George Boardman: Working-class whites can’t get respect from anybody these days
Observations from the center stripe: Dr. Kildare edition
THANKS TO the internet, anybody — even those without a medical degree — can become arm chair experts on Hillary Clinton’s health … SINCE THE media is getting ripped from both sides for its coverage of Clinton, they probably have it about right … IT’S ALSO encouraging that two of Donald Trump’s children terminated interviews because they didn’t like the questions … RAPPER JAY Z makes a good point about states that are legalizing the use of pot: White men are getting rich for doing the same thing black men went to prison for … ON THE other hand: A new study claims opioid abuse is down in states where medical marijuana is legal …
Working-class white people are as bad off as Rodney Dangerfield — they can’t get respect from anybody.
Hillary Clinton is the latest leader to show the back of her hand to the former bedrock of America, saying half of those who support Donald Trump belong in a “basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it.”
This being an election year, Trump and his Republican supporters immediately tried to turn the statement against her. Of course, Trump referred to the same people as “poorly educated, I love the poorly educated,” after winning Nevada’s Republican caucus in February, a reflection of the fact that he does very well with whites who have a high school education or less.
All of this started in 2008, when Barack Obama described rust belt whites whose good paying union jobs have disappeared as “bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustration.”
(Some people, including the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, think you can throw Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” statement into this mix, but I think most people believe Romney was referring to, you know, those other people.)
Clinton and Obama made their comments to groups of wealthy contributors, most of them white and many of them self-identified as progressives. Many of them have an aversion toward, even contempt for, their fellow Americans who are white and sinking economically, who don’t sound or act like people urban progressives want to know.
This antipathy started developing in the 1960s, when liberal northerners abandoned the white South by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The South turned from blue to red and no Democrat running for president has captured a majority of the white vote since 1964. Obama won about 40 percent of the white vote in 2012, about average for Democrats in the last 50 years.
Other forces were at work during this period to change the America we have known since the turn of the 20th century. The surge of immigrants over the last 20 years has profoundly shifted the nation’s demography — whites are a decreasing majority and will become a minority if the trend continues.
Economic inequality grew in the same period. Since around 1980, real wage gains have been negligible or negative for the lower 50 percent of wage earners, modest for the next 49 percent, and generous for only the top 1 percent, according to government data.
Democrats have struggled to keep the white working class in the party. While the media liked to focus on Bernie Sanders’ support from the young and progressives during the primaries, he far outdistanced Clinton among working-class whites by portraying them as victims of our global, high tech economy. Economic populism has bipartisan appeal.
But the Republican Party has not been a satisfactory destination for working class whites throughout the country that feel abandoned by Democrats. The ideology that has governed the party’s actions since the 1970s — anti-government, pro-business — has little appeal for millions of ordinary Republicans. The base of the party, the middle-aged white working class, has suffered as much as any group because of globalization, low-wage immigrant labor, and free trade.
Trump’s genius is that he sensed the rage and pain caused by these policies and made it the fuel of his campaign. But Trump is like the dog that finally caught the car — he’s making up the solutions as he goes along, offering simple remedies for complex problems, portraying issues as black and white instead of various shades of gray.
Thus, we can solve the illegal immigration problem by building a wall at the Mexican border, keep good paying jobs in this country by penalizing companies that move the work overseas, and rectify the perceived foreign trade problem by tearing up the agreements we have now. One and two will not happen, and number three will create economic chaos if Trump carries out the threat.
Trump’s support is fueled by blind faith because nobody really knows what he will do if he gets elected. He has already back-tracked on sweeping all 11 million immigrants out of the country—he’s going to focus on the criminal element first—and his new maternal leave proposal is the kind of entitlement program conservatives have been railing about for decades.
The people who are channeling their rage into support for Trump aren’t likely to be any happier four years from now if he gets elected. The Republican establishment — you know, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan — will still be running Congress, and people like Rep. Doug LaMalfa will still be promoting welfare for farmers who don’t need it.
Then there’s our system of government, which demands broad, durable majorities before it will permit major change. The founders empowered the federal government to solve national problems, but only after consensus was reached.
The Democratic base has been emboldened by the notion that the poor are poor because the rich are rich, and the conservative base is angry at those people perceived as taking their country from them. Our politics have been reduced to a tug of war between envy and resentment.
Try to build a consensus out of that.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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