The White Man Burden

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.

18 thoughts on “The White Man Burden

  1. I’m not sure what to do about them, though.
    Educate them! Maybe the horse is out of the barn already, but education of the realities of their situation is the only path that can possibly overcome or minimize the problem. It’s not only white males, it’s everybody who doesn’t fully comprehend what they’re up against.

  2. Great post.

    I remember a while ago you used the image of horses running back into a burning barn as an analogy for economically and p;optically displaced people trying to piece together the broken pieces of their security, of a world that has moved on. When the Libertarians and unfettered capitalism crowd crows about “creative destruction” they smile as they twist the knife. Some of the unpleasantness can’t be avoided. At our level of technology and the rate of change, the barn is always burning. Fascism promises palingenesis, it promises to make (America) great again. Implicit in that statement is the impossible solution of turning back into the past, as if that would secure our old status. But, the world has moved on. The country and society that we were would no longer be great.

    The only way out is to reinvent ourselves. But, that’s a gamble that has turned out very badly for working class people every time they have bought into it. The area where we live is working class with a some ethnic diversity. Mostly, people have pretty modest expectations and aspirations. They don’t believe in education beyond what is of practical use. The young men usually swing a hammer for a living and the women clean houses or try to find a place at Walmart. I watched most of the thirty somethings grow up from child to adult. A lot of them were really very bright and could’ve have aimed much higher.

    One of the problems with poverty or downward mobility is that as the old joke goes, “sometimes it takes all day, just to live.” Most of us probably don’t have to hike to the grocery store or beg a ride or a loan on a regular basis. But, that’s life for a lot of people.

    To me the tragedy is that we all have just one life and that life ought to mean something. Education, as swami wrote, is a big part of it. But, not everyone is academically gifted and out society for the most part, views education as a class issue and divide. That’s why it is so useful as a step up.

    Bernie Sanders does address this when he proposes reducing the cost of education. I could live in a trailer with a leaky roof and sleep a little easier if I believed that my kids would be writing software or doing IT. But, for most people, that’s not on the menu.

    We live in an astounding age. Progress has been vertiginously swift, and as usual, our eyes are on the next generation of technological marvels. We’re distracted by the costs being paid by people who are left out. The Randians seem to believe that they simply have to be more desperate. Krugman summed it up “Rich people will be more productive if you give them more money and poor people will be more productive if you give them less.”

    I’d say our prognosis is guarded.

  3. This isn’t just an American problem.
    Soon it will be a world-wide problem.

    As manufacturing processes become more automated, as robotics improves, there is, and will be, less and less work for all humans, regardless of color, gender, religion, etc…

    What, short of riots and revolutions, will we do?

    A guaranteed income for all?

    And how does it get sold, since conservatives and the religious types will scream about sloth, Socialism, and Communism?!?!

    Will “Soylent Green” be our future?
    Will we be turning old cracker’s like me into edible crackers?

    I don’t know.
    But someone far smarter than I am, needs to start coming up with some plans.

    Don’t look for my fat ass in the diet Soylent Green section…

  4. Gulag makes a good point. As our society becomes automated goods are produced for less cost with a much smaller portion or percent of human participation in the production. Taken to the possible final end, there will be more goods available for much lower cost, but with fewer jobs and less and less of a ‘base’ of income to consume even essential goods (food & clothing).

    It’s a popular notion to think that there are only two economic systems, capitalism and communism, where socialism sits somewhere between the two poles. In actuality there are an infinite number of theoretical economic models. Can a real system evolve which presumes that raw materials belong to mankind as a whole and nations must work as global stewards. By controlling the portions of non-renewable natural resources which can enter the free market economy you can eliminate the capitalistic urge to rape the planet without government dominating the markets.

    Under such a system, there would have to be a ‘basic’ income for everybody – people would be encouraged to work, if they can, where they can find work and even menial work might have to be rationed. Such a system would have to provide economic penalties for excessive birth rates. If you free people of worry and want and they will do what people do best – create more people.

