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.

Monday, January 9, 2017

White working class isn’t solely to blame for Trumpism

Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., Jan. 9, 10 or 11, 2017

Countless boring books will probably be published in the next year about Republican Donald Trump’s Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton, and if media coverage is an indication, many will either blame Democrats and labor leaders for losing touch with the working class in general or everyday unionists in particular, or accuse workers themselves of abandoning their own interests and values.

I’m torn, frankly. But while such criticism may be somewhat true, there’s more to the story.

Reaching out and restoring Democrats’ long history of representing regular Americans would be sensible, but surely other factors were involved in Trump’s win: voters’ disapproval of both candidates, sexism, media coverage dominated by Trump (whether wild claims or outrages), fake news and interference by hackers or foreign interests, the FBI’s odd involvement, and some journalists being so worried they’d seem fair that they indulged in “false equivalence” (so stories about Trump lying outright were “balanced” by mentioning Clinton’s role in Benghazi or clumsy use of an email server despite no resulting charges).

“One of the reasons for Trump's success is that he campaigned on his understanding that millions of working people are in pain, are hurting,” said Bernie Sanders – the insurgent Democrat who led Trump in primary campaign polling of union members.

Again, however, it’s short-sighted to exclusively blame American workers.

Joshua Holland of The Nation magazine, wrote, “Clinton underperformed Barack Obama's 2012 results among not only non-college educated whites, but also white men; black men and women; Hispanic men and women; Asian men and women; men and women of other races; every age group except voters over 65; liberals, moderates and conservatives; Protestants, Catholics, adherents of other religions and those who claim no religious affiliation; married men and unmarried men and women; union and non-union households; self-identified Democrats; straight people; people who think undocumented immigrants should be given legal status; and people who think the country is going in the right direction. In that sense, the commentariat's intense focus on non-college whites already seems a bit odd.”

Besides about 46 percent of Americans not bothering to vote, Clinton was hurt by a lower turnout possibly stemming from overconfidence, her unpopularity, disappointing get-out-the-vote efforts, or just lousy campaigning.

Obama, in a post-election interview with Rolling Stone magazine, said, “Whatever policy prescriptions that we've been proposing don't reach – are not heard by – the folks in [working-class] communities. It is really important for us, as progressives to think about how we are operating on the ground and showing up everywhere and fighting for the support of folks and giving them a concrete sense of what it is that we think will make their lives better, rather than depending on coming up with the right technocratic policies and sharing that with the New York Times editorial board.”

The news media continue to be played by Trump, and have been quick to focus almost exclusively on working Americans who were themselves played, but who were at least somewhat complicit in the outcome.

“Much of the mainstream media has complied by offering up fawning profiles of Trump’s semi-mythical white working-class voters and how we need to understand them, instead of holding them responsible for imposing an authoritarian regime on the country,” said Chauncey DeVega, host of a weekly podcast and a writer for Salon.

Dividing and conquering, especially exploiting race, isn’t new, he noted.

“Lyndon Johnson reflected on his upbringing in the South and the power of the color line in America this way: ‘If you can convince the lowest white man that 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 even empty his pockets for you’.”

Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said, “So far, it appears a cruel bait-and-switch is in the works – a campaign that promised to lift up working people is transitioning into an administration that will tear them down.”

Whining isn’t an option, and opposition isn’t just workers’ obligation.

“Our future is not raising money from wealthy people, but mobilizing millions of working people and young people and people of color,” Sanders said. “Not only did we lose the White House to the least-popular candidate in perhaps the history of America, but we've lost the Senate, we've lost the House, we've lost two-thirds of the governors' chairs in this country. We've lost 900 seats in state legislatures throughout the country in the last eight years. Maybe it might be time to reassess?”

[PICTURED: Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons.]

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