Although poorly covered by the media, white working class support buoyed Obama in 2008 and 2012. As the New York Times put it, Obama’s “key support often came in the places where you would least expect it. He did better than John Kerry and Al Gore among white voters across the Northern United States, despite exit poll results to the contrary. Over all, 34 percent of Mr. Obama’s voters were whites without a college degree - larger in number than black voters, Hispanic voters or well-educated whites.”
As you mention, it’s foolish to discount the importance of race-and racial appeals-along with sexism. However, those who attempt to reduce Trump’s win to matters of race and gender alone are kidding themselves. Whites actually lost a net total of 700,000 jobs in the aftermath of the Great Recession-the only racial/ethnic group to experience such losses. White workers aged 25 to 54 lost nearly 6.5 million jobs during those nine years, while Asian, Latino and black workers in the same age bracket gained millions of jobs.
And there are now almost nine million more jobs than in November 2007.
According to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal, during the primary, Trump won 89 of the 100 counties most affected by trade with China. And most disturbingly, life expectancy for whites, predominately in the working class, is actually declining. There’s nothing similar in the West to compare it to. It’s no wonder that so many found Trump’s appeals, which aside from race, centered on trade, jobs, national and cultural renewal.
My home state of Ohio suffered immensely after China’s entry into the WTO; that’s in addition to the deindustrialization that began in the 1970s. The inability or unwillingness of the Democrats to address the pain of the “hollowed out American Heartland,” as I call it, brought them disaster on November 8. Trump won HALF the union vote in Ohio. That’s unprecedented for a Republican candidate.
Those who say that Trump voters get what they deserve are actually feeding into the Trump movement. It’s important to understand where many of these people are coming from. Now, I’m not talking about the Alt-Right or the Klan elements, but I’d clearly place them in the minority. If we write off a huge chunk of the working class, how are we ever going to build a movement of working people?
In his book, Listen, Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People? Thomas Franks dissects the decades-long movement of the Democrats into the neoliberal camp. The Democratic Party is America’s left party; it’s why the party exists. Yet Democrats increasingly represent a tiny fraction of Americans, not the top 1 percent, but the top 10 percent. Unions, industrial workers, service workers, etc., have no place left to turn. Many ran to Trump’s campaign. Condemning those voters as completely stupid or as a “basket of deplorables” will simply give us eight years of Donald Trump. Liberals would do much better by looking in the mirror.