Does the white working class really vote against its interests?

This is such a profoundly arrogant statement for anyone who actually believes it. I’m really glad that liberals like Jay Wacker and Ian McCullough answered, providing good, nuanced viewpoints from the liberal side. It’s been important to see good examples such as theirs for displacing the anger many people living in this situation may experience when liberal outlets and individuals speak from such a profoundly wrong and disrespectful point of view. The only thing wrong with their answers is that they don’t address the question specifically from our viewpoints. So with thanks to those gentlemen, I’ll offer that.

I remember the first time I heard “you’re voting against your interests”, immediately after the election by yet another person who was just so sure that he knew the conditions of my life better than me. Yet this same person was shocked, shocked I tell you, that Clinton didn’t win with the New York Time’s predicted 90% chance of victory a few weeks before. What does that tell you? It told me that a bunch of people who had absolutely no understanding of me and my life days ago suddenly became experts on my condition, as well as suddenly being able to view every policy proposal on the books from my perspective — better than me!

I want to be honest, every single time I have seen this levied in earnest, it has been by someone bitter about the election wanting to mock us and not from genuine concern. If it had been a concern, they would understand that mostly, they are wrong. They rationalize policies they wanted and then argue how that would have been better for us than what we wanted. This is positively asinine since, right up until about a year ago, our needs, concerns, wishes, and grievances were being mocked by the people making these plans, so to say that they in any way would solve our problems is laughable. I’m sorry, but no one who calls me and people like me part of a “basket of deplorables” has my best interests at heart.

Okay, at this point, it just sounds like I’m angry. I am, but let’s look at some real arguments to give substance to the outrage.

I really love that my good friend Ian McCullough brought up the What’s the Matter with Kansas? book. I’m a conservative, he’s a liberal, and we have a lot of respect for each other so I would recommend him to anyone. But here, I’ll offer the other side of the story.

Much of the ideas behind What’s the Matter with Kansas stems around the fact that Kansas, like many red states, takes up more in government aid and welfare than they contribute, specifically when compared to wealthy blue states like California and New York. This phenomenon of people who soak up government aid in spite of their conservative voting patterns appear in places with namely two things in common:

  1. They once were solid Democrat and are now solid Republican
  2. Their main source of income was from agriculture or some other displaced industry.

Those points are important because you need to understand how amazingly rich my community used to be. I live in a small town in Oklahoma. For all intents and purposes, they could have written that book about us, but they chose Kansas. First of all, there is a reason that we want to “Make America Great Again.”

We look to the 1950’s with nostalgia because of how truly wonderful it was for us. First of all, if you look out to the open fields, everything was farmland. People were working and providing well for their families making cotton that made American clothing as well food for Americans. Fortunes were made as small towns like mine were looked at as great places to raise a family with lots of opportunity and wealth to go around for those willing to work and live peacefully.

Then it all went away. Price controls on labor and government subsidies for some made it impossible for agriculture to be profitable for the average farmer. My grandfather actually ran the last cotton gin in the 1970’s before it went under because there were no more growers. Furthermore, the jobs around cotton disappeared, such as the pants factory, one of only two factories in my town, that is not just a cement slab, as it has been… also, since the 70’s. After that, a few mega-growers overtook all industries and the region was gutted. Many of these mega-growers, now maintain their prices through illegal immigrant labor, but that is a whole other story. You don’t hear much from this because both the Republicans and Democrats are guilty of supporting the subsidies and supporting the mega-growers, so neither are ever going to say a word about. The collapse of the labor market for agriculture was much of the same as the story of the Rust Belt, but instead of seeing withered factories, I sit surrounded by some of the most fertile farmland in the country that hasn’t seen a plow for more than 40 years.

But then the government came to save us.

After the collapse of agriculture from the viewpoint of farm labor in the 1960s, millions developed a dependence on government aid to save themselves from the decline which was ironically brought on by government intervention into the market. This was actually the second time they did this.

I want you to understand what the world is like for us as a unique culture in the US. Long after slavery had ended, most of us, as in my very white, very poor ancestors were still picking cotton in the fields. Both mine and my wife’s grandmothers told stories in visceral detail about what picking bowls of cotton, the weight of hauling that heavy bag through the fields, and the scorching summer heat of a West Texas farm in the 1920’s and 30’s. For perspective, this image is one taken about 30 miles from my home at about the time people when people were desperate for “someone to do something”.

