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How White Working Class Culture Shaped American Politics

White people as a whole voted for Donald Trump. This includes a lot of white people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. There are countless thinkpieces about why whites who voted for Obama voted for Trump. Prominent among these is Joan C. Williams‘ piece in the Harvard Business Review.

Professor Williams was born in 1952 and was one of the many baby boomers to benefit from the New Deal and Great Society. She writes about her father-in-law who grew up during the Great Depression and WWII with an alcoholic father but who rose in the post-war years to a decent life. He was a Wall Street Journal reading Republican with a blue-collar job. As I noted in my previous essay, the big debate on the Democratic Party and the left is whether there is a racism problem or an economics problem in why Trump won.

I’ve mentioned before that I side more with the “it’s racism” crowd than the “an economic populist like Bernie Sanders could have won crowd.” Often as not, the debate seems to be tested with hypotheticals — only they are usually intellectually dishonest, and end up proving what the author wants to be true. We know Trump’s rhetoric from the campaign and it was filled with racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other bigotries. We also know that Trump won among almost all segments of white voters, regardless of education and income, except maybe whites with advanced degrees.

However, even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, a few razor thin margins in select states gave Trump the victory and Democrats need to win more whites in order to win the Presidency and other elected offices. The trick is for the Democratic Party is going to be keeping true to their commitment of anti-racism and anti-sexism while appealing to more whites.

I am not sure how much this can be done and Prof. Williams inadvertently provides some reasoning her in article, although not in the way she might imagine. First:

One little-known element of that gap is that the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich. Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo. Barbara Ehrenreich recalled in 1990 that her blue-collar dad “could not say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack. Lawyers were shysters…and professors were without exception phonies.” Annette Lareau found tremendous resentment against teachers, who were perceived as condescending and unhelpful.

I’m not sure how much this is an unknown feature. This seems to jive with thoughts going back to Steinbeck’s quip that socialism never took hold in the United States because there are no poor people here, just “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Nevertheless, the size of the cultural divide between the white working class and upper-middle class professionals has also been noted through out the election.

Very few people know the ultra-rich, so they can be a blank state. Most people know Trump from The Apprentice and his other TV appearances. Even though Hillary Clinton is really wealthy, she comes across as being more from the upper-middle class and exhibits its mores and mannerisms effectively. Perhaps this played Clinton false in the election: the politics of resentment in the United States seems more directed at upper-middle class white liberals than the ultra-wealthy. This has been true since Sarah Palin came on stage in 2008 if not before. Upper-middle class liberals are disliked for choices in entertainment (NPR instead of talk radio, Game of Thrones instead of NCIS, minimalist design instead of Trumpian gaudiness), where to live (in and near diverse cities instead of than more rural “real American” areas), and publicly allying and sympathizing with minorities instead of less well-off whites. In short, upper-class white liberals are seen as race traitors.

There is also a job creator paradox. Upper-middle class liberals form businesses that are often small- to medium-sized, and tend to have large numbers of knowledge workers who are often imported from elsewhere in the world. Large, prominent examples include Facebook and Google. This new economy, however, does not found companies that hire people with high school educations. On the other hand, Trump sees and sells himself as a builder. Building can’t be outsourced offshore, and does create lots of jobs for the unskilled or semi-skilled. Same with resource extraction. Moreover, upper-middle class concerns about the environment and climate change sound like they run counter to creating well-paying jobs for semi-skilled workers.

Professor Williams’ second point:

Trump’s blunt talk taps into another blue-collar value: straight talk. “Directness is a working-class norm,” notes Lubrano. As one blue-collar guy told him, “If you have a problem with me, come talk to me. If you have a way you want something done, come talk to me. I don’t like people who play these two-faced games.” Straight talk is seen as requiring manly courage, not being “a total wuss and a wimp,” an electronics technician told Lamont. Of course Trump appeals. Clinton’s clunky admission that she talks one way in public and another in private? Further proof she’s a two-faced phony.

“Blunt talk” seems like a red herring to me; in court I’d challenge it as void for vagueness. One person’s “blunt talk” could be another person’s “bigotry and racism.” This dichotomy manifests with Trump’s and many of his supporters’ overt dismissal of “political correctness.” What I think of as being “PC” reduces to “Don’t be a dick; try to think of others’ feelings before speaking.” Those who criticize political correctness, however, seem to see something else there.

There are also plenty of times when the white working class does not seem to like blunt talk. When one bluntly states that the mines will not reopen because of coal’s uselessness. When one bluntly states that the factory jobs are not coming back because of automation and globalization. I don’t see how any of Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail on these subjects counts as “straight talk” or “blunt.”1

This avowed desire for “blunt talk” connects with the third point that Williams wants to make:

Manly dignity is a big deal for working-class men, and they’re not feeling that they have it. Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place. It’s comfort food for high-school-educated guys who could have been my father-in-law if they’d been born 30 years earlier. Today they feel like losers — or did until they met Trump.

Again, this is an area where it seems clear that the white working class does not want to hear blunt talk. They want to hear that they can go back to a past that sort of existed, but did not really exist. The political scientist Ira Katznelson dedicated his career to exploring the white supremacy that was at the heart of the policies that rose the white working class into the middle class. Franklin Roosevelt might have wanted the New Deal to apply to all Americans, but he needed the support of Southern Democrats — who made sure that it did not extend to many black and brown Americans. This led to whites without college degrees getting the plummest unskilled and semi-skilled jobs for decades. They got the well-paying factory jobs and/or the skilled labor positions at refineries and in construction. Working class whites became the steamfitters, the pipefitters, the welders, the plumbers, the electricians, and so on. Many minorities were stuck in the lower paid work of domestic service, garbage pickup, fast food work, and similar lower-tier jobs.

Those days are largely gone, and the white working class has been told this for several generations and seemingly refuses to believe it. The biggest losers, then, are probably the whites who managed middle-class lives at unskilled labor.

