Sam Smith – One of the most frustrating things about the Trump phenomena is how many unwealthy whites have fallen for his con. This is, unfortunately, not a new phenomenon. You can go all the way back to the Confederacy and find it flourishing. As one commentator put it, “poor whites supported slavery because it guaranteed that no matter how poor they might be, they would never be at the very bottom of the social hierarchy. Poor whites believed that supporting white unity and the planter class was a surer way of getting their interests addressed.”
David Hackett Fischer described southern culture as accepting “hegemonic liberty,” which is to say the more power you have the more liberty you have. Even if you are near the bottom of the pile, some one like Trump can become an aspiration rather than a threat.
There is one good way to change this view and that is to have a politics that directly addresses the needs of poor whites rather than, as is currently the case with liberals, disses them for how badly they have been fooled. It’s been over four decades since the Democratic Party seriously included the needs of less wealthy white America in its agenda. As I wrote in 2006, “History joins common sense in arguing that if the Democratic Party were to return to a broad based politics based on the improvement of the economic, educational, and social conditions of average Americans it might once again become the dominant force in this country.”
In fact, the initial election of Obama greatly increased the Democratic margin in the House, but that quickly collapsed with policies that even when, like Obamacare, they contained very helpful elements, became muddled in procedural issues that distracted from their underlying purpose. And no modern Democratic president came close to first 100-day session of Congress during which Franklin Roosevelt pushed through legislation that rescued the banking industry, established the Civilian Conservation Corps, passed the National Industrial Recovery Act, provided relief for millions of citizens, regulated Wall Street, created bank deposit insurance and set up the TVA.
The beauty of the helping the economics of the white working class is that you also help everyone – including black and latinos – while making ethnicity less of an issue. Otherwise, you shouldn’t be surprised to find thing as Lyndon Johnson once described, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”