Checkpoint: Democrats Are Clueless About Class
President Trump secured 37 percent more white voters without college degrees than Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election. These working class citizens powered Trump to victory in key states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and left Democrats perplexed. Trump’s victory revealed a major shortcoming of the Democratic Party – that they are clueless about class. Yet, Democrats all across the nation are still asking themselves how a billionaire businessman born into wealth could be so greatly admired by America’s white working class.
Joan Williams, a prominent feminist and legal scholar, offers an explanation in her novel White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. She attributes Trumps victory to the Liberal elite’s inability to understand America’s white working class. Williams defines the working class as “Americans with incomes above the bottom one-third and below the top one-fifth," which comes out to a median income of approximately $75,000. On Williams income spectrum, the citizens that fall below are “the poor” and the individuals above are the “professional-managerial elite.”
Not only does Williams point out the lack of connection Democrats have with the white working class, she audaciously calls the entire party “largely clueless” about class dynamics in American politics. Though daring, her claim has merit. While Democrats have been pushing forward their progressive agenda with a focus on gender, race and poverty, they have been unable to appeal to the white working class. The working class people worry about financial insecurity and job opportunities. Mention of gender and racial inequality or initiatives to combat poverty do not resonate with this group. Yet, Democrats have been and are still standing up for small businesses, advocating for universal healthcare and rejecting tax breaks for the top 1 percent.
This begs the question: why can’t the Democratic Party earn the support of the individuals they claim to champion? This has justifiably left Liberals dumbfounded. From a left perspective, the white working class should be the cornerstone of the Democratic Party’s voting base. However, it is the exact opposite. They are unable to win the support of the white working class. A push like raising the minimum wage to $15 may help the poor, but it provides little to no benefit for the working class of America.
It boils down to one key, fundamental principle that Democrats get wrong about the white working class; they don’t care about the Democrat Party’s progressive agenda. In a Harvard Business Review IdeaCast, Williams states that the white working class “resents professionals but admires the rich.” These professionals are doctors, professors and business analysts; These are individuals with college educations, they are citizens detested by the white working class. In addition to feeling inferior, the distinct cultural differences that exist between these two groups explains why Democrats don’t appeal to the working class.
Professionals, with their entrepreneurial networks, value the Democrats progressive agenda because their networks are national. The work they do spans across the nation and connects well with progressive beliefs. On the other hand, the network of working class families is limited to the people around them. The vast network professionals maintain through what the white working class views as superficial, political dialogue, is why they consider professionals to be suspicious and morally bankrupt. Democrats are out of tune with the reality the white working class faces every day.
Given all this, it is evident why blue collar workers are proud, direct and not afraid to speak their minds. They are individuals who tell it like it is. This is the very reason why Trump was able to connect so well with them. Trump bluntly spoke his mind and avoided political jargon. To the working class, he represented the “rich” they dreamed of becoming while Clinton represented the epitome of all that they hate. When Williams writes “the working class people’s dream is to be exactly the way they are, just with more money," she is conveying that their aspirations and wants do not align with the Democratic Party’s liberal agenda. Democrats mistake in believing that the two align is why they are clueless about class.
Ultimately, Democrats need to listen to the working class people. The 2016 election proved that it is no longer an option to ignore them. They have demonstrated their political power while simultaneously shedding light on the economic struggles they face on a daily basis. Democrats now, more than ever, need to focus on how they can add value to the working class people’s lives in their political platforms as they begin to prepare for the 2020 presidential election.