Solving Class "Helplessness" Through Rebuilding America
2016 America presents politicians with many complex problems, which lend themselves to thoughtful and honest debates about how to solve those problems. But rest assured, in the 2016 contest between Trump and Clinton, we’ll never get to have that debate and truth-telling.
For Trump, playing the victimhood card to his white audiences, and making white suburban voters comfortable in their latent racism to vote for him is all that matters, as well as brandishing Clinton for being a serial liar. For her part, Hillary seemingly only wants to talk about Trump’s disqualifications while avoiding any head-on tackling of her perceived lack of trustworthiness and demonstrated evasion over self-inflicted wounds like her email stupidity and the Clinton Foundation. In a 2016 season full of anger at the status quo, Hillary’s continued trashing of Trump, and talk of “togetherness” will only guarantee that Trump surprises enough at the debates for Clinton to lose.
This seemingly guarantees that we’ll go another election cycle wasting an opportunity to have an honest discussion about our economy and the real “takers and users.” We’ve been told by author J. D. Vance in his book “Hillbilly Elegy” that there is a large group of white underclass living in the rust belt and other areas that live in a culture of white helplessness, fed along by rampant drug abuse, alcoholism, morbid obesity, and poor health. Jobs and economic opportunity have drifted away from these people, who now believe they are victims of globalization, besieged by “those brown people”, whether they be the bogeymen African Americans on welfare, or the alleged immigrants taking their jobs. Yet Vance points out that in reality, the whites themselves thrive in a culture of feeling helpless and avoiding taking any responsibility for their own lot in life. These people see no chance for their children to do better, which then causes that next generation to fall into that same spiral. And we know from research that Trump’s strongest support comes from these white enclaves, yet these parts of the country in fact have the least amount of actual contact with immigrants.
The white and black underclass have things in common. Both suffer from lost economic opportunity, both endure poor health and education systems, both see poor futures for their next generations, and both harbor feelings of helplessness for their condition. The whites are told that brown people caused their problems, and the blacks are told that racist white elites caused their problems. The difference is that when African Americans stand up to demand better, white conservatives call them criminals. When the white underclass shows up at Trump rallies and yells for hangings and jailings, they are called this year’s “soccer moms.” But in 2016, both groups are low-hanging fruit for a salesman like Trump to tell them he can fix their problems if they only elect him.
The solution for any serious-minded politician is sitting right in front of us. At a time when the building industry faces a labor shortage and can’t fill thousands if not millions of skilled and semi-skilled carpenter, plumber, electrician, mason, and heavy equipment operator positions in the coming decade, and at a time when public support for unions is at its highest in a while, and at a time when we have a white and African American underclass suffering from the same lack of economic opportunities, why isn’t someone like Hillary Clinton proposing an infrastructure and building industry “Manhattan Project” whereby the government and industry will train the working class for years of employment?
For years, the economic elites have kept the economic debate focuses on race as a way to avoid the real issue, which is class. Both J. D. Vance and Nancy Isenberg’s recent books (sold on the left side of the blog) tell us the way forward. Hillary needs to shine a light on class, and tie it to the advancement of both white and black America. She needs to take her talk about "togetherness" make it something tangible, and talk about how both white and black America need to shake off their feelings of helplessness and depression, and demand that the next administration provide economic opportunity for all through such a project.
And she needs to say that unlike Donald Trump, she'll actually do it.