This column was originally published on March 10, 2017
White working men this.
White working men that.
What about the white working man? How can we bend over backward to be more appealing to the white working men?
The unexpected Donald Trump presidency has made these questions abundant and caused people to write many post-election think pieces about the white working man and the future of the Democratic Party. In fact, former Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz dedicated a whole column to “Why White Guys Matter” and how the Democratic Party should try harder to coddle them in this week’s Isthmus. He wrote:
The Democrats can do better. I would argue that the party doesn’t need to change its policies, just its emphasis and language. Knowing my brothers as I do, to win them back I would favor discussion of economic over social issues, talk about fairness rather than diversity, emphasize personal responsibility as much as rights, and present a tone of bootstraps optimism over encouraging people to think of themselves as victims.
This premise is silly in that it assumes a slight alteration of language will move a Trump supporter – with all the racism, sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia that you have to be on board with to vote for him – over to the Democrats’ camp. It’s actually ridiculous. There’s no evidence that a population susceptible to vote based on racial fear will cross over if you use white-friendlier code words. And do you want that person in your camp, anyways? Especially, because by pandering to them – somebody who voted for a racist, sexist, misogynic person like Trump – you will most definitely alienate and lose a ton of voters of color in your Democratic Party. And working-class voters of color – guess what? – will be the majority of voters in the near future.
Yes, it’s a terrible strategy, but pretty standard for a Democratic Party that lamentably has spent the last 50 years creeping ideologically to the right.
And, frankly, pandering to Trump voters is a fight the Democratic Party cannot even win. You want to calm white working men with softer words around the tremendous diversity that is growing and inevitable in our nation? You want to sweep the awful racial inequities past and present under the rug with more generic “bootstrap” jargon? Why in the world do you think you can win that fight? The Republicans have the expertise on comforting code words. They have a half-century of mastering the skill of not only creating the racial fear and anguish of the white working man with one hand, but simultaneously soothing the white working man with the other hand. The Dems want to get into this business? That’s the solution to the Democratic Party? Really?
There are two types of white men in America. There is the white man who has come to grips with the extremely obvious fact that the one percent have set up this country and this system so they can continue to get massively richer and richer off the working people of this country who are getting poorer and poorer. Fact.
“It’s pretty easy for us well-to-do white liberals living in the city with the nation’s worst racial disparities to talk about “bootstrap optimism” when as a white person you inherit wealth five times more often than blacks and Hispanics and when that money gets passed along to whites, it’s about 10 times as much. It’s much easier to talk about “bootstrap optimism” when the median white household has $111,146 in wealth holdings, compared to $7,113 for the median black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household due to the fact that white households enjoyed wealth-building opportunities that were systematically denied to people of color through centuries of redlining, segregation, and, honestly, just some good old-fashioned virile racism.”
Then, there is the white man who thinks that brown immigrants quietly working two or three jobs (that the white working man refuses to do) are the cause of his own personal decline. The very same white man that thinks that the 12 cents we spend on a reduced lunch for a hungry non-white kid is a travesty against “personal responsibility,” but doesn’t bat an eye over the $3 trillion of his tax money spent on the latest quagmire America has interjected itself into in the Middle East.
Moving your party’s messaging to court the latter type of white man is a waste of time and resources and will signal the end of the Democratic Party as we know it.
Take it from Derrick Bell, the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard Law School and one of the originators of critical race theory, who astutely wrote this 25 years ago … long before the giant chasm of wealth between the 1 percent and rest of us really blew up:
“The reasons for this ‘Caucasian Commitment’ are likely both numerous and complex. But a crucial factor seems to be the unstated understanding by the mass of whites that they will accept large disparities in economic opportunity with other whites so long as they have a priority over blacks and other people of color for access to whatever opportunities are left.”
For more than 50 years, Republicans have been diabolically using racial fear to take things directly from the working white men … for them to accept less and less money for themselves and to send their money straight to the top 1 percent and, more often than not, the top 1 percent of that 1 percent.
Your average working-class white man lived in a paradise in the 1950s where without a college education he could live the American dream. He had the world by the tail. Unions were very strong ensuring him a fantastic wage, benefits, vacation, and pension for his work. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower was taxing the rich to the tune of more than 90 percent (and never, to my knowledge, got teabagged or called a socialist or a Kenyan). The working white man flourished like never before in America and you didn’t need a college degree to make a great living, have a great house, a pension, retirement and to someday pass that wealth on down to your children and grandchildren.
