It’s Not Economic Insecurity. Quit Peeing on My Leg and Telling Me that It’s Raining.

What I am going to write actually deserves a longer, more carefully documented post and I am going to try to write that post in days to come.  But I want to make some points about what is becoming the received wisdom about this election.

It is becoming the accepted narrative in Democratic circles that Democrats lost the White House because they failed to “reach out” well enough to what we euphemistically call “the working class.”  Of course, what we really mean by “the working class” is “white men without much education.”  Most definitions of “working class” state that people who work for wages, as opposed to those who work for salaries, are members of the working class.  And, of course, if we’re paying attention to reality, most members of the working class would, by definition, be women and/or people of color.  But that’s not what people who talk about the politics of the “working class” mean.  Women and people of color are engaged in ridiculed “identity politics,” while white men who haven’t done well economically are the sainted “working class.”

During the campaign, it became a joke to note how often the media went out in search of Trump voters in order to interview them and to try and shoe-horn their resentment and vitriol into “economic insecurity” and concern over trade deals.  What the press kept finding were incoherent racists, homophobes, sexists, and xenophobes whose supposed concerns regularly withered under what Justice Brandeis called the best disinfectant.  No, Hillary Clinton didn’t break the law by sending emails and, no, her family’s charitable foundation never did anything wrong.  (That was Donald Trump, in both cases.)  But pointing that out did nothing to dilute the hatred of “that woman.”  “Lock her up!”  “Trump that bitch!”

The media was far less interested in finding and talking to what turned out to be the majority of voters:  Hillary voters.

And if you ask Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump, or any of a number of nice blogging bros who are secretly DELIGHTED that that woman — who reminds them of their mother, or school teacher, or whomever — lost, then they will gladly tell you that the Democrats MUST stop paying attention to the women and people of color who make up their base and must run off in search of the elusive uneducated white men.  We must “talk their language” and “reach out” to them and address their “economic insecurity.”

That’s wrong.

People, at least sane people, who are motivated by their “economic insecurity,” (and the last recession was hardest upon women and people of color who still, somehow, weren’t motivated to vote for Trump) vote for the candidate who offers them debt-free college, affordable child care, equal pay for equal work, increased minimum wages, increased Social Security, and the chance to opt into Medicare at 55.   And people who are insane, people who vote against their own economic interests time after time, because their lizard brains are set alight by hatred, racism, sexism, xenophobia, vote for the candidate who makes them feel warm and fuzzy when they wet their pants and vote for the authoritarian.

Donald Trump showed how you “talk their language” to these people.  Lyndon Johnson explained decades ago that these people can be manipulated to do as told as long as you promise them that they’ll still be above African Americans.  He should have added as long as you can grab women by the pussy, beat up on the gays, hate on the Muslims and the Jews.

There was some interesting research that indicated that support for Trump correlated with living near the place where a person grew up.  I need to look more closely at the data, but I don’t think that living in the same neighborhood in Queens or LA where you grew up was correlated with voting for Trump nearly as much as living in the same rust belt town where you grew up was correlated with voting for Trump.  In other words, and, again, I need to spend more time with the data, but it looks to me as if, those voting for Trump were those who, to use a sad phrase, were those who were “left behind.”  Meaning, when mining or manufacturing jobs (which, due to automation, are never coming back, not to here, not to China, not to anywhere) disappeared from what we call the Rust Belt, those who had, or could get, educations moved away to (generally the cities) where the jobs were.  As a good friend of mine recently pointed out, for the foreseeable future, almost all available jobs will be either information sector jobs or service sector (in which case, you really need to support living wages) jobs.  So the narrative that Democrats need to “reach out” to “working class”/aka left-behind white men voters really boils down to the assertion that the voters who really matter are those angry white men who didn’t have and couldn’t/wouldn’t get the education necessary and/or who lacked the motivation to move to the areas where jobs were available.

