The primary season is all but over. Donald Trump is the “presumptive” Republican nominee. It really boggles the mind, doesn’t it?
But, should it? Is the Donald Trump phenomenon just an aberration? Or, is there something very real at play in the response America’s working class has given to a man many of us consider to be nothing more than a huckster?
One doesn’t have to be a supporter of Donald Trump to see that much of the working class anger that has fueled his rise is real….and it’s justified.
This morning, my wife read a bit from an interview N.P.R. recently did with author Richard Russo. We’ve both loved his work for years, especially the loving way he portrays working class Americans. One of my favorite Russo works is “Empire Falls,” the story of a man named Miles Roby, who gets by flipping burgers at the Empire Grill, a little joint not unlike J’s Carry Out here in Emporia. Life is hard for Miles, yet, somehow he maintains his dignity.
If you don’t have time to read “Empire Falls,” I suggest you stop by J’s for lunch one day soon. You’ll see Miles, his dreams, frustrations, and dignity etched on the faces of many of the working class patrons who wolf down the burgers Jay and his crew lovingly prepare for them.
This is what Russo said about the working class he loves and the reason that they are now gravitating to the political dark side: “I think it's pretty clear that so many of the people that I know and love and have been writing about for a long time, alas, have lined up ... with Mr. Trump. ... I'm heartbroken. ... I think America is changing. It's changing before their eyes and I think that a lot of the angry white men who support Donald Trump have a belief that America has passed them by. And that people who don't look like them are getting ahead in the new America.”
As Russo so often does, he even expresses his frustrations with love and grace. You can see that, while he doesn’t like what’s happening, he still loves those “angry white men.” Now, compare that to Barrack Obama’s words about America’s working class, spoken at a 2008 meeting with some of his supporters: “And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
His contempt for the working class stuck out like a sore thumb. I’d wager that as soon as he uttered them, progressives, the all-knowing political class, academics, and America’s left-leaning gentry all nodded their approval.
My routines occasionally bring me into contact with “important” people - politicians, educators/academics, movers, and shakers. I interact with them, but I have to admit I never feel comfortable around them. I try to trust them, but I find it very difficult. I get the nagging sense that they’re trying to pick our pockets or give us the many reasons they are morally superior to the rest of us, particularly the working class. If you look close enough at them, you can see the disdain oozing from their pores.
You’d think that a small town like Emporia, with a 25% poverty rate and many working class Emporians barely able to keep their heads above water, would be inoculated against the elite thinking of men like Barack Obama, but you’d be wrong. I’ve seen it over and over again in my time here. I saw it during the Clean Sweep project from several years ago. Many of the elites who participated seemed to have an aversion to picking up trash. They much preferred the limelight, taking credit for doing work they never did. I’ve seen it during the time of the Somali fiasco, when the elites tarred and feathered anyone who was against the idea as a racist. It was so easy for them. They didn’t have to compete with the Somalis to earn their bread and butter. The working class, however, did.
I’ve seen the elite attitude in full bloom just recently. Some out of town fat cats got incentives. What did the working poor get? Nothing! I guess our leaders agonized on behalf of the fat cats so hard there was no agony or empathy left for the ham and eggers.
But, the tide is turning. America’s working class is angry and they’re showing it at the ballot box. They’re tired of hauling out the trash, being labelled racists, fighting and dying in our wars, being mocked for their belief systems, or losing their jobs because of what they see as bad trade deals. They intend to exact their pound of flesh and they may get it.