I don’t know if there are any solutions here. I don’t want the Democratic Party to abandon anti-racism and anti-sexism. Nevertheless, it occurs to me that several horrible government policies still work as jobs programs for rural whites. Mass incarceration and the war on drugs is a good example. We build prisons in white rural areas and mainly house urban residents in these prisons. The prisons provide construction jobs and staff jobs for rural white populations. Ending the war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies will lead to fewer of those sorts of jobs in rural America. Border Patrol and other Homeland Security programs also seem to provide jobs for rural whites.

The best option for the rural working class may well be a blunt truth that they don’t want to hear: “The factory and mining jobs are not coming back. The best that can be done for you is higher wages in service work. Dignity is something that you have to create for yourself, perhaps despite your job rather than because of it.”

  1. Similarly, I observe that Trump supporters also evidence discomfort when journalists call out Trump and his surrogates’ statements as “lies” rather than “opinions,” or when their references and rhetoric are bluntly correlated with identical phrases and political maneuvers mirroring the rise of European fascism in the 1920’s and 1930’s. — BL. []
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128 thoughts on “How White Working Class Culture Shaped American Politics

  1. I probably won’t get the time today to respond to this article thoroughly. I do want to comment on the statement, “In short, upper-class white liberals are seen as race traitors.” I think that’s a bad misreading. Your support for it comes from the prior sentence, which asserts that the MC/UMC divide is driven by entertainment choices, place of residence, and support of non-whites. The first clearly doesn’t apply to your “race traitor” conclusion. The second may, and it’d be interesting to explore it. The third has the conclusion baked into it. You don’t consider the ways in which a MC could see the UMC policies as bad for minorities, or bad in general.

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    • There’s an old geographic observation on race relations that could be reconfigured into a class-based one: Southern white people are happy to live next to black people, but not to work for them, whereas for Northern whites it’s the other way around.

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  2. “The prisons provide construction jobs and staff jobs for rural white populations.”

    Your fricking joking right?
    Look, it appears you hate, hate, hate, white rural peoples. You love the idea of socialism and want it badly to root, but if you think prisons are staffed by only white rural americans you have been blinded by your own want.

    Have you ever been to a graduation of cadets headed to fill staff positions in a rural prisons. Would you be surprised if half the class were immigrants from Africa?

    I have said it before, OT is following a particular tangent on the issue of race. This one is just another for the record.

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    • I support making arguments based on facts. However, this seems to be a loser’s game these days.

      Our new President doesn’t seem to care about facts and accuracy at all. So why should Saul? It makes me feel like I’m kind of foolish to stick to the facts.

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        • why don’t you try talking to me, instead of that abstraction in your head that consists of everything you hate that you give the name “liberals”?

          I mean really, do you like this state of affairs? Don’t you wish for something better?

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          • Well, if notme won’t talk to you directly, I will. You just defended Saul by saying that you want the right to make up facts. That’s lousy. If you really believe in using facts to support arguments, you should be criticizing Saul to the extent that he failed to use them. On a personal level, failure to defend facts makes your comments less honorable. On a practical level, it makes them less persuasive. (Yes, a lot of people still notice whether they’re being told falsehoods, and I hope that’s the general rule on this site.)

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            • You don’t understand what I wrote, or why I wrote it. If you think that’s a defense of Saul, you need to read what I said better.

              I said I’m not interested in unilateral disarmament. I said I’m tired of being the voice of reason and getting bulldozed by emotive half-truths. Why should I call out Saul if y’all don’t call out they guy you voted in to office? I mean, what’s more important, if some guy on a website says something questionable, or if our god-damned president-elect trades in conspiracy theories and hyperbolic stereotypes every damn day? You know, Mr “Mexicans are rapists and murderers”?

              I’ve been at this for several years. I don’t like the stereotyped scapegoating, regardless of who is targeted. I’ve tried to advance this. But nobody is interested, they either tell me I’m “politically correct” or that I’m “tone policing”. They must have their contempt for the Other, and how dare I question that. I’m feeling despair, actually.

              Quit throwing rocks and look in the damn mirror. You just won an election with exactly this same kind of stuff, and now you’re going to call Saul on it?

              Seriously?

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              • I didn’t win this election. I’ve called out liars all the time. Don’t pretend like you’re the only honest person online. Or, if you have to pretend like you’re the lone bearer of unvarnished truth, don’t do it while saying you’re sick of telling the truth. Here’s a thought: your side didn’t lose because righties on this site lied and lefties on this site told the truth.

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          • I do wish for something better and wish that both sides would truly listen and think. Yes, the right has not always been accurate with the facts and that makes me cringe at times but I care less so than I used to. I’ve gotten tired of being considered a racist rube that has made a war on women.

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      • Oh this president isn’t anything new. We’ve had all the oldies making claims of social objectivity on pretty careless facts and less than accurate data for half a damn century already.

        What Saul is doing is trying to paint a group he doesn’t like in a particular shade of derogatory.

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        • “What Saul is doing is trying to paint a group he doesn’t like in a particular shade of derogatory.”

          Saul’s been doing A LOT of that in recent months. I liked this one the best of his recent ones. Lumping in libertarians, who have zero political power or influence, in with Banana Republic Cuba, cause they allegedly don’t care about human rights and dignity, is just silly, cause all the libertarians I’ve read have focused more on human rights than the left or the right combined. Frankly, the disdain he’s shown, and his petty insults to those in the libertarian fold on this site is becoming more than mildly annoying. Bubble much?

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            • There is a certain flavour of libertarian that appears to be entirely confortable with dictatorships that respect private property and promote markets. This appears to include either ignoring, being ignorant of, or excuse human rights abuses to maintain their power.

              Its also completely unfair to paint the entirity of those with libertarian viewpoints with that brush. There is a wide ecosystem of libertarian thought at your political taxonomies should be detailed and robust enough to make this kinds of distinctions.

              However, this is far from a unique process. Pretty much and broadstrokes political orientation will find its various flavours treated as intentical by those outside the tribe. It applies to liberals, socialists, communists, fascists, conservatives etc. Recently we’ve being seeing it happen when describing the “alt-right” which contains all sorts of flavours of political stances that aren’t necessarily in agreement with each other on particulars.

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              • The first paragraph is true but not really why I am down on libertarians. I think . Libertarians often have a very different concept of “human rights” than liberals and often than conservatives but at heart many libertarians seem to have more natural sympathy for the Republican Party because of their belief in small/limited government.

