Progressives leave white workers behind
Progressives often debate the reasons why core Democratic constituencies, such as low-income people, seem to vote against their own interests by backing Republicans who make endless promises that wealth will “trickle down,” when reality has shown their policies only increase income inequality.
An article by ProPublica and Alec MacGillis in the September edition of the Atlantic deals with the despair of poor white Americans. It is a must-read for anyone trying to understand why white working-class voters are up for grabs this election cycle, with far too many of them gravitating to a billionaire who proclaims himself their hero.
The threads of the argument weave a sad story about white privilege and resentment combined with the obliviousness of policy-makers to the root causes of poverty and social decline. Democratic leaders bear a portion of the responsibility as active supporters of corporate welfare policies, such as massive tax breaks for the already wealthy, while failing miserably at investing in struggling communities whose outdated jobs in manufacturing or dirty energy have created a climate where job loss, substance abuse, suicide, and social decay are thriving along with a seething anger that desperately seeks an outlet.
Somehow Donald Trump gives a voice to the undereducated, struggling white voters whose fortunes are most definitely inferior to those of their parents’ generation. They don’t believe the government has their interests at heart, yet they’re willing to ignore the obvious lies and empty promises of a man whose boasts and “incorrectness” reflect their own frustration and rage at being so callously left behind. Trump’s bold rhetoric empowers them to emulate a harsh and uncivil public dialogue that will plague us long after November’s election.
Northern Nevada is hardly immune from the “take our country back” battle cry of those who support Trump’s racist and xenophobic views. As Trump’s barely veiled threats of communal violence against those he paints as “other” are absorbed by his supporters who want someone to blame for their plight, we are seeing that anxiety and anger take root and manifest itself in increasingly ugly ways.
Earlier this month, a civic engagement worker was updating voter addresses and registering people to vote in a food pantry line in downtown Reno. She listened politely as people offered their political opinions, taking the opportunity to interact with each other in the free food line and discuss the presidential race.
The volunteer overheard a conversation between a white woman, who favored Donald Trump, and a disabled Latina using a walker, who disagreed with her analysis that Trump would stand up for the poor and change things for the better. The Latina felt that Trump presented himself as a dictator, and she expressed fear for her personal safety should he win the election.
As the voter registration worker proceeded down the line she suddenly heard screaming behind her and saw the two women scuffling. Witnesses said the political conversation had become more heated and the white woman punched the Latina in the face, scratching her and drawing blood. The pantry staff asked the aggressive woman to leave the line and she did, all the while shouting “Go back to Mexico! We don’t want you here!” and other racial slurs. The Latina remained in the food line, telling the organizer she was shaken up by the fight but what hurt her the most were the mean words the other woman had used.
The bitterness and anger of workers lies barely hidden under the surface, but instead of developing ways to help a struggling Nevadan whose rent is rising but whose income is stagnant, our legislators and governor are preparing for the next big tax giveaway to corporate America in the form of a new stadium for the Raiders in Las Vegas. That’ll fix things for sure.