Donald Trump and Working Class Whites

In the past few months, I’ve been reading with increasing dismay about the success of Donald Trump’s influence on the Republican primaries and the American political debate. I deeply disagree with his remarks on immigrants, Muslims, women and refugees. A large part of Trump’s current political support comes from a group that used to vote for the Democratic Party but since the 1990s has voted consistently with the Republican Party: the white working class. For the past several decades, white working class people with a high school degree or less have struggled economically as globalization has taken the jobs that used to be their access to a secure middle class way of life. Trump has capitalized on their fears by offering them scapegoats that have nothing to do with their economic plight. Eugene Robinson wrote in an article for the Washington Post:

Trump’s entire platform, such as it is, can be reduced to “us vs. them.” The overwhelmingly white, largely blue-collar crowds that fill his gargantuan rallies are buffeted by harsh economic realities and have good reason to be anxious about the future. Trump doesn’t give them solutions, he gives them scapegoats.

Recall that he kicked off his campaign for president last year with an outrageous libel against undocumented migrants from Mexico: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

In truth, immigrants are significantly less likely to commit crimes of any kind — including rape — than native-born Americans. But facts don’t matter when Trump chooses to point a finger of blame.

Jeff Guo wrote a perceptive article about Trump’s appeal among the white working class voters. Guo wrote:

In a paper published last month, Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton showed that over the last 15 years, white middle-aged Americans have been dying at unusually high rates. Most of those deaths were concentrated among people with only a high-school diploma, or less.

Polls say that the same kind of people — older, less-educated whites — are largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president.

This could be a coincidence. But it is nonetheless striking that Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” has been most enthusiastically embraced by those who have seen their own life’s prospects diminish the most — not in terms of material wealth, but in terms of literal chance of survival.

…what’s killing middle-aged whites is the opioid epidemic. It’s depression. It’s alcoholism.

These are, at least in part, diseases of despair and diminished opportunity. And it’s not too much of a stretch to connect this suffering to the economic forces that have hollowed out the middle and working class in recent decades and imposed pain on those without higher education.

…There is real unhappiness among less-education middle-aged whites in America, dissatisfaction and suffering that goes beyond what the bleak data on wages tell us. Case and Deaton’s research suggests that many who fit the Trump voter demographic are at higher risk of dying of drug overdoses, or suicide, or alcoholism. To understand Trump’s appeal, and his success, this is a good place to start. Why has a large swath of America seem to have lost hope? And why do they believe that Trump will make their lives better?

Harold Meyerson wrote for the Washington Post:

The news this week that the death rate of middle-aged American whites — more particularly, working-class middle-aged American whites — is rising, while that of all other Americans continues to fall, is appalling. But it should come as no surprise.

A study released Monday by Princeton economists Angus Deaton (the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics) and Anne Case documented that the number of deaths by suicide, alcohol use and drug use among working-class whites ages 45 to 54 has risen precipitously since 1999 — so precipitously that the overall death rate for this group increased by 22 percent. Death rate increases in the modern world are so rare that economists and public health scholars have been groping for equivalent instances. “Only HIV/AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this,” Deaton told the New York Times. A closer parallel might be the increased death rates of Russians, particularly by alcohol, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its economy — not only because the instrument of death was the same for both the Russians and our white working class, but also because the real cause in each instance was the end of a world that had sustained them.

…The rising rate of death is just one of two stories about a major share of the white working class that are making news these days. The other is the unexpected success of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump draws his support chiefly from working-class Republicans, who are attracted to his opposition to trade deals, his support for Social Security and Medicare, and his vilification of immigrants — a program similar to that of other nations’ right-wing racist-populist parties with working-class support, such as France’s National Front.

The rising death rates and the support for Trump are two very different stories about the white working class, but — without in any way equating them — they share some common roots: a sense of abandonment, betrayal and misdirected rage.

As a Democrat, I think progressives have to figure out some way to reconnect with the white working class that has been a big part of Trump’s electoral success and has helped the Republicans keep control of Congress during nonpresidential election years. There used to be a New Deal coalition of working class whites and minorities that elected Democrats like FDR and JFK. Progressive presidential campaigns like Bobby Kennedy’s presidential run in 1968 and Jessie Jackson’s run in 1988 attracted a coalition of working class whites, rural white farming communities and minorities.

