Do you ever get angry? Do you ever get mad? Do you ever get really frustrated? Of course, you do. You’re a human. You’ve got plenty of reasons to be ticked.
You’re probably overworked. You probably don’t make enough money. Your kids probably aren’t that well behaved. You probably have dreams you know you’ll never achieve or a vision nobody believes in. And you’ve probably got people in your life that just drag you down.
It would be no exaggeration to say, that in our modern, bureaucratized, over-rationalized, over-sexualized, and over-mechanized world, that we are pinned down by our environment, our context, and our situation. Most of us, we’re stuck.
After all, there is a reason why many of our younger generations have turned so readily to Leftist or socialistic ideologies. We’re desperate to find ways out of the predicament; that is, our inability to navigate our unnavigable world. And it is for the most part getting the better of us, which leads us to feelings of being stuck. And we just keep getting angrier and angrier about it.
Perhaps, more than any other people group in America, despite how bad they all have it, truckershave the greatest reason to be pissed. And they sure are.
Today’s episode, Angry Men Revisited, considers why truckers are angry. I’ll talk about the difference, the important difference, between “apparent” anger and “abstract” anger. I’ll explain why trucker anger matters, and I’ll begin to explain why we should care.
For those of you truckers listening in, welcome. I’m here to tell your story, but in a way that’s never really been done before. I’m one of you, but also very unlike you in many ways. And that’s OK.
For everyone else, I welcome you, too. You’re impacted by truckers every day, much like the engineers that keep our lights on, or the plumbers that keep our water running, or the mechanics that keep our cars on the road. Everybody needs a trucker, so you should know more about what’s going on under your nose.
To describe what’s going on isn’t very easy. There aren’t many things that are similar to trucking, or the problems related to it. But if I had to draw up a comparison, I might try this.
The current public debate on climate change is kind of like the discourse on trucking. They’re both public taboo, regardless of whether or not someone can speak intelligently about them one way or the other. In that way, they’re similar. But they’re also very different. What’s particularly interesting to me, climate change is hotly contested. People argue about whether or not it’s even a real thing, let alone what to do about it. Trucking, however, is not that inherently conflictual. In fact, it’s not really conflictual. Instead, it’s what theorists would call a “subjugated discourse,” which is just a fancy way of saying that something is very little talked about (and for not so obviously complicated reasons). We don’t debate that trucking is a problem, and we don’t debate its importance; in fact, we don’t really debate much about trucking at all. And that’s the point. There’s very little public attention on the whole trucking thing. It’s not on our radar.
So, to put it simply: truckers are ticked and nobody cares. And so far, nobody’s given America a great reason to care more than it does. By not caring, we’re causing a uniquely American, emergent crisis that we can’t and aren’t willing to notice. We’re in the process of creating what Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls a “Black Swan”, a crazy event that nobody expects to happen. But I see it, and that’s why I created The Preppy Trucker, a platform and a concept that finally is able and willing to put trucking on the map, to make sense of it and come up with real solutions for real problems.
Now without further ado, I’m Tom, your host for this podcast. Let’s get into today’s topic.
Understanding this whole trucking mess began a few years ago for me when I called the election of President Trump nearly two years before he was elected. After he won in November of 2016, having placed friendly bets with my closest pals, I cashed in on my apparent genius and gloated as often as possible.
You see, I tend to be right about these kinds of things; not that it actually helps me much, though. After all, I am still a lowly trucker, having never really capitalized on my foresight for any significant financial gain. But nevertheless, I knew about the college loan problem years before it was ever talked about by the media, I knew my father shouldn’t have bought a monstrous house before the market collapse in 2008, and I knew Trump would win the Presidency in 2016.
Without much data to support my claims, I went against virtually all political theory and projection modeling in my Trump prediction. I adamantly said Trump would win. It started as an intuition; you know, the kind that knows you’ll roll a “7” at the craps table and leads you to pull back your bets at just the right time. But I didn’t leave it there at intuition. I didn’t just roll the dice. I quickly developed a rationale that better explained why I knew Trump would win.
