I was struck today by the contrast between two articles. Both examined the plight of working-class white Americans, a largely ignored and (I think) underrated segment of the US body politic; but their attitudes and conclusions were radically different. In that difference, I suggest, lies one major reason for the rise of Donald Trump.
First, here's Michael Cooper with an excerpt from 'A Message from Trump's America'.
I live in Trump's America, where working-class whites are dying from despair. They're dying from alcoholism, drug addiction and suicide, trying to take away the pain of a half century's economic and cultural decline.
. . .
... if there are winners and losers in America, I know the losers. They lost jobs to China and Vietnam. And they're dying younger, caught in an endless cycle of jail, drug charges and applying for disability to pay the child support bill.
They lost their influence, their dignity and their shot at the American Dream, and now they're angry. They're angry at Washington and Wall Street, at big corporations and big government. And they're voting now for Donald Trump.
. . .
His supporters realize he's a joke. They do not care. They know he's authoritarian, nationalist, almost un-American, and they love him anyway, because he disrupts a broken political process and beats establishment candidates who've long ignored their interests.
When you're earning $32,000 a year and haven't had a decent vacation in over a decade, it doesn't matter who Trump appoints to the U.N., or if he poisons America's standing in the world, you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.
There's more at the link.
Compare and contrast his attitude to that of Kevin Williamson.
Williamson ... essentially agrees that he doesn’t support any policies or rhetoric directly tailored to the working-class — particularly about jobs being taken by outsourcing and immigration — because it would be wrong to do so.
“It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces,” the NR roving correspondent writes. “[N]obody did this to them. They failed themselves.”
He then goes on to state that all the ills associated with downscale whites are a result of that class’s inherent depravity.
“If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy—which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog—you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that,” Williamson state.
He then goes on to make the conclusion that it’s great these communities are dying out because they have a warped morality and are a dead weight on the economy.
“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible,” the conservative writer says. “The white American under-class is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul. If you want to live, get out of Garbutt [a blue-collar town in New York].”
Again, more at the link.
I think there are several points that should be made about both articles. They include (but are not limited to):
- Like it or not, the 'working class' in America will cast the deciding votes in a number of US states where they're concentrated. Their political force may be regionally restricted, but in a presidential election where every state's electoral college votes count, they can make the difference between winning and losing.
- It seems to me that both the conservative and liberal/left-wing/progressive establishments are trying to paint every Trump supporter as belonging to the downtrodden 'poor white' or 'white trash' working class. They're trying to brand all of them as underachievers, no-hopers and die-hard racists. I think that's very far from the truth. Nevertheless, by doing so, they're effectively fomenting an alliance between groups that would not have considered themselves allies in the past. Trump has become their standard-bearer. "If those idiots are against him, he must have something; so I'm for him!"
- If you treat people like dogs all the time, sooner or later those dogs are going to bite. I've seen this happen with people who mistreat animals. "You've beat me down and starved me all this time; well, let me give you something to beat me about! I'm going to bite and scratch the hell out of you. Let's see how you like it!" The same reaction, in political, social and cultural terms, can be a very dangerous thing . . . especially if those adopting it believe they have nothing to lose.
Finally, let's consider that 'poor whites' are becoming mainstream, economically speaking. Yahoo Finance reports:
Walmart is facing a "perfect storm" that's hurting its sales growth, according to Moody's.
The company's core customers are struggling with flat income levels, and savings from lower fuel prices aren't translating into more retail spending, Moody's vice president, Charles O'Shea, wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday.
The business is also under pressure from deflation in key product categories, such as food, and the effects of the strong dollar abroad.
"Walmart is facing an almost perfect storm when it comes to top-line growth," O'Shea wrote. "Until the health of the lower-to-middle-income consumer improves, Walmart will continue to face macroeconomic headwinds in the US."
Walmart said last month that it's expecting virtually no sales growth in the coming fiscal year.
More at the link.
Walmart is a very important bellwether. A couple of years ago Daily Finance opined, "As the fortunes of many Americans go, so goes Walmart, so goes the economy." Its core customers aren't just 'poor whites' - they range from lower to upper class, poor to rich, from East to West and North to South. If Walmart's in trouble, it's an indicator of serious economic concerns across the country . . . and those concerns are being laid at the door of the 'establishment' (on both the left and right of US politics) that has allowed them to persist for far too long.
There are now far too few 'haves' and far too many 'have-nots' in US society. The latter are Donald Trump's core constituency, irrespective of race, creed, color or other 'traditional' social identifiers. The establishment has so far failed miserably to address that reality.