One cause of the 2016 disaster: dissin’ the white working class

Sam Smith

One of the biggest problems the Democrats faced in this election has been several decades of indifference to, or dissin’ of, working class whites, especially males. For example for the nearly 18 million whites in poverty, all the current talk about “white privilege” is not the best way to attract their souls or their votes.

The number of whites in poverty in America is actually 42% of the total black population. The number is also 78% larger than the number of blacks in poverty.

But because we concentrate on percentages rather than actual numbers in such categories we tend to forget how many whites are struggling, too.

You don’t need to deny any of the extraordinary economic problems of blacks or latinos to also pay attention to what is happening to many whites in this regard. As CNN has reported, “Working class white men saw their income drop 9% between 1996 and 2014, according to a new report from Sentier Research. This group, who Sentier defines as having only a high school diploma, earned only $36,787, on average, in 2014, down from $40,362 in 1996. Meanwhile, college educated white men saw their income soar nearly 23% over the same period, from $77,209 to $94,601.

And: “Nearly one-quarter of white men with only a high school diploma aren’t working. Many of these men, age 25 to 64, aren’t” just unemployed … they aren’t even looking for a job, according to federal data.

For whites in such a situation who keep hearing about “white privilege” or about plans for the government to pay for college education but not to help them get jobs, there is inevitably a sense of “what about me?” that the media and Democrats have ignored for years.

Both the New Deal and Great Society understood this but since the Reagan years the Democrats, including its growingly prosperous liberal wing, has turned its back on white economic problems. This has been a growing failure that has peaked with Trump.

Robert Reich recently told some of the story:

Both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama ardently pushed for free trade agreements without providing the millions of blue-collar workers who thereby lost their jobs any means of getting new ones that paid at least as well.

They also stood by as corporations hammered trade unions, the backbone of the white working class. Clinton and Obama failed to reform labor laws to impose meaningful penalties on companies that violated them, or enable workers to form unions with a simple up-or-down votes.

I was there. In 1992, Bill Clinton promised such reform but once elected didn’t want to spend political capital on it. In 2008, Barack Obama made the same promise but never acted on it.

Partly as a result, union membership sank from 22 percent of all workers when Bill Clinton was elected president to fewer than 12 percent today, and the working class lost bargaining leverage to get a share of the economy’s gains.

In addition, the Obama administration protected Wall Street from the consequences of the Street’s gambling addiction through a giant taxpayer-funded bailout, but let millions of underwater homeowners drown.

It’s not that hard to come up with alternatives, Just in this election, the Maine referendum that got the most votes of five on the ballot (61%) was one that asked “Do you favor a $100,000,000 bond issue for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities, equipment and property acquisition related to ports, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds?”

And back during the housing crisis I suggested a shared equity program in which the federal government would assume a portion of the loans of foreclosure threatened homes in return for their share of the return when the homes were sold. But it was hard to find liberals who would even hear you out.

In the 1980s, as liberals became more wealthy, they became less interested in their traditional allies and public works and other such programs lost their appeal. Then came the neoliberals like Clinton and Obama.

Back in 1979 I wrote an article – A Few Kind Word for the White American Male. And in 2001 I noted:

One of the besetting sins of many in the progressive movement is that they have made white men the enemy. In fact, no ethnic group in history has given up so much power so quickly and so peacefully. Every social movement of the past 40 years has depended on either the acquiescence or active participation of large numbers of white men. To bash them is both bad politics and bad philosophy, tossing out constituency and logic at the same time. One of the basic reasons for the Democrats’ current problems is that they have implicitly treated minorities and women, on the one hand, and white males, on the other, as mutually exclusive groups. This perception has helped to send white males to the Republicans. While it is obvious that white men have been responsible for most of the horrendous political and ecological policies that have left us in our current situation, it should be similarly obvious that most white men have also been their victims — in everything from war to black lung disease to economic exploitation.

The Democratic Party’s failure to recognize this has finally really come home to roost.  According to one poll even 43% of labor union members voted for Trump.

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