Saturday, October 22, 2016

" Democracy" in America

You don't need to reprise the famous Frenchman's essays (Alexis de Toucquevile, wrote two volumes 1835 & 1840) on America to see the basic absence of so-called democracy here in the US of A. It wasn't very much back in the early 19th century either (slavery, only white male property owners could vote, et al). But now we are treated to sanctimonious rants from the Clinton camp and talking heads from the media about Trump's carrying on about a rigged election and his refusal to say he'll accept the results. Even more silly are the proclamations that Trump is hurting America's brand, that the world looks to us a the leading light of democratic elections, but the USA is the least democratic of advanced countries. As de Tocqueville put it, “There are many men of principle in both parties in America, but there is no party of principle.”

The electoral systems in most of Europe, Latin America and some Asian countries is more democratic than our two-chambered House and Senate. This system allows crass manipulation of Congressional districts (Gerrymandering) by state governments. Most Congressional contests are rigged in advance (the incumbent re-election rate is 80+ per cent). Really democratic countries don't allow this. In many countries the elections are run by a central government agency that guarantees equal numbers of voters in each district and no partisan local level tampering. The Senate is a fraud. California has two Senators and Wyoming has two Senators. A handful of nearly unpopulated states controlled by right-wing nutjobs outvotes hugely populous states like New York and California. Democratic? Forget about it!

Besides the mechanical defects, we have a long and still active system of schemes to deny non-white people the right to vote in many states. This IS voter fraud and its practitioners should have been prosecuted and jailed long ago. But it remains a living part of our pseudo-democratic heritage.

The 2000 and 2004 elections were stolen on this basis in Florida and then Ohio.

Trump's raging about fixed elections and not accepting the results is more of a function of his sociopathic, narcissistic personality. He's a born bully and a crybaby. Outrage about his "insulting the great institution of American democracy" is nonsense.

There's one last compelling point to make. We live in a functional Plutocracy. The people who control this country, it's wealth and it's fundamental governing policies don't have to run for election. We have a super rich ruling class that gets what it wants no matter which party is in power. Some times they favor Republicans other times Democrats. Trump is too erratic and openly racist for the ruling class to back for this election; the smart capitalists know Clinton is their candidate. Some of the dumber, redneck capitalists back Trump, but even rightwing bigoted moguls like the Cokes and Adelson know that Clinton will be OK for them compared to Trump. We can also see why the ruling class and their political flunkies in both parties couldn't abide Bernie...socialism? workers and bosses? None of the current two-party players want to hear about that.

So...this is how it is. Reality is depressing...but I'm still going to vote for Jill Stein. That is a vote for a democratic system.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Israel lies about UN resolution on "Temple Mount"

from Palestine Chronicle

UNESCO Resolution on Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Death of Shimon Peres – An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Oct 18 2016 / 4:59 pm

‘While the resolution will unlikely alter the nature of the conflict fundamentally, it rejects – legally and morally – all Israeli efforts aimed at denying the rights of Muslims – and Christians – in their city, which they aspire to make their future capital,’ said Ramzy Baroud, the editor of Palestine Chronicle.
In an interview with Muslim Press, Dr. Ramzy Baroud discusses Israeli Palestinian conflict and UNESCO’s latest resolution that strongly condemn the Israeli regime, as well as Shimon Peres’ legacy for the Palestinians.
In what follows, full transcription of the interview has been provided.
Muslim Press: Dr. Ramzy Baroud, What’s your take on UNESCO’s latest resolution that strongly condemns Israel and its aggression against Palestinians? How would this measure change Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Ramzy Baroud: First, let me clarify some misunderstanding regarding the UNESCO resolution.
The resolution, as Israel and its supporters claim, didn’t deny Jewish links to Jerusalem. To the contrary, it emphasized the spiritual and religious important of Jerusalem to the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism.
What it did, however, is that it emphasized the Muslim Arabic heritage of al-Aqsa Mosque, using the Arabic wording for it – Al-Aqsa Mosque, not the ‘Temple Mount’ as Jews prefer to call it.
This is important. Why? Because, Israel – the government in Tel Aviv, the municipality of the Israeli occupation in the city itself, and well-funded religious extremist groups – have constantly plotted to achieve the opposite of what UNESCO resolved:
– Deny Muslim worshipers access to their holy sites in Haram al-Sharif compound – which includes, among numerous religious sites, the Dome of the Rock Mosque and al-Aqsa Mosque.
– Facilitate ‘visits’ for religious Jewish fanatics, joined by armed Israeli army and police forces to the Muslim sites.
– Reject the obvious Muslim connection to that holy place, and emphasize religious myths that propagate the existence of a third Jewish temple under the Mosque; the ultimate objective being to demolish the Mosque and rebuild the alleged temple.
– Continue to dig under al-Haram and other parts of historic Jerusalem in search for any evidence that supports the ‘Third Temple’ claims.
Hundreds of Muslims were killed while trying to defend the mosque over the years, and al-Aqsa in particular has become a symbol of Palestinian Resistance.
The UNESCO resolution – which also insists on the illegality of the Israeli occupation and annexation of Arab East Jerusalem – was a blow to Israeli efforts aimed at the complete judaization of the Palestinian city.
While the resolution will unlikely alter the nature of the conflict fundamentally, it rejects – legally and morally – all Israeli efforts aimed at denying the rights of Muslims – and Christians – in their city, which they aspire to make their future capital.
MP: Benjamin Netanyahu has said that “UNESCO has lost its legitimacy by adopting this resolution”. What could you say about his reaction to this resolution? How do you see the future of Israeli relations with UNESCO and the UN?
Ramzy Baroud: Netanyahu says a lot of things. He has always been quite belligerent and is hardly cautious with the language he uses. For example, his annual speeches before the UN itself is a constant attempt at delegitimizing the world’s leading international institution. It is his only defense mechanism as he feels – rightly so – that Palestinian efforts, combined with their efforts of their friends and allies, have succeeded in delegitimizing his military occupation and his apartheid regime.
In fact, after a UNESCO decision to admit Palestine as a member state in 2011, Israeli hasbra went into full swing with attacks on UNESCO, the UN and the international community as a whole. Then, the US gutlessly bowed to Israeli pressure and decided to cut off its funding of the organization. Yet somehow UNESCO carried on, as it will continue with its important work despite Israel’s recent decision to suspend its membership in the organization.
Of course, we now expect even a greater Israeli push in Jerusalem to further challenge the international community’s will. There will be more restrictions on Palestinians, and easier access to Jews, which will be accompanied by more military deployment and subsequent violence.
MP: How would you describe Shimon Peres’ legacy for Palestinians? Do you consider him as a champion of peace?
Ramzy Baroud: Peres was never truly a peacemaker – he never labored to achieve fair and just political compromises that would preserve the dignity and rights of the Palestinians, along with securing the future of his people. In fact, he was a maximalist, a man who blatantly shoved his ideas forward in order to achieve his goals, no matter what the method or the price.
Nor was he a leader with a specific qualities that allowed him to excel in particular fields of politics. Instead, he was the embodiment of the archetypical Israeli politician who swapped roles, and rebranded himself as the occasion or role required.
Although he is remembered for his ordering of the bombing of a UN shelter in the Lebanese village of Qana in 1996 – which killed and wounded hundreds of innocent people – the list of war crimes associated with his name is as long as his career. He remained, until the very end a staunch supporter of the Israeli right-wing government’s wars on Gaza and the perpetual siege on that impoverished, forsaken region.
MP: Do you see a conflict between how the mainstream Western media portray him and who he really was?
Ramzy Baroud: The Israelis and many in mainstream Western media praised Peres as a hero, stately and a peacemaker.
Part of that assessment was the outcome of simply bad journalism. Peres was merely a brand that was hardly consistent with his actual legacy. He won the Nobel Peace Prize and gave many speeches at international forums in which he spoke about the need to make painful compromises for peace. Many journalists simply used that, along with his carefully tailored Wikipedia page to reach conclusions.
However, much of the coverage was intentionally misguided and is consistent with how mainstream media portray Israel in general. Let us not forget that the media made a hero out of Ariel Sharon as well, the brutal Israeli leader whose long career was saturated in violence – in words and deeds.
For Palestinians, however, both were war criminals, and their heroism is always founded on entrenching the occupation, expanding Jewish colonies and erecting a system of apartheid, sustained by racist laws and violent occupation.
–Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a US-Arab journalist, media consultant, an author, internationally-syndicated columnist, Editor of Palestine Chronicle (1999-present), former Managing Editor of London-based Middle East Eye (2014-15), former Editor-in-Chief of The Brunei Times, former Deputy Managing Editor of Al Jazeera online.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Throwing in the Towel What the Bankruptcy of White House Policy Means for the Israelis and Palestinians

