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The Working Class Is Not Stupid

The Working Class Is Not Stupid

Donald Trump isn't going to make America great for the working class -- and contrary to the conventional wisdom, a lot of working-class voters were smart enough to know this.

So much about the presidential election has been sickening.

First of all, there was the result itself -- well, it was beyond sickening; devastating is more like it. Then there have been the announcements of Cabinet choices who are opposed to the missions of the departments they're nominated to head. And then the news that Russian hackers may have thrown the election to Donald Trump -- although this could maybe, just maybe, provide a way to prevent him from taking office.

But another thing that sickens me, that galls me on many levels, is hearing pundits say that liberals are coastal elitists who don't understand the frustrations of the working class -- and expressing surprise that his Cabinet picks don't seem sympathetic to this class.

I am a liberal, and proud to be. I voted for Hillary Clinton, who won nearly 3 million more votes than Trump but because of the Electoral College may not become president. I live in a coastal city, deep blue Los Angeles. I work in the media, for a national publication, which to some observers would make me part of the "elite," but although I am compensated fairly for my labors, I am hardly a member of the financial elite.

But I come from a working-class family, a long line of truck drivers, factory workers, fry cooks, and waitresses, in a small town in Illinois. I am the youngest of four siblings and was the first to go to a four-year college, thanks in large part to financial aid programs.

And I am very happy to say that none of my immediate family members, and few of my extended family, bought the snake oil being hawked by Trump and his minions. We despise him and everything he stands for. And we knew, as my late mother and father taught us, that it's liberals -- usually but not exclusively Democrats -- who have the working class's best interests at heart.

We like eight-hour days, safe workplaces, health insurance, and all those other things brought to the working class by liberals, either in the political arena or the labor movement. We also like those things that benefit all economic classes, again brought by the work of liberals: nondiscrimination laws, voting rights laws, a social safety net. Oh, and those financial aid programs that allowed me to go to college.

Somehow, though, the narrative has gotten twisted, with the working class somehow seen as a voting bloc for conservatives. Now, I don't doubt there are some working-class folks who vote against their own economic interests, often due to so-called social issues -- meaning that those who believe abortion is murder and LGBT people are an abomination vote Republican. But for anyone who bought into Trump's alleged populist appeal and thinks he can create a booming economy, I have some Florida swampland I'd like to sell you.

Yes, there are working-class people who've seen their jobs vanish due to low-cost foreign competition; that's happened to relatives and friends of mine, but they didn't blame liberals for it. The reasons for companies sending jobs overseas or automating tasks are many and varied; what's more, globalization and the development of new technology are not going to be reversed but have to be dealt with creatively, by nurturing industries (clean energy, anyone?) that will create well-compensated jobs in the United States. Democrats and liberals have not always done enough to address the situation of displaced or struggling workers, but they have done far more than Republicans and conservatives. Trump and most conservatives in recent memory have been, to paraphrase the great movie Twelve Monkeys, nothing but pusillanimous pretend friends to the working class.

And there is evidence, thanks to exit polls, that Trump's base is not made up largely of laid-off factory workers trying to get by on Walmart wages. "The median income of a Trump supporter is more than $70,000 per year, which is well above the national average," Emory University professor Carol Anderson wrote in Time recently. Anderson, who is chair of African-American studies at Emory, posited that it was "white rage," chiefly in backlash to President Obama, and not economic anxiety that led to Trump's (dubious) victory. She also detailed efforts to suppress the vote of racial minorities.

Also, Monica Potts noted in The Nation, "For the most part, support for Clinton strongly correlated with income, and people who made below $50,000 voted for the Democrats." And Los Angeles Times op-ed contributor David Greenberg wrote that while Clinton should have touted her "progressive economic policies" to a greater extent, nevertheless, "according to exit polls, voters who named the economy as their chief concern preferred her to Trump."

But Trump won the majority of the white vote across the board -- white men and, I'm sad to say, white women.

Did these voters really think Trump could bring back an America in which someone with a high school education or less could go into a factory and make enough money to support a family with no difficulty -- something that's not going to happen, by the way? Or did they have such revulsion at the multicultural nation we are and the possibility of, heaven help us, a woman president (following a very popular African-American president) that they chose a narcissist and sociopath who appealed to their worst instincts? Or, for those in the upper income levels, was it plain old greed -- salivating at the idea of repealing regulations on business and cutting taxes for the top earners?

OK, I know there are those who say that such a laissez-faire economic policy would result in great prosperity for everyone. I disagree, but people have a right to this opinion. I know there are those who could make an intelligent-sounding case for why they didn't like Clinton or her policies; I would disagree with them too, but if they can make a reasonable argument, I will respect their opinion. But I genuinely believe that racism and sexism drove much of Trump's base. There are plenty of pundits who contend that the Democratic Party will lose voters if we say that. I respond that it has to be said.

And to blame Trump's win on the working class just ignores what the polls tell us. Yes, some members of the working class, especially white ones, went over to his side, but to paint this class with a broad brush as Trump partisans is counterfactual. So is to call liberals insular coastal elites. The margin in some of Rust Belt states that went to Trump in the Electoral College was razor-thin. There are liberals all over this nation, and many of them are working-class.

As John Lennon sang, a working-class hero is something to be. But a working-class hero is something Trump's not.

TRUDY RING is copy chief of The Advocate.

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