                I’m a liberal and to me this means the government can be a force of good and a necessary counterbalance to the vagaries of the market and/or a wall from preventing the more irrational parts of the market from getting truly out of hand and causing misery for everyone.

                Various attempts made by libertarians to ally themselves with the left/liberals tend not to grasp the above. They can often seem very concern trolling at worse or at best, try to present something as a win-win when it is really a “heads I win, tails you lose” thing for liberals.

                Civil Rights and Liberties are a good example. Lots of people on the left (and many minorities) think that the government has an important part in protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of minorities. As a liberal, my concept of being free also means full participation in economic and civil life and this means laws preventing employers and businesses from turning you away because of your race, religion, gender identity, nationality/ethnicity, sexual identity, etc. Yes this includes small businesses. Gary Johnson said he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act (and this statement got him the most boos at the Libertarian Convention). A lot of Libertarians seem to have a hard time grasping that the Civil Rights Act is very important to many minorities and they think it shows the government views them as equal citizens and they have rights as equal citizens. This is the kind stuff that gives Libertarians a reputation for being “White guys who aren’t religious and like to smoke weed but are still basically Republican.”

                The other example is that the Libertarian solution to SSM as an issue is to take the government out of marriage even though marriage has been a government institution (with rights and liberties) for thousands of years. The libertarians don’t seem to spend much time thinking “Why did gay people campaign for the legalization of SSM (and the passing of EDNA) instead of campaigning for the abolition of marriage?”

                So what libertarians present as “win-win” solutions do not seem very win-win to me and to many other liberals.

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                  • Not to mention clear disagreements on the welfare state and need and scope there of. Even when libertarians do concede the need for a welfare state program, they always think a private market solution is best. One of the reasons I think libertarians are keen on UBI is because they think it can replace all welfare programs.

                    I think it can replace UI insurance and Social Security but I doubt it can replace Section 8/Public Housing. We will still need some form of health insurance.

                    I’ve grown more free market friendly since hanging out on OT but I do think that the reason we have Medicare is because it is going to be really hard for old people to find insurance even in a totally deregulated market that is any good. There are plenty of young people who have trouble finding insurance that is good.

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        • Yeah, he’s doing that. That’s what our President-elect is doing, 24/7. Apparently it’s a winning strategy.

          The whole “round up the Muslims” thing works this exactly this way, for instance.

          No, I don’t like it. But asking us to stop is asking for unilateral disarmament. I’m kind of tired of being the voice of reason that gets bulldozed by half-truths.

          For the record, I know one guy who is a prison guard, and my deceased cousin (a woman) was also a prison guard for a time. Both of them are white. But that’s in the Pacific NW.

          At another time and place, I’d be right there with you, advocating for you, my cousins, my friends. I think people like my cousin and my friend are given very short shrift in the culture. But this isn’t that time and place. I’m frightened, bitter and angry.

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      • I grew up among working-class people. Nobody of my father’s generation finished college. I have several cousins, and friends who are working class people, who have never been to college. And a few who have been to college but sort of self-identify that way.

        I am a liberal. Why don’t we try talking to each other instead of talking about abstractions?

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      • Yeah notme, I just kinda bust Sauls chops for being derogatory, and you just don’t let up.

        Know that not every liberal plugs into the caricature you have built in your mind. I really think it would help if ya got past that.

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    • Here’s a general tip, one I think I haven’t offered you yet directly:

      When your ideological opponent offers a large argument, picking out only one tiny, small section of it to call out (even when you are accurate) and discarding the entire rest of the piece by not addressing it is both rude as hell and unlikely to produce anything in the way of understanding.

      Saul wrote 1,500 words. You responded to 12 of them.

      That’s the absence of reading with charity. Sure, you’re not obligated to read with charity, I suppose, but if you want to get anywhere in engaging and understanding folks that don’t agree with you by inclination, especially in these parts, I humbly submit you might get somewhere if you do.

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        • Will, Burt,
          I’m trying fellas. I know I picked a small piece of this to swing at, if Patrick pushes me on this, I may need about 6000 words of space to unpack what Saul has written, I know it doesn’t appear charitable, but I like Saul and was just going to go a bit at a time over several years.

          If I’m not the guy to do it, then pick someone else to dissect this, maybe Damon, jr, or Aaron, maybe Oscar. Someone far enough right they can actually see the problems in it.

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    • Ignoring the other replies to this, which are clearly part of ongoing arguments I have no wish to get involved in I’d like some clarification on this

      “Have you ever been to a graduation of cadets headed to fill staff positions in a rural prisons. Would you be surprised if half the class were immigrants from Africa?”

      Are you saying American rural prisons are staffed by up to 50% immigrants from Africa?

      For the record I have zero knowledge of life in rural America or the prison system beyond third party accounts online or on TV so I’m not claiming this isn’t the case. It just doesn’t sound likely to me that anyone would recruit on another continent for a role that could be filled by local people.

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      • This might be helpful.

        The U.S. Census Bureau reported that in 2006 minorities make up 60% of the prison population with African-Americans at 41 percent of the 2 million prison and jail inmates, Hispanics 19 percent and whites 37 percent. According to a 2006 survey of 45 correctional systems in the United States, the racial breakdown of correctional staffs ranges from 0.4% black (in Utah) to 84.4% black (in Mississippi). The nationwide average of minority correctional staff members is approximately 29%.[1] In some organizations or locations, the large representation of minorities among correctional staffs is a reflection of the regional population pool of employees.

        http://www.corrections.com/articles/21076-recruiting-minority-employees-in-corrections

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  3. Saul, I think your read is a bit hyperbolic. I think there is a segment of America that believes it has been left behind. That segment is made up of people who are white, but “white” is not an identity, it’s a lack of identity. Their identity is much more specific than “white”. They think that they are having problems (and they are, by several metrics), and that nobody gives a crap about their problems.

    Trump made them feel special, with a bunch of promises that he can’t possibly keep. But like that 16 year old who falls for the 27-year-old, they aren’t going to listen to Mom when she says, “He isn’t good for you”.

