The Working Class, Reconsidered
Publisher: Counter Punch
Date Written: 17/11/2016
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20255
The central narrative of post-election analysis asserts that Trump won the election by riding a wave of white working class resentment; a wave that he'd activated and steered in dangerous directions. The narrative is partly right, but it needs to be subject to critical analysis, specifically regarding how we think about "the working class" and the role that "it" played in this election.
My take is that Trump's core supporters, regardless of income or education-level, have a particular image of the working class that they identify with; an image freighted with racial and gendered baggage. The dominant image of the working class is a white male worker, often in an extractive industry -- a farmer, rancher, logger, coal-miner, roughneck or construction worker. A whole cultural politics flows from this image: members of the working class listen to country music and drive big trucks; they love hunting, fishing and firing guns; they respect law enforcement and the military, but they abhor the state; they're hard working, straight shooting and old-fashioned in values (but certainly not too politically correct to engage in some good old fashioned locker room talk). As this image weaves its way into our political imaginaries, the small farmer is seen as working class, but the immigrant farm-worker isn't. The white cashier at Walmart might be working class, but the Latina maid at a hotel definitely doesn't fit. (The role of that popular culture plays in reinforcing this dominant image is another article for another day, but reality TV's recent embrace of the working class -- through shows like Ice Road Truckers, Deadliest Catch, Coal, Duck Dynasty, etc. -- provides a perspective on labor in which people of color are entirely absent, and -- with few exceptions -- women only enter the picture as wives and mothers. It's a selective view of "reality" at best).