Why, after decades of supporting the liberal and conservative establishments, did the white middle-class abandon them? Wherever Donald J. Trump and Bernie Sanders end up, their candidacies represent a major shift in American politics…
…[T]he white middle class is in decline, both economically and culturally.
This story of decline is often told in racial and ethnic terms: White America is being displaced by a multicultural America, and especially on the right, voters are retreating to racist posturing. There may be some truth to this story, but for the most part it’s a huge distraction.
Much of his column is descriptions of Charles Murray’s Fishtown: high rates of drug use; high rates of illegitimacy; pervasive economic anxiety.
The intelligentsia on the left rarely lets a moment pass without reminding us of the demographic eclipse of white middle-class voters. Sometimes, those voters are described as racists, or derided as dull suburbanites who lack the élan of the new urban “creative class.” The message: White middle-class Americans aren’t just irrelevant to America’s future, they’re in the way…
Our political history since the end of World War II has turned on the willingness of white middle-class voters to rally behind great causes in league with the wealthy and political elite: Resist Communism! Send a man to the moon! Overcome racism! Protect the environment! Today, white middle-class voters want to be reassured that they can play an active role in politics. They want someone to appeal to their sense of political self-worth, not just their interests.
This is precisely what Mr. Trump and Mr. Sanders offer. Mr. Trump speaks about restoring American greatness, rhetorical gestures akin to Barack Obama’s vague 2008 slogan, “Yes, we can.” We can mock both as empty. But voters who feel disempowered and marginalized latch on to this promise. They want to be partners with the rich and powerful in defining our future as a country, not recipients of their benevolent ministrations, which explains why they’re untroubled by Mr. Trump’s great wealth…
If these candidates have traction, it’s because over the last two decades our political elites, themselves almost entirely white, have decided, for different reasons, that the white middle class has no role to play in the multicultural, globalized future they envision, a future that they believe they will run. This primary season will show us whether or not they’re right.
More significant than what Reno says is that the NYT has allowed a new voice to enter their Overton Window.