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On the 11th of May, the Henry Jackson Society welcomed Joan C. Williams: Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California Hastings Foundation Chair, and the Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California Hastings College of the Law. She was here to discuss the findings of her new book – ‘White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America’.
In an attempt to clarify the stimulus behind Donald Trump’s electoral base, the book offers a straightforward explanation of why so much of the Washington-class’ analysis of the white working class is misguided, and their assumptions fundamentally flawed. Professor Williams describes how many analysts and correspondents confused the term ‘working class’ with ‘poor’, and fail to recognise the motivations and desires of Trump’s voters.
Trump’s election as President resulted in arguably a very necessary international focus on the white working class – not solely in America, but also in Europe. For the first time since the 1940s, attention was ‘abruptly paid’, Williams opened up the discussion by explaining, to the white working class. After wages plummeted in 1973, America’s political endeavours shifted to everything from environmentalism to women’s rights and, most recently, LGBT rights – every politically disenfranchised group apart from the white working class.
Once this attention shifted, the ‘liberal elites’ stereotyped the white working class, by way of caricatures and popular television culture: ‘The Simpsons,’ exemplifying the white working class man to be overweight, hoarding uninformed views, and acting in a boorish manner. Similarly, Williams compared the character Pensatuckky’s coarse and ignorant depiction from ‘Orange is the New Black’ as ‘doing as much for white working class women as what Homer Simpson does for white working class men’.
Highlighting the lack of ‘social honour’ the white working class are demeaningly accustomed to by progressive elites, Professor Williams claimed how it is now ‘open season’ to brand the white working class as racist, homophobic, sexist. This is an unhealthy and unhelpful dynamic: by being politically incorrect in a politically correct era, the white working class see such behavior as ‘sticking a thumb in the elitist’s eye’.
This leads on to Professor Williams’ diligent analysis of why the white working class became such a vigorous electorate force in 2016: the white working class essentially want to retain their social customs, but simply be more financially prosperous. This explains the white working class’ distaste towards ‘professionals’; i.e. the major wedge of Hilary Clinton voters. Blue collar worker resentment towards white collar workers is rife in America: the white working class do not hold anger towards ‘the boss’ or ‘Trump-standard super rich’, but the professional ‘college kid’.
It is at this point that the ‘White Working Class’ observes that dismissing and deriding nearly three quarters of Americans without university degrees is neither ‘morally acceptable nor sound political strategy’.
Clinton was also acutely aware of triggering this resentment. Much like Obamacare’s counter-productivity, in terms of the policy doing rather little for those a notch above ‘working class’, the Democrats once again fed into the ‘white trash’ image. This is starkly reminiscent of Southern plantation owners consciously and strategically directing white working class anger into racism, much like the cultural elites today. As a result, privileged whites now use racism as a denial of class privilege – by stating, ‘you have white privilege’.
Williams then addressed the concerns of white working class women, worryingly-overlooked in an election campaign which seemed to champion feminism. When asked why white working class women voted for Trump, they answered: ‘I’m voting for my husband’s job.’ This highlights the leading error in Clinton’s campaign: elite females have a rather different ‘breadwinner model’; their best chance of financial survival being trying to secure the best job possible for their male partner. Clinton was deemed as inauthentic as her ‘glass ceilings’ rhetoric was squandered against pink collar white working class women – the reason being, there was a serious lack of concern for sexual harassment in the female candidate’s campaign. By having the glass ceiling rhetoric at the core of her campaign, the concerns of white working class women were sheered over by professional women.
Williams arrived at the concluding point, both in her book and in the discussion, that white working class men felt a somewhat ‘threat of identity’ by a powerful woman: a candidate that dramatised that even women had more power than them. In a culture that addresses every form of social disenfranchisement apart from theirs, is it any wonder that Trump was victorious over gaining so many working class votes?
Closing off the discussion on a lasting note, Williams argued that the Clinton election campaign stigmatised every insult apart from those directed to the white working classes. By abandoning the concerns of such a group to other equality groups and failing to add class insults under the broad umbrella of political correctness, Professor Williams calls Trump’s election a cri de coeur of the working class against a neglectful business and professional elite.