We have to show that progressive policies benefit everyone, working class whites as well as the poor and the minority communities. This election cycle has shown what happens when we don’t connect with any struggling communities, they are vulnerable to falling prey to demagogues like Trump.

Noam Scheiber wrote for the New Republic:

if there’s one thing the past two midterms have taught us, it’s that it’s not enough to build a coalition that wins the presidency. Democrats need one that also turns out in non-presidential years to have any hope of enacting an agenda (or, for that matter, even staffing their cabinet). And, at this point, it’s far from clear that Hillary Clinton is a candidate built for both 2016 and 2018. In fact, it’s pretty easy to imagine an Obama-like coalition of young people, Latinos, African-Americans, and single women electing Clinton to the White House, then taking a breather two years later.

So Democrats need to find a way to appeal to an older, whiter electorate as well. Specifically, they need to find a better way to appeal to the white working class, which is where they’re getting clobbered. In last week’s midterms, whites without a college degree accounted for 36 percent of voters; Democrats lost them by a 30-point margin. In 2012, the margin was 26 points.

…there’s a coalition available to Democrats that knits together working class minorities and college-educated voters and slices heavily into the GOP’s margins among the white working class. (As Teixeira and Halpin point out, Democrats don’t need a majority of the white working class to hold their own in the midterms. They just need to stop getting crushed.) The basis of the coalition isn’t a retreat from social progressivism, but making economic populism the party’s centerpiece, as opposed to the mix of mildly progressive economic policies (marginally higher taxes on the wealthy, marginally tougher regulation of Wall Street) and staunchly progressive social policies that define the party today. The politics of this approach work not just because populism is a “message” that a majority of voters want to hear. But because, unlike the status quo, it can actually improve their economic prospects, as Harold Meyerson recently pointed out.

A video by The Nation Magazine about the 1988 Jessie Jackson presidential campaign. Jackson reached out to working class whites as well as the minority community to create a rainbow coalition that would challenge the establishment Democratic politics. Jackson participated in the picket lines of striking union workers and went to rural farming communities where farms were being foreclosed

Jesse Jackson spoke to protestors gathered on the Wisconsin Capitol Square in Madison, Wis. on Feb. 18, 2011. Protests and demonstrations were in response to provisions in Gov. Walker’s budget repair bill that would strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

The late progressive Senator Paul Wellstone spoke out for rights of unions, struggling farmers and the economic interests of the working class

The late progressive Senator Ted Kennedy and other Union Activists spoke out in support of the Employee Free Choice Act in December 2006 Washington DC

About angelolopez

I’ve wanted to be an artist all my life. Since I was a child I’ve drawn on any scrap of paper I could get a hold of. When I went to San Jose State University, I became more exposed to the works of the great fine artists and illustrators. My college paintings were heavily influenced by the humorous illustrations of Peter De Seve, an illustrator for the New Yorker magazine. I also fell under the spell of the great muralists of the 1930s, especially Thomas Hart Benton and Diego Rivera. I graduated with a degree in Illustration. Angelo Lopez has had illustrations published in Tikkun Magazine, the Palo Alto Daily News and Z Magazine. From April 2008 to May 2011, Angelo's cartoons were regularly published in the Tri-City Voice, a weekly newspaper that covers the Fremont, Hayward, Milpitas, Neward, Sunol and Union City areas in California. He did a political webcomic starring his cartoon character Jasper for the progressive blogsite Everyday Citizen. Since December 2011, Angelo does a regular weekly political cartoon for the Philippine News Today, a Filipino American newspaper based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Angelo is a member of the Sunnyvale Art Club, and the Northern California chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. During the 1990s, he was a member of the part-timer workers SEIU unit in the city of Sunnyvale. Angelo won the 2013, 2015 and 2016 and 2018 Sigma Delta Chi award for editorial cartooning for newspapers with a circulation under 100,000. He has also won the 2016 RFK Book and Journalism Award for Editorial Cartoons. Angelo won first prize for the Best of the West contest in 2016 and third prize in 2017. Angelo is married to Lisa Reeber. They enjoy taking walks, watching movies and hanging out with their nieces.
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