Understanding Trump

The angry white working class people are not the villains

Understanding Trump
This election season in the US is one of the most surprising ones we’ve had in a long time. Who would have predicted the ascension of Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, or a rise of the American left with Bernie Sanders? We in the global south are no less surprised to see our kind of politics at play in the supposedly civilized and mature democracy of the US. The character of Donald Trump, in particular, could easily pass as one of our political leaders with all his xenophobia, machoism, lack of substance, and pomp. This amazement, however, turns into fright and despair when we observe that this trend of bigotry and anger is taking over the mainstream political discourse in most of the western world, with Brexit being the latest example.

The rise of leaders like Donald Trump on the national stage is a symptom of something serious and worrisome. Unrestrained expansion of globalization, capitalism, and technology in the last few decades has inspired fundamental changes in the social order of these countries that no one really knows how to manage, and thus the chaos. Take the example of a typical Trump supporter: a working class, un- or under-employed white male, with no college education. Until the 1970s, it was relatively easy for him to find work in manufacturing or construction with or without a high school diploma, that allowed him to earn a decent salary to afford a car and house, and put food on the table for his entire family. Now, these families are struggling even with two members of the family working on full-time jobs.
Skilled worker visas have been capped at 5,000 per year

Increasingly, good manufacturing jobs are leaving the US for poorer nations such as China, Vietnam, and Mexico with low labor wages. To add misery to matter, other working class jobs such as mining, construction, and farming that cannot be exported, are being taken over by cheap immigrant labor from South American countries as well as South Asia and the Middle East. The immigrant laborers live under appalling conditions and are exploited with extremely low wages and difficult work hours. Understandably enough, these jobs are unacceptable to working class men and women who have seen better times. While this scheme of things is helping increase profits for business owners and reducing prices for the middle- and upper class consumers, they are creating economic resentment among the working class whites.

The working class whites imagine a scenario where all immigrants (documented or otherwise) would be forced to leave the country and Trump’s wall over the southern US border will prevent further influx of labor from the south. This will evidently free up jobs and create a labor shortage that would increase per hour wage rates to respectable living wage levels. This is, of course, both inhumane and impractical. Business-owners forming the Republic establishment are largely against these views as this would decrease their access to cheap labor, and thus the split within the Republic Party that traditionally protects business interests with the help of the working-class voters.

The angry white working class men and women are, thus, not the villains in this story as they are often portrayed. They are, in fact, prisoners of their circumstances and are deeply frustrated with their political leadership that has done nothing to tend to their situation so far. While the college educated Americans have successfully lobbied to cap skilled immigration work visas to 5,000 per year in order to protect their own economic interests, little effort is made to control illegal immigration through the southern border that threatens working-class jobs. The college educated Americans are apathetic to the plight of working class Americans, while the wealthy Americans are increasingly using technology, immigration, and outsourcing to deny them a respectable living. Instead of holding their own elite responsible for their troubles, the working-class whites have descended into xenophobia against marginalized immigrant communities who are also victims of circumstances created by the elites in the grand scheme of things. These views are, of course, built on centuries of racial discrimination in the US that has been historically propagated by the elites to keep the poor classes divided and under control.

Wouldn’t it be great if the working class whites would instead demand an increase in minimum wages, free healthcare and college education, and public investment in social programs that would benefit all poor men and women regardless of their race or belief systems? In a class-blind world with a mindset soaked in race-based privileges, however, communities are more likely to put the blame of their woes on weaker marginalized sections of the society and turn them into easy scapegoats.