Working-class people matter! This is particularly true as it relates to White working-class people to hear the mainstream media tell it. After his unexpected largely unexpected victory in November 2016 over heavily favored rival, Hillary Clinton, (to be fair, documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore, historian Alan Licthman and a few others predicted his win) current commander-in-chief Donald Trump’s triumph was viewed by many political bloggers, columnists, television pundits and others who reside within the habitually frantic and frenzied sphere of political and journalistic circles, as the result of White working-class anger, fear and resentment.
While there was/is undoubtedly some kernel of truth (a small one) in such assumptions, the fact is working-class people of all races Black, White, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc… were angry, restless, frustrated and filled with a deeply intense state of anxiety about the direction that our nation was heading and still are.
Nonetheless, hearing, reading and viewing endless reams of commentary and hours of supposedly knowledgeable and “spot on” commentary from talk radio heads and network panelists that largely often amounted to little more than non-verifiable psychobabble, one could have easily been convinced that such despair and uncertainty was solely relegated to lower-income White people.
Indeed, over the past few years, there has been no shortage of case studies, op-ed pieces, town halls, special reports and other political entities focusing the disenchantment of the White working-class and democratic Party’s failure to address the needs and concerns of this sizable segment of disaffected voters. The immense popularity of best-selling author and venture capitalist, J.D Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis .and investigative journalist Beth Macy’s, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Companies That Addicted America furthered contributed to the microscopic, laser-focused attention given to the White working class.
Admittedly, once the initial shock had settled as to what happened that fateful Tuesday night in 2016, it was somewhat amusing (in an admittedly perverse manner) to witness late-night talk show hosts, journalists, academics, a few clergy, as well average Joe’s and plain Jane’s in bars, restaurants, health clubs, coffeehouses and various other venues frantically engaged in fierce Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, afternoon and evening quarterbacking. Various scenarios and theories were bandied about as to how such an outcome could have possibly occurred. The level of intense head-scratching that occurred was notable to put it mildly.
No reasonably politically astute person can deny that many lower-income and poor White people (those that voted) pulled the level for Donald Trump. However, a large number voted in considerable numbers for Hillary Clinton as well. On the contrary, some of Donald Trump’s strongest support came from voters making $75,000 or more per year. Thus, the political scenario that eventually played out was more complex than has been described by many who are supposedly politically in the know.
For those lower middle class and working-class voters who pulled the level for the businessman, reality television personality and now, president, factors such as economic anxiety, racism, sexism, xenophobia and other vices likely did indeed play a part in their decision.
To be blunt and keep it real, the Trump campaign engaged in a blatantly racist, sexist, xenophobic, divisive campaign. Indeed, Trump and his sinister minions strategically and mercilessly preyed upon and exploited the fears of white voters who were resentful of immigration, affirmative action (despite the fact that White people and White women) are the biggest beneficiaries of the policy, multiculturalism, gay marriage and other issues that have frequently been seen as anathema to a number of (not all) members who reside within this voting demographic
These were/are the citizens who invested their hopes in Trump when he stated that he would make “America great again.” These were/are the socially and culturally conservative voters who longed for the “days” when heterosexual, able-bodied White men ruled. Where non-White Hispanics and other dark-skinned, non-White immigrants were largely non-existent. A nation where Blacks and, in some cases, Jews, were occasionally seen, certainly not heard from, and deprived of any sense of dignity, fairness and equality.
Women were largely relegated to second-class status, were of no competition in the workplace, had to often quietly overlook or turn a blind eye to infidelity or spousal abuse and were largely relegated to objects of sexual objectification. Gays and lesbians were seen as less than human, regarded as deviants, perverts and unworthy of any form of respect. Disabled people were seen as quasi-human, burdensome and semi-tragic figures. Yes, for a sizable percentage of this segment of American society, these were supposedly indeed the “good ol’ days.
The problem with such an analysis is that such a reality never existed for a large number of Whites. Period. This is particularly for the segment of the disaffected working-class and lower-income Whites that are following and supporting Trump. Like their parents and grandparents of mid-20th century America, many of these White men and women were products of blue-collar families and communities that were subjected to acute economic deprivation and formidable levels of adversity.
Public schools that were subpar or adequate at best. Class snobbery and condescension from their more upscale White brethren. Lower life expectancy due to inadequate health care and related environmental factors etc… It short, as J.D. Vance, Beth Macy and others have argued, these largely economically disaffected White folks had /have a lot more in common with their non-White politically and socially disenfranchised cohorts than they realized.
Historically speaking, many of these marginalized White voters have either failed or stubbornly refused to acknowledge this reality. Rather, on the contrary, these are the men and women (mostly men) who have largely bought into the arrogant, brash, and largely misguided illusion that if they worked hard enough, were smart enough, good at what they did, attractive enough, married a respectable spouse, conscientiously socialized in the correct social circles, harbored condescension, disdain and/or contempt toward the right people (e.g., poor people of color, feminists and other radical women, gays and lesbians, many minority groups, Jews and other non-Christians, the disabled, etc.) that they could rapidly ascend up the social-climbing ladder and head ever onward toward pursuit of the American dream. In essence, they adopted the philosophy of embracing White privilege whether consciously or unconsciously.
Rather, many people of this age and racial demographics have come to the abrupt realization that the ladder has been pulled out from under them. Forces such as rabid levels of global outsourcing, neo-liberalism, unchecked globalization and other factors (conditions thrust upon them by other more elite Whites) have contributed to their unenviable predicament. Thus, they see no light at the end of a very dark and desolate-looking tunnel.
These are the Whites, particularly those who are lower-income, who have suffered drastic levels of economic and emotional instability and dysfunction. In a society that often equates whiteness with power and success, falling short and being unable to fully partake in such achievements undoubtedly magnifies the psychological pain and resentment of many members of this social demographic.
Without sounding too much like blaming the victim, the fact is that from a psychological standpoint to some degree, a number of these men and women have contributed to their own predicament due to their continuing decision to whistle in the dark coupled with their rampant denial as it relates to reality. Perhaps this will change.
This post was previously published on Medium.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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