And it all had to do with anger; a deep, collective, public sentiment of anger. And of course, I turned out to be right in the end, because as the campaign went on my suspicions were confirmed time and time again in the riots, the protests, and the embittered road signs strewn about America’s highways. It was right before our eyes the whole time. People were pissed.
Shortly after the election, I picked up a book called Angry White Men. It explained everything I already knew, but in a much better way than I could have ever done myself. Michael Kimmel, the book’s author, explains why white American men are pissed off at things. And perhaps better than anywhere else in his book, he sums up his whole argument in one paragraph. Listen to this:
‘The new American anger is more than defensive; it is reactionary. It seeks to restore, to retrieve, to reclaim something that is perceived to have been lost. Angry white men look to the past for their imagined and desired future. They believe that the system is stacked against them. Theirs is the anger of the entitled…’
After reading Angry White Men, the Trump phenomenon made complete and total sense to me. Trump represented a massive public sentiment that yearned for how things used to be. He represented the freedom of the past, where men could be men. He represented a turn against the Leftist idealisms spreading quickly across American institutions and younger generations. He was the one who could get things done. He could be different than our typical politicians. He could make America great again. He could make us happy again.
I’ll just let that hang.
A book I read more recently, Independents Declared, one of what I call ‘The 7 Books of Trucking,’ compared the cowboy to the trucker showing that as much as the nostalgic image of the cowboy framed the vision of 1970s and 1980s hey-day truckers, the reality was quite something else. Truckers weren’t as independent as they thought they were; they were actually very dependent.
Regardless, many modern-day truckers still think the cowboy, the lone-ranger, represents a haloed vestige of what trucking is all about: freedom. Like the angry white men Kimmel was talking about, truckers are deeply desirous of a past world where men could freely pursue their American dreams. And just like fervent Trump supporters who believe that unbridled pursuits of freedom pave a much better path forward, truckers want to be made happy again, too. They want a simpler, freer world; not much unlike the rest of us. But they don’t know how to get it.
This is what causes deep, systemic trucker anger. Truckers are angry because they lack freedom, because they lack resources, and because they lack real power. Worse yet, they don’t know how to get those things, which makes them powerless. They’re stuck, so they’re angry.
But as much as this conceptual explanation for their anger makes sense, truckers’ everyday anger doesn’t actually point directly toward this abstraction. Truckers feel regular everyday pain, which makes them apparently, or expressly, angry. This, what I’m calling “apparent” anger about first-order everyday things, is what leads the entire industry to mistake symptoms for real problems. So, let’s talk about everyday trucker pain.
First, the truck is more than a just rolling box with a bed; it’s more like a fiefdom for little kings. Everyone knows road rage, it’s a human thing. When you’re in a car, you feel like the road is yours and that everyone else should get out of the way. When you’re in a semi, it’s even more so. You’re higher up, you’ve got a bigger, better view, you do it for a living, and you’re much larger than everyone else on the road. The semi-truck is a little kingdom for road-raging kings who believe that all the little Prius peasants should just “get out the way!”
Speaking of which, let’s get this out the way, too: most people suck at driving. ‘Tis true, I’m afraid. If you’re listening to this, you probably suck at driving. You also probably think you’re a good driver, but I’ll tell you from personal experience that nobody’s ever really good enough. And if you’re a trucker, as much as 20% of all road accidents can be attributed to you; which means that if we line you up with four other random trucks at a fuel island, at least one of you sucks at driving.
If you’re offended by this, good. Because here’s what I find funny, if you ask a trucker what they’re most angry about, one of the most common responses is: “bad drivers.” Sometimes it’s just so easy to point the finger, isn’t it?
Now, I’m being a bit facetious, here. But my point is true. Road rage runs rampant on our truck routes. And why not? When your entire livelihood largely depends on what happens out on the road, it’s very easy to get mad when things don’t go quite right. I get mad all the time. Interestingly, as much as we can all relate to this road rage thing, it only makes up a mere slice of the trucker anger pie. There are plenty of other things that make truckers angry.
