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Donald Trump takes working-class whites down with him

17 Comments

They thought this was their moment.

After decades of feeling politically marginalized, a significant bloc of white working-class Americans saw Donald Trump as their long-awaited standard bearer. True, Trump was imperfect, with all his unfiltered arrogance, but he seemed to understand their plight and exasperation.

The Republican presidential nominee's spiraling demise, however, likely spells continuing political exile for his most frustrated supporters.

"I am your voice," Trump memorably asserted at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, speaking directly to a substantial portion of the American public he calls "the silent majority."

One key reason this constituency has felt silenced is that both Democrats and Republicans, over the past 30 years, were cautious about making direct appeals to white working-class constituencies in national elections.

Both parties stopped short of Trump's overt nativism and bigotry because they can turn off growing ethnic and minority voting blocs. They also avoided direct support for Trump's economic protectionism because it worries the centrist business lobby. Democrats and Republicans both likely calculated it was not worth alienating ascendant constituencies to attract one in decline.

Consider: Barack Obama won both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections with more than 50 percent of the vote, despite double-digit defeats among white voters without college degrees. Before the 2016 cycle began in earnest, the party establishments viewed working-class white voters as, at best, a destabilizing force on attempts to assemble broad, centrist coalitions and, at worst, a diminishing, enigmatic afterthought.

Trump's revolutionary nomination returned working-class white voters to broader consciousness. But based on my recent book research on this demographic, it is not clear that Trump's policy agenda is actually what attracted these voters to his campaign.

Rather, for many of his supporters, Trump represents a powerful protest vote - a middle finger to political elites in both major parties that have ignored, dismissed or condemned working-class white people and failed to deliver meaningful change for decades.

Indeed, what does it say about the state of working-class white political representation when the best "voice" these voters could find for the past few decades is a wealthy, jet-setting, Manhattan real estate developer with no clear party affiliation?

Still, many working-class white voters believe Trump's improbable ascent embodies their own resurrection to political relevance. But his flagging campaign has reinforced the perception in Washington that it is impossible to make this populist appeal without repelling the New America coalition that elected Obama - single women, African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, working women, younger voters and gays.

When political insiders dismiss Trump's populism, it often plays directly into a pervasive moral narrative about working-class white people in the United States. Many commentators broad-brush these voters as antagonists who cling to the unfair advantages of an earlier time. They are cast as resistant to progressive changes and intent on maintaining power over women and minorities who challenge them not only in the workplace but also in their personal lives.

Poor white people are conventionally portrayed as a last vestige of the era when white men regarded professional advantages and personal privileges as their due - with Trump as its last gasp. White working-class people are often treated as cultural deviants, whose earlier work ethic has decayed along with their moral scruples.

Many white elites, descendants of men who achieved through prejudiced systems of promotion, now vilify poor whites, perhaps to distance themselves from the past.

Meanwhile, working-class whites can only embrace the past. The mid-20th century was the last time politicians purposefully sought their vote, the last time full-time jobs were well paid and reliable, the last time their families were whole.

Since then, members of the white working class have experienced a steady drift to precariousness. Reliable, well-paid, full-time work for Americans without college educations has become harder and harder to find. Jobs became increasingly contingent, and so did other relationships that defined white working-class lives. Divorce rates skyrocketed, drug use became epidemic, more children were born out of wedlock.

The problem for white working-class people is that the past of economic stability and togetherness is inextricable from the outdated manufacturing economy and racial division that Trump's candidacy has also promised to restore.

It will likely be easy to dismiss a Trump defeat as a rejection of his protectionism and bigotry, which would ignore the structural factors that increasingly entrench poor Americans

  • white and nonwhite.

With his decline in the polls, Trump may have only deepened the marginality of these supporters. Rather than build the foundation for a future political movement, he has sought to set fire to what he calls a "rigged" democratic system by questioning its integrity.

It is the belief in such conspiracy theories that kept many discouraged white working-class voters from participating in elections. In decrying democracy itself, Trump only weakens the system further by alienating a substantial portion of the electorate going forward.

The silver lining for Republicans is that, in doing so, Trump may return the party to them in its state before June 2015, largely unaffected by a deflated fringe of white working-class people grumbling on the periphery.