    They see people like you and me spending a lot of energy on other social justice issues, but none on their own social justice issues. That’s a problem with our own interpretive lenses as much as it is with theirs. I think we’re ready for the next Democratic Candidate to be a younger version of Bernie.

    I think that 5-10% of population has racial animus. The rest of us have had our perceptions warped by living in the culture. Black people call this “racist”, but to white people, “racist” refers to over, conscious racial animus. There are a bunch of people out there who troll the social justice liberals, hoping to provoke them, because the subtext of the angry reaction is “liberals don’t care about Bob in Michigan”.

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    • These are good points and I wrote this essay a few weeks ago while emotions were much more raw. Emotions are still very raw.

      I’ve mentioned in other places that I am torn between the Trump optimists who seem to think he will be stopped by Congressional infighting (especially in the Senate where individual R Senators might balk at Ryan’s plan to destroy Medicare and Social Security), Constitutional norms, the Courts, etc. And then there are the pessimists who seem to think we will have a Reichstag fire and most elections will be canceled by 2018 and 2020. Some of the pessimists of Jewish origin are posting their great-grandparents and grandparents reactions to the rise of Nazi Germany and contrasting those optimists (who stayed and usually died except one relative) vs. the pessimists (who fled and survived.)

      I’m more on the Wait and See side but every day Trump does something that makes me think this is going to be a very long and very corrupt four to eight years. My wait and see is more because we don’t know what anti-civil rights and civil liberties legislation he is actually going to propose.

      I don’t expect to wake up on January 21st or 22nd and see every Democratic congressperson under arrest. Nor do I expect to see tanks occupy blue cities that vow resistance. I would not be surprised to see a lot of violent police action against state with legalized weed and there is a part of me that wonders whether local law enforcement in cities like LA, Portland, SF, and NYC will be loyal to their mayors or to Trump’s DOJ. A lot of police officers, even in very blue cities, see themselves as a band apart and above seemingly than the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve.

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      • Well, this is going to be painful. But that’s my only prediction. There are a lot of possible outcomes, and not all of them are unqualifiedly bad. My hope is alive, but it’s slender.

        In the meantime, , do more research, and cut back on the broad claims. Aim for your target precisely. Use a sniper’s rifle, not a shotgun. And stay way, way, away from contempt.

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        • I admit that it was dripping with contempt but there are so many things which seem to be taken as truths but I generally don’t see that I find myself more fed-up.

          Take liberal smugness. It seems to be take as a bright-line rule by many that upper-middle class liberals are smug, condescending to small towns, and just don’t understand their folkways and as Lab Rat said below all of our causes are virtue signalling. Plus all we do is have dinner parties where we make fun of small town, conservative, church-going America.

          I grew up in the liberal, upper-middle, professional class. Most of my adult life was spent in Brooklyn and San Francisco. I’ve been to many parties and nights out with upper-middle class professional liberals. I don’t recall any bon mots looking down on small-town America.

          I do know people who dislike small-town America. They have one thing in common. They are all small-town refugees who were different in some way and beaten to a tar for it and when they turned 18 or 21, got the fuck out and never looked back.

          But we aren’t allowed to talk about these people and what happened to them. Instead it is all “Oh liberals are so smug to small towners. The college students were just so mean to the waitress in the dinner.” There are smug liberals. There are smug conservatives. Yet why can’t we talk about the guy or gal who was beat up for being artsy or gay or physically disabled or bookish or a combination of those traits and needed to flee to the city to be themselves without getting the tar kicked out of them?

          I’m rather tired of the smug elitist strawman. You have pundits who can get on TV and be contemptous of smug Starbucks drinking liberals and say this with a straight face even though:

          1. There are tens of thousands of Starbucks across the United States and globe including in small towns like Coalfax, California.

          2. Said pundit is a very rich, professional, and elitist himself or herself.

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          • I agree, the smugness angle is overblown. I don’t see often, unless I’m among my childhood friends who also made it out, then it’s a different story. I would never go back to live in small-town Appalachia (outside of a college town). I would not want to raise a child there, especially a daughter. I despise so much of that culture.

            The strangest thing, is that they all want their children to leave and are proud when they do. They’ll complain about the professional class, but ask if they want their kid to have an MBA or work at the last remaining factory.

            As for the virtue signaling, they do it too. They just signal different virtues. I think you’re always blind to it within your own class. That may explain why many of us who make it out don’t feel comfortable in either world. We can switch back and forth and neither feels right.

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            • From what I gather from the Harvard Business Review article, various debates over the past few years, discussions about resentiments, the upper-middle class is disliked more than the rich.

              There is the classic Shaw dictum: “Morals are for the Middle Class. The poor can’t afford them and the rich don’t need them.” There is an aspect of being upper-middle class/professional/income rich that is quite hard work. I grew up in an upper-middle class town where the parents were doctors, lawyers, MBAs, consultants, etc. Most of their children also joined these ranks. The lesson’s we largely got as kids were “Work hard to school, get into a good university, work hard there, get into a good entry level job or grad school, work hard there, and then eventually you can move to a nice town like the one you grew up in.” Lots of delayed gratification, lots of discipline. Potentially lots of nights at desks and hitting the books when your colleagues and cohort are out having fun. We weren’t all grind/all the time but there is a lot of discipline to being wealthy as a professional because it is based on income.

              Whereas being rich as Trump claims he is allows someone to be themselves but comfortably more so.

              The upper-middle class does have different manners or mores as you noted below. They like sports but are not really into hunting/fishing usually. I also eyeroll at GMO and glutten-free but I do love farm to table restaurants that use seasonal foodstuffs with craft beer, craft cocktails, or a good wine. If you hang out here long enough.

              Mitt Romney was a patrician to the core. Trump was born wealthy but what I think is part of his appeal is that he doesn’t seem to give a shit about all the high culture stuff that the ultra-rich in NYC donate to and the upper-middle class try and support in their own way as audience members, museum goers, season subscribers. My parents took me to the Met, the Natural History Museum, and Young People’s Concerts at Lincoln Center when I was a kid. They did not sign me up for Cub Scouts or take me hunting*. They were not hunters

              *Allegedly my dad got thrown out of his Cub Scout troop for insubordination. At least that is what he said at Thanksgiving.

