acanuck's picture

    what's the matter with the white-trash hillbillies of Appalachia?

    Alternate title: What's the matter with the Democrats' strategy toward the WTHOA? We're deep into the election woods right now, and Hillary (with lots of help from Donald Trump) is doing a pretty good job of locking in most demographics that make up the party's base. So I doubt any Democratic strategists are fretting about their expected failure to recapture West Virginia's once-gettable five electoral votes. It's sad that so many voters have lost all hope that they are buying what Trump is selling, but there's no way the party can promise them a turnaround. Those jobs are gone and they ain't coming back.

    But this opinion piece has at least a kernel of truth to it. Appalachians feel abandoned because they have been abandoned. Historically by both parties, of course. But the localized successes of Trump's crude appeals to racism and xenophobia this election seem to have made it OK to express a contempt for poor, low-information voters that we elitists normally try to keep in check. As for policies, there's lots of talk about helping the struggling and squeezed middle class, not really anything for the destitute living in dying communities. The opinion piece itself is an interesting take, but the comments (on the original article) are what Democrats should really pay attention to. It won't happen during a presidential election, but it has to happen long-term. Talking about the decline of the middle class will pull in more votes, but letting poor whites and blacks slide deeper into despair is a recipe for societal collapse.


    Obamacare Medicaid expansion was adopted by West Virginia, the expansion now covers 173,600 working poor and their families not previously eligible for Medicaid, with the federal government covering 90% of the cost. Trump, of course, and every Republican candidate planned to end it. 

    Hillary's infrastructure plan would provide jobs in the region. As in many parts of the country, if a sole employer or industry leaves or disappears, people may have to leave small towns to go where the jobs are.

    I would say I have known and worked side by side with people from this region. Some I called Master Chief, one I worked with doctor and another was one of the best carpenters I have ever had the luck to have work done by.  A few were lacking in basic education when I served with them in the navy. No one there called them white trash. 

    Maybe the nation needs mandatory national service of some form, so we learn to respect each other. Some skills might be learned in the process.

    It's undeniable that Obamacare has lifted a burden off thousands of WVa families, which should favor his would-be Democratic successor. But the underlying trend -- job and population loss -- persists ( Hillary's infrastructure program, for now, is just a campaign promise. It's unfair to blame the federal gov't for economic factors beyond its control, but if you are hurting an election is your chance to issue a cry for help.

    One great thing about Hillary's current polling lead is that she can pull resources out of states that were up for grabs (Virginia) and put them into states that only last week seemed out of reach. There are quite a few where the payoff from an upset win would be enormous. Putting West Virginia back in the Democratic fold would be sweet. Still, I think they have bigger fish they would love to fry (Georgia? Kansas? Texas, but maybe only in 2020?)

    Underrepresented, falling-behind poor whites is a problem across the US as well as England and other EU countries. It's great to be a Google-employed millennial. It sucks to be a growing old salesman, factory worker, farmer, repairman, car repairman, park worker, teacher, etc. West Virginia just has a more pronounced population of these.

    Exactly. Appalachia is not unique. Trump's (now faltering) rise has its parallel in Brexit. Surprise, the pool of people who sense they're being callously left behind is wide and deep. Technological change always causes disruptions, but the pace can be higher than a society can cope with. When those affected perceive (rightly or wrongly) gov't policies as actually accelerating their stress (immigration, free trade, affirmative action) a backlash is almost inevitable. The growth of Marine Le Pen's Front National and other right-wing forces in Europe should serve as a warning, especially our pro-globalization elites. Trade deals that boost GDP at the cost of deepening class divisions should be off the table. Hillary says she's gotten the message; I hope she has.

    Trade deals can be made better but tariffs and a trade war is not the answer. Globalization is here to stay. There are winners and losers in the global economy and we are all in some ways winners with the much lower costs for consumer goods. Government needs to find better ways to deal with the disruption they cause  This isn't a new issue that suddenly because of Sanders Hillary just discovered. Democrats have been discussing this and trying to do something about unemployment among those with just a high school diploma for a decade. Democrats have been pushing for a large infrastructure bill and they've been blocked by republicans. As usual after blocking every attempt to deal with this problem the republicans are pointing at the democrats as the problem.