But white working-class men slowly pissed it all way when Republicans discovered that they could increasingly hand it all over to top 1 percent with some very simple but intense racial fearmongering. And the Democrats have been playing catch-up ever since.
Yes, white men ruined it all. They let people scare them. It didn’t happen overnight, but slowly they chipped away at it. They stripped their unions of their power, they watched their pensions go, they watched their wages drop and benefits disappear. They bought into the trickle-down economics garbage that is the Charlie Brown trying to kick Lucy’s football (below).
The 1 percenters told them that it was patriotic to give them more money and to regulate them less. They divided and conquered the 99 percent until they got them to take away all of their benefits, lower their wages, etc. The 1 percenters told them that it was better for pay them billions in corporate welfare (while they were already making record profits, mind you,) than paying a human wage to someone at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s (who were probably more likely to be black or brown, anyways).
Then we watched the Republicans completely crash the economy in 2007. Except for the 1 percent, of course, who made out like bandits. We watched them use it as an excuse to further take away pensions, to reduce wages, to break unions, to decrease everybody’s standard of living, and to send even more money to the richest of the rich.
As a result, white working men are poorer now than they have ever been and they are getting poorer by the minute. The only thing that keeps working-class white guys from full rioting on the streets and burning cars right now is the privilege of having inherited white money passed down from generation to generation.
Which brings us to one of the most important parts of this conundrum we now find ourselves in – dealing with Massive White Guy Cognitive Dissonance (MWGCD). That recent Madison365 article on white inheritance above just stated facts. Inarguable facts. That, amazingly, the comments section following that article was full of conservative white guys saying – contrary to well-researched data and facts – that they had no advantage or privilege was pretty amazing. One of the guys commentating I actually knew. He has not worked at a job in over 10 years. His mother paid for the house he lives in. He argued – with his own name, mind you! – that whites and blacks both bootstrap in the same way and to “stop complainin’.” So there is just a severe cognitive dissonance on racial issues from a lifetime of Republican propaganda that renders facts and straight talk useless.
Then we watched the Massive White Guy Cognitive Dissonance kick in again as we watched the Republicans torpedo the economy in 2007 (except for the super-rich, of course), and as we watched President Obama, facing rampant Republican obfuscation, dig us out of that. Instead of keeping that momentum going they decided that the old Republican plan of rampant deregulation and massive tax breaks for the superrich that got us into the big recession was the smart choice. More massive cognitive dissonance.
The Democrats want to try and change their messaging to appeal to this guy?
Let’s be clear that this tremendous cognitive dissonance on economics flows through racial fear stoked by the Republican elite since Barry Goldwater first saw how beautifully it worked in 1964. So let’s bring it back to the obvious racial undertones of this week’s Isthmus article (and many other recent articles, too) when they talk about the need for Democrats to whitecoat their emphasis and language to lure potential Trump voters. Mayor Dave wrote: “Knowing my brothers as I do, to win them back I would favor discussion of economic over social issues, talk about fairness rather than diversity, emphasize personal responsibility as much as rights, and present a tone of bootstraps optimism over encouraging people to think of themselves as victims.”
It’s pretty easy for us well-to-do white liberals living in the city with the nation’s worst racial disparities to talk about “bootstrap optimism” when as a white person you inherit wealth five times more often than blacks and Hispanics and when that money gets passed along to whites, it’s about 10 times as much. It’s much easier to talk about “bootstrap optimism” when the median white household has $111,146 in wealth holdings, compared to $7,113 for the median black household and $8,348 for the median Latino household due to the fact that white households enjoyed wealth-building opportunities that were systematically denied to people of color through centuries of redlining, segregation, and, honestly, just some good old-fashioned virile racism.
As a well-to-do white liberal, it is also pretty easy for us to talk about “opportunity” rather than “victimization.” We’re not a black or brown person who – when attending college, working full time, spending less and doing everything single thing they are supposed to do – do not come close to closing the racial wealth gap like inheritance does for white people. In other words, doing something exactly right for a black or brown person will still leave you far worse, on average, than doing everything wrong by a white person. But let’s just go ahead and talk about “opportunity” as if it’s all exactly the same because we want to potentially lure a few Trump voters into our camp.