By Sandy Tolan

Washington has finally thrown in the towel on its long, tortured efforts to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians. You won’t find any acknowledgement of this in the official record. Formally, the U.S. still supports a two-state solution to the conflict. But the Obama administration’s recent 10-year, $38-billion pledge to renew Israel’s arsenal of weaponry, while still ostensibly pursuing “peace,” makes clear just how bankrupt that policy is.

For two decades, Israeli leaders and their neoconservative backers in this country, hell-bent on building and expanding settlements on Palestinian land, have worked to undermine America’s stated efforts -- and paid no price. Now, with that record weapons package, the U.S. has made it all too clear that they won’t have to. Ever.

The military alliance between the United States and Israel has long been at odds with the stated intentions of successive administrations in Washington to foster peace in the Holy Land. One White House after another has preferred the “solution” of having it both ways: supporting a two-state solution while richly rewarding, with lethal weaponry, an incorrigible client state that was working as fast as it could to undermine just such a solution.

This ongoing duality seemed at its most surreal in the last few weeks. First, President Obama announced the new military deal, with its promised delivery of fighter jets and other hardware, citing the “unshakable” American military alliance with Israel. The following week, at the United Nations, he declared, “Israel must recognize that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” Next, he flew to Israel for the funeral of Shimon Peres, and in a tribute to the Nobel Prize-winning former Israeli president, spoke of a man who grasped that “the Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people” and brought up the “unfinished business” of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. (Peres is remembered quite differently by Palestinians as an early pioneer of settlement building and the author of the brutal Operation Grapes of Wrath assaults on Lebanon in 1996.) Not long after the funeral, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brazenly approved a new settlement deep in the West Bank, prompting the State Department to “strongly condemn” the action as “deeply troubling.”

Such scolding words, however, shrivel into nothingness in the face of a single number: 38 billion. With its latest promise of military aid, the United States has essentially sanctioned Israel’s impunity, its endless colonization of Palestinian land, its military occupation of the West Bank, and its periodic attacks by F-16 fighter jets and Apache helicopters using Hellfire missiles on the civilians of Gaza.

Yes, Hamas’s crude and occasionally deadly rockets sometimes help provoke Israeli fire, and human rights investigations have found that both sides have committed war crimes. But Israel’s explosive power in the 2014 Gaza war, fueled in large part by American military aid and political support, exceeded that of Hamas by an estimated 1,500-to-1. By one estimate, all of Hamas’s rockets, measured in explosive power, were equal to 12 of the one-ton bombs Israel dropped on Gaza. And it loosed hundreds of those, and fired tens of thousands of shells, rockets and mortars. In the process, nearly 250 times more Palestinian civilians died than civilians in Israel.

Now, with Gaza severed from the West Bank, and Palestinians facing new waves of settlers amid a half-century-long military occupation, the U.S. has chosen not to apply pressure to its out-of-control ally, but instead to resupply its armed forces in a massive way. This means that we’ve finally arrived at something of a historic (if hardly noticed) moment. After all these decades, the two-state solution, critically flawed as it was, should now officially be declared dead -- and consider the United States an accomplice in its murder. In other words, the Obama administration has handed Israel’s leaders and the neoconservatives who have long championed this path the victory they’ve sought for more than two decades.

The Chaos Kids

Twenty years ago, the pro-Israel hard right in America designed the core strategy that helped lead to this American capitulation. In 1996, a task force led by neocons Richard Perle (future chairman of the Defense Policy Board), David Wurmser (future senior Middle East adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney), Douglas Feith (future undersecretary of defense), and others issued a policy paper aimed at incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" advocated that Israel walk away from its embrace of the Oslo peace process and Oslo’s focus on territorial concessions. The paper’s essential ingredients included weakening Israel’s neighbors via regime change in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and “roll back” in Syria and Iran. The authors’ recommendations turned out to be anything but a wish list, given that a number of them would soon hold influential positions in the administration of George W. Bush.

As journalist Jim Lobe wrote in 2007:

“[T]he task force, which was chaired by Perle, argued that regime change in Iraq -- of which Feith was among the most ardent advocates within the Pentagon -- would enable Israel and the U.S. to decisively shift the balance of power in the region so that Israel could make a ‘clean break’ from the Oslo process (or any framework that would require it to give up ‘land for peace’) and, in so doing, ‘secure the realm’ against Palestinian territorial claims.”

In other words, as early as 1996, these neocons were already imagining what would become the disastrous invasion of Iraq in 2003. You could argue, of course, that neither the neocons nor Netanyahu could have foreseen the chaos that would follow, with Iraq nearly cracking open and Syria essentially collapsing into horrific civil war and violence, civilians stranded under relentless bombing, and the biggest refugee crisis since World War II gripping Europe and the world. But you would, at least in some sense, be wrong, for certain of the neocon advocates of regime change imagined chaos as an essential part of the process from early on.

"One can only hope that we turn the region into a caldron, and faster, please," wrote Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute in the National Review during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. (In 1985, as a consultant to the National Security Council and to Oliver North, Ledeen had helped broker the illegal arms-for-hostages deal with Iran by setting up meetings between weapons dealers and Israel.) “The war won't end in Baghdad,” Ledeen later wrote, in the Wall Street Journal. "We must also topple terror states in Tehran and Damascus."

The neocons got so much more than they bargained for in Iraq, and so much less than they wanted in Syria and Iran. Their recent attempts -- with Netanyahu as their chief spokesman -- to block the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, for example, went down in flames. Still, it’s stunning to think just how much their strategy of regime change and chaos helped transform our world and the Greater Middle East for the worse, and to be reminded that its ultimate goal, at least in those early days, was in large part to keep Israel from having to pursue a peace deal with the Palestinians. Of course, there were other benefits the neocons imagined back then as part of their historic attempt to redraw the map of the Middle East. Controlling some of the vast oil reserves of that region was one of them, but of course that didn’t exactly turn out to be a “mission accomplished” moment either. Only the Israeli part of the plan seemed to succeed as once imagined.

