Power  /  Retrieval

How 1980s Yuppies Gave Us Donald Trump

If it weren’t for the young urban professionals of the 1980s, we’d never have MAGA.

If you really want to understand Trump’s appeal, you need to go back a few decades to examine the social forces that shaped his rise as a real estate developer and remade American politics in the 1980s. Specifically, you need to wind back the tape to the 1984 Democratic primary, the almost-pulled-it-off candidacy of Colorado Senator Gary Hart and the emerging yuppie demographic that made up his base. They don’t remotely resemble the working-class base we associate with Trump today. But together, they helped shift the Democratic Party’s focus away from its labor coalition and toward the hyper-educated liberal voters it largely represents today, eventually creating an opening for Trump to cast Democrats as out-of-touch elites and draw the white working class away from them. In fact, if it weren’t for 1980s yuppies and the way they shifted America’s political parties, the modern MAGA GOP might never have arisen in the first place.

By the beginning of 1984, the yuppie phenomenon had been quietly building in America for several years. For nearly a decade, a small but distinct subset of baby boomers — well-educated college grads often hailing from the country’s most elite schools — had been settling in urban neighborhoods across America. Once upon a time, many of them had been part of (or at least identified with) late-’60s counterculture, but by now their values and priorities had shifted. Disillusioned by Watergate and the war in Vietnam, bruised by the rough economy of the late ’70s, they’d left their idealism behind and were focused squarely on their own success. They were intent on building amazing careers that compensated them handsomely, and on living with a kind of cosmopolitan sophistication — eating only the best food, buying only the best products, keeping their bodies toned at the upscale health clubs opening across America. They wanted lives, as the saying went, “on the fast track.”

Despite the new tribe’s relatively small numbers — just a few million of the roughly 75 million members of the baby boom generation — the media took notice. In January 1984, two young writers published a tongue-in-cheek paperback called The Yuppie Handbook: The State-of-the-Art Manual for Young Urban Professionals. The authors, Marissa Piesman and Marilee Hartley, hadn’t created the term “yuppie” — it had first appeared in print nearly four years earlier — but their book injected the term and the concept of yuppieness into the cultural mainstream. Within weeks of publication, Time did a big story on yuppies, as did at least a dozen newspapers across the country.

Of course, for all the hype yuppieness was receiving in those early months of 1984, it could have been yet another here‐today‐gone‐tomorrow media fad — the sociological equivalent of the Hula‐Hoop or Pet Rock. But then came the 1984 presidential campaign, and everything changed.