Pulitzer-winning playwright Lynn Nottage spent two years in Reading, Pennsylvania—the poorest city in America—interviewing its residents for her latest play, Sweat. While there, she learned some fundamental truths about why certain white voters are gravitating towards a candidate so incendiary as Trump: “nostalgia,” she tells the Guardian, for a time when the locus of power was centered on them.
Trump’s campaign slogan—“Make America Great Again”—functions tangibly as a dog whistle, and Nottage articulates that point perfectly:
“I think that’s why Donald Trump is someone they gravitate towards because he speaks like a fascist and he’s a nativist and all those things.”
The Republican frontrunner says he will “make America great again”. His strongest support is among a white working class coming to terms with both post-industrialisation and a more racially diverse America. Nottage, who is African American, continues: “It’s this fear that their power base is eroding and not wanting to move toward an America that’s more inclusive, and trying to hold on to something past.
“In the play one of the characters says, ‘Nostalgia is a disease’, and I do believe that it’s a disease that many white Americans have. They’re holding on this notion of what America was, even though we know it never was that. It’s this false notion of America. It was never great, at least from my point of view. It was always problematic. The ‘golden age’ was for like a handful of people.”
In Sweat, reports the Guardian, Nottage explores the racial divisions within Reading, which separate—and segregate—based on an increase in Latinos living in what had formerly been a majority-white steel town. The white residents, she said, openly scapegoated the Latinos for their economic woes, yet in speaking to the steelworkers in particular, she said they sounded a lot more like Bernie Sanders’s “socialism.” “I think that Bernie Sanders is definitely articulating something that is in the air,” she said, “that people feel as though corporations have too much control over the outcome of our lives, that the middle class has been diminished to the point where by and large we have no voice.”
It’s a great piece of insight from an important artist of our time, and it’s worth reading the whole of it.
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