A sad and strange result of the 2016 election is the many progressives and Democrats surprised that large numbers of white males voted Republican. Who would have thought? In a related development, the same group is slack-jawed at the number of white blue collar workers in the Rust Belt who helped usher in the era of Trump. Didn’t see that coming!
These phenomena also caused the elite media (you know who you are New York Times, Washington Post and others) to wake to the truth that many whites in the hinterlands feel abandoned and ignored by government and estranged not only from mainstream media but also values and policies of the Democratic Party. These media, and more than a few progressives, seem to have decided that they need to find out something about these strange people from Middle America.
Something that will prepare them for the journey are several recently released books that shed light upon this widespread discontent (spoiler alert—it is not racism). The most widely read and reviewed are “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance, “White Trash” by Nancy Isenberg and “Strangers in Their Own Land” by Arlie Russell Hochschild.
As a progressive born, raised and living in this strange and distant land, I want to offer my take on this. I’m the latest of generations of white trash, a/k/a “rednecks” and “trailer trash.” My father and generations of Hazlewoods before him were Southern tenant farmers. Daddy grew up in 1910’s and 1920’s on farm land not far from Waco, Texas where they still used mules and outhouses. I grew up in Houston, though, and worked most of my professional life in Austin. But, then came the call to ministry. Since then, I’ve lived and pastored exclusively in rural and small town churches in South Central Texas.
After the election, I realized that I knew more about “those” voters than about any of my fellow progressives who lived on either coast. And, I’ve read things about them being racist or bigoted or ignorant. Well, no.
My peeps are good folks. They are good friends to have, the type who will pull over on the road and help you change a tire or who will bring you some food when you mother dies. They go to church on Sunday and maybe sit on a committee or two or work in the food bank or deliver food for Meals on Wheels. They feel there is too much sex and violence in the media and are not too fond of all the cursing, either. No matter what your skin color, they will help you if you need it. They have guns—and use them. Even women hunt. I love them.
But, they have big problems with government and wonder about liberals and progressives, too. More specifically:
- many feel they do not matter to government and that their voices will not be heard;
- they find people on the coast condescending and arrogant. They feel that these people look down on them and consider them to be ignorant racists;
- they perceive their values are quite different from “liberals” (they tend to be Christian, sexually modest and community-oriented);
- they hate what they see as government giveaways (pretty much those things that are the safety net—welfare, food stamps and Medicaid);
- they don’t like affirmation action and wonder how racism can be ended with such racial consciousness;
- they are suspicious of big government, as well as Muslims and Islam;
- they watch Fox News and listen to Rush, O’Reilly and Hannity; and,
- they have guns and think liberals look down upon them for this.
When I read or hear these good folks belittled, I sometimes think that it is their critics who are the bigots.