Critical Dharma for Thinking Minds
by the Editor, Shaun Bartone: “White Like Me: Billionaire Elites and the White Working Class Support of the Trump Regime”
The Trump regime and the GOP are clearly waging a war against the American working class*. The GOP’s 2017 tax reform bill shifts 1.5 trillion dollars of Federal budget deficit spending from policies that minimally benefit the working class* to those that enrich the most powerful oligarchs and corporations. Many of these corporations do not manufacture goods or provide services in the United States, and thereby create no jobs for working class* Americans. The GOP agenda is to cut government services of all kinds, especially health care, employment, family support, consumer protection, housing, immigration, racial and gender equity, and environmental health. All of these shifts in policies have devastating consequences for the working class* which is now becoming a permanent underclass, making their lives shorter, poorer, sicker and more brutal than ever before. The GOP convinces the white working class* that ‘the reason you don’t have a job is because an illegal immigrant or ‘undeserving’ Black person took it away from you,’ when actually, the job market is hollowing out for everyone, permanently. As unemployment and grinding poverty increases amongst the working class* across the country, it escapes into opiate addiction, alcoholism and suicide.
Why do white working class* people support the GOP and the Trump regime when it clearly is working against their own interests? Why do people vote against their interests as a struggling class of people? This was the question asked by Thomas Frank in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas? (2004). Frank traced the history of working class* politics in Kansas over the last century. The history revealed how conservatives and the GOP began substituting divisive social issues for economic realities as a way to both obtain the support of the white working class* while simultaneously enacting policies that cut benefits and services, moved jobs overseas, eroding job security and life span.
According to Frank, the political discourse of recent decades has dramatically shifted fromsocial and economic equality to the use of explosive cultural issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, which are used to redirect anger toward “liberal elites.”Frank claims the archetype for the future of politics in America is a war in which fiscal conservatism becomes the universal norm and political war is waged over a handful of hot-button cultural issues. (Wikipedia)
Not long ago, Kansas would have responded to the current situation by making the bastards pay. This would have been a political certainty, as predictable as what happens when you touch a match to a puddle of gasoline. When business screwed the farmers and the workers – when it implemented monopoly strategies invasive beyond the Populists’ furthest imaginings – when it ripped off shareholders and casually tossed thousands out of work – you could be damned sure about what would follow.
Not these days. Out here the gravity of discontent pulls in only one direction: to the right, to the right, further to the right. Strip today’s Kansans of their job security, and they head out to become registered Republicans. Push them off their land, and next thing you know they’re protesting in front of abortion clinics. Squander their life savings on manicures for the CEO, and there’s a good chance they’ll join the John Birch Society. But ask them about the remedies their ancestors proposed (unions, antitrust, public ownership), and you might as well be referring to the days when knighthood was in flower. (Frank, T. 2004 “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”, pp. 67-68)
So the GOP, and even more virulently the Trump Regime, exploits the declining fortunes of the white working class* by directing their rage and hatred to attack groups that are even more vulnerable and disadvantaged than they are: Black, Hispanic, disabled, homeless, queer, immigrants and children. White women, though disadvantaged by gender, are just as much a part of this attack on non-white, non-able and non-native peoples as their male counterparts. In fact, though a majority of women in total (54%) voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, a majority of white women voted against her and voted for Trump (53%). Although a majority of white college-educated women voted for Clinton (51%), 65% of non-college educated white women voted for Trump**. These are the typical white female working-class. They make among the lowest wages, suffer chronic under-employment while single-handedly caring for children and elders. Consequently, with their support of Trump, white women also voted for his policies limiting access to reproductive choice, child support, and employment equity.
Increasing rage and violence amongst the white working class* has taken the form of white supremacist and Neo-Nazi movements that openly advocate for war against Black and Brown people, non-Christians, women, and queers. The Trump regime and the GOP manipulate the white working class* by stoking racial hatred and violence, increasing class divisions, thus destroying the prospect of launching a class-based counter-attack against the oligarchs that are destroying their lives.
But why do they do it? Why does the white working class* support Trump and the GOP and consistently vote against their own class interests? Because in fact they are not voting against their interests, they are voting fortheir interests as white people. They are voting for White Supremacy. Their support of white supremacy solidifies and cements the white power structure at the top that controls every function of social institutions form global corporations all the way down to the community level.
They are voting for white supremacy because it cements the power structure of people who are “white like me”. It cements the power of white elites over non-white elites, non-white middle class and working class* people, and the rest that follows (non-Christian, non-able, non-heterosexist, etc.) As W. E. B. DuBois argued in the early 20th century, the white working class* will give up their claim to fair wages, to economic inclusion, if in return they gain the emotional and social wages of empowerment that comes with identifying with the white power structure.
If white identity is the only form of power they have any chance of securing, then they will sacrifice their class interests to secure it. A chance to identify with a white power structure is a sure-thing; since they are born white, it’s guaranteed. But their chances of obtaining any kind of economic fairness, their so-called ‘class interests,’ in a neoliberal capitalist system run by billionaire elites, is so remote as to be unthinkable. Thus they make the obvious choice: align with White Supremacy.
The white working class* also knows that if white supremacy is cemented at the top, that it reinforces the white power structure all the way down the hierarchy to their level. It means that their Black and Brown co-workers will be more likely to experience job and wage discrimination, that they will be more likely to be harassed by police, and unfairly treated in the criminal justice system, systems of domination to which the white working class* is also subjected. It means they will have the edge over their Black and Brown co-workers and neighbors, enough to take the edge off the economic brutality they are also subjected to. Indeed, the continuous economic oppression fostered by the white elites they elected gives them a basis to claim ‘unfairness’ and victimization and demand more repression of non-white co-workers. It gives white elites a hook to placate their sense of victimization with more racial hostility and oppression, in a system that perpetuates a cycle of racial oppression and white supremacy. So indeed, the white working class* is actually voting for their class interests, their white working class* interests, when they vote for billionaire elites like the Trump regime.
*in the term ‘working class’ I’m including the more financially stable ‘middle class’ who have jobs but live paycheck to paycheck, but who, unlike the upper middle class and wealthy, don’t make money off investments.
**Voter statistics from fivethirtyeight.com