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Donald Trump and the Working Class

I have been asked to share some thoughts about the U.S. Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, and the working class. I think I could rename this article “Addressing the Fears of the White Liberal U.S. Middle Class.” White liberal middle-class USers are the dominant group in the RC Community, and it is important that their fears not dominate our thinking and our perspective on social change.

THE BELIEF THAT THE WORKING CLASS SUPPORTS DONALD TRUMP

First of all, it is important to understand that working-class people did not give rise to Donald Trump as a candidate. He is of the owning class, having inherited all of his wealth from his father. He also did not work through any existing political organization but rather promoted himself because he has an enormous ego and a lot of money.

There seems to be a belief among liberal and middle-class people that the Trump candidacy is riding on the support of the working class. That is not my sense as a person living mostly among the working class, but I decided to do some research.

Are there any facts to support the idea that the U.S. working class backs Trump? One blogger who has been widely quoted (http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-mythology-of-trumps-working-class-support/) claims that the exit polls from the first twenty-three primaries showed that people voting for either Sanders or Clinton (the candidates of the more liberal Democratic Party) had median incomes lower than Trump supporters.

The impression that Trump supporters are working class comes from (1) years of Republican propaganda claiming that Republicans represent the working class and (2) liberal middle-class Democrats believing this is true. This latter is a function of classism.

OPPRESSORS FEELING VICTIMIZED BY THOSE THEY OPPRESS 

It is an interesting phenomenon that people in oppressor groups tend to feel victimized by those they oppress. White people tend to feel victimized by people of the global majority, men tend to feel victimized by women, parents by their children, Gentiles by Jews, U.S. citizens by the rest of the world, owning- and middle-class people by working-class people, and working-class people by poor people (those on “welfare” or public support). This feeling is not logical, but it is a big part of what allows oppression to persist.

The data seem to show that Trump’s support comes from (1) people who support his racist attacks on immigrants and (2) people who feel like their government does not listen to or represent their points of view. It appears that the “Trump for president” phenomenon is fueled by the feeling of victimization, which is not limited to a particular class background. Racism and sexism are at the heart of it. White males of all classes make up a large sector of his support.

A union activist friend of mine tells me that some working-class people she knows have said that they might vote for the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders but that if he doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, they will vote for Trump instead of the more moderate female candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Sexism and sexist attacks on Clinton (by both parties) threaten to throw support of both middle- and working-class people to Trump.

My union friend sees Trump as the logical outcome of years of Republican propaganda against “government.” This propaganda has gained support from those who think “government is not listening to them” and feel victimized by a government that seems to be favoring the interests of oppressed groups.

THE MIDDLE-CLASS LIBERAL FEAR OF THE WORKING CLASS 

I don’t think the Trump phenomenon has been created by the working class, but many white middle-class liberals certainly fear that it has been. The U.S. white liberal middle class fears the working class (more specifically, white working-class men) in much the same way that the white population, from being conditioned by racism, fears people of the global majority.

Republicans have manipulated racist patterns and the middle-class liberal fear of the working class into the impression that Republicans are the party of the working class.

Very right-wing candidates have won several key elections in my state because of the fear that white middle-class liberals have of working-class candidates. The fear often takes the form of hidden—or not-so-hidden—contempt, arrogance, and superiority. Of one excellent, strong working-class union leader, factory worker, and former president of the state senate, who was perhaps the only person in the U.S. Congress without a university degree, it was said, “He does not have the intellect to be governor.” And so an arrogant owning-class person ran as an independent in that election, dividing the “liberals,” and we ended up with a governor similar to Trump only more right wing.

Another manifestation of white liberal middle-class classism, which I find myself guilty of, is to think, “I have the correct position, and surely everyone will realize its correctness and follow me.” This arrogant and complacent attitude communicates very poorly to working-class people. No—good ideas have to be fought for and organized around, and this happens through connection with people—lots and lots of people.

When middle-class people give up on the working class, their position is drastically weakened.

SEGREGATION

We are a highly segregated society, I would say, with respect to both race and class, in spite of the claim that we ended government-enforced segregation years ago. Segregation has created a distance between people across which we have been unable to communicate. Segregation leads to separation, which leads to fear, which leads to feeling victimized, which leaves us open to oppressions like racism and classism and sexism and male domination, all of which can easily be manipulated into reactive responses, or a lack of response, in critical situations.

THE ROLE OF RCERS

What role do we in RC have to play in all of this?

We have something important to share about the oppressor role.

Thanks to our work on Goal One,1 a growing number of white Co-Counselors are getting out of feeling victimized enough to actually think about the institution of racism and how to end it. They have become less preoccupied with their personal distresses and more able to think about people of the global majority and the impact that racism has had on them.

