Sarah Smarsh has a well written opinion piece up in the NYT titled “Liberal Blind Spots Are Hiding the Truth About “Trump Country.“ To give a flavor of her piece:
WICHITA, Kan. — Is the white working class an angry, backward monolith — some 90 million white Americans without college degrees, all standing around in factories and fields thumping their dirty hands with baseball bats? You might think so after two years of media fixation on this version of the aggrieved laborer: male, Caucasian, conservative, racist, sexist.
. . . . Most struggling whites I know live lives of quiet desperation mad at their white bosses, not resentment of their co-workers or neighbors of color. My dad’s previous three bosses were all white men he loathed for abuses of privilege and people.
While I don't agree with all of her arguments, it is a very important contribution because the notion that Trump and the Republican party became a White Working Class movement was always factually incorrect and was really an attempt by pundits and the rest to excuse the rampant racism among the White middle class, rich and elites. (See this Ta-Nehisi Coates piece for the best exploration of the issue.)
I’d also point out that her original framing is wrong — “Whites without college degrees” does not equal “White working class.” This was one of the key mistakes leading to this whole meme. Even in counties where Trump led in the category of “Whites without college degrees,” surveys consistently showed that those voters were still the wealthier voters in their counties. (The explanation is that many folks without college degrees still become relatively affluent, often by going into business for themselves (or taking over a family business)). The Republican party is still very largely a party of the wealthier.
Anyway, I thought the most important part of her piece was the following:
Still, millions of white working-class people have refused to be played. They have resisted the traps of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and nationalism and voted the other way — or, in too many cases, not voted at all. I am far less interested in calls for empathy toward struggling white Americans who spout or abide hatred than I am in tapping into the political power of those who don’t.
. . . . Among the 30 states tidily declared “red” after the 2016 election, in two-thirds of them Mrs. Clinton received 35 to 48 percent of the vote. My white working-class family was part of that large minority, rendered invisible by the Electoral College and graphics that paint each state red or blue. (emphasis added)
Yes (and 35% to 48% is encouraging). Cutting through all the bullshit, this is the key point. Democrats need to keep barnstorming and union storming, etc. to win back a higher percentage of the White Working Class, including most particularly those who may not be voting at all.
Democrats have gotten too close to Wall Street and big donor campaign financing. Having lived too long, I know that many to nearly all of the Democratic leaders today would have been characterized as moderate Republicans in my teens and twenties. (And I was disgusted to see Democrats running away from the Affordable Care Act.) Too often the Democratic party has positioned itself as “an alternative party” rather than an “opposition party.” Milquetoast is another word that comes to mind.
Having lost control over all three branches, Democrats must know that what they are doing isn’t working. But having won the popular vote in 6 of the last 7 presidential elections should tell Dems that there is a majority waiting for them to take hold. We are close, but uncomfortably far. One thing that would help, tremendously in my opinion, is if the Democratic party could regain the trust and allegiance of the working class and the working poor in the broadest possible terms. (It is probably the largest growing demographic, btw.)