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              • “Work hard to school, get into a good university, work hard there, get into a good entry level job or grad school, work hard there, and then eventually you can move to a nice town like the one you grew up in.”

                Our parents had aspirations for us, so I heard something similar. Except it was, “Work hard, go to any college, and get a good job; then live somewhere else.”

                To be clear, I vastly prefer the professional class norms and mores. I also appreciate that it’s a bit of a gauntlet for the kids who grew up in it. Worrying about a going to a good university from early on sounds exhausting, for both parents and kids.

                Lots of delayed gratification, lots of discipline. Potentially lots of nights at desks and hitting the books when your colleagues and cohort are out having fun. We weren’t all grind/all the time but there is a lot of discipline to being wealthy as a professional because it is based on income.

                This is the one thing the working class doesn’t appreciate about professionals. The reason they want their children to move up is because they perceive the professional life as undemanding. Get the degree and push around meaningless paperwork and you get to sit in a chair. I don’t think most of them understand that professionals are judged by output, the hard work is completely behind the scenes and it’s a prerequisite for most careers.

                When I talk about Hard Work™ I’m trying to get across what I see as the most important aspect of understanding the working class culture.

                The invisible players here are the white underclass. They’re victims of the same generational forces of most underclasses and they need a lot of help, but they’re not much fun to be around. The working class hates them, absolutely and without reservation. They’re perceived as lazy parasites on the system, most of them are physically capable of work, yet do not (never mind the lack of jobs, this is perception, not reality). Worse, they superficially resemble the working class, to the point that higher classes can’t tell them apart. This is where Hard Work™ enters the equation. The working class values it for its own sake and preaches it to differentiate themselves from the class they hate the most.

                This is the seed from which racism and resentment of the professional class grows. The liberal professional class wants more social services for the poor. Correctly, in my opinion, seeing the ultimate causes of poverty as institutional. Additionally, they want these services for the entire underclass, regardless of race. The working class feels the underclass does not “deserve” government assistance, because they won’t work. When they get their news, they hear the same thing about inner city minorities who “won’t work” and the enmity extends. Because many of these folks don’t know anyone who isn’t white, this hatred becomes the baseline for entire races, hence the “one of the good ones,” if they actually meet in person.

                All of this engenders suspicion and resentment of the professional class. Why would they ally with people who won’t work and can’t take care of themselves at the expense of those who will? It seems immoral and therefore must be self-serving. All this is exacerbated by the echo chambers of the right wing.

                We have to break the “deserve” part of the equation if we want to move forward, but I have no idea how. Trust me, living it makes me hate it more, not less. Particularly because working class churches preach compassion for the poor and these folks are usually generous to those they feel deserve help, i.e. children in the developing word.

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              • the upper-middle class is disliked more than the rich.

                Sure. Upper-middle is people you know, and maybe have some idea of what they do, and it doesn’t seem all that hard, especially compared to what you do.

                The truly rich? We’re getting into god territory there. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. The pair that founded Google. Some others. To join that group all you have to do is create a new technology or three, and as a side effect also create tens of thousands of jobs.

                There you’re dealing with people who are doing things you can’t do, even in theory, and don’t think you could ever do.

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            • One reason why I suspect that it doesn’t create a backlash for Trump to potentially appoint a former Goldman exec/Hedge Fund Manager as his Treasury Secretary is that finance is a field generally seen as being more frattish and broish and party hard than law in many ways.

              Lawyers can drink and party but belief at my law school was “Law School is for people who want nice livings but are too nerdy to be MBAs.” We tend to be interested in debates/rhetoric/and solving tricky civil procedure issues instead of dealing and schmoozing.

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  4. White people as a whole voted for Donald Trump.

    I’m pretty sure that’s not how wholes work.

    No, I’m positive.

    as a whole
    phrase of whole
    1.
    as a single unit and not as separate parts; in general.
    “a healthy economy is in the best interests of society as a whole”

    I keep seeing this “white people elected Trump” meme popping up in all the usual places and all of them conveniently omit the fact that Trump got less of the white vote than Romney and more votes from non-white. The last time anyone was this wrong about the outcome an event and then completely doubled down on the faulty judgment that led to that event it was the neocons and Iraq.

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  5. ““Blunt talk” seems like a red herring to me; in court I’d challenge it as void for vagueness. One person’s “blunt talk” could be another person’s “bigotry and racism.””

    Annnndddd here is the issue. What you consider to be racist, others might not. And in fact, often the bigotry and racism per say is void for vagueness. If the perception is that any and all things relating to race are racist if approached from a indeterminate and ever shifting position, that is vague. Perception is the key word here, which leads me to the problem that the D’s are having with the WWC. Its not a racism problem or an economics problem, it’s a political problem. If you want them to consider how you treat racism is correct, you have to lead them. If you want them to consider how you treat economics a better, you have to lead them. You cannot say here is stack of white papers showing how others have been treated poorly or this is my powerpoint consisting of 32 points on economic distress in your area. You have to feel their pain.

    Most people aren’t racist. They fear the other. They also fear uncertainty about the future. If you want to win the votes of these people, erase that razor thin margin, you need to get them to feel that you are listening to them and that you are going to lead them. Shake the hands of babies. Introduce them to the other, let them know they are people with real needs and hopes just like the voters you want to catch.

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  6. Most of the white people who voted for Trump are the same white people who vote for any Republican. There’s no mystery in that, and there’s nothing much to say. If they are willing to vote for the Republican as usual even when he is a bigoted, ignorant loudmouth like Trump, then there is no strategy for getting their votes. The issue is the blue-collar whites who normally vote for Democrats but voted for Trump in key states. Their problems are real, but if they have any awareness of their own lives, they know they have been well and truly f****d for about 40 years. They have been well and truly f****d by forces beyond the power of one party or the other to oppose effectually — though someone who looks with care can figure out which party’s policies will do more to mitigate the damage and which party’s will make things worse. It is a hard truth they don’t want to hear that the manufacturing and extraction jobs that allowed low-skilled but hard-working people a roughly middle-class life are gone and will not come back. Nothing Trump can do will force utilities to build coal-fired plants when natural gas, and now wind, are cheaper and plentiful fuel sources. The largest utility in Michigan has plans set in stone to close eight coal-fired plants for purely economic reasons over the next several years and replace them with plants using other fuels. So what to do? Trump is willing to lie about what he can and will do, and maybe they’ll buy it for one election cycle. Then they will be disillusioned. So what to do? Us lying to them won’t work; the Republicans do it better anyway. There is not, in fact, a solution that will make them happy. So what to do?