A small but growing number of men Co-Counselors are actually beginning to think about women as an oppressed group and about being allies to them in their fight against oppression, rather than being defensive or completely absorbed with their own sexism.

The new Initiative on Ending Classism2 focuses our attention on a powerful group of people, direct-production workers, who are the engine of capitalism but are barely represented in RC.

We now have a better understanding that we who are cast in oppressor roles have an important role to play in ending all oppression.

We are becoming less afraid as we build strong relationships across the lines of separation drawn by racism and classism, and also by nationalism and the oppressions based on language, religion, culture, and so on.

We can disengage from our oppressor roles and reach for productive human contact.

We know something about segregation, isolation, separation, connection, and closeness.

We understand the need for connection and closeness and know how to work toward them.

Tim Jackins has been talking to us about the early loss of connection that has left us accepting that disconnection is a permanent part of life. Thanks to RC, we are able to see the disconnection, work on it, and move against it.

Seán Ruth, the International Liberation Reference Person for Middle-Class People, has posed the question, How do we as middle-class people detach from the societal roles that isolate us from people and lead us to support the class structure of capitalism, and instead make close human contact with people of all backgrounds? In other words, how do we organize in a situation that actively discourages it? We are learning something about this.

We are the fear experts.

Today, everywhere in the world, people are afraid. As far as I know, we are the only group of people who have made a rigorous attempt to eliminate fear. We understand what it is, where it comes from, and how to deal with it.

We know that it’s okay to have fear. We know it makes sense that we’re afraid in the current situation and that this is not a problem because we can discharge the fear. I find myself telling people—over and over again, inside and outside of RC—that it’s okay to be afraid. What a relief that is to them. I try to be as open as I can about my own fears, without dramatizing them. I have a lot of credibility as a leader, because people can see that I am neither naïve about nor overwhelmed by my fears.

We know how to listen.

A union friend tells me that a group of union activists have been trying to figure out effective ways of moving working-class people away from supporting Trump. They decided to focus on listening and pursued it in a disciplined manner. They found that in a short conversation they could not change the mind of a Trump supporter. However, if someone was trying to make up his or her mind about Trump, that person could move away from supporting him if they listened to him or her for at least ten minutes, before presenting alternate ideas. Ah, the value of a disciplined approach!

I like to say that this thing we call RC is not “rocket science” (too complicated to understand)—it’s harder than rocket science. It is simple, but we have to keep our own restimulation out of the way.

THE OWNING CLASS WANTING CONTROL

The Republican Party elite—by manipulating our racist, classist, and sexist patterns and encouraging distrust of government—has unintentionally created a monster in Donald Trump that it can’t handle. He has broken the dominant structure of the Republican Party and unleashed populist anger, which even if it comes from a minority of the electorate could unleash uncontrollable and dangerous forces.

My spouse, who was active for a decade in electoral politics, points out that what the business community values above all else is stability (though given the “internal contradictions” of capitalism, it is unlikely to be achieved). That is why corporations give money to politicians of both parties. They hope to maintain a status quo that’s in their favor regardless of the election results. It’s also why Trump alarms them—he creates chaos, and above all else they want control. I am reading in the newspapers that more foreign ambassadors are coming to Washington, D.C., with concerns about the future of the United States. Foreign investments are decreasing, due to fears about the uncertainties of a Trump presidency.

Harvey Jackins reminded us years ago that the owning class is not the united front we workers feel it to be. Owning-class people fear and fight each other as intensely as they do any movement of the working class or other oppressed groups (though they do it covertly perhaps).

AN EXCELLENT TIME TO PUT FORWARD OUR IDEAS

Donald Trump is a logical product of all the reactive forces we have not yet been able to halt. We should be concerned not only about him but about the conditions that brought him to prominence. We have to face, discharge on, and act against those conditions. They didn’t happen just this year; they have been years in the making.

As even those within the Republican Party have been forced to admit, Trump has shaken the pretense they’ve been trying to maintain of being the thoughtful representation of “American” values. This leaves a vacuum we are well prepared to fill, if we can find our voices. This is an excellent time to put forward our ideas of what rational values would be, and of course to listen to others about the same.

Dan Nickerson

International Liberation Reference Person for Working-Class People

Freeport, Maine, USA

(Present Time 184, July 2016)


1 A goal adopted by the 2001 World Conference of the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities and reaffirmed by subsequent World Conferences: That the elimination of racism, in particular the racism aimed at people of African heritage, be actively made an ongoing, central piece of the work of the Re-evaluation Counseling Community.
2 See “A New Initiative on Ending Classism,” by Dan Nickerson, on page 8 of the July 2014 Present Time.


Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00