    I didn't intend a blanket condemnation of trade deals. But I dispute that "we are all in some ways winners." If your job is offshored, it's poor consolation that you could now buy a big-screen TV at half the previous price -- if you had a job. Agreed, Republicans have obstructed every attempt to mitigate the plight of the jobless and the working poor. But the TPP, negotiated under Obama, strikes me as making the problem worse. Putting international corporations and investors on the same legal level as governments (to the point where they can sue if policies cost them anticipated future profits) is ludicrous. The 1% have increasingly cornered the bulk of the country's wealth -- and in America, that means they have cornered political power. (True before Citizens United, undeniable now.) Politicians of both parties have gotten comfortable with the fact that big donors can buy them. Disillusioned people of all stripes backed Sanders's call for a "political revolution." If Hillary is as smart as people say, she needs to whole-heartedly embrace that concept.

    I mostly agree acanuck. I did try to make my short comment as nuanced as possible. I do think it's important to note that in some way we're all winners even though that's little comfort to those who have lost their jobs. And I did agree that trade deals can be made better.
    But I disagree with your contention that Sanders received much backing from those disillusioned workers hurt by the globalized economy. He lost because they didn't back him. Sanders supporters were mostly comfortable to affluent well educated white liberals. He never seemed able to broaden out from that base.

    I did say "disillusioned people of all stripes," but yes, Sanders's call to get Big Money out of the political system surely resonated more with, say, college-educated youth. Low-information voters would be less likely to connect the dots between their personal misfortunes and the way their elected representatives market themselves to the highest bidder. Even in basically white WVa, people bought Trump's tactic of blaming minorities and immigrants for individual miseries. He also criticized "insiders and elitists" but he meant people who think they are better than you -- not people who got rich, like him, by gaming the system. He never got around to denouncing Citizens United, if I recall.

    J.D. Vance, who escaped the poverty and hopelessness of Appalachia, wrote about the plight and mindset of the region in "Hillbilly Elegy". Vance joined the Marines, attended Ohio State, and graduated from Yale Law school. His analysis of his hometown region is that people have lost hope, trust in government, and are less religious. He contrasts this sad state of affairs with the hope and pride in country he got from conversations with his grandmother when he was a child. People in Appalachia feel that they have been left behind.

    In the book, Vance notes that deaths by suicide and drug overdoses have increased. People have fallen behind and they have lost faith that the country cares about them. They lack trust in both parties. When Vance talks about the suspicion residents have about the Obamas, he tries to minimize the racial aspects. He accurately points out that Appalachians were suspicious of GW Bush and the Republican elite. One difference between Bush and Obama is that a high number of white Republicans do not believe that President Obama was born in the United States. Republicans believe that Obama is a Muslim.

    Church attendance is actually down for non-educated whites in Appalachia, College educated whites in the region are much more likely to attend church regularly. This gap is important. When Trump gals about religion and uses "Two Corinthians"' rather than "Second Corinthians" it does not clash the eardrums of a person who does not attend church.

    Link to the book review at the WaPo

    Link to an interview at NPR

    The voters are ripe for the picking by Donald Trump.

    Thanks for the links. When people on the bottom rungs of society start losing their faith in God, you know they have long ago lost faith in their politicians. I sense that a lot of these people have finally figured out that Trump is a con man, not a savior. But Hillary is not out of the woods; to win a second term, she has to visibly deliver for ordinary people, not her banker and corporate pals. Improving primary education nationwide would be a good start; free or at least affordable college shouldn't be impossible either.