They can then pretend that 2016 was all a bad dream, and that the structural forces that led to Trump's rise don't really exist.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2016.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
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Make America Great Again is really code for Make America White Again. IMO, one of the keys to America's strength, other than being protected by two oceans, has been its embrace of newcomers. Many hands make the work easier, and different ways of looking at problems help to find solutions. Radical conservatism is a threat to our way of life, not the solution.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

BS!

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

What a cobbled together load of nonsense.

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Reads like a bit of ebb-and-flow to me.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Interesting article. Gives you something to think about. Less than a week to go. We'll see how it goes..

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Only left wingers think in terms of race and division. Most of trumps support is everyone from any background fed up with the political class tyranny which has been oppressing and stealing from everyone for decades, with the people who are, anti Hillary the corrupt also supporting trump because only the branwadhed actually think hillary is a good idea even though she started Arab spring, wars sparking off slavery and a terror army while she runs a RICO criminal cartel through the Clinton foundation. By the way, the author must be using polls from 3 weeks ago, trump is trending to a, win and is, ahead in most polls.

-10 ( +2 / -12 )

Most of trumps support is everyone from any background fed up with the political class tyranny which has been oppressing and stealing from everyone for decades

You're actually correct - Trump's supporters are from various backgrounds and fed up with the political tyranny. But if you look at the demographics of his supporters, the main bulk of them are uneducated white males, 50 years or older: http://www.people-press.org/2016/07/07/2-voter-general-election-preferences/

0 ( +3 / -3 )

the main bulk of them are uneducated white males

Amazing that that many 50+ year olds are still alive having never gone through a 1st through 12th grade education. ;)

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

Amazing that that many 50+ year olds are still alive having never gone through a 1st through 12th grade education. ;)

Fair enough. I should have said lesser-educated.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

@Strangerland

Interesting. According to your link, 62% of Clinton supporters make less than $30,000 a year.

No wonder they want Clinton to win! More handouts. It is also interesting that Blacks and Hispanics respresent the largest segment of welfare recipients and vastly support Clinton over Trump.

Welfare recipients = Black @ around 40% and Hispanics @ 21% (followed by around 18% Asian for a 3rd place). Democrats are natural targeting them like they do every election cycle, yet they seem to keep on the plantation.....

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

According to your link, 62% of Clinton supporters make less than $30,000 a year.

Not according to the link I provided.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Yes it is!

You clear didn`t go through your own material very well....

Take a look a Vote Preference Chart under column 2016 at the bottom where it indicates income.

-5 ( +1 / -6 )

Take a look a Vote Preference Chart under column 2016 at the bottom where it indicates income.

You're not so good at reading charts are you.

Add up all the numbers in that column. Explain to me why the number adds up to way more than 100.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

One key reason this constituency has felt silenced is that both Democrats and Republicans, over the past 30 years, were cautious about making direct appeals to white working-class constituencies in national elections.

A good way to identify dog-whistle racism or when someone has privilege but is utterly oblivious of it is when they try to pretend that white working class constituencies have concerns that aren't being served by appeals to other working-class constituencies. Most policies that are good for the working class are as good for working class whites as they are for working class non-whites.

However, there are some white people who find it terribly upsetting that people who don't look like them are succeeding when they aren't. These people are able to imagine an argument that white working class people need special treatment because their operating concern isn't their working class-ness, it's their whiteness. Basically, they want to by default be better off than someone. And in their anger they turn to Stormfront affiliates, alt-right nationalism, and Russian professional trolls until eventually someone as incompetent as Trump starts to sound like a good idea.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Thanks, Mr Gest. You hit the proverbial nail on the head with your article ! RIGHT ON !

0 ( +1 / -1 )

keys to America's strength, other than being protected by two oceans, has been its embrace of newcomers.

This makes it sound as if Americans(ie, white Americans) have, by and large, welcomed immigrants with open arms which couldnt be furthest from the truth. Many white Americans can't even be bothered embracing African Americans, let alone newcomers from other countries.

The US has been far from being magnanimous in accepting immigrants. It has done so out of economic self interest, with those in power understanding that a growing economy requires a steady supply of exploitable cheap labor.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I don't think Donald Trump is a "working class White." Article seems to be a divide and conquer tactic. But, generally speaking having a strong "working class" helps everyone else top and bottom and is good for the economy.

A good article to feed the race/class baiters.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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