“Uneducated white males.” That’s a phrase I heard from pundits leading up to the election and after it; that’s the base that elected Trump more than any other demographic.
The phrase itself illustrates the main reason Trump won.
It’s true that Trump drew racists and alt-right supporters; that he drew people afraid of what would happen if Hillary became president — including people who believed and re-tweeted the fake stories accusing her and her staff of literal witchcraft. But he also drew a significant segment of the regular-guy population sick of being labeled “uneducated” by politicians; he galvanized the working class by promising to shake up an establishment that treated them with contempt. He promised to bring their jobs back. He promised to resist the tide of globalization sending work overseas. Regardless of the fact that he’d sent his own manufacturing overseas; regardless of rising economics favoring microchips over human workers, they took a chance that he, a big businessman, could help their own bottom line.
This in spite of the fact that worker’s rights have traditionally been championed by the left — the hard-core left and the progressive movement, which plucked turn-of-the-century manufacturing out of the hands of children and instituted the 40-hour workweek, sick leave, child labor laws. The move towards worker’s rights ran contrary to monopolies and top-down capitalism. It was not an easy fight — and in some cases resulted in actual bloodshed.
This in spite of the fact that even in recent years, Republicans have voted against workers’ rights. According to a New York Times breakdown on labor policies, “conservative Republicans supported the right of employers to take money [in this case, tips] that workers had earned. This disregard for the earnings of workers is only an extreme manifestation of a more common phenomenon among Republican legislators: their indifference to the problem of wage theft.”
The left lost the votes of the working class when it began patronizing them, becoming, as many working-class people accused them of, “the liberal elite.” The pontificating college professor, the yuppie stay-at-home mom with nothing better to do than manufacture outrage about a “culturally appropriated” textile pattern or two. The left got out of touch with the working class because it saw “uneducated white males” as the problem, the root of racial tensions, sexual “micro-aggressions” and climate change denial. It tried to educate the “uneducated” with graphs and pats on the head — with accusations and not-so-patient sighs. Unsurprisingly, this didn’t work well. And along came a guy who appealed to the visceral rather than the intellectual, along came a guy who spoke in short sentences and said he was on their side. That he would make their country great again. That he’d mop the floor with the people who looked down on them. And they voted for him.
If the left wants the working class back — and they should, for the sake of the working class itself — they’ve got to stop playing it so safe and calculated and intellectual. They’ve got to stop being patronizing. They’ve got to stand for something rather than merely against something.
They’ve got to find their heart and soul again, and they’ve got to be comfortable with callouses on their hands and dirt under their fingernails.