Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, March 19th, 2016.

The White Man Burden

Obama Administration

Most of us have grumbled about those working-class white male voters who keep getting snookered into voting against their own economic interests. And it isn’t always just about dog-whistles and gays, guns and God. You can find them supporting “right-to-work” laws that will have the effect of reducing their earnings, for example.

But would more, shall we say, informed votes have mattered much?

Ian Welsh’s Why Poor White Males Are the Core of Trump’s Support is worth reading. “Wages for working class white males peaked in 1968, forty-eight years ago,” he writes. I had thought the peak year was 1972, but whatever. It was some time back then. The point is that since the late 1970s wages for working class white men have relentlessly drifted downward. He continues,

“So, for damn near 48 years, poor whites have done terribly. For forty-eight years, ordinary politicians have promised to do something about it, and nothing has improved….

“It is a FACT that working class whites will not see any improvement worth mentioning under any normal politician, including Clinton. They may see an improvement under Trump, they certainly would under Sanders.

“They are voting for what they see as their interests, and they are not necessarily wrong. Certainly, Trump is more likely to help than Clinton, as the chance of Clinton helping them is zero. Zip. Nada.

“It is insanity to expect poor white males to accept 48 years of decline and not get angry. It’s perfectly reasonable for them to respond to a man who offers them a better life in a way that is different from all the politicians who have failed them in the past.

“Trump does not feel or campaign like an ordinary politician. Poor whites read this as: ‘He might not betray us like all the normal politicians do.’ …

“People become how they are treated. You have to feed the better parts of them if you want those parts to win. If half the ‘good jobs’ available to these people jobs that involve violence, if the remaining non-violent jobs (manufacturing) are disappearing, and if the rest of their jobs are ass, you should not be surprised that they become mean.

“You make them this way, then you demonize them for it.

“Trump does not talk to these people like he despises them. (Neither does Bernie.)

“Clinton does. She’s pandering, she knows it, and it comes through. The disdain drips.

“The quality of life for the average ‘white male’ peaked in 1968. Then, you call them trash, they have almost no good jobs, and you’re surprised they’re angry? You think they aren’t human? You think they are Jesus, and can be treated like crap for longer than most of them have been alive and that there won’t be consequences? You think that because other people are treated even worse, they will sublimate their own mistreatment?”

Speaking of Hillary Clinton, see also As Hillary Clinton Sweeps States, One Group Resists: White Men. There’s a meme going around social media that shows Hillary Clinton laughing under the caption “She can win without white men’s votes.” And she probably can. But she was singing a different tune eight years ago —

While Mrs. Clinton swept the five major primaries on Tuesday, she lost white men in all of them, and by double-digit margins in Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio, exit polls showed — a sharp turnabout from 2008, when she won double-digit victories among white male voters in all three states.

She also performed poorly on Tuesday with independents, who have never been among her core supporters. But white men were, at least when Mrs. Clinton was running against a black opponent: She explicitly appealed to them in 2008, extolling the Second Amendment, mocking Barack Obama’s comment that working-class voters “cling to guns or religion” and even needling him at one point over his difficulties with “working, hard-working Americans, white Americans.”

She could not sound more different today, aggressively campaigning to toughen gun-control laws and especially courting black and Hispanic voters.

If she had become President eight years ago, would it have made any difference in the lives of working-class white men? Very doubtful.  And this time around, there have been many insinuations from the Clintonistas that since Bernie Sanders is doing better with white men than Hillary Clinton, it must be because he is racist or running a racist campaign, which of course isn’t true. But these days mere association with white working-class men makes one persona non grata on the Left.

Paul Waldman explains why nobody’s really fighting to get the white man vote.

The Times article talks to some white men who don’t like Clinton, and it’s always worthwhile to hear those individual voices in order to understand why certain people vote the way they do. But when you pull back to the electorate as a whole, you realize that there just aren’t enough votes among white men for Republicans to mine. The reason is simple: they’ve already got nearly all they’re going to get. While some people entertain the fantasy that there are huge numbers of “Reagan Democrats” just waiting to cross over, the Reagan Democrats are gone. They all either died (it was 36 years ago that they were identified, remember) or just became Republicans. The GOP already has them, and it isn’t enough.

Finally, the idea that the Democrats can’t “maintain credibility as a broad-based national coalition” unless they get more votes from white men is somewhere between absurd and insane. We have two main parties in this country. One of them reflects America’s diversity, getting its votes from a combination of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and people of other ethnicities. Its nominee got 55 percent of his votes in 2012 from whites — smaller than their proportion of the population as a whole, but still a majority of those who voted for him.

