A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Trump’s white working-class support overstated

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Sept., 5, 6 or 7

The dominant media narrative and the prominent conventional wisdom is that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has won over workers – at least the white working class.

Trump may have successfully changed the cause célèbre of the Republican Party from the champion of Big Business to one purportedly representing regular working people. But Trump is no friend of workers – and the working class apparently knows this, maybe instinctively – despite news stories.

Polls show that Trump is less popular with the white working class than Mitt Romney was in 2012, when the Republican candidate won 62 percent of non-college-educated white voters. A recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed that Trump has just 49 percent backing him, and a McClatchy/Marist poll has Trump at only 46 percent.

Instead, what Trump did do during the primaries was attract support from a segment of the white working class – working people who vote Republican.

And many white working people don’t.

“One third of white working-class voters planning to vote in a GOP primary is not that many people,” said Atlanta, Ga., journalist Zaid Jilani. “Trump got about 13 million primary votes, total. Even if half of those were from white working-class voters, that’s still less than 3 percent of the 226 million eligible voters in 2016.

“And as a group, one of the most defining attributes of the white working class is that fewer of them are voting each year,” Jilani continued. “RealClearPolitics noted that there were more than 6 million fewer white voters in 2012 than there were in 2008, accounting for population growth.”

Besides, Trump is about as contradictory or vague as imaginable, from labor relations and Right To Work to the minimum wage and union rights.

“Trump has failed to articulate substantive policy positions regarding labor issues, other than generic railing against foreign competition and bad trade deals,” commented Raymond Hogler, author of “The End of American Labor Unions: The Right-to-Work Movement and the Erosion of Collective Bargaining.”

Actually, some of those Trump primary supporters have a point, and it’s not on the top of their heads.

Trump did manage to expose the idea that the economic system no longer serves everyday people.

After all, neither major political party has really advocated for meaningful policies to help workers. Manufacturing is gutted from 20 years ago, and the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership promises more of the same shutdown regrets. It’s been bipartisan treachery, barely disguised by Republicans’ discredited trickle-down economics or Democrats’ agonizing pleas for patience.

The power structure most effective in fighting the white working class is made up of an Unholy Trinity of tactics:
* institutions ranging from right-wing talk-radio and Fox News mouthpieces to conservative think tanks,
* phony grassroots groups that are really controlled by political insiders, and
* legal and political maneuvers that challenge social programs and worker-friendly laws, empower campaign contributors, and enable strategies to gerrymander “safe” districts and suppress voting rights.

Sometimes, the onslaught of propaganda, misinformation and divide-and-conquer strategies can have an effect.

“The Tea Party took the deep popular resentment against economic and political elites in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse and channeled it into attacks on the very regulations designed to keep those elites in check,” commented historian Tim Kelly, a professor at St. Vincent College in Pennsylvania. “Just as economic elites had effectively marginalized the Republican Party in the selection of its candidates and the positions that they took in the run-up to elections, the candidates who became senators and representatives worked against the common good in service to their economic sponsors. They attacked environmental and other regulations that impinged on corporate profits, curtailed worker rights, created special tax reductions for various industries and elites, and threatened to shut down the federal government and cause it to default on its loans.”

For the short term, it’s up to white working-class Americans to demand genuine advocates, and to organize to achieve results after winning candidates take office.

Long-term, apart from November’s balloting, there’s a danger that if Democrats don’t restore the party’s roots in and improvements for the working class, Trump’s wacky campaign would pave the way for a different strongman, and a demagogue with real campaigning skills and a less self-absorbed personality could emerge.

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