Jennifer Silva recently interviewed
working class people in a small Pennsylvania town about politics and the nation, and she had this and much more to say about it:
I had this interview guide of questions all about voting history and policy preferences and political behavior. And I did ask all of those questions, but I didn’t really get the answers I was expecting. Many of the people I talked to were very dismissive of the idea that politics mattered in their lives. Some of them would kind of openly laugh, or just say, “None of this matters. Like, you don’t actually think how I vote will actually affect the country?” . . . We read in the news that we’re in this moment where it’s a battle for the soul of America, but they’re way beyond that. They don’t think there is any America left.
Neither old white people nor young white people nor minorities were optimistic:
For white working-class men and some of the older white working-class women, there was a real sense of loss, kind of a sense that they had built this country. The men would talk about having broken their bodies to build this country and were really proud of that. They felt like it was all falling apart, and they did actually blame corporations and politicians. … Some of the white men also felt like, you know, America has been taken away from them by immigrants or refugees or people of color. So the sense that they had was that politicians basically were serving the interests of minorities in order to get votes and had forgotten about white people.
For younger people, and also for the newcomers and people of color, it was even more radical than that. It was, well, did America ever mean anything? This whole country is built on exploitation and greed and every time there’s a war, why are we even fighting other soldiers in other countries? They weren’t buying into any kind of patriotic dreams or ideals. They were just saying, this country wasn’t built for me and it doesn’t work for me and why would I be patriotic?
Of course they don't trust the media, either:
I’d just be sitting there in a conversation, and especially the men would start talking—they’d pull out their cellphones and say, you know, of course the government lies to us every day. Of course the government created Ebola. Of course the government is trying to control our minds through this technology. It wasn’t really a left-wing or right-wing story. There were pieces of both ideologies in it. And then they would use their phones and go and look things up and find these very alternative websites. In a way they’d feel smart and empowered by this idea that they weren’t believing CNN. They were finding out the truth on their own and they weren’t going to be fooled by the media.
It's depressing, partly because so much of it is true: civilization always has been built on exploitation, and our system always has chewed up and spit out working people. That's why I have spent some time talking to my cynical sons about places like Venezuela and Guatemala, trying to explain that just because we have problems doesn't mean things couldn't get a whole lot worse.`
So how about the working class in Big City Pennsylvania?
So much of our discourse is dominated by such small numbers of people. We ignore the millions in urban areas to focus on the thousands in rural areas.
Why do we wring our hands over people who believe that immigrants "took the country away from them", when they live in places where the are practically no immigrants, and they themselves are the descendants of immigrants who took the country away from the Native Americans?
Why do listen to them whine about how they feel like things are falling apart, when essentially nothing has changed about their way of life? What the HELL are they complaining about, aside from the fact that they have to accept that OTHER PEOPLE are allowed to do things they themselves disagree with, like get safe access to abortions, or have same sex marriages?
Why do we give these awful people and their worthless opinions the time of day? Why do we give them any kind of power to step in and demand that total strangers living in totally different communities have to bend to their wishes and conform to their expectations? What business is it of theirs if other people live differently?
Their message is utter garbage. They don't want anything other than to complain and blame others for their own dissatisfaction
If their complaints were about money problems or economic issues living in rural areas, they could just come out and say so. But they never do - they'd sooner die than advocate for workers' rights, or universal healthcare, or government programs to end poverty, or any sort of "liberal" notion that would be in their own self interest. Instead, they just blame foreign immigrants or invent insane conspiracy theories about the Jews and the Illuminati and Barrack "Hussein" Obama trying to take over the world and impose gay Sharia Law.
They don't have valid complaints. They don't have any cogent demands for changes. They just want to complain, and to be hateful, spiteful, and resentful.
Mildred: Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?
Johnny: What've you got?
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