:盤石に見えるトランプ氏、しかし静かに「中年女性たちの反乱」が起きている