The reader Deep South Populist and I disagree deeply on matters of race in America, and as a rule, I’m not going to post comments going forward that use the inflammatory (versus illuminating) term “white genocide” to describe the travails of the white working class. When they start talking about a Final Solution for Dan and Roseanne Connor, then we’ll start talking about white genocide on this blog.
Nevertheless, I like it that DSP participates here because he draws my attention to things that I might not otherwise see — like this column by Fareed Zakaria about Trump and the decline of the white working class. Here is its conclusion:
“You have been the veterans of creative suffering,” Martin Luther King Jr. told African Americans in his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963: “Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.” Writing in 1960,King explained the issue in personal terms: “As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways that I could respond to my situation: either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. . . . So like the Apostle Paul I can now humbly yet proudly say, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’ ” The Hispanic and immigrant experiences in the United States are different, of course. But again, few in these groups have believed that their place in society is assured. Minorities, by definition, are on the margins. They do not assume that the system is set up for them. They try hard and hope to succeed, but they do not expect it as the norm.
The United States is going through a great power shift. Working-class whites don’t think of themselves as an elite group. But, in a sense, they have been, certainly compared with blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and most immigrants. They were central to America’s economy, its society, indeed its very identity. They are not anymore. Donald Trump has promised that he will change this and make them win again. But he can’t. No one can. And deep down, they know it.
Couple things here. In the broader column, Zakaria makes a fair and necessary point about the ability to suffer, and having faith in suffering’s redemptive value. It’s true for all people, everywhere. Zakaria is surely right that the unusually high rate of suicide and drinking and drugging to death among the white working class today has to do with the painful gulf between the life they expected and the life they have. As a group, they are clearly not dealing well with the deep structural changes in American life. There is no question that they — like every human being — are going to have to learn to suffer without being spiritually defeated, as King embodied. Popular American Christianity is generally not prepared for that, it seems to me. I wonder if the spirit of creative suffering extolled by King, and exemplified in the Civil Rights generation and those who came before them, can be said to exist anywhere in America today.
The last paragraph, though, strikes me as filled with elite contempt for the white working class. I might be reading too much into it, but there is within it an air of, “You people are finally getting what you deserve, so don’t expect us to feel sorry for you.” White working-class males really are the only permissible group for elites of all races to hate. Try reading that final paragraph as if the “they” were some other put-upon demographic. For example:
The United States is going through a great power shift. Blacks don’t think of themselves as an elite group. But, in a sense, they have been, given that we have had a generation of racial preferences to address lingering inequality from the era of segregation. From the time they were brought here in chains, black Americans were central to America’s economy, its society, indeed its very identity. They are not anymore. The breakdown of the black family, disproportionate incarceration rates, the passing on of intergenerational poverty, and other factors have left many black Americans behind. And the increased Latinization of America, as well as the rising numbers of Asians, means that the America of the future will not be defined by the white vs. black conflict. Blacks will just be one minority among others, and increasingly those who run the country will feel no special responsibility to African-Americans, because their ancestors did not participate in black oppression.
No one can stop this dynamic. And deep down, African-Americans know it.
Is there truth in this paragraph? Yes, some, and maybe more than some. But would a star in the Washington Establishment pantheon like Fareed Zakaria be comfortable looking at the intense suffering in black America and saying, basically, “Too bad for you people; history is passing you by”? Because that’s the impression I take from his column about the white working class and its enthusiasm for Trump.
Writers typically don’t write their headlines, so you can’t blame Zakaria for the headline on his: “America’s Self-Destructive Whites”. Still, it accurately reflects the content of his column. And don’t misunderstand me, there is a measurable spirit of self-destruction in the white working class community, which occasioned the Zakaria column in the first place. I wrote about it a couple of months ago in the “Why Trump Matters” post, based on the findings that white working class people, especially men, are suffering from a collapse of their mental and physical health. And I also wrote back then, citing social science research from Brad Wilcox and others, that there is a religious aspect to this phenomenon:
So, if Wilcox et al. are right, the black and Hispanic working classes are better able to weather economic adversity and family setbacks because they are more closely tied in to their churches. Their faith gives them resilience that whites more or less do not have, because of the way we whites believe. I believe that as holding to traditional Christianity begins to cost the white middle class something serious, we are going to see a mass apostasy. We whites had better get busy learning from the black and Hispanic church if we are going to make it.
Now, there is one more aspect to white working-class despair: dispossession. It does not take a sociologist to grasp that the tectonic social changes in American life since the 1960s have been at the very least disorienting to whites. The point to grasp here is not that we shouldn’t have had those changes; many of them were just and necessary, others, not so much. The point to grasp is that the experience of those changes may have been psychologically traumatic to certain whites who expected the world to work in a different way — a way that favored them.