So here we are 20 years later. All around the Holy Land, states are collapsing or at least their foundations are crumbling, and Israel’s actions make clear that it isn’t about to help improve the situation in any way. It visibly intends to pursue a policy of colonization, permanent human rights violations, and absolute rule over the Palestinians. These are facts on the ground that former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Netanyahu, the Israeli right wing, and those American neocon visionaries fought so hard to establish. A succession of leaders in Washington -- at least those who weren’t designing this policy themselves -- have been played for fools.

In the two-plus decades since the 1993 Oslo Agreement, which some believed would put Israel and the Palestinians on the path to peace, and that “Clean Break” document which was written to undermine it, the West Bank settler population has grown from 109,000 to nearly 400,000 (an estimated 15% of whom are American). The would-be capital of a Palestinian state, East Jerusalem, is now surrounded by 17 Jewish settlements. Palestinians nominally control a mere 18% of the West Bank (also known as Area A), or 4% of the entire land base of Israel/Palestine.

The Palestinians’ would-be homeland is now checkered with military bases, settlements, settler-only roads, and hundreds of checkpoints and barriers -- all in a West Bank the size of Delaware, our second-smallest state. An estimated 40% of adult male Palestinians, and thousands of children, have seen the insides of Israeli jails and prisons; many of them languish there without charges.

Israel has, in essence, created a Jim Crow-like separate and unequal reality there: a one-state “solution” that it alone controls. The United States has done almost nothing about this (other than carefully couched, periodic State Department words of complaint), while its ally marched forward unchecked. Not since James Baker was secretary of state under the first President Bush before -- notably enough -- the signing of the Oslo accords has any U.S. leader threatened to withhold funds unless Israel stops building settlements on Palestinian land. The phrase “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” no longer applies in U.S.-Israeli relations. Rather, what we hear are regular pledges of “absolute, total, unvarnished commitment to Israel’s security.” Those were, in fact, the words of Vice President Joe Biden during a 2010 visit to Israel -- a pledge offered, as it turned out, only a few hours before the Netanyahu government announced the construction of 1,600 new apartments in East Jerusalem.

“Unvarnished commitment” in 2016 means that $38 billion for what Obama called “the world’s most advanced weapons technology.” That includes 33 of Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets, at $200 million per jet, part of a troubled $1.5 trillion weapons system subsidized by U.S. taxpayers. Other deadly hardware headed for Israel: cargo planes, F-15 fighter jets, battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, a new class of warships whose guided missiles would undoubtedly be aimed directly at Gaza, and more of Lockheed’s Hellfire missiles. If recent history is any indication, you would need to add fresh supplies of bombs, grenades, torpedoes, rocket launchers, mortars, howitzers, machine guns, shotguns, pistols, and bayonets. As part of the agreement, U.S. arms manufacturers will soon supply 100% of that weaponry, while Israeli weapons manufacturers will be phased out of U.S. military aid. “It’s a win-win for Israeli security and the U.S. economy,” a White House aide cheerily told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.

The Clinton (Trump) White House and Israel

Current policy, if that’s the right word, could perhaps be summed up as weapons, weapons, and more weapons, while Washington otherwise washed its hands of what was always known as “the peace process” (despite that fig leaf still in place). Today, functionally, there’s no such process left. And that’s unlikely to change under either a President Clinton or a President Trump. If anything, it may get worse.

During the Democratic primary campaign, for instance, Hillary Clinton promised to invite Netanyahu to the White House “during my first month in office” in order to “reaffirm” Washington’s “unbreakable bond with Israel.” In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which labels itself “America’s pro-Israel lobby,” she was virtually silent on the Israeli settlement issue, except to promise to protect Israel against its own violations of international law. She attacked Trump from the right, denouncing his once-expressed wish to remain “neutral” on the issue of Israel and Palestine.

In the 1990s, as first lady, Clinton had stirred controversy by uttering the word “Palestine” and kissing Yasser Arafat’s widow, Suha, on the cheek. Now she fully embraces those who believe Israel can do no wrong, including Hollywood mogul Haim Saban, who has donated at least $6.4 million to her campaign, and millions more to the Clinton Foundation and the Democratic National Committee. Saban, an Israeli-American whose billions came largely from the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise, describes himself as “a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.”

Last year, he convened a “secret” Las Vegas meeting with fellow billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the bankroller of a panoply of Republican candidates and a huge supporter of Israel’s settlement project. Their aim: to shut down, if not criminalize, the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or BDS. That boycott movement targets cultural institutions and businesses including those that profit from the occupation of the West Bank. Its approach is akin to the movement to impose sanctions on South Africa during the apartheid era.

With Saban’s millions destined for her campaign war chest, Clinton wrote to her benefactor to express her “alarm” over BDS, “seeking your thoughts and recommendations” to “work together to counter BDS.” Yet it’s a nonviolent movement that aims to confront Israel’s human rights abuses through direct economic and political pressure, not guns or terror attacks. Would Clinton prefer suicide bombers and rockets? Never mind that the relatively modest movement has been endorsed by an assortment of international trade unions, scholarly associations, church groups, the Jewish Voice for Peace, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. At the root of BDS, Clinton has hinted darkly, is anti-Semitism. “At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the world,” she wrote Saban, “we need to repudiate forceful efforts to malign and undermine Israel and the Jewish people.”

As for Trump, some Palestinians were encouraged by his statement to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that he might “be sort of a neutral guy” on the issue. He told the AP: “I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it. A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal -- whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.” Yet Trump subsequently fell in line with Republican orthodoxy, pledging among other things to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a litmus test for supporters of the hard right in Israel, and a virtual guarantee that East Jerusalem, at the center of the Palestinian dream of statehood, will remain in Israel’s hands.

In the short term, then, the prospect for an American-brokered just peace may be as bleak as it’s ever been -- even though U.S. officials know full well that a just solution to the conflict would remove a primary recruiting tool for jihadists. For the next four to eight years, American leadership will, by all indications, shore up the status quo, which means combining all that weaponry and de facto acquiescence in Israel’s land grabs with, perhaps, the occasional hand-wringing State Department statement.

“With Patience, Change Will Come”

However, like Jim Crow, like South African apartheid, the status quo of this moment simply can’t last forever. Eventually, the future of the region will not be left to the self-proclaimed “honest brokers” of Washington who lecture Palestinians on the proper forms of nonviolence, while offering no genuine alternatives to surrender. Given the long history of Palestinian resistance, it is foolhardy to expect such a surrender now and particularly unwise to slander a movement of nonviolent resistance -- especially given what we know about the kinds of resistance that are possible.

Whether by peaceful resistance or other means, the status quo will change, in part simply because it must: a structure this twisted cannot stand on its own forever. Already AIPAC’s monumental attempts to scuttle the Iran deal have led to humiliating defeat and that’s just a taste of what, sooner or later, the future could hold. After all, young Americans, including young Jews, are increasingly opposed to Israel’s domination of Palestinian lands, and increasingly supportive of the boycott movement. In addition, the balance of power in the region is shifting. We can’t know how Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran will operate there in the years to come, but amid the ongoing chaos, U.S. influence will undoubtedly diminish over time. As a member of a prominent Gaza family said to me many years ago: “Does Israel think America will always protect them, always give them arms, and that they will always be the biggest power in the Middle East? Do they really expect they can maintain this hold on us forever?”

