Saturday, March 12, 2016

What's Wrong With White Working Class Nostalgia?

Everybody is still trying to figure out that Trump phenomenon. David Roberts at does his bit by trying to find the positive side of white working class nostalgia in the song, above. And maybe science can help, he suggests. I think he misses the boat on the redeeming value of white working class racism, and I'm skeptical that science can help.

David Roberts grew up in a small Southern town. You know, a town like the laid back place Marion Morrison/aka John Wayne talked about in The Good Things back in 1973. Roberts looks back at his childhood and tries to capture that White Working Class Nostalgia, that feeling of community, togetherness, sense of order, where men love their wives in an Ozzie and Harriet kind of way, where white dads go fishin' with their white and straight sons, spending their working days with white co-workers just wishin' to make things better; where firemen have no troubles worse than climbing a tree to set a kitten free, and white policemen have nothing better to do than help you across the avenue; where your white neighbor offers you a ride when your American made car is broken down, and you spring two cents for the white kid trying to buy a soda pop from the white shopkeeper; where all Sunday mornings are sunny mornings, and the Christian church bells ring loud and clear, and you climb into the family car and drive to church, where all the men are white and love their wives in that Ozzie & Harriet sort of way; and where all know the future of this land of ours is strong and bright as long as we have love, faith, hope, and God above. That place.

"For me," says Roberts, that song "represents the flip side of White resentment..., white nostalgia, a yearning for something lost." Even though subaltern groups (i.e. blacks, Latinos, gays, the disabled, poor new immigrants, and non-conformists of all stripes) were excluded from this idyll, the picture, he says, represents a primal urge that is "worth understanding, and honoring."
"For many people" [and here, I suppose, we must read 'conformists to this 1950's white idyll'] "those social bonds, that Us, is constitutive of identity, and when such communities are degraded by economic and demographic forces, those people can feel as though they are being erased." .... 
Over the past few decades, the US [read white] middle class has shrunk. Wages have stagnated, manufacturing jobs have left, unions have all but vanished. The white working class has lost pensions and health care benefits it once took for granted. Depression, suicide, and prescription drug abuse are on the rise among middle-aged white Americans. Almost all jobs created since the recovery have gone to college graduates.
White working-class Americans are getting married less and report having fewer close friends. Their social capital is draining away, along with their jobs, their savings, and their dignity. ... Meanwhile ...  The share of the US population that is foreign-born is four times what it was in 1970, having risen from 4.7 percent then to 13.1 percent in 2013.
In a little over a generation, right-leaning, working-class whites went from defining America — being the standard, the base model, the hard-working, self-reliant American dream made flesh, about which kitschy songs are written — to being, in their view, an embattled minority. 
Their social values are mocked and rejected by mainstream pop culture, and they are condescended to and dismissed by elites. Rightly or not, they've come to view immigrants, other ethnicities, and often liberals as competitors in a zero-sum fight.
They are pissed off and panicky about it, and while we need not accept the uglier forms the backlash takes, we should still acknowledge the unique angst that results when the communities that most value order are struck by the most dislocation.
The Ozzie and Harriet idyll has been disrupted, the white middle class is under economic pressures. So what's to be done?
[W]hite working-class Americans (like all Americans) should be offered some shelter from those changes, some sense that they will be okay, that they are still part of the American Us, no matter what. They deserve that. They are not hicks or proto-fascists for wanting it. And if they don't get it, Trump happens.
The article overlays this with a veneer of psychological studies and "science" to explain Trumpism. The parties have separated themselves into psychological types, reports Roberts, with authoritarians gravitating to the Republican Party. "Authoritarians" want order, a settled world, obedience from their kids. And authoritarians can be identified by social scientists. They respond more vehemently to "negative stimuli," to "threats." They may have larger amygdalae! Hence Trump??? Yeah, yeah, yeah.  That part is interesting, but I wouldn't jump to any conclusions. Also, isn't this all a bit condescending to those white authoritarians under the microscope?

The problem, it seems to me, is there is NOTHING worth honoring about the Ozzie and Harriet idyll. The white working class nostalgia of The Good Things is not the positive flip side of white racism: it is the embodiment of white racism. It is the definition of white racism. It is the manifestation of white bigotry. And note, I'd rather be called a bigot than portrayed as a rat in a maze.

Sure enough, the white working class is under pressure and they should be offered shelter from the storm, like all Americans. Just like Roberts says. But as the saying goes, God helps those who help themselves. The white working class are trying to help themselves by voting for Trump. They think he is offering a helping hand. I think they'd be better off feeling the Bern and getting rid of every Republican in sight. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." They should try that. But by rejecting Cruz, Kasich, Rubio, the dozen clowns who have departed the stage, and the Republican establishment (from Paul Ryan to Mitch McConnell to Reince Priebus and "the superpac billionaires" as Bernie would have it) who is to say they are making a mistake? Cruz, Kasich, and Rubio all want to attack, if not do away with social security; Trump at least wants to leave social security as it is.

Best to vote Democratic come Fall.

Another link to Robert's piece is HERE, and if you go for that social science stuff, there are lots of links to follow there.

You can follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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