    There is another recent book by Nancy Isenberg, "White Trash", that takes a different look at American history. She focuses on the condition of the white poor in the United States. That subclass has always been looked down upon by other whites. I haven't started the book, so I don't know if she addresses the fact that poor white men in both the North and  the South were cannon fodder in the Civil War. Most Confederate soldiers were not wealthy enough to own slaves. Poor whites could always look,down on the black slaves. Poor Southern whites still had advantages after the Civil War because of Jim Crow. Poor whites were the targets of sterilization programs just like blacks. We are now in the era of Barack Obama and Black Lives Matter. Some poor whites see Trump as ready to respond to their plight.

    Link to book review


    One fact from the original Kos piece that struck me: the term "white trash" had entered the language by 1821. As I see it, the Founding Fathers may have reflected the democratic ferment of their time, but they were at heart wealthy, well-educated English gentlemen of property. They may have envisioned a classless society, but they mostly lived lives of ease and comfort. Even setting aside slavery, early America was a stratified society. Maybe with more upward mobility than the mother country, but still one where everyone knew his or her place. And the Civil War, as you say, exemplified this. Service was compulsory but the rich could simply hire someone to fight and die in their stead.

    So I wrote a very long essay about class and American politics but failed to get it published anywhere (though I did receive a very nice rejection letter from the New Yorker).

    The gist was that there are two fault lines in American politics, race and class, and we keep oscillating from one to the other. The class line first came to fore in the 1820s when Andrew Jackson led an insurgency against the elitist Democratic-Republican Party. His supporters founded the Democratic Party to represent the masses; the Whigs roses from the ashes of the Dem-Repubs to represent the elites.

    But then race came to the fore in the 1850s. The new Republican Party represented abolitionism; the Democrats came to represent slavery. Class receded into the background.

    The next transformation happened in the early 1900s, as populist class insurgencies shook both parties. After Theodore Roosevelt bolted the GOP in 1912, Democrats came to represent the masses again. Republicans represented the elites. Race receded into the background.

    Then in the 1960s, race returns. Democrats become the party of equality and integration. Republicans become the party of white resentment. Class recedes.

    Now here we are in the 21st century, and class has returned. Populist class insurgencies have once again shaken both parties. The Democratic insurgency mimics the early 1900s--pro-labor, anti-Wall Street. The GOP insurgency looks more like Andrew Jackson's revolt--xenophobic and nationalistic.

    One way or the other, the two parties will once again divide along class lines. But which party will represent the elites and which the masses? At this point, it's looking like a working class Jacksonian GOP vs technocratic, elitist Dems. But the show isn't quite over. A plot twist could still flip the script.

    Michael ...

    Thanks for that. You have summed it up so well.


    Fascinating analysis, Michael. Especially the last two paragraphs. But I can't see the Republicans becoming the voice of the downtrodden in my lifetime; it's not in their DNA, and with his Latino-bashing Trump has dashed, perhaps forever, any dreams of pivoting to a more inclusive party. He sparked a fleeting uptick in enthusiasm, but he has left the GOP even more disunited, with a shrunken base of old, angry, straight, white, gun-loving males (plus a smattering of evangelicals) to build on. That doesn't constitute a class; it's a post-election footnote.

    Meanwhile the Democrats, again with Trump's help, have solidified their working-class base: blacks, Latinos, women, immigrants, gays -- all without conceding the white-male vote. Democrats have the luxury of being able to rebrand themselves (I hope as a truly progressive party), while Republicans will be forced to reinvent themselves totally even to survive. You had me worried for a bit, though.

    BTW, you do realize that Hillary got trashed in 2008 for paying too much attention to white folks in Appalachia - another sign of her trending racist tendencies outed in South Carolina...  I think Hillary lets America channel its inner Jewish mother-in-law - an act that's still fresh after 25 years.

    Excellent tack, acanuck, because as you rightly point out, the worst possible outcome to an election where Hillary wins is that regions like Appalachia are ignored. My DNA is Scots Irish---which is virtually synonymous with "Appalachian roots", which long before my landing here had taken the Southern route to this poor Texas county I now call home.

    The conundrum of politics in Appalachia is that "government" was never liked, the culture consisting of a clan structure and within that, manliness, courage and self reliance. The fact that the R's have denigrated government itself has worked extremely well. A double whammy, and entrapment of their own choosing, on the notion that government can deliver anything of value.There can be exceptions but the impetus to bringing these areas back must be local, not a national program---a least not one which is recognized as such.