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  7. I’m a class migrant from rural Appalachia. I’ve read some pieces here and elsewhere that attempt to tackle the class divide, but it’s bigger than most understand. The blunt talk, for example, it isn’t bluntness valued by the working class, its simplicity. They value hard work over knowledge, so saying a problem is complicated sounds, to them, like a hedge. Try to be blunt about automation and globalization all you want, you don’t code, because resolution and hard work fix everything. “I’ll bring the jobs back, trust me I’m the best,” well there’s a guy who can get things done.

    The suspicion is that the liberal, professional class are phonies, that their causes and concerns are nothing but virtue signaling in intraclass social competitions. To some degree, I still hold this suspicion. It is reinforced every time I see non-GMO, organic, gluten free food, hear the endless chatter over every minor aspect of parenting, or listen to someone with an iPhone bemoan third-world labor conditions.

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      • I agree with both of you, I’m a migrant for a reason. What I’m trying to get across is why conservatism is so popular in the working class. What the professional, liberal class doesn’t get is the huge pride taken in work ethic, even if for many of them it’s just a put-on. It’s their social signaling, it’s how they separate themselves from the perpetually unemployed underclass that they live with and superficially resemble. “We value hard work ‘they’ don’t.” I know this becomes toxic, it kills social safety programs and minorities get thrown into the “they” as a matter of course.

        However, Republicans seem to understand this better than Liberals. Why do they vote against their self-interest? “We don’t need handouts, we’re not like ‘them.’” The only way Democrats cracked this in the past was allying with unions, since you still worked, it was perceived as your fair due, not a hand-out. This is likely never coming back, unless you can unionize the service sector. Otherwise, you need to attempt a class-wide cultural shift to decouple what people “deserve” from the amount they work.

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        • I get it, and know people very much like this.

          One truck contractors very proud of their hard work, late 50’s/ early 60’s, recently diagnosed with serious illness, vehemently against ObamaCare and voted cheerfully for a guy who will likely sign away their Medicare benefits.

          Proud folks who stand a pretty good chance of not living long enough to vote Trump again in 2020.

          So, I guess the Dems have that going for them.

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    • As I’ve noted before, because turnout is fluid not fixed, it’s impossible to determine how many white voters actually switched votes.

      Because if you have a pool of 50 regular voters, who voted 25/25 for each party, and a pool of 50 irregular voters who vote 25/25 for each party and don’t show up….

      In 2012 you might have a 48/44 turnout (25/25 regular + 23/19 irregular). In 2016 you might then get 44/48 (25/25 regular + 19/23 irregular) but you can’t tell if that’s people switching votes, or people choosing to vote or stay home who didn’t four years prior.

      AFAIK, no one has done polling on vote switching in 2016 — we just have exit polls that lack the granularity and accuracy to tell the difference between “vote switching” and “small turnout changes”.

      That hasn’t stopped people from grabbing onto the data we have an assuming it fits their desires.

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    • Sure, Mike, I’m happy to agree that it’s not accurate or fair to say that Trump voters or white people or whatever are all racist. I just don’t think that gets them off of the hook.

      As has been argued all over the Internet, they were certainly willing to overlook the most explicit racism this side of George Wallace, in the same way that Trump and other GOP politicians drummed up and exploited that racism for partisan advantage. But honestly I don’t think the racism is the worst thing about Trump. On top of the racism, there’s the misogyny, his complete ignorance about essentially all public policy, his constant and transparent lies, his personal corruption, and his frankly disturbing comments about the press, the independent judiciary, and various other bulwarks of a free society. They all looked at that and voted for him anyway.

      Why’d they do that? Because they believe a bunch of conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton? Because they think he’ll bring the factories back? Because he’ll implement his secret plan to defeat ISIS? Beats me. But whatever this says about the racism of these people, voting for him absolutely makes them fools and suckers that bought a bill of goods from a con man carnival barker. If that’s better than being a bunch of racists, then I guess good for them.

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      • “they were certainly willing to overlook the most explicit racism this side of George Wallace”

        so…what was the other option, then? I mean, you seem to accept that they weren’t going to vote for Clinton, so what *was* the other choice? Stein?

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        • so…what was the other option, then? I mean, you seem to accept that they weren’t going to vote for Clinton, so what *was* the other choice? Stein?

          This strikes me as something that gets glossed over way too much in these post election rants.

          Let’s be realistic, in 1992, Bill Clinton could have been so well known for nailing interns his SS codename would have been BOSTITCH and there would still have been a large population of voters who’d vote for him because there was no way in hell they were voting for Bush (or later, Dole).

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      • My completely anedcdotal experience with friends and family is that about 95% of them cast an anti-Hillary vote, not a pro-Trump vote. Honestly, if just about anyone else on the GOP side had been the nominee, that might have been my action too. Instead I voted for Johnson, because he was the least worst for me.

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        • Well sure. I’ve avoided talking to my trump-voting relatives about the election, but I do think anti-Hillary feelings are the justification for a lot of those votes. The trouble is that, for one, a lot of that anti-Hillary stuff I’ve encountered in the wild depends upon completely fictitious conspiracy theories*, and for two, voting for Donald Trump because you can’t stand HRC is very different from voting for Romney or Bush or Pence for that reason.

          *Seriously, a friend of mine made the case for voting Trump by arguing that Clinton has had dozens of people murdered.

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          • I can’t speak for others, but for me an anti-HC vote was based on her history of enabling Bill Clinton, destroying the women that accused him…and generally being a terrible feminist/person. I would have written in Mickey Mouse before voting for Trump, however I also recognize that for a lot of people they only see a binary choice. That causes them to overlook a lot.

