Most folks reading this blog will have a fairly good idea of what we mean when we talk about an “under-class.” We picture inner city ghettos and barrios, sometimes Native American reservations. Sometimes we think about women or gays or anyone black, brown or tan.
But I put it to you that the largest underclass in America today are poor whites who, until the 1960’s anyway, had the benefit of not being black. That and a little cash could get them a cup of coffee which, until around this same time, black folks in certain districts couldn’t often do. So there sits your poor white guy at the lunch counter or the bar with only the warmth that comes of knowing that they can be there while others can’t, they can get the jobs that others can’t just because, they can even get up and take a pee in a decent bathroom – because they’re white. In most cases, it’s the only thing they have going for them. Others may be just a little below the angels, but these guys are consigned to that particular circle of hell reserved for those just a smidge above the black devils who, after decades of poking them with pitchforks have finally risen to sit among them. For many of them, it was the last straw.
This came home to me forcibly last weekend when I woke up to the vision of thousands of bikers, Rolling Thunder, on their annual inundation of Washington, DC, in support of POW's and MIA's. A principle speaker, apparently – Donald Trump. A few interviews seemed to corroborate the impression – Harley Nation is all in for Trump. He’s their kind of guy.
And I had to wonder, where did they get that idea? Trump is a blowhard. He’s so obviously interested only in himself. It’s all about his wealth, his dick, his fantastic this and yuge that. I thought about him wandering into the sort of bar I used to frequent – Uncle Ray’s, in Green Bay, for example - and boasting about how great he was. I pictured the up and down looks, the snorts of contempt, the alpha male response of “who do you think you are and whose territory do you think you’re in?” It didn’t add up. Until, that is, the blowhard announced that drinks were on the house. The house would go for it. They wouldn’t know they’d been had until he left out the back. In the meantime, here was an obviously rich guy buying them drinks, saying stuff they liked to hear. Even tough guys can get snookered.
I had to wonder if my old pal, the Prez of the Hellbounders, is still alive and if he supports Donald Trump – and if all my old pals from that club of what I called the good bad guys do as well. It was the Prez who clued me in on the endemic racism, the lure of outfits like the Posse Comitatus, of the down and outers who reside on the hardscrabble Wisconsin farms in the cutover.
It made me think of the father of an ex-boyfriend of mine. No biker he. A pallet broker. A salesman of the old school. A Willie Loman of sorts, even then. I remember watching Dallas with the ex and his parents at their house in suburban Chicago. JR is hatching another sleazy deal, and I'm getting ready to make a disparaging remark about the guy, when I hear my ex's dad chortle, "Go get 'em, JR." That's when I realized that JR was actually a culture hero, and that Dallas, in its sleazy way, had something to do with the soul of America.
Trump wants small town America to think of him as JR. He can screw over the big city boys, because he’s a big city boy himself. He’s gonna go get ‘im. And he’s gonna tell the goddam liberal press to fuck off. On national television. He’s gonna tell everybody they don’t like, “You’re fired.”
A woman named Jonna Ivin posted this piece online recently. In it, she talks about this white underclass, an underclass who may indeed experience white privilege, but who have no way of actually benefiting from it. An underclass who, throughout the recent culture wars, have heard themselves referred to as hillbillies, cowboys, rednecks, small-minded small-timers. Threatened by women, by gays, and by the changing demographics. Donald Trump famously declared, “I love the undereducated.” I suspect they love him back.
It’s time that we started loving them too. And when I say we, I mean the educated, the relatively prosperous, the tolerant liberal class, tolerant to all except the intolerant. Because we don’t get where the intolerance comes from. We don’t want to go there. I don’t want to go there. But to my mind, intolerance grows with insecurity, with a feeling of irrelevance. Just watch that insecure intolerant baby-man posturing on our TV’s these days and try to imagine yourself thinking of him as the Great White Hope? Who would you have to be to think that? What would your life be like? How long would you have felt left out in the cold?
Here’s the thing. In 2014, according to the U.S. census, 59.3% of the eligible voting population was registered to vote; 38.5% voted. We, as a nation, have long complained about the lack of interest in the eligible voting population, even among those registered. My feeling is that it is just this demographic, just this underclass, that has not seen the benefit of voting. That's a hell of a lot of people. And I think it just possible that they may come out to vote now. Not because he’ll make their lives better. But because of the spectacle of someone telling the rest of the world where to get off. As long as he just keeps saying what they’re thinking, they’ll raise their glasses to him in the bar. He makes them feel validated. You thought Bernie Sanders was starting a revolution?