Last night, I did what I rarely do – I went on a rant on Facebook. I know, I know, that is about the biggest waste of time one can experience, but the post I was responding to really hit a nerve with me.
The post was Mike Rowe’s response to a journalist’s response to an article Rowe had written after the election.
Let me begin by saying I’ve been a fan of Rowe’s for some time, ever since I saw the first episode of his television show, “Dirty Jobs.” I’ve always found the subject of work fascinating, in terms of how people do their jobs and how they relate to their jobs and co-workers. Rowe shares this passion, and I always admired the respect he paid for the subjects of his shows. That he is funny and has a sophisticated wit and self-deprecating sense of humor only add to his appeal. It also helps that, with his frequent posts on Facebook, it’s obvious that the guy can write.
It’s also become clear that Rowe is politically more conservative than I am. Despite the directions we might lean, I find myself, more often than not, agreeing with what he says, particularly when it comes to work. Rowe has said (I’m paraphrasing here) that instead of following your passion, let your passion follow you. In other words, rather than wait for your dream job, bring your passion and work ethic to any other job that might be available and get to work. I whole heartedly agree with this sentiment, as work is as vital as air to breathe and water to drink. There’s a reason they call work “making a living,” as not working is not living. It’s work and our approach to work that gives us a sense of purpose and pride, and a sense of belonging to a community. Rowe has also railed against the “Work smarter, not harder” sentiment that’s been embraced by guidance counselors for the past twenty years or so, and I couldn’t agree with him more – smarter and harder are not mutually exclusive, we should do both, work harder and smarter. It’s the mentality that one should be frightened of “hard” work, a mentality that has eroded the work ethic. Rowe also supports training efforts to fill skill gaps, like heavy equipment operators, that have persisted and remained unfilled even through the heights of the great recession. I’m with Mike on nearly all of these points.
What made me respond on Facebook last night was the fact that the primary demographic that elected Donald Trump was “uneducated” (hate that term – it refers to not college graduates) whites. I was born into this group and lived there for most of my life (I went to night school and got a Bachelor’s Degree from Columbia College from Missouri, but if I’m honest about it, it’s not a very impressive credential, as the course work was designed for the working adult and not very challenging). So these are people I know. These are people who are my family. These are hardworking, good people I’ve admired and looked up to my entire life.
I’ve been tossing and turning ever since the election, wondering how we, the middle to lower class white people, could have elected Donald Trump president and unleashed him to the world. Forget for just a moment the racist and misogynist sentiment of his over the top rhetoric and consider just what Trump is: an elitist and arrogant snob who has no appreciation for the hard work performed every day by the tradesmen and blue collar and service sector employees who design, build, and work in his luxury hotels and casinos.
Then when you throw in the racist and misogynist rhetoric, it becomes even more baffling how a group that I still believe is not racist, who were as disgusted as I was when Trump made his infamous remarks to Billy Bush on that bus, men who have wives, mothers, sisters and daughters, could get behind Trump. I understand the need for change, and the perceived crookedness of his opponent, but I personally could never vote for a man who said all of the hateful things Trump said.
So Rowe’s article on the election was countered by a reporter named Gillian Branstetter, (http://www.dailydot.com/upstream/mike-rowe-facebook-post/) followed by Rowe’s reaction to her reaction (https://www.facebook.com/TheRealMikeRowe/posts/1336751243001682?comment_id=1490147844335983¬if_t=like¬if_id=1479379502729421 ), which prompted my reaction (below). To sum up, while I agree with most of what Rowe says, I have to challenge him or anyone else who tries to speak for this group to account for the racism and sexism that whether representative of a small minority or a larger majority of its members, was a key ingredient in the toxic stew that they all voted for.
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I think that Mr. Rowe’s theory that the election represented a forgotten working class is dead-on – at the same time, one can’t overlook the unprecedented open racism espoused by Trump and embraced by this same class. Rowe says that “the winner was NOT decided by a racist and craven nation – it was decided by millions of disgusted Americans desperate for real change.” But far too many of them are willing to embrace racism as a means of affecting that real change. Trump’s campaign openly and cravenly embraced racism and hatred.
And Donald Trump – Donald Trump! – becomes the spokesman for these people? The same Donald Trump who has refused to pay contractors who built and designed his casinos? The same Donald Trump who has bankrupted so many small businesses? I’d love to see a “Dirty Jobs” episode about the bricklayers or cabinet makers and all the other tradesmen who’ve worked for and been stiffed by Trump. The same Donald Trump who was born into wealth and privilege, who’s never done an honest day’s work in his life, the same Donald Trump who has paid no income taxes for the past twenty years? And is proud of it, calling himself smart? What does that make the rest of us who paid our taxes – stupid? And all the talk about crumbling infrastructure and run down airports, etc. etc, that he complains about – well, Trump contributed to this state by not contributing his fair share of taxes.
So how is it that such a charlatan, such a con man, as Donald Trump became the spokesman for a class large enough to make him President? Rowe is correct that Trump saw a group that had been neglected by both political parties. His status as an outsider would appeal to this group. He gave voice to them after they’d been ignored so long that they were able to overlook the fact that he wasn’t, never was and never will be, one of them.
But that wasn’t enough, and this is where Trump doubled down on his strategy and decided to go all-in. It was all the fault of the cultural elite who comprised the establishment wings of both the Democratic and the Republican Parties. Trump’s genius was declaring war on not just the liberals but on the party that nominated him, too. He was the classic third party candidate, railing against the elitist snobs who controlled both the left and the right, except he’d hijacked the Republican party. It was a wonderfully subversive strategy, to bore himself into the apple that is the American political system and eat away at it from within.
But even that wasn’t enough. His strategy may have been adequate to get the Republican nomination, but to win the national election by doubling down on this forgotten segment of society would only work if they all showed up at the polls. He had to inspire them.
And what inspires people into taking action more than fear? And boy, there sure was a lot of fear in this white, working class society. There was the fear of being left behind, as in 2012 whites became for the first time, at 49% of the population, a minority. The news was filled with stories about the changing demographics of the country that immigration was causing. It’s no coincidence that from the moment he announced his candidacy, Trump made immigration the central theme of the election, even though the rate of illegals entering the country was at decades low levels. It also was no coincidence that at that first campaign appearance he referred to Latinos as rapists and murderers.
From there the rhetoric became even more heated, with Muslims the next target, as he proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the country. He also, during one of the Republican debates, advocated the state sponsored murder of family members of terrorists. At the end of the campaign, he picked up an endorsement from that grand old American institution, the Ku Klux Klan.
The cynical calculation he made was that by embracing these extremist groups he would motivate a greater number of those at the bottom of the barrel to get out and vote than the number of people who’d be offended enough to stay home. It may have been a cynical calculation, but in the end, it was an accurate one. Remember when he said “I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone on national television and not lose a vote?” That may have been the most perceptive comment made by anyone in the entire campaign.
If Mr. Rowe, or anyone else, for that matter, decides that he wants to be the champion of this class, then he is going to have to be willing to recognize not just the legitimate neglect they’ve suffered from the American political system, but he needs to also address the racism and misogyny that has taken root in Trump’s fertile topsoil of hatred and prejudice. It is undeniable, it is real, it is terrifying, and it is un-American, and if left untended to, will spread and devour everything we once stood for.