President Biden Must Reach Dying White Working Class; Should First Understand Different Needs and Views of Largest Voting Bloc
WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 9, 2020) - Joe Biden will be our next president, but his margin was down-to-the-wire thin, and the predicted widespread repudiation of the President, an expanded House majority, and control of the Senate all failed to materialize despite widespread predictions by the intelligentsia - pundits, pollsters, professors, and especially politicians - notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
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White Working Class Studies
After Donald Trump won a victory in 2016 which surprised if not stunned many members of this influential group - in large part because of an astonishing margin of 39 points among white non-college-educated voters - Banzhaf, in his widely reported controversial analysis of Trump's surprise win, suggested that a new field - White Working Class [WWC] Studies - should be established, just as many if not most universities have studies, classes, and even professors of African American Studies, Hispanic Studies, LGBTQ studies, etc.
After all, the WWC reportedly make up the largest single voting bloc - some 40%-54% of the entire electorate according to different estimates, and probably more if we include those with degrees but from two-year rather than four-year institutions - and clearly showed in 2016, and now again in 2020, that they can have a major political impact.
Calling them "blue collar workers" is inaccurate, and underestimates their number and influence, says Banzhaf, because even many people with only a high school degree work in offices as salespersons, customer representatives, clerks or high-level assistants, etc., not in traditional blue collar positions.
The new field of White Working Class Studies has spread to a number of colleges, produced a slue of articles and books - such as "White Working Class," "Hillbilly Elegy," "White Trash," and "Strangers in Their Own Land" - but society has failed to give these voters the attention, understanding, and concern long accorded to other groups, he suggests.
As law professor Joan C. Williams argued, such studies are long overdue, especially in light of the liberal elite's attitudes towards other groups: "During an era when wealthy white Americans have learned to sympathetically imagine the lives of the poor, people of color, and LGBTQ people . . . the white working class has been insulted or ignored."
Understanding The WWC
To do more than offer lip service and empty platitudes, Biden must do much more for this huge group, but first he and others in his circle must better understand them, Banzhaf suggests.
Too many officials - including elected figures, and those who advise them and/or administer government programs - still do not truly understand this group, much less seem to have much sympathy for its members, even though it is the only large group, both here and abroad, where life expectancy has been falling, and members are increasingly dying of entirely preventable "diseases of despair."
This lack of understanding of - and sympathy for - the White Working Class are illustrated by an everyday observation that so many outsiders continue to hurl accusatory questions such as:
- "Why don't they push their kids harder to succeed and go to college?"
- "Shouldn't they move to another state for better jobs?
- "Why do they resent government benefits and government benefit programs?"
- "Aren't they just racist? or sexist?"
- "Why do they dislike us so much, even while admiring gauche plutocrats such as President Trump?" (as the Washington Post put it).
While there are good and valid answers to those accusatory questions, most outsiders do not know - much less understand and appreciate - the answers some experts are beginning to provide.
As those frequently-asked questions suggest, in many cases the problem goes beyond merely a failure to understand, which has been called "class cluelessness," and becomes a "class callousness" of a kind likely to lead to the strong resentment which put Trump in office in 2016, and caused him to do much better in 2020 than many had expected.
For example, government programs designed to help the WWC too often create resentment rather than any improvement in their situation.
This means that if Biden appointees want to address their problems and concerns in a meaningful and effective way, they have to understand the experiences, views, and attitudes which too often lead existing government programs to fail.
He and those working with him might also want to make it clearer that they do not fully embrace some of the ideas which are sometime associated by the White Working Class with his party, like defunding the police, permitting if not encouraging riots and other destructive behavior, "socializing" medicine by eliminating private health insurance, phasing out all fracking if not all carbon-based energy sources, etc. - all of which may seem like anathema and un-American, at least as many WWC voters may perceive them.
The apparent result of neglecting the needs and concerns of the White Working Class have been stark and dramatic. While life expectancy has continued to rise for virtually all other population groups - including African Americans, Hispanics, white Americans with 4-year degrees, and even the WWC in other countries - it has now fallen for several years in a row for WWC Americans.
The reasons were spelled out and well documented in the book "Deaths of Despair" which reported that deaths - all of which were preventable - from suicide, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related diseases among middle-aged white men and women more than tripled from 30 per 100,000 in 1990 to 92 per 100,000 in 2017.
Perhaps, if politicians and government officials finally begin to understand and appreciate how important this group is to winning elections, a point driven home again by this election, they will begin paying more attention to the problems which drive them - unlike all other groups - to die from diseases of despair, and fashion programs which will be effective in addressing their unique concerns, suggests Banzhaf.