Voting with Your Middle Finger: How Working-Class Whites Became a Negative Stereotype & What That Means for You
Last weekend I came across a Hidden Brain podcast called “Voting with Your Middle Finger,” which reveals some unpleasant insights about the adverse effects of stereotyping others. Since I'm black, I know how it feels to be seen as a stereotype. You get pigeonholed as a concept before anyone even bothers to ask your name. Definitely not fun. But in this case, the stereotyping is about what happened to white blue-collar workers over the past several decades We already know that Donald Trump got into the White House by tapping into their pain. But there's a lot more to the story than that. Why, for instance, do his followers remain loyal to him no matter what?
This Hidden Brain podcast is a discussion with two authors who break down the significance of race and class in determining voter behavior. Whether you realize it or not, your class identification--the way you move through the world and relate to others--tips the scale almost as much as race. Sure, sure. But there's an aspect to this we tend to overlook.
Get this. For the past several decades, the white working class has been reframed as a negative stereotype. Compare the worker-hero image depicted in posters for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression to what followed in the TV era. That hero, once seen as the backbone of the country, has been debased as fat and lazy, loud and stupid. Need examples? Try Archie Bunker, Homer Simpson, and Family Guy to name just a few.
Interestingly, the working-class accounts for only one-third of US Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while the professional white-collar class accounts for two-thirds. This is not a slam dunk for college-educated folks. The working-class comprises 53% of American voters.
This voter-segment has been fertile ground for right-wing talk show hosts on the AM radio dial and Fox News for some time. All it needed was a candidate who knew how to reap what had already been sown—and tap into deep-seated feelings about race, particularly immigration, which is also a key identity issue for it.
There’s far too much in the podcast for me to summarize here. But I encourage you to listen to the full 49-minute program. It will shed light on how we got here and provide insight on how we might begin to dig out. If you don't have time to listen, here's the transcript.
What I realized while listening to the podcast is something you've probably already figured out. Trump does not need to unite the country in order to control his party’s agenda. In fact, it's in his interest to keep it divided. All he has to do is hold onto the base that put him in power. His Tweets are meant mainly for them. It’s a way to deliver government-controlled messaging to a captive audience. Why captive? Because Trump’s base exhibits an unusual trend. If they believe him on one or two things—they tend to believe him on everything else. That’s why he can say the immigrant caravan includes “bad people” from the Middle East, and his base believes it. Even though there’s no evidence to support this. And even though Trump himself has said before news cameras that it’s not accurate. There are many other examples of this post-truth, alternative reality stuff, but you already know about that.
Here are the two books discussed in the podcast.
Having said all this, let me add a dose of reality everyone seems to be overlooking in these highly charged times of over-the-top political identification. We are much more than race, class or whether we see ourselves as blue or red in the voting booth. Do you think about politics while giving birth? When making love? Or when mercy drops like a gentle rain from heaven upon some error you made?
I didn't think so.
I'm a storyteller whose background includes talk radio, newspapers and TV news. I've hosted a morning-drive classical music program on the California coast and published nationally in Reader's Digest, the Christian Science Monitor, and Playboy. I've won awards for my journalism and my fiction. One of my essays even made it into an anthology for college English courses. For real? Yes, for real.
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