An acclaimed liberal sociologist examines “the increasingly hostile split” between America’s two major political parties and “how life feels to people on the right—that is…the emotion that underlies politics.”
Five years before Donald Trump’s presidential bid caught fire, Hochschild (So How's the Family?: And Other Essays, 2013, etc.) decided she wanted to better understand the political and cultural divides in the United States by immersing herself in the anti-government tea party culture so foreign to her own beliefs. Traveling regularly from her Berkeley, California, home to Lake Charles, Louisiana, the author arranged to spend large amounts of time with tea party members and additional self-identified conservatives to figure out how they came to their beliefs. Hochschild felt especially puzzled by the paradox of Louisiana residents residing in dangerously polluted areas yet opposing environmental regulations proposed by both the state and federal governments. Though upset by seemingly racist, sexist, ageist, and economic class hatreds among the men and women she came to know, Hochschild says her determination to observe empathetically rarely flagged. She quickly realized that many of the stated views held of the tea party members were often not fact-based but rather grounded in what life feels like to them—e.g., government feels intrusive, liberals feel condescending, members of racial and ethnic minorities feel lazy and threatening. Trying to imagine herself as the Lake Charles residents viewed themselves, Hochschild vowed to immerse herself thoroughly enough to comprehend what she terms their "deep stories,” and she felt grateful that the tea party members who found her views offensive nonetheless shared their time and thoughts generously. At times, Hochschild flirts with overgeneralizing and stereotyping, but for the most part, she conducts herself as a personable, nonjudgmental researcher.
A well-told chronicle of an ambitious sociological project of significant current importance.