Vox Populi, Vox Stupidi: To be a working-class Trump supporter: “You had to say it’s all right that this guy lies constantly. It’s all right that he encourages violence. It’s all right that despite having more potential financial conflicts of interest than any other presidential candidate ever, he’s the only candidate in recent history who refuses to reveal his tax returns. It’s all right that he has run a series of cons, stealing the life savings from people who put their faith in him in just the way you’re putting your faith in him now.” Paul Waldman, American Prospect
RIGHT NOW, the English-speaking Left reminds me of those Shi’ite devotees who ritually flog themselves until their backs bleed. “It’s all our fault!”, they cry into their craft beer. “Trump is all our fault!” Yes, that’s right, Trump is all their fault. Not the stinking, roiling mass of racists, sexists, nativists and xenophobes who, with terrifying speed, are crawling out of the rank American darkness and into the light. They are not the problem. The problem is the Left – who, apparently, should never have driven them there in the first place.
Oh really? So, when the bodies of the three murdered civil rights workers, James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were finally disinterred from the earth dam in which the Mississippi Klan had buried them, the Left should have shrugged and said: “Well, you know, good ole boys will be good ole boys!” And when feminist researchers confronted the world with the appalling statistics of domestic violence and rape (not only those relating to the incidence of these crimes, but also those exposing the shocking unwillingness of the authorities to do anything to address them) how should the Left have responded? By warning their “sisters” against “dividing the working class”?
Being working-class doesn’t give you the right to pull a white hood over your head and murder three young men for the crime of registering African-Americans to vote. Being working-class doesn’t allow you to turn your partner into a terrified combination of punch-bag and sex-slave. Wearing a blue collar around your neck and dropping out of high school doesn’t give you special permission to crucify a harmless gay college student on a Wyoming fence.
Nowhere – not even in the United States – does membership of the Proletariat entitle men and women to inhabit a world in which racism, sexism and homophobia are regarded as harmless sins to be winked at and condoned. And yet, this is precisely the sort of free-pass culture that the Left’s energetic self-flagellation over Trump’s victory appears to both imply and condone.
Why can’t these bloody-backed leftists see what the American newspaper columnist, Paul Waldman, writing in The American Prospect, sees so clearly: that the working-class voters of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin – the American Rust-Belt – were never, ever, the Left’s to win over, or win back.
As he acidly observes; to be a working-class Trump supporter: “You had to say it’s all right that this guy lies constantly. It’s all right that he encourages violence. It’s all right that despite having more potential financial conflicts of interest than any other presidential candidate ever, he’s the only candidate in recent history who refuses to reveal his tax returns. It’s all right that he has run a series of cons, stealing the life savings from people who put their faith in him in just the way you’re putting your faith in him now.”
What possible reason could any working-class person have for overlooking such failings other than an all-consuming desire to elect a fellow racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, Muslim-hater President of the United States of America?
To be poor in America is to be despised. But to be poor and white in America is to feel a special shame. To be poor and white in America is to experience the pain of failure in a way that only the social proximity of failures even more painful and unforgiveable than your own can assuage. You may be poor and white, but you are not poor and black; poor and Hispanic; poor and gay. And, if you’re a poor man, then, at least, you’re not any kind of woman.
To see these “others”, these “inferiors”, raised up: to have a black man in the White House; to see a liberal feminist getting ready to replace him; this was simply intolerable. And, to prevent it from happening, poor white Americans were willing to support a candidate with all manner of failings.
Waldman calls these folk the “unpersuadables” – but in that description I believe he is mistaken. The shame of poverty and failure is not only assaugeable by the existence of human-beings worse off than yourself: people with life experiences even more humiliating than your own. Shame and failure can also be made bearable by the realistic and believable prospect of escaping them.
That is what the Left failed to offer working-class America.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 November 2016.