Perhaps what ticks off truckers more than bad drivers is how little they get paid. 50% of all truck drivers make less than forty grand a year. After taxes, they can barely afford a place to live, a smartphone, decent food, and everything else that modern American life requires. Their job is a lifestyle, and it entails very limited and sporadic sleep, hard labor, poor conditions, and very low pay.
Even worse, over-the-road truckers are away from home well over 200 days a year. Most, like myself, spend over 300 days a year on the road. Most don’t have families. Most don’t have many friends; or if they do, they rarely see them. Most work twice as much as other American workers, and very little of their work time other than driving gets compensated. I’d say that’s a pretty sucky deal. I’d be mad, too.
But it goes far deeper than that. In a recent New York Times article, truckers indicated all across America that they feel like “throw-away” people. They don’t feel like they’re respected, and they don’t feel important. In my experience, there’s great reason for this. I make more money than almost all truck drivers. I dress better. I’m, uh, a tad more articulate. My truck looks nicer. It even runs better, too. Yet despite all those factors, I still get little respect from dock workers or load brokers. They assume I can’t read or write, and they assume I can’t handle things professionally. And if my experience is poor, then for the average trucker it’s even worse. We’re not considered fully human. We’re just truckers.
Ironically,truckers play one of the most important roles in our nation’s operating model. They deliver more than 80% of our daily use goods. They get us our stuff. Without truck drivers, our economy would come to a screeching halt. Forgive the pun. You’d think that a job so important would be considered important. But if you thought that, you’d be wrong. Almost all truckers feel daily pain from this general oversight, and they are mad about it.
And since truckers are so easily overlooked, they’ve become a fringe society. They’re almost a separate class of people, and on their own they live a nomadic lifestyle completely segregated from all social circles. Unless you’re one of the few who make a good living doing it, who have the freedom in their weeks off to join a Harley ride to Sturgis, you don’t get out much. It’s a ton of work to just get to the Post Office or to the DMV. And to hit this point home, just to show up to the polls and vote costs me about $3000. If you want an explanation for how that makes any sense, just send me a quick note. I’ll send you my separate list of grievances.
Which leads me to another point. Truckers don’t have any political leverage. This is unsurprising, though, since it’s even difficult for us to cast our vote. There are only a handful of advocacy groups that work on Capitol Hill on behalf of truckers, in fact. OOIDA stands out among the small crowd. But a vast majority of even their lobbying efforts come up short, to the point, in fact, that a current group called Black Smoke Matters have taken up arms to fight against the oh-so terrible anguish of the ELD (aka, the electronic log device).
Truckers hate these things. In a nutshell, they keep solo drivers from being able to fudge their log books and make more money. I won’t get into the details, but that’s the gist. It’s not just another case of old farts resisting new technology or new practices, it’s a case of folks who have no political power to advocate for their wages or their well-being. It’s all about the money and their lifestyle.
But Black Smoke Matters, a clever pun on recent protest movements, in attempt to gain Congressional attention, makes the matter about personal privacy and freedom through appeals to constitutionality. They’re trying to raise the bar of trucker anger to a point of national and constitutional appeal. They’re trying to professionalize their voice. You see, Congress forced truckers to use ELDs, and many truckers feel it’s a violation of their privacy to be followed so closely. But what’s really going on here is that truckers have far less control over their wage-earning, due to increased regulation of their operations, and (a very important “and” at that) they have no other mechanism to vie for their ability to make money or improve their working conditions. They are at the very bottom of a social, economic, and political food chain.
In this way, truckers feel stuck and taken for granted. They feel powerless, and they are, indeed, powerless. They’re angry about their everyday lives, the regular things that people get pissed about as well as the very meaning of their lives, the deeper more symbolic things that paint their personal picture. If it weren’t for their practical importance to society, they would be truly forgotten.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” I’ve always liked that phrase. It resonates with me on a deeply personal level. But perhaps more than ever, it makes sense to me now. Truckers, and their situation, are terribly misunderstood to the point that even they don’t really understand it. But their service is great, one of the most important to our nation. And they are overlooked. They are misunderstood. They are great.