In January 2018, three economics professors — NYU’s Hunt Allcott, Stanford’s Rebecca Diamond, and Chicago’s Jean-Pierre Dubé — published a paper on so-called food deserts. They concluded that lack of nearby healthy food accounts for only nine percent of nutritional inequality. The main reasons people eat poorly are because bad food is what they want, all they can afford, or both.
Just for kicks, four months later a Portland-based non-profit called City Observatory compared the 2016 presidential election map with Allcott, Diamond, and Dubé’s map of healthy eating patterns and concluded that “Overall, there’s a pretty strong correlation between the two data series.” States that generally make good food choices tended to vote for Clinton; states that generally make poor food choices tended to vote for Trump.
It’s not the most rigorous comparison, and I can see how scholars might cavil with the use City Observatory made of the data. But it sure has the ring of truthiness to it. Would anyone dispute that this is the Junk Food Presidency?
Not only does Trump himself consume mass quantities of junk food, he serves it to White House guests. (Definitions are in order here. Junk food tastes good but has little nutritional value and may even do the eater harm. Fast food is delivered quickly but may have plenty of nutritional value. A Venn diagram of junk food and fast food would almost certainly show considerable overlap between the two.)
The junk food mentality goes beyond the literal into the metaphorical. This is a president who embraces junk science, the most odious example being his assertion that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He also embraces junk culture, starring in a reality TV show and acting on suggestions from Kim Kardashian (shame on all of us for knowing who she is) while conferring upon an artist only one of the 16 Presidential Medals of Freedom he has issued — to Elvis Presley, dead more than forty years.
Then there’s junk politics. The junk food of politics, the stuff that tastes so good while doing such harm, is anger, fear, and resentment. Yet without those primal emotions, Trump would have zero public appeal. His political success is based on his boundless sense of victimhood, which he vents daily — not just on his own behalf, but on behalf of a base that feels passed by, disrespected, and even persecuted.
In 1984 musician Paul Simon was interviewed for Playboy by Tony Schwartz, the same writer who ghost-wrote Trump’s Art of the Deal (and greatly regrets the latter). I was beyond Playboy by then (yeah, sure!), but Simon & Garfunkel were my first musical love, so I bought a copy of the magazine to read the interview. I don’t remember what Simon said about S&G’s breakup, but I do remember him saying this: “Not everyone has the opportunity to be sufficiently sensitized to what is genuine. If you were raised with a lack of exposure to quality, I think it would be more difficult to recognize it. If you just eat Big Macs all your life and someone serves you the finest French food, I don’t think you will necessarily appreciate it.”
Precisely. This is why Trump’s base is immune to factual argument. Facts are wholesome intellectual sustenance. If you’ve been raised on intellectual junk food like popular culture, Biblical literalism, argumentation without evidence, and conspiracy theories, it’s easy to push away a plate of the real thing.