More Hindsight

I remember in college when B Kliban’s cartoon book Cat (“love to eat dem mousies!”) became hugely popular and all of a sudden all the stores had all sorts of other cat cartoon books, too. At first I thought they were copycats (heh) but I realized a lot of this other work had already been out there, and was just getting noticed because of Kliban. Same goes for a lot of the magical books that rode the coattails of JK Rowling.

Right now, everyone is busy trying to explain why Trump won. Half of them are trying to set the narrative by trying to blame Comey or Stein or racists, but there is also a wealth of opinion on the white working class that simply wasn’t showing up before the election proved a lot of pundits dead wrong, and out of touch. Thomas Frank is one of the main sources, but at Harvard Business Review, Joan C Williams offers What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class:

Understand That Working Class Means Middle Class, Not Poor

The terminology here can be confusing. When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true “middle class,” and they call themselves either “middle class” or “working class.”

“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,” a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. WWC men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.

Williams goes on to explain that while the working class (including most of my siblings, and most of my wife’s family) admire rich people, they resent highly-educated professionals (such as me) and particularly professional women.

If You Want to Connect with White Working-Class Voters, Place Economics at the Center

“The white working class is just so stupid. Don’t they realize Republicans just use them every four years, and then screw them?” I have heard some version of this over and over again, and it’s actually a sentiment the WWC agrees with, which is why they rejected the Republican establishment this year. But to them, the Democrats are no better.

Both parties have supported free-trade deals because of the net positive GDP gains, overlooking the blue-collar workers who lost work as jobs left for Mexico or Vietnam. These are precisely the voters in the crucial swing states of Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that Democrats have so long ignored. Excuse me. Who’s stupid?

This is of course why everyone is bringing up NAFTA and the TPP (which presently seems dead in the water). Whether any sort of protectionism could have preserved manufacturing jobs is hard to say, but both parties certainly smoothed the way for employers to send them overseas. It seems unlikely that Trump can bring back all those jobs, but I expect him to make some symbolic gestures.


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