The other party is almost entirely white; its nominee got 90 percent of his votes from whites in 2012. And we’re supposed to believe that if that party gets even more white, then it will be the one that’s “broad-based”?

Obviously, every candidate would like to get strong support from every demographic group. But if there’s one group Hillary Clinton can afford not to worry too much about, it’s white men.

But note that white men were the single biggest influence in the 2014 midterms.

Anyhoo — the Right is falling apart right now because the white working-class base and the GOP party elite are no longer on speaking terms. (See “National Review Dumps the White Working Class.”) The people with positions of power and influence inside the right-wing Machine have absolutely no idea what the lives of working class whites are like. Of course, most of the people in power with the Democratic Party don’t know that, either. As Ian Welsh said, Hillary Clinton, if elected, isn’t going to do anything to help them. They know that. And this time she’s not even pretending otherwise.

You may have seen the video of the Indiana factory workers being told their jobs are being sent to Mexico. The New York Times followed up on this and interviewed some of them.

Within hours of being posted on Facebook, the video went viral. Three days after Carrier’s Feb. 10 announcement, Donald J. Trump seized on the video in a Republican presidential debate and made Carrier’s move to Mexico a centerpiece of his stump speeches attacking free trade.

Jennifer Shanklin-Hawkins is one of those Carrier workers who listened to the announcement on the factory floor. After 14 years on the assembly line, she earns $21.22 an hour, enough to put her oldest son through college while raising two other children with her husband, a truck driver.

And when she saw Mr. Trump talking about Carrier on the news, all she could do was shout “Yessss!” at the TV. “I loved it,” she said. “I was so happy Trump noticed us.”

She was thrilled Trump noticed. Does anyone else notice?

Consider the case of Ms. Shanklin-Hawkins. While she says she won’t be voting for Mr. Trump and considers him a racist, she applauds his message on trade. She says she plans to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who similarly blasts free trade, but from the left. The two populist candidates may be political opposites, but when it comes to the downside of globalization, Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump are speaking to her with one voice.

In fact, many Carrier workers here say that it was not so much Mr. Trump’s nativist talk on illegal immigrants or his anti-Muslim statements that has fired them up. Instead, it was hearing a leading presidential candidate acknowledging just how much economic ground they’ve lost — and promising to do something about it.

Mr. Trump has repudiated decades of G.O.P. support for free trade, calling for heavy tariffs on Mexican-made goods from the likes of Carrier. This has helped put him within arm’s reach of the Republican nomination.

Opposition to trade deals has also galvanized supporters of Mr. Sanders, helping him unexpectedly win the Michigan Democratic primary this month. At the same time, it has forced his rival Hillary Clinton to distance herself from trade agreements she once supported, like the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and the North American Free Trade Agreement, the 1994 deal with Mexico that is an important part of President Bill Clinton’s political legacy.

Does anyone actually believe Clinton won’t fall back in love with free trade deals once she’s in the White House?

The elites can give you all kinds of reasons why free trade deals are good for the economy.

“We have to look around the corner and see how this market will change in order to invest and stay in business for another 100 years,” said Robert McDonough, a senior executive at Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies. “You can blink and see your market position erode.”

The rub is that the costs and benefits aren’t distributed equally. Global trade has produced big gains for Americans, like more affordable goods — clothes, computers, even air-conditioners — and led to a more advanced economy.

At the same time, a chronic trade deficit and an overvalued dollar have caused factory jobs to dry up, contributing to a deep divide between the political and economic elite and the rest of the nation. Perhaps a clash was inevitable.

The problem with those “more affordable goods” is that they’re causing an economic death spiral, seems to me. As incomes erode people stretch dollars by buying cheaper goods made overseas, thereby causing the capitalists to cut costs more and send more jobs overseas. And all across America there are once-prosperous communities that are dying if not dead, with boarded-up houses and businesses. And it hasn’t just hit white men, of course, but it’s arguably the case that it hit them harder, if only because they had farther to fall.

But what do we do about our white men? Both parties are, in different ways, working overtime to rig the system and make sure neither of the insurgent candidates can win. That being so, neither party is likely to actually do anything to help them, including trying to explain to them the real reasons their lives suck. If they knew, they’d be so much harder to manipulate and exploit.

So while working-class white men certainly have become a burden as well as a hindrance to progress because of the way they vote, I don’t think writing them off is necessarily a good idea. I’m not sure what to do about them, though.

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