A popular Arab folk ballad, El Helwa Di, promises a penniless child who has placed her life in God’s hands: “With patience, change will come. All will be better.”

Perhaps it will prove useful, in the end, to abandon the illusions of the now-terminal two-state solution, at least as envisioned in the Oslo process. In the language of those accords, after all, the words “freedom” and “independence” never appear, while “security” is mentioned 12 times.

In a regime of growing confinement, the Israelis have steadily undermined Palestinian sovereignty, aided and abetted by an American acquiescence in Israel’s ongoing settlement project. Now, at least, there is an opportunity to lay the foundations for some newer kind of solution grounded in human rights, freedom of movement, complete cessation of settlement building, and equal access to land, water, and places of worship. It will have to be based on a new reality, which Israel and the United States have had such a hand in creating. Think of it as the one-state solution.

Sandy Tolan, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of the international bestseller, The Lemon Tree, and of the acclaimed Children of the Stone about one Palestinian’s dream to establish music schools under Israel’s military occupation. He has reported from more than 35 countries and is professor at the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication at USC. His website is, his Twitter handle, @sandy_tolan.

New Ad Campaign Reveals Israeli Leader's Constant Use of Racist Language Against Palestinians

follow this link to mondoweiss story

Palestinians are beasts and snakes and Israelis need to cut off their heads — some of the racist rhetoric from Israeli leaders featured in ads in American university newspapers sponsored by t…

This message was sent using ShareThis (

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Donald Trump’s supporters deserve to have their concerns taken seriously.

Dylan Matthews, Vox

If the media and commentators in 2016 can agree on nothing else, it’s this. It’s a bit of an odd meme. I can remember literally no one in 2012 dwelling on the importance of taking the concerns of Mitt Romney voters seriously, even though they made up a considerably larger share of the population than Trump supporters. No one talks about taking the interests of Hillary Clinton supporters, a still larger group, seriously.

But Trump supporters, a smaller group backing a considerably more loathsome agenda, have received an unprecedented outpouring of sympathy, undertaken as a sort of passive-aggressive snipe at unnamed other commentators and politicians perceived to not be taking their concerns seriously.

“Trumpism has, in part, made the rest of the nation all the more eager to ignore the millions of white voters living on the edges of the economy,” Michelle Cottle worries at the Atlantic.

“Many decent, sincere people who feel disregarded, disrespected, and left behind — in ways that I do not feel and have never felt — can disproportionately embrace political opinions that I view as bigoted or paranoid,” David Blankenhorn empathizes at the American Interest. “Today’s upscale Americans are less and less likely even to interact with, much less actually give a damn about, those other Americans.”

“Their problems should still be addressed,” Michael Brendan Dougherty writes at the Week, “not because the elite views them as virtuous and thus deserving of the help of the state and its political class, but by virtue of our common citizenship.”

I agree with a lot of this. The government should help people who are materially struggling. Globalization definitely left some segments of the population struggling, and they deserve help. White people, while still economically dominant over black and Latino Americans in basically every way possible, can suffer from poverty too.

But there’s something striking about this line of commentary: It doesn’t take the stated concerns of Trump voters, and voters for similar far-right populists abroad, seriously in the slightest.

Trump’s supporters are not the wretched of the earth
The press has gotten extremely comfortable with describing a Trump electorate that simply doesn’t exist. Cottle describes his supporters as “white voters living on the edges of the economy.” This is, in nearly every particular, wrong.

There is absolutely no evidence that Trump’s supporters, either in the primary or the general election, are disproportionately poor or working class. Exit polling from the primaries found that Trump voters made about as much as Ted Cruz voters, and significantly more than supporters of either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Trump voters, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver found, had a median household income of $72,000, a fair bit higher than the $62,000 median household income for non-Hispanic whites in America.

A major study from Gallup's Jonathan Rothwell confirmed this. Trump support was correlated with higher, not lower, income, both among the population as a whole and among white people. Trump supporters were less likely to be unemployed or to have dropped out of the labor force. Areas with more manufacturing, or higher exposure to imports from China, were less likely to think favorably of Trump.

This shouldn’t be surprising. Lower-income whites are always likelier to support Democrats than other whites. It’d be very odd if Trump singlehandedly reversed that longstanding trend in American public opinion. But it suggests that the image of Trump supporters as whites on the economic margins, being failed by the elites in Washington and New York, is wrong.

So what is driving Trump supporters? In the general election, the story is pretty simple: What’s driving support for Trump is that he is the Republican nominee, a little fewer than half of voters always vote for Republicans, and Trump is getting most of those voters.

In the primary, though, the story was, as my colleague Zack Beauchamp has explained at length, almost entirely about racial resentment. There’s a wide array of data to back this up.

UCLA's Michael Tesler has found that support for Trump in the primaries strongly correlated with respondents' racial resentment, as measured by survey data. Similarly, Republican voters with the lowest opinions of Muslims were the most likely to vote for Trump, and voters who strongly support mass deportation of undocumented immigrants were likelier to support him in the primaries too.

In April, when the Pew Research Center asked Republicans for their views on Trump, and their opinions on the US becoming majority nonwhite by 2050, they found that Republicans who thought a majority nonwhite population would be "bad for the country" had overwhelmingly favorable views of Trump. Those who thought it was a positive or neutral development were evenly split on Trump.

By contrast, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012 got less primary support from voters with high racial resentment and anti-immigration scores than they did from less racially resentful or anti-immigrant voters. Those two primaries were lost by the white nationalist wing of the Republican Party at a time when that wing was gaining in number. As New America's Lee Drutman has found, Republicans’ views of blacks and Latinos plummeted during the Obama years:

The white nationalist wing was gaining in strength, and due for a win. It got one in Trump.

Even in the general election, while support for Trump is correlated most strongly with party ID, the second biggest factor, per the analysis of Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner, was racial resentment. Economic pessimism and income level were statistically insignificant.

The message this research sends is very, very clear. There is a segment of the Republican Party that is opposed to racial equality. It has increased in numbers in reaction to the election of a black president. The result was that an anti–racial equality candidate won the Republican nomination.

Given that the US is one recession away from a Republican winning the presidency, this is a concerning development.

Taking Trump supporters seriously means not pretending their concerns are about the economy
Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Fredericksburg, VA
Alex Wong/Getty Images
The American press is overwhelmingly made up of left-of-center white people who live in large cities and have internalized very strong anti-racist norms. As a result, it tends to be composed of people who think of racism as a very, very serious character defect, and who are riddled with anxiety about being perceived as out of touch with “real America.” “Real America” being, per decades of racially charged tropes in our culture, white, non-urban America.

So in comes Donald Trump, a candidate running on open white nationalism whose base is whites who — while not economically struggling compared with poor whites backing Hillary Clinton and doing way better economically than black or Latino people backing Clinton — definitely live in the “real America” which journalists feel a yearning to connect to and desperately don’t want to be out of touch with.

Describing these people as motivated by racial resentment, per journalists’ deep-seated belief that racism is a major character defect, seems cruel and un-empathetic, even if it’s supported by extensive amounts of social scientific research and indeed by the statements of Trump’s supporters themselves.