            At the end of the day, aren’t we all just arguing about degrees of terribleness? Almost the entire field this time around was made up of candidates with questionable pasts. It was just a really gross election year.

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            • I voted for Hillary, as much as I disliked her, because it was the only vote that had a chance to rein in the Congressional Republicans (if not necessary immediately, almost certainly after 2018). Most of the proposed appointees so far suggest that the Donald is prepared to let those folks run loose. I know it’s spiteful of me, but part of me hopes that not only do tens of thousands of people there in Kentucky lose their health insurance next year, but that the next big coal-ash pond spill wipes out a hundred miles of prime fishing and drinking water in the rivers there. And, acknowledging in advance that it says terrible things about me as a person, the same deal for Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.

              One of the things I’ve been struggling with since Trump started naming his preferred Cabinet is that I’m not nearly as good a person as I liked to think I was.

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            • Almost the entire field this time around was made up of candidates with questionable pasts.

              I can think of only two prominent candidates who fit the bill: the nominees.

              But if you meant questionable associations, then you’re right. Jeb! was a Bush (ycch); Rubio was always perspiring (evidence of lying under stress); Bernie was a socialist (and an avowed … atheist.)

              Personally, I had no qualms about voting for Bernie in the primary even tho the all math nerds scolded his inability to do basic addition.

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            • Honestly, I don’t think so, and I’m still kind of flabbergasted how willing people are to take Trump’s flaws in stride. If you’re trying to get how this election looks to me, read James Fallows’s Time Capsule series of posts on Trump, where he documented something like 150+ examples of Trump doing things that were completely unprecedented for a major party candidate. I get that there’s a limit on how much I, a liberal who wasn’t following politics in the 90’s, can empathize with the right’s distaste for Hillary Clinton, but still, come on.

              More than anything else, he’s always stuck me as an incredibly transparent con man. The guy bragged about having a secret plan to defeat ISIS. I always assumed that the GOP would have their fun and then vote for a real candidate, like with Herman Cain…and then they didn’t. It’s been an awful, disorienting experience, like the whole political system is gaslighting me.

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              • Donald Trump literally created a fake university whose sole purpose was to defraud his fans for his own personal enrichment. And given his history, that wasn’t even a particularly shocking thing for him to do. I don’t think any president in history has had a history of obvious cons that’s remotely comparable.

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    • I think the assumption is that they were always racist all along, but that they voted for Obama because the social climate was such that open racism was not acceptable. But then Trump came along and said straight out “it’s totally OK to be racist, I’m super racist and you should all be too”, and so they all just voted for Racism.

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    • To be blunt, I can dig out the story, but there is an article from the 2008 campaign about canvassers going door to door somewhere and voters saying happily, “we’re voting for the nigger.”

      There’s also a few Tweets out there from journalists who talked to McCain campaign operatives who said they had polling that if McCain had went explicitly racist, he would’ve had a chance to win.

      There’s lots of soft racists out there who might even vote for a black guy if the economy is collapsing or the black guy’s opponent is literally the guy who shut down your factory. But, if the choice is between the bitch who you’ve hated for 25 years for reasons and a guy telling you he can get your good jobs bad, you’ll either explain away his racist stuff or quietly agree with it.

      Also, there’s people who are racially apathetic – ie. people who aren’t racist, but also don’t care about racial animus.

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      • “…if the choice is between the bitch who you’ve hated for 25 years for reasons and a guy telling you he can get your good jobs bad, you’ll either explain away his racist stuff or quietly agree with it.”

        That sounds to me like racism is an ancillary issue at best for those voters. Ignoing racism from the candidate you vote is not the same as casting a racist vote.

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        • A question I continue to ask is how many people voted for Trump in spite of all his ugliness and how many voted for Trump because of all his ugliness. I don’t know the answer but if we could learn it (and we probably can’t), I think it’d be very interesting.

          Even allowing for those who voted for him in spite of the ugliness, we can still make certain hay of their decision making process. Let’s also be clear and say that it is not only that Trump merely said racist (and misogynist and Islamaphobic and anti-semitic) things (which I think we can work backwards from and say he thinks racist et al. things); he also proposed policies that were racist et al. in numerous ways.

          So… someone who held their nose and casted an anti-HRC vote for Trump seemingly made the following calculus:

          Hillary and her faults (alleged corruption, dishonesty, unlikeability, maybe policy issues) were worse than Trump and his racism (et al.). Does that make them racist? No. But it makes them tolerant of racism because they prioritize other things over resisting it.

          In much the same way someone can point at me and say I am tolerant of HRC’s flaws because I opted for them.

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          • >>A question I continue to ask is how many people voted for Trump in spite of all his ugliness and how many voted for Trump because of all his ugliness.

            Yeah, this is sort of the question everyone is batting around which fundamentally cannot be resolved. We know that Trump wins against a non-racist candidate who is fundamentally disliked and makes poor tactical decisions (e.g. not campaigning at all in the “Blue Wall”, handling of emails, speeches, etc.). We do not know if he wins against an equally disliked candidate with a good campaign/policies or against a well-liked candidate with a bad campaign. These unknowables essentially determine how the DNC should move forward.

            What we do know:
            * (pace Will) 52% of Trump supporters and 28% of Trump opponents view blacks as “less evolved”. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of racism. And, just in case it’s still contentious, these respondents were asked to clarify and said that blacks were “closer to the animal kingdom” and “lack the intelligence and morals” of other races.
            * That means Trump has 24% more racist supporters than a typical candidate, or, considered another way, 24% of Trump’s supporters are more racist than average.
            * Trump got 13.3 million votes in the primary, let’s conservatively say these are his “supporters” in the general.
            * That means ~3.2 million Trump supporters are in the unusually racist category we defined above.

            That is plenty of voters to swing an election, which means we cannot just rule out the possibility that Trump won entirely on racism out of hand. The numbers for racism to be the singular explanation are there. The question is, what drove these folks? Would they have stayed home if Trump was less racist (perhaps they did so with Romney)? Would they have considered Clinton if she was a better non-racist candidate (perhaps they did so with Obama)? I guess we’ll continue to argue over it. But the idea that Obama’s victory rejects the explanation that racism played a powerful role is not consistent with what we know.