Perhaps there is a comparison to be made with Russians after the collapse of the Soviet Union — which was, of course, a vastly more severe phenomenon, but I think there may be some comparison to be made, re: a people who assumed that the world was a certain way, and woke up rudely to the fact that it was not. Add to that the fact that among elites in our culture — especially academic and media elites — white working-class people are the bungholes of the universe, and, well, here we are.
Now, everything I wrote is consonant with what Zakaria wrote, and it doesn’t become untrue because it is unpleasant to consider. What bothers me is the way elites in American culture in general regard the suffering of white working-class males, versus minorities. In truth, it’s not an either-or game, meaning it’s not that we either care about the suffering of the white working class or we care about the suffering of minorities. But it certainly seems to work out that way in the way the elites talk about the issue — especially a globalist like Zakaria, whose last paragraph strikes me as polite gloating.
The people who support Donald Trump know what the Fareed Zakarias of the globalist establishment (both liberals and conservatives) think of them. They get it. Me, I’m certain that Trump is not a solution to the working class’s problems, or to anybody’s problems, but it is perfectly obvious why people would want to believe that he is. The Democratic Party has invited #BlackLivesMatter activists to be part of its presidential campaign efforts. You know where the #WhiteWorkingClassLivesMatter activists can be found? At Donald Trump rallies.
UPDATE: Reader AMHixson comments:
I live and work in metro D.C. and, through my job, have intermittently interacted with this slice of the elite for a decade. In my experience, it’s less overt contempt for the white working-class than it is fatalistic indifference.
IMO, the taproot of this indifference is their globalist worldview. It never occurs to most of them that the American elite, even in elected government positions, should privilege the interests of Americans over the interests of others. Nation-states are a quaint, obsolete concept from the 20th century and today, in their view, are really just managerial districts of the global economy. Free trade and globalization have elevated hundreds of millions in the developing world into material modernity and are therefore a net good, and, if working- and middle-class Americans have lost ground as a price of that good, them’s the breaks. The global market is like the weather, unstoppable and inevitable, and so any attempt to reverse Middle America’s fate is a fool’s errand that will just make things even worse for them.
What’s telling to me is how many of them, despite being born and raised in the U.S., have seen more of Europe, Australia, Asia, and in some cases Africa than they have of their own country. Their mental map of America consists of the coasts, Chicago, and DFW Airport with everything else being “here there be dragons”.
UPDATE.2: Reader Richard writes:
Rod I saw this article in the Post this morning, but I did not come away with the impression that Zakaria was dismissing the white working class with contempt, or with the sense that “sorry, guys, but you’ve had this coming”.
Conceding in advance that the conclusion of this typical 750 word op ed is inelegantly written, I offer this interpretation. Describing the white working class as an “elite” is a poor choice of words, but to the extent that members of this group once enjoyed a way of life that has largely been sucked away by globalization and credentializing of various jobs, the term is apt. Part of my growing up was in Michigan, and I worked summers at auto industry parts depots as a “summer replacement” hire. I learned a great deal from the (mostly) men alongside whom I worked. Many of them were stereotypical high school graduates, with a three year enlisted stint in the armed forces – people who had made it past their 90 day threshold to the prospect of a 30 year career drawing a good wage as a member of the UAW. They owned homes, often owned a cabin on a lake “up North” with a boat on a trailer. They coached their kids teams, and many of them spoke with pride about sons or daughters who had graduated high school and who were enrolled in one of Michigan’s universities. Some were incredibly well read. Some pursued further education on their own. Some were Vietnam vets. The point is that as the 60’s faded into the 70’s, a high school degree, a good work ethic, fidelity to one’s spouse, care for one’s children, and avoidance of poor life choices had enabled them to live that good life some conservatives elsewhere like to talk up (“graduate”, “get a job”, “get married before you have a baby”) – that, and to see their children aspire to better. That was a way of life that was the envy of most of the world.
We all know what went wrong. The cars they assembled were inferior – or became so – in many ways. Union-management relationships were sclerotic, and entrenched high labor costs placed a whole industry at a disadvantage. But the good ones – and the great majority of those I met were good people – lived lives for which they were grateful. And if they weren’t descendants of slaves, etc., etc., a considerable number of them were immigrants or the children of immigrants, from the ruins of post war Europe, or from the shtetls of Appalachia. People like the folks I worked with many summers ago in Livonia, Michigan, once did their part in making this country run, to echo a song lyric from the 30’s.
And, no, in Gated Community America, they are no longer central to the nation’s economy or identity. Demagogues like Trump offer them political bread and circuses. Other Republicans, on a quadrennial cycle, tease them with social issue pretensions.
I think you and I and others agree that The Donald is a BS artist. But Zakaria’s concluding paragraph, phrased as a question, still hangs in the air. And I sure don’t have an answer.
Let me state again here what I’ve said in the comments boxes: I may be reading something into Zakaria’s column that is not there, or that he did not intend. In which case, bad on me. Hearing this kind of requiem for the white working class coming from a member of the globalist elite inclines me to believe his tone is “sucks to be you,” but perhaps I am being uncharitable.