So it becomes very, very tempting to just ignore this evidence and insist that Trump supporters are in fact the wretched of the earth, and to connect them with every possible pathology of white America: post-industrial decay, the opioid crisis, labor force dropouts, rising middle-age mortality rates, falling social mobility, and so on. This almost always fails (globalization victims and labor force dropouts are less likely to support Trump, per Rothwell), but if there’s even a small hint of a connection, as when Rothwell found a correlation between Trump support and living in an area with rising white mortality, you’re in luck. If you can squint hard enough, the narrative will always survive.

There’s a parallel temptation among leftists and social democrats who, in their ongoing attempt to show that neoliberal capitalism is failing, attempt to tie that failure to the rise of Trump. If economic suffering among lower-class whites caused Trump, the reasoning goes, then the solution is to address that suffering through a more generous welfare state and better economic policy, achieved through a multiethnic working-class coalition that includes those Trump supporters. Yes, these supporters may be racist, but it’s important not to say mean things about them lest they fall out of the coalition.

I actually agree that the current capitalist regime is failing. We need truly universal health care, universal child care, a universal child allowance or basic income, and programs to address deep poverty. Redistribution is a very good, necessary thing.

But we have a good case study we can examine to see if Western European–style welfare states can prevent far-right racist backlashes from popping up. It’s called Western Europe. And Sweden’s justly acclaimed welfare state did not prevent the rise of the viciously anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, which has its origins in the Swedish neo-fascist and white supremacist movements and is now the third-largest party in Swedish parliament.

Nor did Austria’s welfare state prevent the far-right Freedom Party — led by Jörg Haider, who praised Hitler for having a “proper employment policy” — from entering government in 1999. France’s crèches and best-in-the-world government health care didn’t prevent Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been repeatedly convicted of Holocaust denial, from reaching the runoff for the 2002 presidential elections. It has not stopped his successor and daughter Marine from leading polling for next year’s presidential elections. The Netherlands’ comprehensive welfare state has not prevented first Pim Fortuyn and then Geert Wilders from becoming major political forces, with the latter leading most polls for the next elections.

Nor has Germany’s strong, manufacturing-heavy and export-oriented economy, arguably the strongest in Europe, kept the far-right AfD party from gaining in recent local elections. It’s telling to note that while economically thriving Germany is facing a far-right menace, Spain, where unemployment is 20 percent (similar to the US in the Great Depression), has no far-right movement of much consequence.

Comprehensive welfare states are very, very good. They do not solve racism. Whites in both Europe and America have made it very clear that they will not accept becoming a demographic minority without a fight, and will continue to vote for candidates that speak to that concern and promise immigration policies that put off white minority status for as long as possible.

Accepting that Trumpism is about race does not mean giving up

“Blacks for Trump” is not a large organization. Joe Raedle/Getty Images
One thing this analysis decidedly does not imply is “Hey, Trump supporters are just racists, let’s give up on them.” Trump’s nomination is a threat to America that must be addressed and never allowed to happen again. Giving up is not an option. We have to figure out some way to respond.

Nor is somehow denying Trump supporters material support they need an option (though this is a proposal I’ve only ever heard attacked by journalists sympathetic to Trump supporters; I’ve never heard it actually proposed). Hillary Clinton, to her great credit, has offered programs ranging from expanded child care to free college to a plan to fight the opioid epidemic to child tax credit expansions to improvements to Obamacare that will leave millions of white Trump supporters much better off. This isn’t worth doing to win back their votes; it’s worth doing because it’s the right thing to do.

Notably, Trump is not proposing anything like this and would in fact raise taxes on many middle-class families. Insisting, as many journalists have, that his supporters aren’t voting for the white nationalist candidate because they agree with him on race seems like a way to be charitable to those voters. But the idea that voters are motivated by economic struggles and so are voting for a candidate who would make their economic situation far worse is much more insulting than accepting they are uncomfortable with racial equality. The implicit idea is that Trump’s voters aren’t motivated by genuine political disagreement about race, but are just dupes voting for the wrong candidate because they’re too dumb to Google his tax plan.

Any solution has to begin with a correct diagnosis of the problem. If Trump’s supporters are not, in fact, motivated by economic marginalization, then even full Bernie Sanders–style social democracy is not going to prevent a Trump recurrence. Nor are GOP-style tax cuts, and liberal pundits aggressively signaling virtue to each other by writing ad nauseam about the need to empathize with the Trump Voter aren’t doing anyone any good.

What’s needed is an honest reckoning with what it means that a large segment of the US population, large enough to capture one of the two major political parties, is motivated primarily by white nationalism and an anxiety over the fast-changing demographics of the country. Maybe the GOP will find a way to control and contain this part of its base. Maybe the racist faction of the party will dissipate over time, especially as Obama’s presidency recedes into memory. Maybe it took Trump’s celebrity to mobilize them at all, and future attempts will fail.

But Donald Trump’s supporters’ concerns are heavily about race. Taking them seriously means, first and foremost, acknowledging that, and dealing with it honestly.


Necessary Transformations: Ending the claim to exclusivity Activism

From Mondoweiss

Nada Elia on October 14, 2016

“We are serious about transforming the Jewish community,” wrote Rabbi Alisa Shira Wise, deputy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, as she posted on Facebook that JVP would be streaming online sermons from progressive rabbis for Yom Kippur 5777, so that Jews who wish to listen to liturgy on that holy day would hear sermons that resonate with their political as well as spiritual beliefs.

I found Wise’s post, as well as the article she had linked to, intriguing on a number of levels. I say that as an outsider to the Jewish community (a monolith I would not use myself), but an insider to some of the communities JVP organizes in support of, namely Palestinian, Arab, racialized, and immigrant. And I write this OpEd reluctantly, wishing I did not have to, and hoping it catalyzes further conversation about the calls for accountability and “transformation” made by our progressive Jewish allies in the name of “Jewish values.” As such, I hope it is read with the intent I held as I wrote it, not as a call-out, but as a concerned assessment of some of the claims made by these allies.

First, I could not help but be taken aback by Wise’s (and I assume the JVP leadership’s) assertion of the areas where “the Jewish community” needed transformation. As I read the article, it became clear to me that “the Jewish community,” (which I take to be the American Jewish community), apparently needs transformation around issues such as racial privilege, and views on immigration. This acknowledgement of a need for transformation around these issues was an eye-opener, considering that I had repeatedly heard that “the Jewish community” is extremely open-minded, and has contributed significantly, even disproportionately, to various civil rights struggles. I could not help but wonder what to make of the opening statements I had become accustomed to, during political discussions, namely: “As a Jew, raised with Jewish values…” What were those Jewish values, if one must now “transform the community,” so that it addresses issues such as racism, racial privilege, and immigrant rights? Again, as a respectful outsider, I had not questioned that assertion of “Jewish values,” even though I have often expressed my aggravation with liberal Zionists, the exemplars of “PEP syndrome,” namely “Progressive Except for Palestine.” At the same time, I felt some relief that I can now finally speak of my discomfort whenever I heard that opener, that qualifier, which negated that basic decency is something every good person has, and was in no way exclusive to Jews. But now, a Jewish group was telling us “the Jewish community” did not share those basic values? It would seem then, that, over the past few decades, that community had become overly-complacent, accepting of wrongs done in its name, to the point of drifting far away from a defining commitment to civil and human rights for all.