After that, the New Deal did those things. It brought out huge government works programs and told people it would take care of them. Work hard and Social Security would be there for you. What actually brought us out of poverty were millions of men returning from World War II with saved up money, a massive industrial base that built up from the war, and the relaxing of war-era rationing. All this combined was an explosion in economic growth the likes of which that generation had never known. However, many believed that the promises of the New Deal would be enough to get them through retirement. There was no need to save because Social Security would be enough for them. While the region was growing immensely wealthy, my grandparent’s generation was making choices they had no idea would straddle their children’s generation with hardships they never foresaw because they thought the good times would continue on forever.

As the crops disappeared in the 1960’s and 70’s, however, they had a horrific wake-up call… right about the time of the War on Poverty and the Great Society began to take effect. These programs gave out exceedingly more benefits based on need, particularly to those who weren’t working or who had children born outside of marriage, not to mention numerous housing decisions that were terrible for the neighborhoods they were affected.

Following that, what we saw wasn’t a world where the government helped us or where people were mostly lifting themselves out of poverty. Quite the opposite. Funds were distributed, but here, there are people who live in poverty as a career. They are able to maintain a minimum lifestyle off government funding. Since that point, what we are seeing nationally is that the poverty line has mostly flatlined, while handouts continue to rise. This is most prominent in the areas like mine, where welfare is already normalized and where the tax base is having a harder and harder time keeping up with its rise.

I’m not talking about some distant statistical scarecrow. I am talking about real people I see daily. I mean the parents of many of the students at the school where my wife and I work and the people who live next door to me. This lifestyle is not conducive toward raising healthy homes or giving their kids a good foundation, let alone a future. It certainly isn’t capable of creating the types of wealth that people can safely retire on, nor does it produce the sorts investment into future growth in their community. Instead, it drives down the tax base while increasing the amounts infrastructure requirements by way of city utilities to schooling. You wonder why education is so low here? It isn’t because no one thought to pay teachers more. It’s because we have too many kids and not enough of a tax base. Multiply that by everything we’d like to give our people. This is what small-town conservatives fear when we talk about the welfare state.

If you’d really like to understand how the welfare state has affected the family in culture, as well as what life is like for millions of Americans who absolutely no one is listening to, I would strongly recommend reading Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis: J. D. Vance. It outlines far better than I could how culture has declined in the rural areas most likely to be the topic of this question.

Secondly, a very good juxtaposition of What’s the Matter with Kansas? would be something like What’s Going on in Texas?

Texas is the best embodiment of what many want to see happening, as far as the white working class. Granted, they didn’t suffer from the destruction of the agricultural labor market, or at least they were able to transfer their economy over into oil, shipping, and finance. But they’ve also made some very good choices and have a particular culture that has made them very wealthy, serving as to disprove much of narratives surrounding what left-leaning advocates believe should happen in states like theirs. They have wealth, they have investment, they have manufacturing and industry. They also have greater protection of property rights, not to mention being the anchor of job recovery during the massive recession over the last decade for the entire nation.

This is particularly true against far more left-leaning states like California. I couldn’t find a more current one, but it is worth noting that this graph ended almost immediately before the graph above started.

Furthermore, it has a lower cost of living with higher living standards and even manages to have better income inequality than most other states. Particularly egregious is comparisons to states like California, where Texas’ saw growth for both its wealthiest 1% and the bottom 99% over the period of 2009 to 2012, while California saw similar growth for its top 1% but a -3% decline in income for their 99% over the same period.[1]

Are there problems? Sure. But they are sitting pretty by most people’s standards, particularly the states which have suffered the long-term effects of collectivist policy, such that Democrats are currently suggesting, as well as those who had no major industry to replace agriculture after the state intervened into it. So this is where we are now. People say that states like mine vote against their interests because we wholeheartedly reject modern collectivist measures to “raise us out of poverty”. We, however, are already straddled with the financial and culture burden of exactly these same kinds of measures from generations past.

The worst part, when we say these things, we are completely ignored. In the best cases, we are dismissed as not knowing what is best for us because we are just the working class, more commonly known as rednecks, white trash, and hillbillies, and mostly by people who have never set foot in our towns. In the worst cases, we all suddenly became racists for pointing out images like the family of poor whites picking cotton or for mentioning that according to the US census in 2010, the number of poor whites outnumbers the number of poor blacks by about 12:1. If I say that, you hear me saying that “there is no problem with black poverty” instead of hearing what I am actually saying that the problems of poverty are not due to racism, but are rooted in exactly the same kind of bad governance. But mostly, you just don’t hear from us at all. That’s because the same sorts of metrics that gave The New York Times and virtually every other major news media outlet absolute certainty that Clinton was going to win, can only come to such an unfathomably wrong conclusion because they completely and totally don’t reach out to more than a third of the nation who don’t live in easy to reach, mostly urban, mostly rich, liberal cities.

Yet these people are the ones who want to tell us what our interests are? Pure arrogance

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