I know the white working class. I grew up in a family where this title was worn both as a badge of honor and a symbol of strength. My community was about as working-class as they come– Lima is among the poorest, least educated, and the most hard-scrabble places you’ll find in the United States. When I say I know the white working-class it is because I am of them.
Which is why I feel comfortable calling bullshit on all the stories being peddled about their innocence and virtue in the aftermath of this election. David Paul Khun’s recent op-ed, “Sorry Liberals. Bigotry Didn’t Elect Donald Trump” represents the narrative in the broadest form. To hear the apologist’s tell it, the white working-class was not motivated out of their animus towards women, minorities, Muslims, or immigrants– they just didn’t think it mattered that much. Or, as Khun put it:
Bluntly put, much of the white working class decided that Mr. Trump could be a jerk. Absent any other champion, they supported the jerk they thought was more on their side — that is, on the issues that most concerned them.
Khun didn’t ignore that bigotry was more prevalent in Trump supporters– and we all know it runs a hell of a lot deeper than 4 in 10 of them thinking black people are inherently lazy. He simply waved it away. After all, people voted for Bill Clinton when they thought he was dishonest!
That is a lazy rhetorical fallacy. Clinton voters did not poll out as less honest than people who supported other candidates. Nor did Clinton run around flouting his dishonesty. Donald Trump ran a campaign that used racist marketing, promoted racist and sexist public policy solutions, and animated his crowds to commit acts of violence, encouraging them to act upon their bigotry. These are apples and oranges.
Beyond that, I am sick of people making excuses for the white-working class when it comes to racism and sexism– not to mention homophobia, Islamaphobia, and xenophobia. We know a significant portion hold these views– they do so proudly and in plain sight. We know that they want to act on these views. Again, they cheered it wildly and promoted it all over the social landscape. And anyone who grew up in this environment knows that those ugly assholes who publicly say such repulsive things are only the tip of the spear. Each of us can recall a grandparent, uncle, parent, or sibling who espoused such views in private.
I certainly do. Some of my earliest memories on the subjects of race and sex are being confused that family members and teachers held and acted on discriminatory views. I couldn’t believe that people I loved, trusted, and respected could stand by silently as someone said something openly racist. These were not just non-PC jokes either. Full-blown, anger-filled, scapegoating. “Can you believe how lazy those blacks on the job site are? Fucking Affirmative Action” wasn’t an isolated opinion put forward by fringe kooks. It was the privately held, publically winked at standard belief.
Let’s pretend Khun is right (he’s not) and that my experience growing up in the white working-class is not representative (it is) and that many of the members of this group are not motivated– even in small part– by their bigotry. The argument still amounts to the idea that white working-class voters simply don’t care if a candidate for the highest office in our nation is an open racist and misogynist. You say Donald Trump thinks that black people are prone to violent crime? Whatever. Grab’em by the pussy? Locker room talk. There are a hundred lame excuses to each and every one of Trump’s awful statements, actions, and policy proposals. Refuting them is pointless. It is more important to point out what they represent. They represent a voting block who does not think that those attitudes or behaviors matter enough to disqualify a candidate. That they view racism and sexism as negotiable should be unacceptable in civilized society.
Put most simply, turning a blind eye to evil is wrong. It is cowardly. And in my eyes, it is every bit as bad as saying or doing it yourself. If you think it is acceptable for the President to do these things, you are wrong. These are not small failings or personality quirks. They are not a cheeky reaction to PC culture. They are the vilest sort of evil. And if you voted for Donald Trump, you voted to normalize this behavior and (re)codify it in law. And we have words to describe people that agree with things like this: bigots. That your bigotry is passive hardly makes that distinction less odious, no matter what your apologists would have us believe.