    For example, in my rural Texas county a large reservoir will be built and there will be development around it. The whole project cuts both ways because we locals see land values and taxes increasing and we know the water will mostly go to support the burgeoning N Dallas metropolitan area. Nevertheless, with good local planning the project can be beneficial to folks here.

    Just saying, one size fits all National Programs are not necessarily going to benefit my neighbors here nor my kin in Beattyville, Kentucky.

    Hillary on Appalachia and other left-behind areas:


    Look, we have serious economic problems in many parts of our country. And Roland is absolutely right.  Instead of dividing people the way Donald Trump does, let's reunite around policies that will bring jobs and opportunities to all these underserved poor communities.

    So for example, I'm the only candidate which has a policy about how to bring economic opportunity using clean renewable energy as the key into coal country. Because we're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business, right?

    And we're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health, often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories.

    Now we've got to move away from coal and all the other fossil fuels, but I don't want to move away from the people who did the best they could to produce the energy that we relied on.

    So whether it's coal country or Indian country or poor urban areas, there is a lot of poverty in America.  We have gone backwards. We were moving in the right direction. In the '90s, more people were lifted out of poverty than any time in recent history.

    Because of the terrible economic policies of the Bush administration, President Obama was left with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, and people fell back into poverty because they lost jobs, they lost homes, they lost opportunities, and hope.  

    So I am passionate about this, which is why I have put forward specific plans about how we incentivize more jobs, more investment in poor communities, and put people to work.

    Right on, Peracles...

    You know, honestly, there's a part of me which likes this policy kind of language, it all makes such good sense, and then there's the part of me which is still in Butler County Ohio which says this is so much bs, heard it all before, too many "they's", no double negatives, and a woeful lack of iambic pentameter

    "pick up the waffle plate and choc'late milk"

    But yes, localized infrastructure which includes solutions for housing can be done if we can elect the woman and force a little infrastructure spending in Congress.  


    The anti-government sentiment coupled with a distrust of outsiders makes it easy for myths to propagate in some mostly Conservative areas. For example in North Carolina, 40% of Republicans believes that ACORN, a non-existent group will rig the election for Hillary. Almost 70% believe that if Trump loses, it will be because ACORN rigged the election. 48% believe that Obama and Hillary were responsible for the 2004 death of Captain Khan. Obama was not President in 2004, but the myth is prevalent. 41% believe that Hillary is the devil.Entrenched beliefs are hard to overcome. It is likely that the only true transformation that can occur will have to from inside local communities nothing "outsiders" do will make a difference. Even if government projects help a region, people's beliefs remain hard wired.


    But wait - Obama was running for Senator in 2004 - that's almost a position of power in itself. If his 2002 corner speech projected him into the presidency, maybe something he said in early 2004 had ripple effects on reality like a targeted drone attack halfway across the world. Maybe he really killed Osama bin Laden with his Mind. Look for the Big O in Matrix IV - The Reverberator.

    Homophobic voting patterns in the black community had/have to be dealt with in the black community. Voting patterns where white citizens vote against their own interests have to be dealt with by white communities. Kansas votes in only Republicans despite economic disaster. Only voices within the state can change things. I don't think that Democratic outreach alone will alter the mindset.

    Ummm... talking to me?

    Was supposed to be attached to my original comment in the thread.

    rmrd, there's a certain age group of whites who will never give up their racist inclinations. But I do believe that when major projects come into an area they by necessity will bring in younger and more broad minded people and change will come.

    Thanks for mentioning the Vance book, he's from Butler County, Ohio, where I grew up, which is, I suspect, now a hot bed of Trump supporters. In any case, the key to understanding the Trump voter, I think, is in the word "disillusioned", and a key illusion fell with the election of a black President. Trump's stuff might be the last illusion and I agree with those who are worried about what happens when the last firewall is breached.

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