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          • I think Clinton’s sizeable victory in the popular vote adds a lot of important context to the discussion that keeps being glossed over. I do think that there are cultural attributes to upper middle class coastal progressives that have started to look a lot like classism. Its good that at least some progressives are examining that. At the same time, we shouldn’t lose perspective. Clinton narrowly lost a low turnout election in large part due to ignoring jurisdictions she thought she had already won.

            Clearly the difference makers in the white populations of those states weren’t turned off by Trump’s racially charged remarks to the point of not voting for him. However the margin of victory is so narrow I think the idea that some giant racist movement has been awoken is being greatly overstated.

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            • As I’ve asked elsewhere… are the WWC/rural Americans/blue collar workers most aggrieved about culture or economics?

              We’re being told it’s economics. Clinton failed to make the case why her policies were better. Which she absolutely did.

              What remains to be seen is the response if/when that case is made (either by a stronger Dem candidate or what I anticipate a likely cratering for these folks under Trump). Will they line up to vote Dem? Or remain Trumpers because Happy Holidays/liberal elites/Cheerios commercials/etc.

              I’ll listen and talk economics if its economics. I’ll listen and talk culture if it’s culture. I’m not inclined to listen and talk one if it’s really the other.

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              • I don’t think we can have a definitive answer to the first paragrah. Economics and culture can be closely intertwined, Environmentalism is both a economic and cultural issue because upper middle class liberals are perceived as destroying the rural economy by caring about carbon emissions while still living comfortably.

                But there is circumstantial evidence that suggests a cultural backlash. Trump did better in areas that had recovered since the Great Recession as opposed to areas that are still sufferering. That implies racial animosity, inchoate HRC hate, and cultural backlash helped him.

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              • I think the answer is both and neither and one or the other and something else entirely depending on who you ask.

                Again, I think progressive self analysis is good. Successful political parties and movements learn from their mistakes and adapt. Clinton was an almost uniquely bad candidate for the circumstances of this election for the reasons that have been discussed here ad nauseum.

                What I don’t think is useful is a sort of self indulgent wallowing about how the country is in the grips of some ultra reactionary political force and all social progress made over the last 60 years is right down the toilet. I don’t see how you can square that narrative with the fact that had the popular vote been distributed just a little bit differently Clinton would have won. Instead we’d then be discussing how much progress was made by electing the first female president right after the first black person and analyzing the latest obituary for a Republican party that had reached new heights of dysfunction.

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  8. A Former OTer posted this on FB and called it a “worthy thesis”. The thesis comes from someone who is not the OTer:

    You will never understand Trump supporters until you understand that tactically, all is subordinate to trolling the left. The entire Trump saga is, to a very large extent, a big joke to them — a master class in trolling — because they think liberalism has already transformed our culture into a big joke, and to them, the real joke is that anyone is actually defending liberalism instead of trying to do something — anything — to remove the horrible Status Quo from power. And since they feel — correctly, to a large extent — that their demands are not taken seriously in ordinary discourse, they use the tactics of the marginalized — to disorient, inflame, and win attention.

    Jeb basically was right about Trump: he was the chaos candidate, insulting his way to the presidency. What Jeb, and just about every non-Trump supporter, failed to perceive was that there was actually a political market for that approach large enough to get him elected.

    I get the trolling aspect. I have to admit that a lot of people on the right from the mainstream Republicans to Milo Y are very good at trolling and concern trolling Democrats and the left because sometimes our earnestness is our own worse enemy.

    But this does raise several questions for me:

    What Status Quo are they talking about, social, economic, cultural? Why is it so shocking that people are defending liberalism especially minorities seeking their own civil rights and liberties issues? Do they want minorities to be subservient? How has liberalism turned society into a big joke? The only thing that comes to mind is a section of Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style where he writes about how many people simply could not believe how the general culture has slipped away from them in so many ways? Isn’t it indicative of a conservative bubble if they can’t imagine people fighting for liberalism?

    I am not that fond of various movements of identity politics. I am very sympathetic to Black Lives Matter. I do think that privilege is a useful concept that gets over used. A lot of the campus controversies that animated a lot of discussion over the past few years are over wrought on both sides and giving 18-22 year old kids too much attention and heat for things they will probably be vaguely embarrassed about in 10-15 years, give or take. Some of the campus controversies are more interesting/worthy than others of coverage. The Yale debates over Calhoun College are interesting. The Oberlin food court thing is largely silly in my mind.

    But a lot of this stuff does not come into my day to day life. I don’t have people yelling at me to check my privilege on a daily basis and I live in San Francisco! As far as I can tell a lot of “check your privilege” yelling comes from Internet debates where people don’t know each other. This implies maybe people should get off the net and just hang out with their friends a bit more and they will probably not here check your privilege in daily conversation or ever again.

    Who finds life unbearable under liberals because there is same sex marriage? How has our culture become a big joke under liberals?

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      • The thing is I don’t generally respect Rod Dreher. The Former OTer is someone I do respect and he does think that various Democratic/Lefty actions do alienate white guys but the guys can be won back. But there has to be a line where the Democrats can still be firm advocates for civil rights for minorities while also not alienating white dudes.

        Or maybe there is not.

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        • I have no doubt the D’s can win back plenty of the WWC and white folks in general. No doubt at all. Lots of people may never see the way we do on civil rights or minority issues but those aren’t the key issues for most people. Give them honesty and some of the many D. policies people seem to like and they are plenty of winable folks.

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  9. What I think of as being “PC” reduces to “Don’t be a dick; try to think of others’ feelings before speaking.” Those who criticize political correctness, however, seem to see something else there.

    There are two types of political correctness, and there are some people on the left playing a motte-and-bailey game with them. There’s normative political correctness (what you describe above), which is fine. Great, even. The problem is with positive political correctness, which is when political concerns dictate what you’re supposed to believe about objective facts, regardless of evidence. And then when you complain about the latter, you get told that political correctness just means treating people with respect.

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