The goal of this paper was to try and make sense of why working class whites in America have the beliefs and prejudices that they do. I attempted to do this without insulting or vilifying them, though I’m not sure if I succeeded. While I’m overall content with the essay, I find that I repeat myself a little too often and that my analysis is quite long-winded.
March 9, 2018
The election of Donald Trump has ignited the discussion of a very important question: how did this happen? The answer lies in many places, but one key factor in his victory lies in a previously unexpected region of the United States. Known sometimes as the “silent majority”, America’s rural communities are rarely regarded when considering massive social and political change. This past election, they proved to be a driving force behind Trump’s seemingly out of nowhere victory. Trump, or rather his campaign staff, manipulated these people by exploiting their fear and their inner rage against the “urban elite”.
The best way to manipulate people is through fear and rural, working-class whites have a lot to fear. Their main source of livelihood, mostly low-skill manufacturing jobs, have been on the decline as more and more companies ship their business overseas where labor costs are cheaper. They believe to have been passed over by their government, left with no representation. They’re led to believe that other races of people receive “special treatment” while they’re seemingly forced to fend for themselves. This leads to them creating extremely insulated communities where everyone shares a similar mindset. Without any new ideas coming into the community, they continue the same way they always have, which only serves to worsen their problem. The typical conservative viewpoint tends to come from a place of ignorance. Racism, xenophobia, pro-gun beliefs, anti-abortion beliefs, and so-called “conservative family values” are harder to find in more densely populated urban environments because there is a far greater concentration of people with different beliefs from different backgrounds. This exposure to different ideas makes one more accepting of change and more open to new concepts. In a place where everyone is the same race, has the same worldview, has access to the same limited information, and have all lived there for generations, progressive opinions are hard to find. This creates an echo chamber where misinformation is repeated from source to source until it becomes fact.
That’s not to say that these people are monsters. A part of their fear and hatred stems from wanting what’s best for their communities. People who live in rural areas pride themselves on their resourcefulness, their grit, their status as American citizens, and the strength of their communities. They believe that most problems can be solved with determination and hard work. This leads them to perceiving other oppressed groups as lazy. They don’t understand the effects of systematic oppression because they don’t experience it, at least not obviously, nor do they know anyone who has because minority groups are regularly regarded with contempt and mistrust. These people have been fed misinformation for generations and are so steeped in their own way of life that they fail to see the world from any other viewpoint aside from their own extremely limited perspective.
In a USA Today interview with several Trump supporters, a man named Zach Broullire gives his reasons for supporting such a candidate. “Right now, our immigration system is not working for the American people, and our trade isn’t working for the American people. Really, I support Trump because our government is not necessarily working for the American people and more for their agenda, whatever that may be. I want American first policy; any American citizen, that’s who our immigration policy, our trade policy and every other policy should be working for is American people.” This is how people like Donald Trump get elected. Working-class whites feel ignored by the government and are looking for anyone willing to speak to their beliefs. They are willing to ignore and excuse a great deal of problems because they are desperate for representation. Any politician claiming to have an “America first” policy has an easy time gaining their favor.
Instead of looking for ways to help these people, politicians abuse their predictable responses and generally limited educations to garner support for their campaigns. As Adolf Hitler stated in Mein Kampf, “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to. Propaganda must be limited to a few simple themes and these must be represented again and again. Here, as in innumerable other cases, perseverance is the first and most important condition of success.” One can observe these tactics used time and time again. By utilizing a limited vocabulary and catchy phrases like “America first” and “drain the swamp”, propaganda appeals to these people’s identities as Americans and gives them a clear and simple goal to fight for.
It is important to remember that these are still people. They may say horrible things, they may commit horrible acts, and sometimes it’s impossible to forgive them, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope for change. If the root of the problem here is caused by ignorance and the manipulation of said ignorance, than the education of these people is of utmost importance. If we ignore the white working class, they will only withdraw further into their isolation, and the situation will only get worse.
Capehart, Jonathan. “Opinion | Working-Class whites can't handle their status as 'the new minority'.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Apr. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2017/04/20/working-class-whites-cant-handle-their-status-as-the-new-minority/?utm_term=.b8e5c6c1f1d6.
Glasser, Susan B. and Thrush, Glenn, et al. “What's Going on With America's White People?” POLITICO Magazine, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/09/problems-white-people-america-society-class-race-214227.
“Trump Nation.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/trump-nation/#/?_k=4y2pq5.Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2017.