Julia Byrne, UMBC:
Since the election, the white working class has been receiving a great deal of attention from liberals, who feel like they’ve let these voters down and need to work harder for them. However, pandering to Donald’s voter base isn’t a smart political strategy. It ignores the core of the resistance against the new executive branch and continues to make excuses for the growing wave of white nationalism in the United States.
On February 28th, Donald gave his first official address to Congress. In it, he called for harsher immigration laws, bragged about the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and spouted barely concealed venom at the Muslim faith. Perhaps most chillingly, he called for a new anti-immigrant organization that would track crimes committed by both legal and illegal immigrants. Data collected there would doubtlessly be used to justify more abuse of Latinos and Muslims.
Afterwards, as is tradition, the Democratic Party offered a response. It was given in a Kentucky diner by former Governor Steve Beshar. He spoke with a midwestern accent in front of an all white crowd about how the Affordable Care act had saved thousands of lives in his state, mentioned the Christian God several times, gave a nod to coalworkers, and quoted Ronald Reagan. There were a few bland comments on protecting refugees and immigrants but for the most part, it was a speech for the white working class. During the election, the black community, the Latino community–particularly the women– and the LGBT community all turned out en masse for Hillary Clinton. Donald poses a direct threat to the most loyal members of the Democratic Party, and they spent their air time trying to pander to the people who continuously spit in their faces.
The Democrats are hardly alone in trying to appeal to the white working class. After November ninth, many liberal scholars have desperately tried to understand why people would vote for a candidate as unqualified and bigoted as Donald Trump. Some have blamed “identity politics.” Others put the blame on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for not campaigning harder in the Rust Belt, or for not pushing jobs for the working class–clearly her detailed book on her plan for America and hundreds of speeches weren’t enough.
When they’re not doing that, they’re interviewing people who voted for Donald. The New York Times has written many pieces on the “white working class,” and why they flocked to the real estate mogul. People are angry, the articles say. They’ve lost their jobs, they’ve been struggling, their homes are falling apart. They voted for him because he gave them hope. The Great Recession was hard on them. On February fifteenth, Katie Rogers wrote an article about voters for Donald feeling betrayed by his actions–abuse of the press, attacks on immigrants and promises to repeal the Affordable Care Act. You can’t blame them, is the subtext. They didn’t know he would really enact the bigoted laws he has or attack their healthcare.
Of course joblessness and the fallout from the Great Recession played a role in why Donald’s supporters chose him. However, pointing to them as the only reasons and claiming that they didn’t know who he really was gives his voters an innocence that they haven’t earned. The alleged billionaire made it quite clear who he was throughout the election. Not only did he admit to sexually assaulting women, make openly racist and xenophobic comments on nearly a daily basis and bully the press, he also never offered any plans on how to create jobs or improve the economy other than some overly broad soundbites. What he appealed to was the voter’s white entitlement–things aren’t supposed to be bad for white Americans. White Americans aren’t supposed to have economic problems or get the short end of the deal in the global market. That’s not how the global hegemony is supposed to function. This is the heart of why Donald rose to power, not economic anxiety.
And even if Donald’s voters truly didn’t expect the fallout from electing him, the fact remains that the executive branch of government is being run by white nationalists. If they truly did not vote with racial resentment, then their actions should reflect it. Their regrets mean nothing unless they are actively working to resist the hatred he represents. Few of the hundreds of investigative pieces about the innocent Republican voters have mentioned if any of them are trying to help their terrified Muslim and Latino coworkers, campaigning for the ACA or doing anything else to undo the damage their vote has done.
Ever since the election, I have thought of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. It’s a short story about a small town gathering in their old-fashioned square for a traditional lottery. They draw names from an old, splintering wooden box, one by one, until Tessie Hutchinson draws the losing slip. She cries and pleads that it’s not fair, but the villagers stone her to death anyway.
The deluge of liberal for Donald’s voters is eerily similar to the excuses made for the barbaric “lottery,” in Jackson’s masterpiece. Throughout the story, some of the villagers question the town traditions, only to be told that they’ve always done things that way and don’t plan on changing. They have to kill, so their crops will grow, and they don’t plan on changing their traditions no matter who it hurts.
Like The Lottery, these pieces present an idealized version of Middle America, “Real America,” and the quirky individuals with odd traditions. However, unlike in The Lottery, we are expected to understand the horrific actions that these people have taken to preserve their traditional way of life. We are expected to root for the villagers as they stone an innocent person to death.