The American media has been on a 2 year quest to untangle exactly how Trump got so popular and who exactly is voting for him and the strange group of republicans who, for better or for worse, have hitched their wagon to this unfortunate train of events.
The Impoverished Passion of the White Working Class
The Atlantic wrote an insightful article about a book I’d already read called White Trash. White Trash is a 400 page history of class in America and how much of the British class system was imprinted on our society. In the early days of the colonial period, many of the elite in Great Britain looked at America not just as an economic opportunity for raw resources but as a way of getting people out of an ever-crowded island. Many politicians at the time thought that the best way to get rid of street urchins and homeless people was to pack them up in ships and send them to the wilderness of Virginia. And in many cases, through indentured servitude, that’s exactly what happened. Press gangs joined up drunkards and other men that were otherwise unoccupied to the British Navy and others were simply put on ships headed for the new colonies in America.
Much was promised but little was delivered. The myth of work and free land was replaced with basic slavery and servitude to wealthy people who actually owned land. The distribution of land was tightly controlled until independence and many of the people who had been shipped over were no better off than they were in the UK.
One of the biggest achievements of the American system was to break down these barriers to success so that theoretically, at least if you were white, you can buy land and create your own success. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness is the foundation on which this nation has been built. At least so we were all told. However, for poor white people, the story has been a bit different.
The Suffering of the Working Class
Although most of the racial tensions focus on the south, it’s prevalent elsewhere and the fear of the other permeates the culture. The lived experiences of white people, especially those that are poor are quite dire. And while the culture of hard work and a hope for better times remains, the chances of that actually happen seem to be slipping right through their collective fingers.
One of the best movies that illustrates this is a film called, “Gods Pocket” (it’s on Netflix). It narrates the life of working class people in a neighborhood in Philadelphia and their unique struggles, seen mostly through the eyes of a popular newspaper reporter. Philip Seymour Hoffman delivers a great performance in the film and it illustrates the longitudinal nature of poverty.
The White Working class has been adversely impacted by all sorts of economic, demographic, and social changes in the country and Trump was their moment to rebel.
It’s obvious that the American economy has changed since the Great Recession. However, the economic changes started before that. Employment in manufacturing began its decline in 2000 from 1.8 million jobs to it’s current rate of 380,000 jobs. Part of that decline is due to increased trade with China and Most Favored Nation trading status with the United States but NAFTA, CAFTA, and other international agreements have taken their toll. Automation has also taken its toll. Right now we’re working on a post about the manufacturing of cars and through the videos we’ve sourced, you can see the amount of workers decreasing through the decades. Industries that used to employ tens of thousands, now employ fewer people and still get the same amount of work done.
These economic changes have far reaching effects. The small and medium sized towns, where most Americans live, have been hollowed out. The stores and restaurants that employed people and created ancillary jobs and a sense of community. Those who can’t or won’t move are left behind with towns that only have the bare necessities. Often, even the essential stores don’t survive and that leads to food deserts. Payday loan stores and pharmacies pile up while grocery stores close.
I raised 3 kids, I was a soccer and hockey coach, my first husband was military and my second husband was also military. I owned a store. What do you mean I haven’t worked hard enough?A working class friend on being denied disability for her health because she hadn’t worked enough hours in employment.
Although much less so in Appalachia and elsewhere, the mid west has become home for many incoming immigrants. These immigrants take on low paying and back-breaking work in agriculture and meat packing. They have moved into small towns, gotten jobs, started stores and have created a new existence in their new country while many poor whites end up on the public dole. That can create a perception of immigrants taking all the jobs. The facts don’t support that but the lived experiences of people do. A staff member here at Rouges told me that his father missed a promotion because of a diversity hire and he was still angry about it. His family is solidly working class.
Neither political party has been terribly interested in actually helping working class people. Presidents have paid lip service to it and stood on factory floors proclaiming their love for and ability to solve the problems of the working class and no one has really ever delivered on that promise. Obama spent quite a bit of his campaign lampooning past policies in these areas but didn’t implement any policies that actually moved the needle. Only now, in 2019, have democrats started to talk about working class talking points and that has most come from Justice democrats, a far-left wing of the democrat party. In short, white working people have been left behind. Until Donald Trump arrived.
Trump Said the Magic Words
The savvy reader will notice that my main points on why the White Working class voted for Trump in droves are also the main points of his campaign. He lampooned Washington’s broken politics, attacked immigrants, and bemoaned trade agreements and started a trade war with China. He picked up where other politicians left-off and made those experiences his entire platform. Isn’t a wonder why they voted for Trump. He said all the things they had been thinking and feeling for 30 years. It’s why they ignore the scandals and ignore the ignominious tweets. They want their towns back, their jobs back, and their world back. They want what they’ve lost. The chance to have an honest, dignified job, that pays well and provides for their community. Where they can feel like they have a chance to get ahead. I recently watched a documentary on Meth in the heart land called, “Meth Storm.” A young man, who looked far older, admitted that if he had a job, he wouldn’t do meth or at least only on weekends, maybe. The town where they live has few employment opportunities and none of them pay very well.
Democrats Have a Problem
In order to fix this, democrats have quite a bit of back peddling to do. Democrat presidents signed many of those trade deals. Democrats have taken a globalist view and demanded that white working people compete with cheap labor over seas. When they can’t, they are simply left behind with little social safety net to catch them and even fewer opportunities to get ahead. Democrats have to walk-back (somehow) their policies and try to fix the mess that they have created. The Republicans aren’t off the hook here either. They might claim to be the party of the regular working person but their policies, especially tax cuts for the wealthy and their gutting of the ACA, belie their true feelings. It’s money for the monied class and scraps for everyone else.
To Stop Trump, We Need Social Policy
The mainstream media has been trying to figure out how to stop Trump and to understand how anyone could for vote for someone so narcissistic and vapid. Trump is not the disease, he is merely an opportunistic con-man who saw a situation and took-advantage of it. If you want to prevent Trump for keeping power, start with sweeping social reforms that actually solve the problems that regular working people have been trying to survive. The children live in their parents houses because housing is impossible to get in many places and the jobs are fewer. In a global economy, regular workers have been left behind in developed economies. While other countries protected domestic industry, we threw open the doors and we’ve been the collective loser. While immigrants and a global economy have made this country even richer, those riches have not been evenly distributed. The rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer. Donald Trump is not merely a buffoon, he is a revolutionary act by people with no hope.
And that’s why Donald Trump got elected.