Only a day later, in a separate OpEd articulating his personal thoughts on Yom Kippur, Jewish liberation theologian Marc Ellis writes: “The confession we Jews should have made, the confession we Jews have to make, won’t be made today.” That confession, Ellis explains, is about the “culpability of Jews” as ethnic cleansers, and their “precipitous descent” from their ethical heritage. Further, he adds: “Where others once looked to us for prophetic light, they now turn away. When they look our way a second time, hoping against hope that their first impression was wrong, it gets worse.” And again I could not help but wonder, what is specifically, exclusively Jewish about being ethical? After all, Christianity and Islam, to speak of the other two religions I am sufficiently familiar with, also call for good works, charity, self-reflection. The entire month of Ramadan is an exercise in disciplined empathy and self-restraint, “Muslim values” which are not tossed away during the rest of the year. Forgiveness, renunciation of violence, and unconditional love are “Christian values” any and all moral individuals hold. As an atheist myself, I aspire to all of the above, without seeking belief in any deity.

Additionally, I was taken aback by the fact that JVP will be streaming online sermons that are critical of “the occupation.” Such sermons are rare, at best, in synagogues across the country, and rather than pushing for this topic to be addressed within the synagogues, JVP was streaming critical sermons into isolated bedrooms. Only days earlier, on Rosh Hashanah, JVP had also arranged for online streaming of sermons by JVP-associated rabbis that criticized “Israel’s military occupation of Palestine,” which JVP claims is done “in the name of all Jews.”

But any mention of “Israel’s military occupation of Palestine,” is generally understood as reference to the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, rather than the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people from their historic homeland. Did JVP mean historic Palestine, but could not quite state that? What about the much-needed transformation, then?

Ellis, on the other hand, acknowledges that the Israeli occupation of Palestine began in 1948, and was completed, not started, in 1967, when he writes: “So we begin yet another New Year, this being the 50th anniversary of the occupation of the Palestinian territories that weren’t occupied in 1948, with no sign, no sign at all, that Jews in any great number in Israel or America are ready to step back and assess the fundamental questions facing us a people.”

It is sad indeed that one still needs to explain that Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people did not begin in 1967, and that the transformation that is needed, and beyond overdue, is a denunciation of Zionism, which is the ideology and project that set into place the violation of the Palestinian people’s human rights, and the institutionalized privileging of members of a (perceived) ethno-religious community. Yet Ellis himself, even as he acknowledges that the occupation began in 1948, does not denounce Zionism, does not speak out against the state-sanctioned official institutionalizing of Jewish supremacy (which he calls “Jewish particularity”), as he writes elsewhere of his support for two states in historic Palestine: “I still believe that two states, two real states, with the entirety of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza belonging to an empowered Palestinian state, is the best way to envision a future where revolutionary forgiveness and justice can take hold. Israel has foreclosed this possibility. Nonetheless, as you can see in my writing, I am critical of some one-state advocates who have little interest or room for Jewish particularity.”

I am not equating the views of JVP and Ellis on what it will take to reach a solution. I am grateful both for the activism of JVP, and for Ellis’ prodding of his religious community to acknowledge Israel’s violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people beginning in 1948. Yes, there is an urgent need for accountability and transformation. But maintaining claims to exclusivity is a hindrance, not a contribution to a solution that hinges on co-resistance to racism. As Israel openly embraces Jewish supremacy and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people, a hushed denunciation of “the occupation” falls short of the necessary “transformation,” and cannot be considered progressive. And as we seek to co-exist, after successfully co-resisting apartheid and genocide, we cannot attribute a deeply-engrained commitment to justice to one community over another.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Dangerous idiots: how the liberal media elite failed working-class Americans

Trump supporters are not the caricatures journalists depict – and native Kansan Sarah Smarsh sets out to correct what newsrooms get wrong

One-dimensional stereotypes fester where journalism fails to tread.

from The Guardian
Sarah Smarsh
Thursday 13 October 2016 07.00 EDT Last modified on Thursday 13 October 2016 20.30 EDT

Last March, my 71-year-old grandmother, Betty, waited in line for three hours to caucus for Bernie Sanders. The wait to be able to cast her first-ever vote in a primary election was punishing, but nothing could have deterred her. Betty – a white woman who left school after ninth grade, had her first child at age 16 and spent much of her life in severe poverty – wanted to vote.

So she waited with busted knees that once stood on factory lines. She waited with smoking-induced emphysema and the false teeth she’s had since her late 20s – both markers of our class. She waited with a womb that in the 1960s, before Roe v Wade, she paid a stranger to thrust a wire hanger inside after she discovered she was pregnant by a man she’d fled after he broke her jaw.

Betty worked for many years as a probation officer for the state judicial system in Wichita, Kansas, keeping tabs on men who had murdered and raped. As a result, it’s hard to faze her, but she has pronounced Republican candidate Donald Trump a sociopath “whose mouth overloads his ass”.

No one loathes Trump – who suggested women should be punished for having abortions, who said hateful things about groups of people she has loved and worked alongside since childhood, whose pomp and indecency offends her modest, midwestern sensibility – more than she.

Yet, it is white working-class people like Betty who have become a particular fixation among the chattering class during this election: what is this angry beast, and why does it support Trump?

Not so poor: Trump voters are middle class
Hard numbers complicate, if not roundly dismiss, the oft-regurgitated theory that income or education levels predict Trump support, or that working-class whites support him disproportionately. Last month, results of 87,000 interviews conducted by Gallup showed that those who liked Trump were under no more economic distress or immigration-related anxiety than those who opposed him.

According to the study, his supporters didn’t have lower incomes or higher unemployment levels than other Americans. Income data misses a lot; those with healthy earnings might also have negative wealth or downward mobility. But respondents overall weren’t clinging to jobs perceived to be endangered. “Surprisingly”, a Gallup researcher wrote, “there appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign.”

Earlier this year, primary exit polls revealed that Trump voters were, in fact, more affluent than most Americans, with a median household income of $72,000 – higher than that of Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders supporters. Forty-four percent of them had college degrees, well above the national average of 33% among whites or 29% overall. In January, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams reported findings that a penchant for authoritarianism – not income, education, gender, age or race –predicted Trump support.

These facts haven’t stopped pundits and journalists from pushing story after story about the white working class’s giddy embrace of a bloviating demagogue.

In seeking to explain Trump’s appeal, proportionate media coverage would require more stories about the racism and misogyny among white Trump supporters in tony suburbs. Or, if we’re examining economically driven bitterness among the working class, stories about the Democratic lawmakers who in recent decades ended welfare as we knew it, hopped in the sack with Wall Street and forgot American labor in their global trade agreements.

We don’t need their analysis, and we sure don’t need their tears. What we need is to have our stories told
But, for national media outlets comprised largely of middle- and upper-class liberals, that would mean looking their own class in the face.

The faces journalists do train the cameras on – hateful ones screaming sexist vitriol next to Confederate flags – must receive coverage but do not speak for the communities I know well. That the media industry ignored my home for so long left a vacuum of understanding in which the first glimpse of an economically downtrodden white is presumed to represent the whole.

