Neo-liberalism is, essentially, a scheme for a utopian capitalism whose ideal is best summarised as: “Everybody an entrepreneur!” The entrepreneur is considered the ideal and preferred type, and anything “less” than that is deemed to be simply a failed entrepreneur. So, that means you either lacked the requisite talents, killer instincts, or merit of the entrepreneur (and so, unworthy and undeserving) or that, somehow, the game was “rigged” against you — at least, the latter is how many of Trump’s supporters interpret things.
The promise of utopian capitalism was, give up your working-class organisations, start your own business and, with open borders and free trade deals, the “world is your oyster”. A “rising tide lifts all boats”; but, first, of course, you’ve got to lift yourself up by the bootstraps and build your own boat in order to sail the stormy seas of a global free market, coming soon to a location near you.
Utopian capitalism is as much a scheme for a classless society as Marxism was a scheme for a classless society. The “New Capitalist Man” (or Entrepreneur) was as much an ideal of classless society as the “New Socialist Man”. Both, in their extremity, however end up making cartoon caricatures out of a human being, either as “rugged individualist” (or “rootless capitalism”) on the one hand, or eternal proletarian on the other.
A good many people have bought into this fable of the entrepreneur, and of an economics of winners and losers in the great game of utopian capitalism. If it’s not working out as the fairy tale described, if Santa hasn’t delivered up the promised land, it must be because “the game is rigged” and because “there’s no level playing field” and not because there is something askew with the ideals of utopian capitalism.
Not only are you expected to build your own boat in order to sail the stormy seas of the global free market, but it’s also a case of “get big, or get eaten!”, so you’re little boat must be yacht-sized, and ideally bigger than anybody else’s yacht — a Noah’s Ark of a yacht. So, it all adds up to a formula for frustration and resentment, particularly if you bought tickets to the game and it was cancelled without an explanation or a refund.
(The global market as your oyster and a paradise for the self-employed is probably true if you are a used-book seller, and can avail yourself of online marketing and distribution hubs like ABEBooks).
Of course many people are disillusioned with the promise of an entrepreneurial utopia, especially if they bought into it in the first place, and most of those people form the demographic behind Donald Trump in the US or “Ford Nation” (or the conservative “Base”) in Canada, and elsewhere. I’ve questioned whether that demographic supporting Trumpism can be at all accurately described as “white working class” because that is rather atypical of authoritarian movements of the Right, and it is not characteristic of “Ford Nation” or the conservative “Base” in Canada. Authoritarian movements of the Right typically draw their support from the demographic called “the petty bourgeois” (or actually, “petite bourgeois” or small property owners) who feel themselves squeezed between a ruling class or a Middle Class that they aspire to join, and the fear of falling into the “Lower Class” or working class status. They are, in that sense, in a kind of “no man’s land”, and in that state often characterised as “anomie“. In Canada, at least, it’s often associated with suburbia or “the suburban mindset”.
In the US, a number of writers have challenged the media profile of the average Trump supporter as being predominantly “white working class male”, and the latest was Kansan Susan Smarsh writing in today’s Guardian: “Dangerous Idiots: How the liberal media elite failed working class Americans” in which she challenges the notion that the authoritarian impulse, or the attractions of authoritarianism, are coming from the “working class”. I think she’s substantially correct, because her profile of the demographic that backs Trump is very similar to the demographic that backed Stephen Harper in Canada or “Ford Nation” around the Toronto area. Traditionally, this has been called “petite bourgeois” and it was, indeed, the backbone of the fascist movements in Europe between the World Wars, and who felt themselves to be vulnerable, without status, and without the economic and political protections, too, of the working class organisations.
It’s the sense of being caught in a no man’s land betwixt and between, rootless, that characterises the mentality that is called “petite bourgeois” that breeds frustration, bitterness, and resentment and quite reactionary attitudes. Therefore, it is this demographic that is most susceptible to believing strange conspiracy theories, that the game is rigged against them, and there is “no level playing field”. It’s for this reason, too, that Hochschild’s “Deep Story” (as discussed earlier) appeals to them, because it does place them “betwixt and between”. They have neither the more liberal, tolerant values usually associated with the name “Middle Class”, nor the more socialistic values of solidarity of the “Working Class”, and for this reason it was earlier called “Third Way”, which today now goes by the name “Alt-Right”.
Given this, the scene is set for a “stab in the back” theory for when Mr. Trump loses the election (which he evidently will, barring something really bizarre). In fact, Mr. Trump is already preparing the way for a “stab in the back” theory with his insinuation that, should he lose the election, it was because it was rigged. So, this is not going to go away just because Mr Trump loses the election.
I don’t think much will change, at all, until the narrative of utopian capitalism is put to rest, and the entrepreneur ceases to be the political and social ideal.