Poor white in the U.S. I have been trying to understand why such a large proportion of sensible Americans have allowed their politics to be usurped by the fanatical “Right”.
In general, I subscribe to the Winston Churchill quote I included in last week’s blogs, which says, “If you are not a liberal when you are twenty, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative when you are forty, you have no brain”. I am in my seventies so I am conservative at heart.
I wondered what might be the origins of this fanatical “Right” / white supremacist domination of current Republican politics. I am not suggesting that what I’ve discovered is, in any way, definitive, but it does contain some interesting historical circumstances that might contribute to why we are where we are. An article by Keri Leigh Merritt helped me in this regard. I would be delighted for comments from my readers. Merritt explained that:
“Working-class, poor white people have almost always been left out of our country’s narrative because in many ways acknowledging their existence is a denial of the American dream, a festering wound in the heart of American exceptionalism”.
She continues, in describing the situation in the Southern U.S.,
“There was no system of universal or public education in the Deep South prior to the U.S. Civil War, for two reasons. First, slave-owners did not want poor white people teaching blacks how to read in the burgeoning underground economy the two groups operated. Secondly, poor white illiteracy was part of a wider campaign of strategic censorship. Slave masters were literally searching through every piece of mail, through every newspaper, magazine and periodical, in hopes that neither abolitionism nor talk of worker’s rights ever made it to the black and white masses. Prior to the Civil War, simply possessing reading material on those topics was punishable by death in most Deep South states”.
In general, things didn’t change much for the poor white population after the Civil War. In fact, they basically got worse, as thousands of former slaves entered the job market. Many poor white people retreated further into the hinterland and, as a result, further into isolation. One result was that they effectively disappeared from the national political scene.
I said this blog, in no way, claims to be definitive. So I am going to make a leap here.
The civil rights movement, right the way up to today has done wonders for the black population but, in a way, it has pushed the poor white population further into ignominy. The Democratic Party, which supposedly represents the lower economic levels of the country, including the poor fanatical “Right”, has studiously ignored this section of the population, and still does today.
Eventually, all worms will turn, as the saying goes. So, when a leader appears who even remotely represents their perspective and, better yet, one who actually acknowledges their existence, regardless of his motivation, they will flock to him. They don’t care if he’s an egotistical maniac who might ruin the U.S. position as a world leader. They don’t care if he’s incompetent and dangerous. They don’t care if he is about as remote from their lives as it is possible to get. They don’t care if he has no ethics. HE RECOGNIZED THAT THEY EXIST. The first person to do so in American history. They will follow him to the ends of the earth.
That goes some way towards explaining how we got where we are today…at least to me.
So, what do we do about it?
In the short term, changing the minds of that group will be impossible.
In an article this week, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times said that it only needs a 10% shift in Republican voters to eliminate the possibility of Trump regaining the Presidency in 2024. (Incidentally, to blow my own horn, I’ve been saying that for over a year!).
IF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADERSHIP CAN SHUT UP THE RADICAL LEFT TO THE POINT WHERE ENOUGH MODERATE REPUBLICANS WOULD FEEL COMFORTABLE ABOUT NOT SUPPORTING TRUMP EVEN IF THEY DIDN’T SUPPORT THE DEMOCRATS, THEN THAT FRIGHTENING THREAT WILL GO AWAY.
We might then have the opportunity to make a concerted effort to correct over two hundred and fifty years of ignoring a substantial portion of the U.S. population: The poor white community. The results might be surprisingly positive. It could amount to the magic 10%.