    Economic systems either adjust to changing reality or they collapse. After they collapse,they are re-formed to meet the new reality, but this usually comes with enormous human hardship. I’m ethically opposed to mass starvation, though it’s one way after climate change or ecological change mankind has attained a new balance. That brutal adjustment is what happens when leader don’t, as GULAG suggested. ‘come up with some plans.’

  5. I just reread my post. This dratted updated autocorrect system is bizarre. I swear it changes words after the fact. My apologies for some major problems.

    I agree with Doug and Cund. We’re at a technological level at which the old rules cease to apply, and we can stop raping the planet if we have the political will. But, that’s a big question, isn’t it?

  6. I’d be more sympathetic to older white male voters if they hadn’t voted for Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes. For decades they had no problem voting against unions, high taxes on billionaires, anti-trust laws and just about every other thing that helped them earn a decent income. Reagan broke PATCO, the air traffic controllers’ union, and they were the first union to back him. It didn’t keep him from getting reelected in ’84.

    White men voted for people who made them feel good while robbing them blind. Sure, Trump is talking a good anti-free trade game, but his tax plan reveals who his administration is going to work for, rich people like him. He is just as likely to pivot as Hilary is. If he, or others like him can make a few bucks with a new anti-labor treaty, he’ll back it in an instant. If he does it enough times, he’ll get reelected.

    I think we can make things a lot better, but it’s hard to do when the loudest complainers keep voting for the Kick Me party.

  7. Doug,
    U bee 2 smart!
    Maybe U shood ruhn fer orifice!

    On a more serious note, as for employment opportunities in the future, outside of one group digging useless holes and other groups filling them, since we all shit, maybe we could all get paid for following one another around with pooper-scooper’s!
    “Hey, look at what came outta outta THAT Mfin’ guy/gal/kid’ ass! You see dat shit!?!? Musta eaten half a fuckin’ water-buffalo ‘n chased it wid prune-juice to make a pIle o’ shit that large!!! Call fuckin’ Vinnie! DIS is a job for the EPA or da UJA… Whatevah da pro’s is called!’ “.

  8. Cund and Doug, that is something I’ve thought about for years — as workforce increases and jobs decrease due to automation, robotics, offshoring for ever cheaper labor, we’ll reach a critical mass where there simply will not be a job for everyone who wants to work. There will be a need to rethink how we distribute resources, but as the writer Upton Sinclair observed “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Replace salary with greed and that’s what we’re up against. Unfortunately both parties institutionally are not predisposed to thinking out of the box to solve problems like this and global warming unless it involves doing the of the neo gilded class. A scary thought.

    One idea is some form of job sharing to get everyone in on contributing while combining that with some form of income guarantees. My fear is that if it doesn’t involve some way for the greedy to profit, it won’t happen.

  9. It just occurred to me as I was reading about the white hate displayed in a Trump rally and the damage that his candidacy will do to the republican party that Trump IS, in fact, building the wall, and the GOP will pay for it.

  10. Google “Jacque Fresco/ the Venus Project.” The only sustainable project available, although pretty “radical” as in “imagine”.

  11. csm: we have price supports for farmers, to keep farming alive. Why not price supports for workers, to keep labor alive? Of course that’s just basic income; paying consumers to spend.

  12. Chaffetz is Doug’s buddy.. He wanted Doug blown out of the sky..He was beside himself when he was told that the National Park Service doesn’t have an air defense system to deal with airborne protesters. It only stands to reason that a vigilant park service in this day in age of terroristic threats should be equipped with at least a couple of batteries of SAM’s or anti-aircraft guns. Really, Chaffetz is a repug asswipe.

    Hasten Jason get the basin..Oops,plop..get the mop!

    Oh, for all you trivia buffs who might not know…Chaffetz’ father’s first wife was Kitty Dukakis. Not that that information is going to improve your life or your financial standing, but it could make you a more fluid participant in certain social circles.

  13. “he was told that the National Park Service doesn’t have an air defense system”

    Maybe because he shit himself? In this case he wants to strip deadly force from the BLM. The gist of the story I linked is that he wants to kneecap the BLM so folks like the Bundy’s can just bribe the local sheriff to pollute federal land without having to pay fines, fees, nothing. Terrorism works as long your white!

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