I’m a member of a blue-collar crowd
They can never, no, they can’t keep us down
Suddenly, tout le monde is talking about how white working-class voters elected Donald Trump.
Law professor Joan C. Williams recently published an article in the Harvard Business Review that does a good job explaining the appeal of Donald Trump – a flamboyant, New York City billionaire – to working-class folks in places like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
Williams attributes Trump’s success with less affluent white voters to what she calls the “class culture gap.”
“One little-known element of that gap is that the white working class resents professionals but admires the rich,” Williams writes. She says that “class migrants” – by which she means white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families – report that their parents were suspicious of more-educated professionals and middle management (who were described by one blue-collar worker as people “who don’t know sh*t about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job”).
I fit the definition of “class migrant” to a T. My father worked for a dairy, delivering milk to local grocery stores and restaurants. My mother worked at a country club, so she had plenty of contact with the local elite – doctors, lawyers, bankers and the like – many of whom rubbed her the wrong way.
(I’ll never forget a crusty old teacher of mine describing the country-club set as people who frittered away their days “punching golf balls, shuffling dice, sucking on cigarettes, and sipping beer through a straw.” He would definitely have voted for Trump over Clinton.)
According to Williams, Hillary Clinton “epitomizes the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite.”
The dorkiness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorables. . . . Look at how she condescends to Trump as unfit to hold the office of the presidency and dismisses his supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic.
Trump said a lot of stuff that more-educated and affluent voters found offensive. But blue-collar workers liked his straight talk – especially given his opponent’s penchant for being evasive and secretive.:
Clinton’s clunky admission that she talks one way in public and another in private? Further proof she’s a two-faced phony.
Williams doesn’t doubt that sexism had something to do Hillary Clinton’s defeat. But she points out that white working-class women voted for Trump over Clinton by a huge margin — 62% to 34%. “Class trumps gender,” she concludes.
Williams states correctly that anyone attempting to understand Trump’s appeal to blue-collar workers must avoid the temptation to characterize them as racists:
Economic resentment has fueled racial anxiety that, in some Trump supporters (and Trump himself), bleeds into open racism. But to write off [white working-class] anger as nothing more than racism is intellectual comfort food, and it is dangerous.
If you’re skeptical of her argument, let me point out that many of the working-class whites who supported Trump had voted for Obama in 2012 – surely you don’t believe they all turned into racists four years later?
Williams also is correct to point out that “working class” doesn’t mean “poor” – and that policies aimed at helping the poor aren’t going to win over working-class voters:
When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. . . .
“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,” a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. [White working-class] men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is . . . steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.
Finally, Williams explains why the working class resents the poor and politicians who focus on their needs:
Remember when President Obama sold Obamacare by pointing out that it delivered health care to 20 million people? Just another program that taxed the middle class to help the poor, said the [white working class], and in some cases that’s proved true: the poor got [government-subsidized] health insurance while some Americans just a notch richer saw their premiums rise.
Progressives have lavished attention on the poor for over a century. That (combined with other factors) led to social programs targeting them. . . . Example: 28.3% of poor families receive child-care subsidies, which are largely nonexistent for the middle class.
Kevin Drum made the same point in 2014 in Mother Jones:
And who is it that's responsible for this infuriating flow of government money to the shiftless? Democrats. We fight to save food stamps. We fight for WIC. We fight for Medicaid expansion. We fight for Obamacare. We fight to move poor families into nearby housing.
This is a big problem because these are all things that benefit the poor but barely touch the working class. Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope. They're still paying taxes, and it seems like they never get anything for it. It's always someone else.
You can click here to read Drum's article in its entirety.
Williams offers a very telling anecdote about working-class resentment of the non-working poor:
[M]y sister-in-law worked full-time for Head Start, providing free child care for poor women while earning so little that she almost couldn’t pay for her own. She resented this, especially the fact that some of the kids’ moms did not work. One arrived late one day to pick up her child, carrying shopping bags from Macy’s. My sister-in-law was livid.
That’s it in a nutshell. People like Williams’s sister-in-law believe that the government takes care of the poor (including those whose poverty is really their own fault) but couldn’t care less about the working class (who aren’t that much better off, but who get much less help from the government).
Williams credits Trump with keeping his eye on the prize when it comes to the working class’s primary concern, which is jobs. What about the Democrats? “They remain obsessed with cultural issues,” Williams writes. “I fully understand why transgender bathrooms are important, but I also understand why progressives’ obsession with prioritizing cultural issues infuriates many Americans whose chief concerns are economic.”
* * * * *
Lee Brice played football at Clemson University but his athletic career ended when he suffered a freak elbow injury. So he moved to Nashville and became a country musician.
Brice struck it rich in 2007 when a song he co-wrote, “More Than a Memory,” was recorded by Garth Brooks. That record became the first to ever debut at the #1 spot on the Billboard “Hot Country Songs” chart.
Brice signed a recording contract shortly after that. He’s released three successful albums and a half-dozen or so hit singles – including “Love Like Crazy,” which remained on the “Hot Country Songs” chart for a record 56 consecutive weeks.
“Drinking Class” was a #3 hit single for Brice in 2014.
Here’s “Drinking Class”:
Click below to buy the song from Amazon: