Is the White Working Class to Blame for Its Own Decline?

Mar 25, 2016

Trump supporters in Nevada

Who’s to blame for the decline of the white working class?

Kevin D. Williamson, a writer for the National Review, has an answer: it’s their own fault.

The title says it all: “Chaos in the Family, Chaos in the State: The White Working Class’s Dysfunction.”

In it, he describes the incredible support GOP frontrunner Donald Trump is receiving from working class whites – especially in hard-hit counties where life expectancies are stagnant or declining.

He writes: “The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about ‘globalists’ and — odious, stupid term — ‘the Establishment,’ but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.

“If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that.

“Nothing happened to them.”

On “The Front Porch” podcast, we debate the real causes of white working class decline. Did family disintegration cause economic decline (as Williamson argues), or was it the other way around?

Also, Williamson says people in low-income communities should “get off your asses and go find a job” by moving to better-off areas:

“The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap…

“The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.”

We debate whether it’s that simple, and if so, why more people haven’t left Appalachia.

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An edited version of “The Front Porch” airs Fridays at 4:50 p.m. on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s radio network, and the full version is available above.

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