Twenty-two years ago in 1995, the pollster and political analyst Stan Greenberg asked why Democrats and President Clinton had failed “to win the confidence of working middle class families” despite an improving economy. His study was part of the soul-searching that followed the Democratic loss of the Congress to the Gingrich Republicans in 1994. “The Democrats,” Greenberg said “have lost their hold on the economy because they have lost their hold on white non-college voters.” Does this sound familiar?
I have believed for more than 40 years that jobs --- full employment --- would take the edge off this political and cultural problem, but only the edge. The more fundamental political problem is that a significant share of the working class hates educated people who tell them how they should behave.
Blue collar working men and women don’t want to be told that they shouldn’t smoke, that they should eat different foods and less of them, that they should exercise and use seatbelts, that they should avoid drugs, that they shouldn’t hit their children (and occasionally their wives), that private citizens don’t need assault rifles, that tribal and group loyalties should be bounded by the rule of law that protects people outside the group, that paying to protect the environment is worthwhile, that they should use condoms, and that education is important. All these admonitions involve repression and generate reaction, back lash, anger.
This is not to say that working class, less educated Americans are opposed to the social norms liberals try to advance. They have absorbed what the educated have told them for the most part. They know that smoking, drugs, and global warming are dangerous. They know obesity isn’t good, and that many of the other do's and don'ts pushed by liberals make sense.
Blue collar working men and women also know that education is important, that they had chances to get an education, and that in many cases they blew and continue to blow the opportunity. But they hate that liberals keep rubbing their noses in this stuff about education even though they know the liberals are right. This generates self-loathing and the self-loathing in turn is redirected outward against the liberal “finger-waggers.” Trump is no finder-wagger, quite the opposite.
The question is what if anything can we do about this festering anger and division between classes. Is America special enough to overcome it?