Inconvenient Truths

Three decades ago, non-college white men were solidly Democratic. Many of them were unionized. They had jobs that delivered good middle-class incomes.

But over the last three decades they stopped believing the Democratic Party could deliver good jobs at decent wages.

Republicans have done no better for them on the wages — in fact many policies touted by the GOP, such as its attack on unions, have accelerated the downward wage trend.

But Republicans have offered white non-college males the scapegoats of racism and immigration — blaming, directly or indirectly, blacks and Latinos — and the solace of right-wing evangelical Christianity. Absent any bold leadership from Democrats, these have been enough.

More Jobs, Lousy Wages, and the Desertion of Non-College White Men From the Democratic Party,” Robert Reich

I know a lot of these white men, without college, in low-paying jobs. My family is full of them and, thanks to Facebook, I am in touch with many of my childhood friends, most of whom didn’t go to college. I’d make Reich’s story a little more complicated. We were raised in Texas, where there are few unions. Texas, though, is on the bleeding edge of racial relationships in every direction. In some ways geography is destiny.

There’s the obvious tensions along the Mexican border. Or, rather, two borders; the political border, along the Rio Grande, doesn’t match the cultural border, which cuts across the lower third of Texas. Texas isn’t just Western, or Southwestern, though, it’s also Southern, and so divided by Black and White as well. So in Texas it is easy to imagine the ways that the right has used race to divide the working class against itself.

Most of my friends back in Texas didn’t abandon the Democratic party, though; they never entered it in the first place. Somehow, as they grew up, they grew into reactionary politics, despite the fact that we were all nascent liberals in Junior High and High School. At some moment, or over the course of time, perhaps in the 1980’s, something switched. I honestly don’t know how the right and its narrow-mindedness came to seem so appealing.

I suspect that a big part of it has to do with a kind of resentment of professionals and technocratic, scientific culture. Obama isn’t just hated because he’s Black, he’s hated because he’s so well-educated. The enemy is the professor as much as the community organizer, those know it all overpaid egg-heads. The Democratic party represents a meritocratic ideal that’s only half real at best. Hard work often doesn’t pay. People resent that lie.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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