Part of the current glimpse is JD Vance, author of the bestselling new memoir Hillbilly Elegy. A successful attorney who had a precariously middle-class upbringing in an Ohio steel town, Vance wrote of the chaos that can haunt a family with generational memory of deep poverty. A conservative who says he won’t vote for Trump, Vance speculates about why working-class whites will: cultural anxiety that arises when opioid overdose kills your friends and the political establishment has proven it will throw you under the bus. While his theories may hold up in some corners, in interviews coastal media members have repeatedly asked Vance to speak for the entire white working class.

His interviewers and reviewers often seem relieved to find someone with ownership on the topic whose ideas in large part confirm their own. The New York Times election podcast The Run-Up said Vance’s memoir “doubles as a cultural anthropology of the white underclass that has flocked to the Republican presidential nominee’s candidacy”. (The Times teased its review of the book with the tweet: “Want to know more about the people who fueled the rise of Donald Trump?”)

While Vance happens to have roots in Kentucky mining country, most downtrodden whites are not conservative male Protestants from Appalachia. That sometimes seems the only concept of them that the American consciousness can contain: tucked away in a remote mountain shanty like a coal-dust-covered ghost, as though white poverty isn’t always right in front of us, swiping our credit cards at a Target in Denver or asking for cash on a Los Angeles sidewalk.

One-dimensional stereotypes fester where journalism fails to tread. The last time I saw my native class receive substantial focus, before now, was over 20 years ago – not in the news but on the television show Roseanne, the fictional storylines of which remain more accurate than the musings of comfortable commentators in New York studios.

Countless images of working-class progressives, including women such as Betty, are thus rendered invisible by a ratings-fixated media that covers elections as horse races and seeks sensational b-roll.

This media paradigm created the tale of a divided America – “red” v “blue”– in which the 42% of Kansans who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 are meaningless.

This year, more Kansans caucused for Bernie Sanders than for Donald Trump – a newsworthy point I never saw noted in national press, who perhaps couldn’t fathom that “flyover country” might contain millions of Americans more progressive than their Clinton strongholds.

In lieu of such coverage, media makers cast the white working class as a monolith and imply an old, treacherous story convenient to capitalism: that the poor are dangerous idiots.

Poor whiteness and poor character

The two-fold myth about the white working class – that they are to blame for Trump’s rise, and that those among them who support him for the worst reasons exemplify the rest – takes flight on the wings of moral superiority affluent Americans often pin upon themselves.

I have never seen them flap so insistently as in today’s election commentary, where notions of poor whiteness and poor character are routinely conflated.

In an election piece last March in the National Review, writer Kevin Williamson’s assessment of poor white voters – among whom mortality rates have sharply risen in recent decades – expressed what many conservatives and liberals alike may well believe when he observed that communities ravaged by oxycodone use “deserve to die”.

“The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles,” Williamson wrote. “Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin.”

For confirmation that this point is lost on most reporters, not just conservative provocateurs, look no further than a recent Washington Post series that explored spiking death rates among rural white women by fixating on their smoking habits and graphically detailing the “haggard face” and embalming processes of their corpses. Imagine wealthy white woman examined thusly after their deaths. The outrage among family and friends with the education, time, and agency to write letters to the editor would have been deafening.

A sentiment that I care for even less than contempt or degradation is their tender cousin: pity.

In a recent op-ed headlined Dignity and Sadness in the Working Class, David Brooks told of a laid-off Kentucky metal worker he met. On his last day, the man left to rows of cheering coworkers – a moment I read as triumphant, but that Brooks declared pitiable. How hard the man worked for so little, how great his skills and how dwindling their value, Brooks pointed out, for people he said radiate “the residual sadness of the lonely heart”.


I’m hard-pressed to think of a worse slight than the media figures who have disregarded the embattled white working class for decades now beseeching the country to have sympathy for them. We don’t need their analysis, and we sure don’t need their tears. What we need is to have our stories told, preferably by someone who can walk into a factory without his own guilt fogging his glasses.

One such journalist, Alexander Zaitchik, spent several months on the road in six states getting to know white working-class people who do support Trump. His goal for the resulting new book, The Gilded Rage, was to convey the human complexity that daily news misses. Zaitchik wrote that his mission arose from frustration with “‘hot takes’ written by people living several time zones and income brackets away from their subjects”.

Zaitchik wisely described those he met as a “blue-collar middle class”– mostly white people who have worked hard and lost a lot, whether in the market crash of 2008 or the manufacturing layoffs of recent decades. He found that their motivations overwhelmingly “started with economics and ended with economics”. The anger he observed was “pointed up, not down” at those who forgot them when global trade deals were negotiated, not at minority groups.

Meanwhile, the racism and nationalism that surely exist among them also exist among Democrats and higher socioeconomic strata. A poll conducted last spring by Reuters found that a third of questioned Democrats supported a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. In another, by YouGov, 45% of polled Democrats reported holding an unfavorable view of Islam, with almost no fluctuation based on household income. Those who won’t vote for Trump are not necessarily paragons of virtue, while the rest are easily scapegoated as the country’s moral scourge.

When Hillary Clinton recently declared half of Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables”, Zaitchik told another reporter, the language “could be read as another way of saying ‘white-trash bin’.” Clinton quickly apologized for the comment, the context of which contained compassion for many Trump voters. But making such generalizations at a $6m fundraiser in downtown New York City, at which some attendees paid $50,000 for a seat, recalled for me scenes from the television political satire Veep in which powerful Washington figures discuss “normals” with distaste behind closed doors.

The DeBruce Grain elevator. Federal safety inspectors had not visited it for 16 years when an explosion ripped through the half-mile long structure killing seven workers.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest
The DeBruce Grain elevator. Federal safety inspectors had not visited it for 16 years when an explosion ripped through the half-mile long structure, killing seven workers. Photograph: Cliff Schiappa/AP
When we talked, Zaitchik mentioned HBO talk-show host Bill Maher, who he pointed out “basically makes eugenics-level arguments about anyone who votes for Donald Trump having congenital defects. You would never get away with talking that way about any other group of people and still have a TV show.”


Maher is, perhaps, the pinnacle of classist smugness. In the summer of 1998, when I was 17 and just out of high school, I worked at a grain elevator during the wheat harvest. An elevator 50 miles east in Haysville, Kansas, exploded (grain dust is highly combustible), killing seven workers. The accident rattled my community and reminded us about the physical dangers my family and I often faced as farmers.

I kept going to work like everyone else and, after a long day weighing wheat trucks and hauling heavy sacks of feed in and out of the mill, liked to watch Politically Incorrect, the ABC show Maher hosted then. With the search for one of the killed workers’ bodies still under way, Maher joked, as I recall, that the people should check their loaves of Wonder Bread.

That moment was perhaps my first reckoning with the hard truth that, throughout my life, I would politically identify with the same people who often insult the place I am from.

Such derision is so pervasive that it’s often imperceptible to the economically privileged. Those who write, discuss, and publish newspapers, books, and magazines with best intentions sometimes offend with obliviousness.

Many people recommended to me the bestselling new history book White Trash, for instance, without registering that its title is a slur that refers to me and the people I love as garbage. My happy relief that someone set out to tell this ignored thread of our shared past was squashed by my wincing every time I saw it on my shelf, so much so that I finally took the book jacket off. Incredibly, promotional copy for the book commits precisely the elitist shaming Isenberg is out to expose: “(the book) takes on our comforting myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing – if occasionally entertaining –poor white trash.”

