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Est. April 5, 2002
July 18, 2019 - Issue 798

Despair and Uncertainly:
Not Exclusively the Feeling
Lower Income White People

By Dr. Elwood Watson, PhD
"No one can deny that many lower income and poor
White people (those that voted) pulled the level for
Donald Trump. However, many of them voted in considerable
numbers for Hillary Clinton as well. In fact, some of Donald
Trump's strongest support came from voters making $75,000.
or more per year. Thus, the political scenario was more
complex than has been described by many who are
supposedly politically in the know."

Working class people matter! This is particularly as it relates to White working class people to hear the mainstream media tell it. After his unexpected largely unexpected victory in November 2016 over heavily favored rival, Hillary Clinton, (documentary film maker, Michael Moore, historian Alan Licthman and a few others predicted his win) current commander-in-chief Donald Trump's triumph was viewed by many political bloggers, columnist, television pundits and others who reside outside the often frantic and frenzied sphere of political and journalistic circles as the result of White working class anger, fear and resentment.

While there was/is undoubtedly some kernel (a small one) of truth in such assumptions, the fact is working class people of all races were frustrated , angry and filled with a deeply intense state of anxiety about the direction that our nation was heading and still are. Hearing, reading and viewing endless reams of commentary and hours of supposedly knowledgeable and “spot on” pontificating from talk radio heads and network panelists, one could have easily been convinced that such despair and uncertainty was totally relegated to lower income White people.

Indeed, over the past few years, there has been no shortage of case studies, op-ed pieces, town halls, special reports and other focusing the disenchantment of the White working class and democratic party's failure to address the needs of this sizable segment of disaffected voters. The immense popularity of best selling author and venture capitalist, J.D Vance's Hillbilly Elegy:A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis .and investigative journalist Beth Macy's, Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Companies That Addicted America furthered contributed to the microscopic, laser focused attention given to the White working class.

Admittedly once the initial shock had settled as to what happened that fateful Tuesday night in 2016, it was somewhat amusing (in an admittedly perverse manner) to witness frantically engaged in fierce Wednesday, Thursday and Friday morning, afternoon and evening quarterbacking. Various scenarios and theories were bandied about as to how such an outcome could have possibly occurred. The level of head scratching that occurred was notable to put it mildly.

Truth be told, no one can deny that many lower income and poor White people (those that voted) pulled the level for Donald Trump. However, many of them voted in considerable numbers for Hillary Clinton as well. In fact, some of Donald Trump's strongest support came from voters making $75,000. or more per year. Thus, the political scenario was more complex than has been described by many who are supposedly politically in the know.

For those lower middle class and working class voters who pulled the level for the businessman, reality television personality and now, president, factors such as economic anxiety, racism, sexism, xenophobia and other vices did indeed play a part in their decisions. To be blunt and keep it real, the Trump campaign engaged in a blatantly racist, sexist, xenophobic divisive campaign. Indeed, Trump and his sinister minions strategically and mercilessly preyed upon and exploited the fears of White voters who were resentful of immigration, affirmative action (despite the fact that White people and White women) are the biggest beneficiary of the policy, multiculturalism, gay marriage and other issues that have frequently been seen as anathema to a number of (not all) members who reside within this voting demographic

These were/are the citizens who invested their hopes in Trump when he stated that he would make “America great again.” These were/are the socially and culturally conservative voters who longed for the “days” when heterosexual, able-bodied White men ruled. Where Latino/a and other dark-skinned, non-White immigrants were largely non-existent. A nation where Blacks and, in some cases, Jews, were occasionally seen, certainly not heard from, and deprived of any sense of dignity, fairness and equality. Women were largely relegated to second-class status, were of no competition in the workplace, had to often quietly overlook or turn a blind eye to infidelity or spousal abuse and were largely relegated to objects of sexual objectification. Gays and lesbians were seen as less than human, regarded as deviants, perverts and unworthy of any form of respect. Disabled people were seen as quasi-human, burdensome and semi-tragic figures. Yes, for a sizable percentage of this segment of American society, these were supposedly indeed the “good ol’ days.

The problem with such an analysis is that, such a reality never existed for a large number of Whites. Period., in particular, the segment of disaffected Whites that are following and supporting Trump. Like their parents and grandparents of mid-20th century America, many of these White men and women were products of blue-collar families and communities that were subjected to economic deprivation and challenges, public schools that were sub-par or adequate at best, class snobbery from their more upscale White brethren, lower life expectancy, etc. It short, as J.D. Vance, Beth Macy and others have argued, these largely economically disaffected White folks had /have a lot more in common with their Black and Hispanic cohorts than they realized.

Historically speaking, many of these marginalized White voters have either failed or stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this reality. Rather, on the contrary, these are the men and women (mostly men) who have largely bought into the arrogant, brash, and largely misguided illusion that if they worked hard enough, were smart enough, good at what they did, attractive enough, married a respectable spouse, conscientiously socialized in the correct social circles, harbored condescension, disdain and/or contempt toward the right people (e.g., poor people, radical women, gays and lesbians, many minority groups, the disabled, etc.) that they could rapidly ascend up the social climbing ladder and head ever onward toward pursuit of the American dream. The unconscious embracing of White privilege.

Rather, many people of this age and racial demographic have come to realization that the ladder has been pulled out from under them. Forces such as global outsourcing, neo-liberalism, unchecked globalization and other factors (conditions thrusted upon them by other Whites) have contributed to their unenviable predicament. Thus, they see no light at the end of a very dark and desolate looking tunnel.

These are the Whites, particularly those who are lower income, who have suffered drastic levels of economic and emotional instability and dysfunction. In a society that often equates whiteness with power and success, falling short and being unable to partake in such achievements undoubtedly magnifies the psychological pain and resentment of many members of this social demographic. Without sounding too much like blaming the victim, the fact is that from a psychological standpoint, some degree some of these men and women have contributed to their own predicament due to their continuing decision to whistle in the dark coupled with their rampant denial. Perhaps this will change. Guest Commentator, Dr. Elwood Watson, PhD is a Professor of History, African American Studies and Gender Studies. He is also an author and public speaker. His forthcoming book, Keepin' It Real: Essays on Race in Contemporary America will be published by the University of Chicago Press later this year. Contact Dr.Watson and BC.




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