I share deeply Paul Fanlund’s dismay in his April 13 opinion piece about how, in the 16th year of the 21st century, Donald Trump could win the presidency blatantly seeking racist support.
However, I pause when he goes on to quote an academic study that claims “racial attitudes (among white working-class Americans) were much more strongly related (than economic issues) to support for Trump.”
Not that Trump didn’t attract racists to his banner like flies to sugar. But since Nixon’s “crime on the streets” and Reagan’s campaign stop for states' rights at the Neshoba County Fair near Philadelphia, Mississippi, the Republican Party has attracted the support of racist voters for 50 years before Trump, albeit with dog whistles instead of fanfare. But that is a completely separate question from why millions of former Democratic blue-collar voters switched to vote for Trump in the last election.
If we let our despair spill over into sloppy thinking to support the fallacious conclusion that those recent switchers are racist, I fear it could only accelerate the ongoing realignment of the Democratic Party to the grave detriment of progressive values, which is the subtext of this discussion.
Beginning with its prioritization of anti-worker, anti-environment trade deals over union rights, corporatization of the Democratic Party has led it to largely abandon core working-class concerns for the interests of the wealthier educated elites. The party is becoming an accomplice to massive income inequality, only thinly papered over with a glossy veneer of minimum-wage slogans.
This is happening at the same time that — in the defining economic challenge of the new millennium — technological leaps beyond robotics into artificial intelligence and quantum computers threaten to widen the hollowing out of the economy to one in which there is little place for human beings. For the first time, that will extend past manufacturing of old to all but the top-tier professionals and owners of capital.
In times like these, the obvious progressive response should be to build alliances between the displaced white, as well as black, factory workers and the now-threatened professionals. To poison the well by using a broad brush to brand and ostracize all blue-collar workers as racists makes no sense when doing so is based on a biased study.
When you dig into the study's fine print, you can see, among many statistical errors, the study really only showed whether workers are up on the latest in political correctness, not what are their actual feelings about the black co-workers alongside them each day on the assembly lines.
Look at the questions asked of workers used to uncover if they’re racists: “White people in the U.S. have certain advantages because of the color of their skin.” Who but academics would be up on the latest in political correctness on the elite campuses? There they no longer call discrimination "discrimination." Instead, under their new theory of “intersectionality,” the real problem turns out to be that all white people are “privileged,” for which they should wallow in guilt.
However, beaten-down, blue-collar workers do not feel privileged because they are white, for, actually, they increasingly confront a precarious existence robbed of self-respect. Just because they may not be au courant with the latest trends in sociology classes to answer that they are “privileged” does not make them bigots.
Moreover, looking at the facts on the ground, instead of slanted regression analyses, it is exceedingly difficult to label as racists the nearly 20 million white blue-collar workers who switched to vote for the first candidate who pretended to care about them. For they previously voted not just once, but twice, for Barack Obama.
Nearly half of the electorate are white blue-collar voters, and, beyond their votes for Obama, straight-forward focus group studies also confirm that at least half of them are, in fact, not racist.
They are, instead, an essential ally for the more formally educated white-collar workers, who need their blue-collar colleagues to build the political support so that the world of tomorrow is redirected to be one for everyone, and not just for the uppermost elites.
Peter Anderson is a longtime environmental activist in Madison.
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