we need a better working class politics for the tired poor

I’ve read a lot of post-mortem Takes on Hillary’s demise and the Democrats’ continued knack for losing at almost every other level of electoral politics.

Some are better than others. Ryan Cooper has a good three-parter beginning with this one. Jeff Spross too. Might as well stay at The Week and read Michael Brendan Dougherty as well. Drink a tall glass of slow oblivion and enjoy Dan O’Sullivan’s bountiful recriminations at Jacobin. There’s more, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

One of the more trenchant media criticisms this fall was journalism’s empathetic focus on white working class Trump supporters. Prominent writers of color noticed the distinct lack of reciprocity being devoted towards those non-white folks that would, that indeed will, suffer the most under a Trump administration. I agreed with their argument. The WWC may have been the most narratively interesting subject for urban coastal white journalists, but Trump’s median primary support came from the middle class and petit bourgeois. These are people who’d have cast their ballot for any dude with a R next to his name.

Yet the WWC may have played a notable role in Hillary’s loss. They turned out in states she was expected to win, or at least contest, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Some had voted for Obama—twice—while others had up until this November been lifelong disaffected non-voters. It may be too much to say they alone cost her the presidency. Turnout in blue-leaning areas in these states stagnated. Perhaps there was enough people that stayed home that if they’d voted we’d be having a very different conversation. Of course this doesn’t even begin to cover the effects of voter disenfranchisement, which probably played an even larger role. But there are a lot of parents to this electoral tragedy.

I do think the one piece that best summed up this small, but not entirely inconsequential demographic, is by Alec McGillis in ProPublica.

Revenge of the Forgotten Class.

Most of those interviewed hold views I find abhorrent. Some considered Trump’s racism and misogyny to be a positive character trait, who viewed him as their anti-PC culture champion. Please. Yet the rest certainly didn’t view those traits as disqualifying. Many were primed for explicit racial resentment, spending most of their lives slow-roasting an instinctual distrust for the media, and are very likely the ones you saw sharing every fake conservative news story on Facebook. Others were were angry and bitter to be living in dying communities, resentful of a live poorly-wasted by an uncaring economy over so many administrations that had promised change and delivered too much of the same. Also, they just plain hated Hillary Clinton.

All of this didn’t stop me, though, from rereading one particular ‘graph that just plain jane struck home—the lived experience of wanting to give a shit but being effectively too busy, too poor, to care.

She was, in other words, as tailor-made a supporter as one could find for Clinton, a self-professed fighter for the average Jane who was running to become the first woman president.

And yet St. Martin was leaning toward Trump.

Her explanation for this was halting but vehement, spoken with pauses and in bursts. She was disappointed in Obama after having voted for him. “I don’t like the Obama persona, his public appearance and demeanor,” she said. “I wanted people like me to be cared about. People don’t realize there’s nothing without a blue-collar worker.” She regretted that she did not have a deeper grasp of public affairs. “No one that’s voting knows all the facts,” she said. “It’s a shame. They keep us so fucking busy and poor that we don’t have the time.”

Ain’t that the damn truth. There are days where I can’t even think straight enough to take care of myself after struggling to juggle work, family, and bills. I’m sure a lot of you experience that too—maybe better, maybe worse. I know that at my rung of the ladder every inch of this modern, just-above-water life is an exhausting hassle. Few people who aren’t motivated by hate and resentment, or a grinding devotion to civic duty, would want to jeer on the sidelines of a game that looks like a thick sludge of elite tribal warfare.

The thing is…this isn’t a particular conundrum of the white, working class voter living in a rural state. This is a reality for everyone in the working class and below, in every state and type of population density. I can’t empathize with those who chose the racist. I can feel solidarity for the world they inhabit. For those who live and work and breath a barely-alive air in an economy created by others, for others. That produced tired, sore as hell on a random November Tuesday workers—especially those who decided that Trumpism was a morally repugnant platform that needed to be defeated at all costs, as well as those who just stayed home because the alternative was an unpersuasive platform for the status quo.

Because the status quo isn’t good enough.

People of all identities stuck in that ‘forgotten class’ deserve better. People that Clinton didn’t bother to visit or pay any significant attention towards and wouldn’t have been persuaded by celebrity endorsements or policy white papers? They deserve better. People who were too “fucking busy and poor” to imagine they lived in a swing state where their ballot would’ve mattered? They deserve better. We deserve better. We deserve an honest working class politics.

So who’s going to give us one?


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