|Image by Julian Sancton for Esquire, February 2011.|
A few weeks ago it struck me as a funny idea to think of the Trump electorate as 1990s teenage MTV nihilists Beavis and Butt-Head, grown to middle age, by way of some kind of political or postpolitical headbanging, heh-heh-heh, but then I started hearing about this paper by Anne Case and Angus Deaton detailing an ongoing crisis in the health of undereducated white American men between, say, 30 and 64, of just staggering proportions, comparable to the AIDS crisis back then, in which these guys are dying, apparently, of anomie, chronic joint pain and sciatica, and financial worry, shooting themselves, overdosing (on pills or alcohol), or systematically destroying their livers.
That means, quoting from the summary by Paul Campos,
Between 1998 and 2013, all-cause mortality for white non-Hispanic Americans (WNHAs) rose from 382 to 415 per 100,000. For WNHAs with a BA degree or more it declined from 235/100K to 178/100K. For WNHAs with some college but no BA it went from 291/100K to 287/100K.
For WNHAs with a high school degree or less, mortality rose from 601/100K to 735/100K — a 22.3% increase in mortality, in an overall social context in which mortality rates for almost all other groups are dropping by an average of around 2% per year.
For WNHAs with no college education, the annual suicide rate rose from from 22 to 39 per 100K, deaths from liver cirrhosis rose from 27 to 39 per 100K, and overdose deaths rose an astonishing 314%, from 14 to 58 per 100,000 per year. All told, middle-aged WNHAs with high school degrees or less experienced 135 more deaths per 100,000 per year in 2013 than in 1998.At a time when death rates for almost everybody in the world, with exceptions like Syria, perhaps, are falling.
We should be accustomed to understanding that the fears of middle-aged white Americans are real, even though their understanding is off base. When they complain that illegal immigrants and sneaky Chinese are taking all their jobs they're wrong, I think, but the disappearance of jobs is real. When they cry that gay people and uppity women are destroying the institution of marriage they are definitely mistaken, but they really have a hard time forming and holding onto families, and it's not something they can take all the blame for themselves, it's really not. (A lot of blame, if only because they're pigs with women and kids, but that's how they were raised, and anybody who told them to be different sounded like a hypocrite and a fool.)
Also I don't want to hear, at the moment, that black guys have it worse, although they do, because at least things are getting, however slowly, better; where our less educated white guys seem to be falling, rapidly, into a Russian-style catastrophe, or worse (Russian authorities can historically juice the male mortality rates by making vodka harder to obtain, and they do that once in a while). The right thing is sort of being done, one drop at a time, for black men; for white men without the B.A. things keep getting worse.
Voting against your interests in what's-the-matter-with-Kansas style, or perpetuating a bad situation by not voting, like the 73% of Kentucky voters who stayed home yesterday as if to dare the Republicans to take away their health insurance, is the same thing, it's a cry of pain. Threatening to vote for Trump, or Carson, ups the ante from hurting to suicidal, I'm not even kidding.
Not that I know what to do about it. What do Beavis and Butt-Head do if you offer them cheap health insurance and some kind of training program to move them into an $18-an-hour job? They don't believe you, and they don't think it would make that much difference if you were telling the truth.