One that is down fears no fall

One that is down fears no fall
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The common fear of falling often becomes an intrusive thought process, especially for the physically fragile. In this state, there is recurrent anxiety about falling and its associated injuries and emotional distress. Similarly, political analysts have tied the fragility and anxiety of predominantly white conservative working class Americans to their notions of falling in society. They harbor a last place aversion, which postulates that those near the bottom of the ladder strive to maintain their own position through their attempts to block the rise of those they believe to be inferior.

The ideology of white supremacy is not limited to this group. It pervades all arenas of our society, ranging from our encounters to our institutions. Unabashed supporters of white supremacy reveal this with their loyalty to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSchumer: Impeachment trial will be quick, doesn't need a lot of witnesses Nurse to be tapped by Biden as acting surgeon general: report Schumer calls for Biden to declare climate emergency MORE. In the current system, the billionaire turned president used his wealth and power to take advantage of the poor and to amass greater fortune for the rich. Yet many at the bottom flock to him as their savior. Their last place aversion fuels a strong resistance to change.

Populism builds resistance to the last place and flourishes in this state of affairs. Trump funneled scarce resources to his campaign and magnified his business fortune and political influence. While the paradox of the blind allegiance of this group to Trump is difficult to understand, it is in line with the fragility of their social status and their last place aversion.


Populism idealizes a vision larger than oneself. Reckoning with the system implies that one cannot make it to the top, so affiliation with a significant project of national esteem provides them with comfort. Cultural diversity and pluralism have no place in this vision. Zealous Trump followers rage against their impending status loss, as social movements challenge old racial hierarchies and demand the redistribution of power.

Americans who live below the steps of the ladder consist of minorities, the poor, and the criminalized. They are disenfranchised, often based on their birth circumstances, which Warren Buffett terms the ovarian lottery. They can exhibit no fear of falling, since there is nowhere lower. They are stuck beneath the last place in spaces of poverty and despair.

In San Francisco, the destitute live in tents and on the streets, as they do across the country. They sweat and shiver in flimsy shelters battered by extreme weather. They eat from the trash. They walk through human and animal waste. They sleep on concrete sidewalks. For them and also many others, their lives started with detriments and upstream mechanisms out of their control that sealed their entrapment within the last place. Many people live in despair without jobs, housing, and health care.

Americans in prison have no last place aversion. Countless minorities receive draconian punishments for misdemeanors and other nonviolent crimes. Some languish in jail with no funds to hire lawyers. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani instituted laws that were tough on crimes, which promised New York residents that aggressive policing and arrests would prevent minor infractions from turning into more serious crimes.

In Florida, Democrats introduced legislation to allow felons to vote after they rejoined society. Disregarding the will of the people, the conservative majority Supreme Court refused to overturn the denial of the legislature controlled by Republicans of the right to vote to felons. Many felons live with permanent criminal records that will bar them from participation in our elections and economic activities for the rest of their lives.

Our society inflicts such harm on those allocated so little by the ovarian lottery, while benefiting those allotted the most. Many poor whites share similar circumstances with many poor minorities. Trump and his allies in Congress have pushed those whites closer to the last place, despite their embrace of populism. The result ensures that those people excluded from participation in societal activities will challenge societal norms.

Danielle Taana Smith is a professor of African American studies and the director for the Renee Crown Honors Program with Syracuse University.