The White Working Class in the USA
By Manuel E. Yepe
Exclusive for daily POR ESTO! of Mérida, México.
The surprising successes of Bernie Sanders on the left flank and Donald Trump on the right flank –in part, believed to owe something to the new positions of the “white working class” in the US– have sparked new interest within the political outlook of the nation.
So writes Zoltan Zigedy, a prominent American Marxist political commentator in his “ZZ” column.
The Wall Street Journal calls them the “forgotten Americans.” Others see them as racist and xenophobic. In 2008, then-aspiring-President Obama characterized them way: “And it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustration.” Whether they are forgotten, dismissed, or demonized, the “white working class” has been discovered this election season.
Even a decade ago, it was widely believed that there was no working class in the US –only a vast middle class and the poor. Fostered by social scientists, mainstream politicians, and trade union functionaries, the fiction prevailed that, apart from the very rich, everyone was either middle class or poor.
Of course, this illusion began to shatter in the wake of the 2008 crash and the ensuing economic stagnation. Likewise, the rebellion against corporate, cookie-cutter candidates in the 2016 primary contests exposed a class division that fit poorly in the harmonious picture of one big class with insignificant extremes at either end.
Whatever else the 2016 electoral campaigns have revealed, they certainly have shattered the illusion that the US is largely a classless society. But US elites and their opinion-making toadies struggle to find the “white working class,” says Zigedy.
Just as the mass media has fostered caricatures of African-Americans, the media and cultural/entertainment corporations craft an unflattering image of white, working class citizens. Whereas Black people are saddled with images of violence, idleness, promiscuity, and criminality, white workers are portrayed as bigoted, socially, culturally and intellectually backward, superstitious, and conservative.
One would never know from the “hood” movies, talk radio hysteria, and the crime-obsessed news anchors, that most African-Americans are a significant part of the working class, maintain stable households, and work diligently for a better life. Similarly, most white workers are neither gun fanatics nor Bible-thumpers. Most white workers do not attack gays, abuse their spouses and children, torch mosques or lynch Black people.
According to Zigedy, the common perception dished out by the mass media is that white workers constitute the electoral base for Donald Trump, when the truth is that the median household income for his primary voters shows that Trump’s followers are more typical of the white petty-bourgeoisie than the white working class.
Certainly media elites, pundits, and politicians do not want to talk about the latent rebelliousness of the white working class. There is a large majority of white workers who believe that the country is heading in the wrong direction. This is an opinion that should not surprise anyone since the median household income in the US has declined by 7% since 2000.
The current crisis of political credibility shows that they, like most of the rest of the population, have yet to find a way out.
Social scientists have begun to acknowledge the toll that corporate pillage has taken on the working class, very dramatically of late in the case of the white working class.
Death rates, especially from alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide have risen sharply among white workers. The institutions that formerly traded a measure of privilege to white workers for their compliance and docility have now abandoned them.
According to Zigedy, the Democratic Party, for example, is so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that when a benefit or privilege is wiped out linked to interracial prejudice, false friends and bombastic demagogues, enemies of the working class, take the opportunity and use it to mask the identity of the common enemy and thus weaken the unity in the ranks of U.S. workers.
August 13, 2016.
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.