The book itself is more sensitively wrought and imparts facts that one hopes would dismantle popular use of its titular term. But even Isenberg can’t escape our classist frameworks.

When On the Media host Brooke Gladstone asked Isenberg, earlier this year, to address long-held perceptions of poor whites as bigots, the author described a conundrum:“They do subscribe to certain views that are undoubtedly racist, and you can’t mask it and pretend that it’s not there. It is very much a part of their thinking.”

Entertain a parallel broad statement about any other disenfranchised group, and you might begin to see how rudimentary class discussion is for this relatively young country that long believed itself to be free of castes. Isenberg has sniffed out the hypocrisy in play, though.

“The other problem is when people want to blame poor whites for being the only racist in the room,” she told Gladstone. “… as if they’re more racist than everyone else.”

That problem is rooted in the notion that higher class means higher integrity. As journalist Lorraine Berry wrote last month, “The story remains that only the ignorant would be racist. Racism disappears with education we’re told.” As the first from my family to hold degrees, I assure you that none of us had to go to college to learn basic human decency.

Berry points out that Ivy-League-minted Republicans shepherded the rise of the alt-right. Indeed, it was not poor whites – not even white Republicans – who passed legislation bent on preserving segregation, or who watched the Confederate flag raised outside state capitols for decades to come.

It wasn’t poor whites who criminalized blackness by way of marijuana laws and the “war on drugs”.

Nor was it poor whites who conjured the specter of the black “welfare queen”.

These points should not minimize the horrors of racism at the lowest economic rungs of society, but remind us that those horrors reside at the top in different forms and with more terrible power.

Among reporters and commentators this election cycle, then, a steady finger ought be pointed at whites with economic leverage: social conservatives who donate to Trump’s campaign while being too civilized to attend a political rally and yell what they really believe.

Mainstream media is set up to fail the ordinary American
Based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric and available data, it appears that most of his voters this November will be people who are getting by well enough but who think of themselves as victims.


One thing the media misses is that a great portion of the white working class would align with any sense before victimhood. Right now they are clocking in and out of work, sorting their grocery coupons, raising their children to respect others, and avoiding political news coverage.

Barack Obama, a black man formed by the black experience, often cites his maternal lineage in the white working class. “A lot of what’s shaped me came from my grandparents who grew up on the prairie in Kansas,” he wrote this month to mark a White House forum on rural issues.

Last year, talking with author Marilynne Robinson for the New York Review of Books, Obama lamented common misconceptions of small-town middle America, for which he has a sort of reverence. “There’s this huge gap between how folks go about their daily lives and how we talk about our common life and our political life,” he said, naming one cause as “the filters that stand between ordinary people” who are busy getting by and complicated policy debates.

“I’m very encouraged when I meet people in their environments,” Obama told Robinson. “Somehow it gets distilled at the national political level in ways that aren’t always as encouraging.”

To be sure, one discouraging distillation – the caricature of the hate-spewing white male Trump voter with grease on his jeans – is a real person of sorts. There were one or two in my town: the good ol’ boy who menaces those with less power than himself – running people of color out of town with the threat of violence, denigrating women, shooting BB guns at stray cats for fun. They are who Trump would be if he’d been born where I was.

We don’t need their analysis, and we sure don’t need their tears. What we need is to have our stories told
Media fascination with the hateful white Trump voter fuels the theory, now in fashion, that bigotry is the only explanation for supporting him. Certainly, financial struggle does not predict a soft spot for Trump, as cash-strapped people of color – who face the threat of his racism and xenophobia, and who resoundingly reject him, by all available measures – can attest. However, one imagines that elite white liberals who maintain an air of ethical grandness this election season would have a harder time thinking globally about trade and immigration if it were their factory job that was lost and their community that was decimated.

Affluent analysts who oppose Trump, though, have a way of taking a systemic view when examining social woes but viewing their place on the political continuum as a triumph of individual character. Most of them presumably inherited their political bent, just like most of those in “red” America did. If you were handed liberalism, give yourself no pats on the back for your vote against Trump.

Spare, too, the condescending argument that disaffected Democrats who joined Republican ranks in recent decades are “voting against their own best interests,” undemocratic in its implication that a large swath of America isn’t mentally fit to cast a ballot.

Whoever remains on Trump’s side as stories concerning his treatment of women, racism and other dangers continue to unfurl gets no pass from me for any reason. They are capable of voting, and they own their decisions. Let’s be aware of our class biases, though, as we discern who “they” are.

Journalist? Then the chances are you’re not blue collar
A recent print-edition New York Times cutline described a Kentucky man:

“Mitch Hedges, who farms cattle and welds coal-mining equipment. He expects to lose his job in six months, but does not support Mr Trump, who he says is ‘an idiot.’”

This made me cheer for the rare spotlight on a member of the white working class who doesn’t support Trump. It also made me laugh – one can’t “farm cattle”. One farms crops, and one raises livestock. It’s sometimes hard for a journalist who has done both to take the New York Times seriously.

The main reason that national media outlets have a blind spot in matters of class is the lack of socioeconomic diversity within their ranks. Few people born to deprivation end up working in newsrooms or publishing books. So few, in fact, that this former laborer has found cause to shift her entire writing career to talk specifically about class in a wealth-privileged industry, much as journalists of color find themselves talking about race in a whiteness-privileged one.

This isn’t to say that one must reside among a given group or place to do it justice, of course, as good muckrakers and commentators have shown for the past century and beyond. See On the Media’s fine new series on poverty, the second episode of which includes Gladstone’s reflection that “the poor are no more monolithic than the rest of us.”

I know journalists to be hard-working people who want to get the story right, and I’m resistant to rote condemnations of “the media”. The classism of cable-news hosts merely reflects the classism of privileged America in general. It’s everywhere, from tweets describing Trump voters as inbred hillbillies to a Democratic campaign platform that didn’t bother with a specific anti-poverty platform until a month out from the general election.

The economic trench between reporter and reported on has never been more hazardous than at this moment of historic wealth disparity, though, when stories focus more often on the stock market than on people who own no stocks. American journalism has been willfully obtuse about the grievances on Main Streets for decades – surely a factor in digging the hole of resentment that Trump’s venom now fills. That the term “populism” has become a pejorative among prominent liberal commentators should give us great pause. A journalism that embodies the plutocracy it’s supposed to critique has failed its watchdog duty and lost the respect of people who call bullshit when they see it.

One such person was my late grandfather, Arnie. Men like Trump sometimes drove expensive vehicles up the gravel driveway of our Kansas farmhouse looking to do some sort of business. Grandpa would recognize them as liars and thieves, treat them kindly, and send them packing. If you shook their hands, after they left Grandpa would laugh and say, “Better count your fingers.”

In a world in which the Bettys and Arnies of the world have little voice, those who enjoy a platform from which to speak might examine their hearts and minds before stepping onto the soap box.

If you would stereotype a group of people by presuming to guess their politics or deeming them inferior to yourself – say, the ones who worked third shift on a Boeing floor while others flew to Mexico during spring break; the ones who mopped a McDonald’s bathroom while others argued about the minimum wage on Twitter; the ones who cleaned out their lockers at a defunct Pabst factory while others drank craft beer at trendy bars; the ones who came back from the Middle East in caskets while others wrote op-eds about foreign policy – then consider that you might have more in common with Trump than you would like to admit.