Some (white “working class”) people apparently can’t figure out — can’t shut out the noise from their church. or the reality tv, or whatever — that what they’ve been doing doesn’t work.  The “red states” have, by almost any measure you can name, lower standards of living.   They have higher rates of teen pregnancy, higher mortality rates, higher rates of divorce, higher rates of drug addiction, lower rates of education, etc.  And, yet, they keep doing what they’ve been doing.  Let’s assume — arguendo, as we lawyers say — that it may once have been reasonable to assume that “trickle down” economics — the idea that if we don’t tax the rich they’ll have more money to spend and that will stimulate the economy for everyone — would work.  Now that we’ve tried it on the state and national level for several decades and seen that it doesn’t work, people who keep voting for it can safely be assumed to be stupid.  Let’s assume — arguendo — that the idea that if we push abstinence education, that will cut down on teen pregnancy — would work.  Now that we know that it increases teen pregnancy, people who keep voting for it can safely be assumed to be stupid.

There is no Democratic policy that will win office based upon appealing to these people.  The language that appeals to them is “grab ’em by the pussy,” and “they’re doing the raping!  Who’s raping?”

We need to figure out how, in the face of rampant Republican voter suppression, we can get our base — women and people of color — to the polls.

Let’s stop listening to old white men who wish that it were different.


14 responses to “It’s Not Economic Insecurity. Quit Peeing on My Leg and Telling Me that It’s Raining.

  1. Jane Gagle-Bennett


  2. I totally agree with this. I’m just not too sure if we should completely abandon the “working class boys”. I thought Bernie Sanders would’ve been a good VP pick for HRC because he could appeal to their reptilian brain. Why not manipulate them with symbolic gestures like 1000 Carrier jobs in Indiana instead of 2000 (just wait a few years, those Carrier jobs will all go overseas). Just toy with them and flatter them. Pump them up so they “feel the bern”. Treat them like the man-babies they are so the grown ups can get the work done.

  3. Read an interesting long article a few days ago (which I can’t now locate) about a man who grew up in staunch Trump country. As you depict, it wasn’t about ‘us’ not getting them and not understanding their needs and POV. His perception was that white Christianity was King there. Nothing else to it. Their way of life has declined because they refuse to change and adapt. Their cities and communities are collapsing. Change does not interest them. Their King is dying and it angers them.

    That’s only one facet of the Trump juggernaut. Others were ‘out to stop Killary’, she behind so many murders who yet doesn’t have an convictions. She and Bill are the Washington Power Elite, and they must be stopped, Trump’s supporters claim, and Trump will do that. Yet Trump is installing more Power Elite….

    It’s not about those matters, others claim. They’re tired of endless war, they claim. Trump will bring change, they claim, even as he digs John Bolton out of the bloody mud to join his cabinet, John Bolton, PNAC member and architect of the wars we now endure.

    It’s Obamacare, they claim, that President is a Socialist and we need to undo his power mad Socialist ways, so they vote staunch Republican even as they fret that if Obamacare, Medicare and Social Security are ended, they’ll have nothing.

    So, to me, they’re not thinking, not paying attention, cherry picking information to fit their narrative. We can’t ‘get’ them. They equate innuendo with facts and deny and dismiss anyone who disagrees with them, except Trump. He spoke their language. He lied to them and said, “I’m going to fix it all, baby.”

    Because that’s what a con man does. He plays the mark.

  4. Sing it, sister. I’m going to pass this on. And though I sympathize with Julia’s comment above, I seriously doubt that Sanders or a Sanders-style progressive could effectively “reach out” to these people. Sanders himself is Jewish, “Red” (in the old lingo), and from New York City — all things loathed by the target audience. His main advantages over Clinton are his XY chomosomes and the fact that the right wing hasn’t been trashing him non-stop for several decades.

    Much more to the point, there was a very ugly swath of misogynist intolerance in the Sanders camp. The attempt to appeal to these particular Trump supporters will only broaden that swath. We’ve got to deal with the evidence that “feeling the Bern” had an ugly downside. In some cases it looked like Trumpism Lite. And it is not something we want to encourage.

  5. “There is no Democratic policy that will win office based upon appealing to these people. The language that appeals to them is “grab ’em by the pussy,” and “they’re doing the raping! Who’s raping?”

    I have long observed that ‘these people’ (both male and female) are horrifically stuck in adolescence no matter their particular age and this affliction has become more widespread over the past fifty years or so. They probably will never ‘grow up’ and become full adults because they are so self-absorbed they feel eternally put upon by the rest of the world. Poor babies. Anyway, you are correct that they are unreachable.

