A lot of media pundits – and also this Oliver Lee Bateman writing for Paris Review, who comes from humble beginnings – persist in thinking that only poor whites are voting for Trump, and only because it satisfies their racist, misogynistic, etc. leanings:
Scan the headlines and you’ll find that everyone’s talking about how the white trash have made their presence felt. The white trash support Trump; the white trash are losing ground; the white trash should be honored by the government for their hard work and sacrifices; the white trash are continuing to redirect their aggression at other racial minorities instead of the robber barons who exploit them.
But who exactly are these people, these trashy whites who have found themselves, in the words of sociologist C. Wright Mills, “without purpose in an epoch in which they are without power?”
Thanks to a spate of newly released books on the topic, we readers can begin fumbling towards some preliminary answers. For those interested in a first-person account of white-trash living, there’s J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, a spare and poignant look at impoverished rural Ohio and Kentucky. Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America offers a concise and highly readable overview of the subject beginning with colonization and concluding with the Clintons. Carol Anderson’s White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide examines a series of events, ranging from Reconstruction to the election of Barack Obama, after which seeming gains for African Americans were quickly met by massive resistance from whites.
I’m sure there are trashy white folk out there, but I know a lot of people voting for Trump – all my siblings in fact, and quite a few of my extended in-laws. My father was a successful marketing man, and my family was well-to-do middle class. My in-laws vary from railroad shop workers to lawyers and physicians, and none of them are poor white trash, though some of the millennials are having a tough go.
And there’s the crux. Millennials, and their parents, look around and they don’t see the jobs any more. That is why a lot of them went for Sanders, and that is why a lot of others are responding to Trump. I think the lack of prosperity is the fundamental reason for the anti-establishment movement.