This weekend Saturday Night Live had a sketch that set the Internet abuzz and had Slate asking whether the skit was the “most astute analysis of american politics in 2016.”
The setup was “Black Jeopardy!”, a recurring bit on SNL that normally pits two lower-class black contestants against a wealthier and/or well-educated white contestant who is clueless about African-American perspectives on race and culture. This time, though, the white guy is a working-class (presumed) Trump supporter named Doug (played by Tom Hanks)—who isn’t as out of touch as we might assume.
One clue the contestants must reply to in the form of a question is, “They out here saying, the new iPhone wants your thumbprint ‘for your protection.’” Doug replies, “What is, I don’t think so. That’s how they get you.” That turns out to be the correct answer, and the other contestants weigh in with their agreement. Doug adds, “That goes straight to the government.”
The next clue is, “They out here saying that every vote counts.” Doug again responds with the correct answer: “What is, come on, they already decided who wins even ’fore it happens.”
The segment is funny because it gently mocks the weird views people have about our government monitoring and controlling us. Unfortunately, the reality is that many people on the lower end of the economic ladder take those types of conspiracy theories extremely seriously.
A primary reason they believe such bizarre urban legends is because they fear they are being judged, argues Amber Lapp. Lapp says there seems to be a link between the fear of judgment and distrust of authority in the working class:
Feeling judged—especially if you’ve previously been bullied or experienced trauma in the past—seems to initiate this fight or flight response. It’s a terrible feeling and one that a person will do a lot to avoid, like canceling WIC, and not scheduling that endoscopy, and walking out on a condescending manager.
And there seems to be a connection between this fear of judgment and distrust of authority. The perception is that authority is positioned “above”—looks down on me, sees me as “less than”—and a person does not easily trust someone who patronizes instead of understanding him. To trust requires some sense of being truly seen by the other. But judgment is a kind of blindness.
There are at least two wrong ways to respond to such mistrust. The first it to pander and make excuses for willful ignorance just because a person belongs to a particular social class. As the late Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” It is neither condescending nor “elitist” to point out when our fellow citizens are factually wrong or trusting unreliable sources or narratives. Because almost every American adult has a role in shaping the policies and politics, we should hold them to their duty to make choices based on reliable information.
The second wrong approach is failing to empathize and understand the point of view of low-trust working class Americans. Lapp is correct when she says, “policies and programs will only be effective in so far as the individuals using those aids feel that they are being treated by the larger society as equals with dignity and respect—as fellow human beings who are seen, heard, and understood.”
We need to ensure that our fellow Americans feel seen, heard, and understood. But they also need to feel that they can trust authority figures, especially ones that are running for the highest office in the land. In our cynicism about politics we have lowered the standard of trustworthiness until it almost non-existent. We admit that while our nominee may be corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest they at least have the virtue of being slightly less corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest than the other candidate. That viewpoint is more ignorant than anything Doug believes, and has the detrimental effect of furthering the cycle of distrust in authority.
If we want to restore the trust of low-income Americans, we need to ensure that they (and we) support only politicians and policies that are truly worthy of our support. If we don’t, then we are merely giving them more power to treat us as dupes. And as Doug would say, “That’s how they get you.”