As a well-to-do white liberal, it’s pretty easy to focus on “personal responsibility” when black people in even nice, liberal Madison are TEN times more likely to be arrested than white people – mostly on drug-related charges – when it has been shown that whites actually use drugs MORE than black people do.
I can go on forever with these examples, but in a nutshell, the new Democratic Party plan will essentially be: “Hey, Rosa Parks. Can we tone down all the talk about being stuck on the segregated, dirty, back part of the bus and focus on the ‘bootstrap optimism’ that we’re all experiencing by being on this bus together? Thanks. We have a few Trump voters’ sensibilities that we really need to be thinking about right now.”
“So, if I’m trying hard to court you with white-friendly code words – working-class white guy who put his full support behind this racist, sexist, misogynic hatemonger – what kind of awful message is that putting forward to our gigantic minority populations (that are only going to get larger) that we want to turn out huge in elections for the Democratic Party? Why in the world would they ever support you or your party?”
This minimalization of civil rights and concerns for people of color to court potential Trump voters would actually complete corporate Democrats half-century lurch to the right as they continue to hopelessly try and keep up with Republicans. To be honest, the current “Republican Lite” corporate Democrats have not done much to advance the white working man interests so I understand the notion to try to appeal to him with the same code words Republicans use.
Through it all, people of color have kept unenthusiastically supporting the Dem Party and their “Republican Lite” candidates because the Republican alternative has always been so awful, peaking with this last election of Trump. But this latest Democratic Party idea to ditch “diversity” and “rights” and appeal to the white-male Trump voter would signal the end of a lot of people of color’s support, too. It would also signal the end of support from even more lefty Democrats, many who disgustingly sat out this last election, anyways.
If Charlie Brown white working-class men who use racism and fear as a crutch are going to continue to try and kick Lucy’s trickle-down football and keep sending their money straight to the top with no questions asked, they need to be left on their own. You’re not going to sweet talk them by using Caucasian-friendly code words or disguising the word ‘diversity.’ Like a degenerative gambler, they have to reach rock bottom and come to Jesus on their own.
If white working men can’t see that the extremely obvious reason that their lot in life is getting worse is because the 1 percent has set up a complex system to take most of their money and not because a Mexican immigrant is working two or three extremely low-paying jobs (that white working men won’t do) to support his family … then screw them. They’ve had more than 50 years to figure this out.
There’s a much a deeper point here on why these white guys don’t matter in your Democratic Party coalition moving forward.
Number one, if you actually do things right, Democrats have the numbers. They already won by 3 million popular votes with a candidate who didn’t really inspire many. They have the demographics. The youth is most definitely on their side. Conservative white guys are dying off as fast as young liberals are getting a chance to vote. The number of people of color in America is increasing rapidly and Democrats have not come close to maxing out black and brown votes … if Democrats would actually court them (and deliver for them for a change) and not just suddenly come around every four years. Heck, you maybe even get some white working-class guys who are tired of working 60 hours a week to make the super-rich richer who finally get tired of trying to kick Lucy’s trickle-down football. And none of this even takes into account all of the white progressives who have abandoned the party because the Republican Lite version of Democrats has zero appeal to them. A healthy, vibrant Democratic Party that is true to its core values has unlimited potential.
Trump didn’t “drain the swamp” like he told white, working-class masses of men that he would do. He did the opposite – he overflooded it with the same underqualified billionaires who made out big time the last time the Republicans crashed the economy. As it turns out (surprise!) there was zero populism in Trump’s campaign. And without the populism … it’s very clear that fascism, misogyny, racism, and hate propelled Trump to the presidency.
So, if I’m trying hard to court you with white-friendly code words – working-class white guy who put his full support behind this racist, sexist, misogynic hatemonger – what kind of awful message is that putting forward to our gigantic minority populations (that are only going to get larger) that we want to turn out huge in elections for the Democratic Party? Why in the world would they ever support you or your party?
And what does that say about the values and morals of the Democratic Party? What does that say about what the Democratic Party has become?
And is that something you really want to be a part of?