By JOSH ANTHONY
I am going to argue for something controversial: liberal America shares equal blame with conservative America for the ascendance of Donald Trump.
Liberal Americans are predominantly city dwellers. They are, as a group, younger, more ethnically diverse and more likely to be gay or non-binary. They are more likely to abhor bigotry and cultural slurs. That is, with one notable exception.
Redneck. Hick. Trailer trash. White trash. These pejoratives dominated discussion about Trump’s election as blame was placed on the white working class. These pejoratives don’t refer to white people as a whole, but in particular to poor whites, particularly poor whites outside of cities, and particularly poor whites in the south and center of the country. I’m not saying that all minorities hate white people; far from it. Anecdotally, I find that it is white city dwellers that seem to hate their rural counterparts the most viciously. I remember in middle school, a girl said she could never respect our small-town Kentucky-born teacher because of her accent. Everyone agreed.
Let me not be misconstrued; racism and bigotry exist in disproportionate number in the countryside. But so do abject poverty and rising unemployment; so does rampant opiate and methamphetamine addiction; hope and help, in large effect, do not. Manufacturing jobs are leaving the country, and they’re not coming back. Many people who work those jobs rage about industrial plants crossing the border and blame immigrants and those in other countries for stealing their jobs.
Manufacturing in America is dying, but the people who fed their families by working industrial labor are very much alive.
Every summer, I go to the town where my dad was born, in central Alabama. Every year I go, the dirtier it gets and the more sadness I see on people’s faces. I also coincidentally see more Hispanics. I am well aware that a rising Hispanic population is not to blame for worsening economic conditions; but if my whole world was that small town in central Alabama, would I not think that these two factors are related? When rural Americans blame Mexican immigration for the job crisis, urban liberals don’t respond by describing the complex global economic conditions that created the job crisis. Instead, they say something much simpler and emotionally satisfying: “you’re racist.” It is the most infuriating thing for country people to hear. It’s telling them that their opinions don’t matter because they’re stupid and backwards, that they no longer have a place in this country.
Few of these people will ever vote Democrat, because the Democrats fight for the city dwellers and their interests, and thus vote Republican. They watch Fox News, which keeps their viewers watching by aggrandizing them and demonizing their enemies. It calls them the heart of America and blames newcomers with foreign ideas for their woes. It confirms their feeling that everyone else in the world is against them, and reinforces the racism in the darkest part of rural America by blaming minorities for the nation’s ills. It preaches that conservative economics are the only way to fix the economy and anything else is the government stealing the little they have left. Republican candidates don’t fit their policies to their working class constituency as much as they fit their working class constituency to their policies. These policies, invariably, help the rich at the expense of the poor. It’s the greatest con in history.
The Bush years and the ensuing recession shook everything up. The government’s approval ratings dipped dramatically. Antiestablishment sentiment grew among both conservatives and liberals, as well as country folk and city dwellers alike. All of these concerns lead back to the economic inequality that is an inescapable feature of America. Liberals, however, got thrown a bone: Barack Obama. Under our first black President the recession slowly receded, but the wealth gap remained. Especially in rural America, prospects improved little. With antiestablishment liberals mostly satisfied (remember in 2009, when white liberals were saying racism is dead?) it drifted away, but the antiestablishment right only grew. It capitalized on the racist sentiment created by years of Republican rhetoric and Fox News propaganda.
Trump’s vow to “Make America Great Again” isn’t as radical to many in the white working class as it seems, at least at first. All they need to call America great again is their jobs back. Unfortunately, the white working class has been told for a generation that all their problems are because of the Democrats conspiring against them to benefit minorities. Liberals have done nothing but confirm this notion. Hillary Clinton, who responded to Trump’s slogan by saying America is already great, and who called all Trump supporters deplorable, is the worst offender. America may have become a much better country for those in the cities, but for those in the Rust Belt and areas like it, America is dying. White privilege, while an important issue in the cosmopolitan city, is harder to understand when the only people you know are white, and they’re all as dirt poor as you, and drug dependency is a major issue.
The Democratic Party’s liberal vision of tolerence for all is by definition an abject failure if it doesn’t include absolutely everyone, and based on the attitudes of city people to country people, that toleration is quite incomplete. This failure, combined with the failure of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic leaders to court voters, lost the election as much as Trump won it. We as Americans need to express our rage not at each other, but at our elite establishment leaders on both sides. American establishment politics needs to change drastically, or else face a future where candidates like Trump are not the exception, but the norm.