Hochschild developed a particular interest in why people who had suffered so much from deregulation were working so hard for politicians who wanted more of it. The energy and plastics companies that employed many of them were turning southern Louisiana into a gigantic chemical dump. Hochschild spent time with a plumber who had emptied toxic waste into a river, only to suffer years of guilt and regret, and with fishermen who coped with pollution by studying which fish flushed out the chemicals quickly and might still be O.K. to eat. She met local environmentalists, village ideologues who holed up in remote cabins, measuring the quality of the water—but they were often Tea Party supporters, too. Leaving the cabin of two environmental activists, Hochschild noticed a bundle of lawn signs for the local Tea Party congressional candidate, awaiting distribution.
At a Tea Party focus group on Lake Charles, Hochschild met a woman named Jackie Tabor. “Pollution is the price we pay for capitalism,” Tabor, the wife of a contractor, told her. While proudly showing Hochschild her subdivision house, Tabor explained that she had grown up poor in Chicago. She relied on welfare as a child and was briefly homeless. Tabor had a strong sense of the fragility of her own position. “This could all vanish tomorrow!” she said, gesturing around her living room. Tabor wanted clean air and water, Hochschild writes. But she also felt that she benefitted from things staying as they were. “Sometimes you had to do without what you wanted,” Hochschild writes, from Tabor’s point of view. “You accommodated.”
At the same focus group, Hochschild met an insurance saleswoman named Sharon Galicia, who moves the sociologist closer to the Trump phenomenon. Galicia had spent some years working as the management agent for a trailer park, and the lives of her mostly white renters there, Hochschild writes, “appalled and unnerved her.” Some of them had “matter-of-factly admitted lying to get food stamps,” Galicia told Hochschild. Hochschild also spoke to a woman named Janice Areno, who said that she knew construction workers who quit their jobs “so they can draw unemployment to hunt in season.” This evidence of social decline had complicated how Galicia and Areno saw their communities. The failings of their neighbors had become more obvious to them.
People have the right to lie. And other people have the right to listen to them, and believe the lies if they choose. Improved media literacy might reduce the latter group by instilling critical-thinking skills more widely. But journalists can at the very least make an effort not to make things worse, as so many are doing today.
Whatever they try, media people have to do something to regain some control over their integrity. Right now they’re being played for suckers by manipulators whose propaganda skills are vastly better than journalists’ apparent ability to do their jobs.
As it happens, I favor Hillary Clinton in this race. But this isn’t about advancing the interests of a particular candidate. When she lies, she should be held to the same standard. It's about changing the structural incentives for all candidates—and for journalists.
Debates are only one part of the problem. There’s absolutely no excuse for TV news channels to let campaign surrogates lie on air. A simple policy change would fix that: Lie once, and you never appear on our programs again. Period. Maybe there’s an endless supply of dishonest surrogates, but maybe not.
Ironically, civil liberties and freedoms can make us more vulnerable. We need to remember, at all times, that terrorism is a form of violent theater, played out to an audience of both sympathizers and victims. Its purpose is to bolster the morale of its supporters and demoralize and frighten the victims and their communities. Terrorists aim to make their victims overreact in fear and dread. But to make good decisions, we need to keep the risk in perspective. If we are to prevail in the war on terrorism, we need to remember that the freedoms we aspire to come with great obligations. And these obligations involve not just fighting terrorism, but also managing our own terror.