There are many things on my mind as we change administrations. I’ve been trying to understand what happened, just like most of America. Some folks have called it a “black-lash,” but I don’t see this as the whole story. Certainly, there is an amplified voice given to inane racist rhetoric, and, for that, I fault the media that gave it too much airtime and neglected to push back.
That isn’t the total picture.
More than a black-lash, Donald Trump is president because someone turned the lights off on lower-middle-class whites a long time ago. Because of that, these folks got rightfully angry. Sadly, they were also coaxed into believing that the wealthy would go to Washington to speak for them. Many were also convinced that wedge issues block their success.
President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Throughout this transition, we’ve seen this play out. Trump and his wealthy cabal have convinced working-class and poor whites that the threat to them is the brown man — the brown man from outside of, and inside of, our own nation. But Trump is signing policies that will steal from those workers; and yet, they staunchly defend him. LBJ was correct.
For those who don’t know this demographic, they are the white people who scrape by on less than their more educated counterparts and are only slightly above the poverty line. They are the white families in which mom, with a high school diploma, works long hours for pay that could be better, or maybe she has a two-year degree and still cannot find a job to make the budget work. These are families where dad, if he is lucky, works in a factory while automation creeps in to displace him. These are often people who did not have the luxury to go to college. They are also people who love their churches, even those exploitative mega-churches that reinforce the values of wealth that most of them will never achieve. On Saturday mornings, they take their kids to tee-ball sponsored by their church because they can afford to keep their kids engaged here.
These aren’t monsters.
They are just regular people who want a shot at the myth of the American Dream and, while some are racists, most are not. Other than white skin, they have little power. Most are poor, or almost poor, and not able to fulfill the promise of their privilege. This is why they are forgotten — until an election when they perform as LBJ predicted.
With that said, the panic that sent these voters to Republicans for the last 40 years is now being felt in the white, comfortable middle- and creative-classes. The differences are clear. They often have more education and more skill to access resources and information than do their poorer counterparts. They have traveled, spent time in culturally-diverse places and feel kinship with diversity — though they have not mastered inclusion. In theory, they feel less threatened by those who are different. This group has been courted by Democrats and feels as strong about keeping its liberal ties as the others feel about conservative ideals. What these groups finally share is a sense of imminent and oppressive discomfort.
The swell of middle-class resistance is an awakening long overdue for this group. They finally see the danger of being forgotten and being uncomfortable — what faces poor whites and most black or brown Americans.
Marginalized groups understand what is happening and know it means the worst will befall the most vulnerable. The immigration ban is a red flag. We see America sacrificing its sacred Constitution for the fear that harm is coming from outside, when it has come mostly from our own. We understand more than these other groups how to struggle with less because that is all we have been afforded.
Trump has filled his gold-lined cabinet with ultra rich friends, and their push to keep us divided while filling their coffers will continue. If we are paying attention, poor whites, middle-class whites and marginalized groups have much in common, which should tell us something very important: We are not each other’s enemies and we had better learn to be good allies or we will collapse. We’re being sucked dry by the same snakes.