  6. Most Trump voters are democrats; they just don’t know it. Some of those poor souls have told reporters that they want to get rid of Obamacare and just keep their new government funded medical insurance. They don’t see that lowering taxes robs from the safety nets for the poor to give to the rich. They fly flags and shout “Patriot” because the Constitution says “blah blah bear arms” but they disagree with many Constitutional principles. As avowed Christians they don’t support many New Testament teachings either. They want to chuck out everything that’s changed since the 1950s so we can go back to the old prosperity and don’t see that we can’t. We have four times as many people on this planet who can demonstrably damage the entire worldwide ecosystem.

    But don’t you get the sense that they know that there’s something big and scary that’s just beyond their understanding happening all around them? And they have nowhere to vent their frustration and fear except on other races and creeds, women and LGBT, and the imaginary government that’s training a secret international military in the national parks to take away all our guns and then our families. That may be crazy but it’s a whole lot easier to grasp than the intricacies of international trade or medical insurance. I don’t think they’re stupid because they’re racist/sexist/xenophobic, etc. They’re all those things as a means to lash out over fears they don’t know any better how to fight.

    We can’t afford to give up on them because they can vote. We need to teach them. Democrats are right on the beam with the message but we need a Dick and Jane translation of it. We shouldn’t have to reach so far down or deal with all that hatred, as you say, but we must or we lose American democracy.

  7. Forgive me for an add-on: the perspective comes from reading philosopher Eric Hoffer’s *True Believer* in high school. The idea that struck me most was his concept that white people who feel like the deck is stacked against them and they can’t win find one way that they can’t ever lose: at least they are white/gentile/male/etc. So they join the Nazis or the KKK to hang out with people who congratulate one another on being so much better than . The more they can talk down the hated group, the higher their own self worth rises. Hoffer goes on to say that no one can lose because if the group is seen to succeed at something it proves how great each individual is, and if it fails, each individual can say “Wasn’t my fault; I was just following orders.” It’s hate as the last haven for the hopeless.

  8. Kathy, I’m with you on the need to teach, and especially this: “Democrats are right on the beam with the message but we need a Dick and Jane translation of it.” But we can’t dilute the message in order to reach anybody. We don’t need to, not if we devote effort to teaching our own that voting is worthwhile, and fighting for the right to vote is worthwhile. Class-privileged white men are notorious for selling the rest of us down the river as soon as we’ve helped them achieve their objectives. Will not get fooled again!

    I wonder a lot about the role that fundamentalist religion plays in all this. Most believers I know, from a variety of faiths, are not fundamentalists. They take their scriptures as guides, not as rulebooks. They can sort through alternatives and come up with solutions. But this takes practice and not a little courage. Can fundamentalists of any sort muster the courage to do this? I don’t know. I hope so, but I’m not going to bet my future, or the future of the planet, on it.

  9. Our action and our votes are worthwhile, I agree, and it’s worthwhile to fight for voting rights. I agree too about the class-privileged white men. But the folks I’d like to speak to are the Trump voters that they sold down the river as well, using hate speech to drive them to vote against their own best interests. A lot of people who weren’t white or male or rich voted for Trump. If all the misguided Trump voters knew the score and voted for their own interests Hillary would be assembling her cabinet now. The smaller class-privileged part of the Republican party would be outvoted.

  10. Kathy, You are welcome to try to reach out and educate them. Please let us know how it goes. I simply don’t think, on a cost/benefit basis, it’s worth the effort. But YMMV.

  11. Please note that Indiana traded away its tax base in exchange for keeping, for the time being, the Carrier jobs. It’s being portrayed as a great victory for Trump but it was actually old fashioned blackmail. You cut our taxes or we’ll take the factory to Mexico.

  12. As usual, you have stated very clearly what so many of us have been trying to express. Thank you so very much.

    As evidenced by my many frustrating attempts, I just don’t think that these people are educable. I don’t know what to do about that. I know that there’s nothing Democrats can do about that. Hopefully, we will have enough time left for the demographics to render them inconsequential.

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