PREVIOUS – BATTLE OF IDEAS – “THE RUST BELT AND THE DEPLORABLES” AT THE BARBICAN, 28 OCTOBER 2pm
at the Barbican
THE RUST BELT AND THE DEPLORABLES
In November 2016, 63million Americans voted for Donald J Trump to be the forty-fifth president of the United States, shocking those who had written him off as a joke candidate and appalling those who interpreted his election as victory for racism, sexism and general awfulness. During the campaign itself, his opponent, Hillary Clinton, had denounced half of his supporters as ‘the Deplorables’. The election exposed the reality of a country divided along deep cultural and political fault lines, particularly between the cultural and political establishment on the one hand and sections of the middle and working class, especially poorer white people who feel abandoned by the Democratic Party. Now the spotlight is on the latter: those Americans in the Rust Belt and the so-called flyover states who voted for Trump, with some suggesting they have legitimate grievances that have been obscured by those who dismiss them as bigots.
There is no doubting the reality of insecure jobs, stagnant wages and debilitating working conditions, particularly in those areas that benefited the most from postwar industrialisation. As the economic heyday of the early 1970s ended and decline continued through the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent sluggish recovery, the American Dream appeared to slip further from the grasp of many Americans. Mortality rates of whites with no more than a high-school degree grew from being 30 per cent lower than blacks in 1999 to 30 per cent higher in 2015. At the same time deaths by drugs, alcohol and suicide among whites have increased in all parts of the country and at every level of urbanisation.
Books like JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in their Own Land have won a more sympathetic audience for the plight of those left behind by the Obama years. But why is the sense of despair particularly intense amongst white working class men and women? Is white the new black? Or are poor whites simply suffering the loss of the privilege they once enjoyed in relation to minorities? In any case, is Trump really the answer? And even if the answer is no, is there a positive kernel to the populist sentiments expressed by support of Trump in the election?
director and editor, Culture on the Offensive
US journalist and commentator; editor in chief,
Reason.com and Reason TV, the online and video platforms of Reason magazine
US politics reporter, Newsweek
New York based commentator, US politics and current affairs
board member, Republicans Overseas UK
- White people think racism is getting worse. Against white people., Samuel Sommers & Michael Norton, Washington Post, 21 July 2016
- Donald Trump attacks Hillary Clinton as elitist for ‘deplorables’ comment, Ben Jacobs, The Guardian, 12 September 2016
- DC Leaks Exposes Clinton Insider’s Elitist and Embarrassing Emails, Michael Sainato, The Observer, 7 October 2016
- Why Trump Won: Working-Class Whites, Nate Cohn, The New York Times, 9 November 2016
- How Trump won: The revenge of working-class whites, Jim Tankersley, Washington Post, 9 November 2016
- How the Rustbelt Paved Trump’s Road to Victory, Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic, 10 November 2016
- Trump is the inevitable backlash to an Obama presidency, Cornell Belcher, The Guardian, 10 November 2016
- S. Media’s Real Elitism Problem, Andrew McGill, The Atlantic, 19 November 2016
- The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt, Konstantin Kilibarda & Daria Roithmayr, Slate, 1 December 2016
- Hillary Clinton: ‘There Is Nothing Elitist About Fighting For Women’s Rights’, Emma Gray, Huffington Post, 4 May 2017
- Survey: the poor white working class was, if anything, more likely than the rich to vote for Clinton, German Lopez, Vox, 9 May 2017