Writing in The Week, my friend Michael Brendan Dougherty takes me to task for holding Trump voters in contempt. The piece is mainly silly posturing of the sort that should be but apparently is not beneath him (No, engaging political fundraising is not very much like committing Social Security fraud) and ends with the eternal question: “What are you going to do for me?” Dougherty asks this question on behalf of poor whites, for whom he proposes to speak.
What do conservatives offer to lightly educated, lightly skilled, low-earning white men of the sort Dougherty considers? Only the same thing we always have: The opportunity to be something else. Between 1980 and 1990, real household income for Americans who were in the lowest-earning bracket at the beginning of that period grew by 77 percent; among those who had been in the lowest-earning income quintile, 85.8 percent moved to a higher-income bracket over the next eight years, and 14.7 percent of them moved to the top bracket. Which is to say, those in the lowest-earning fifth of Americans in 1980 were more likely to have moved to the top income group by 1990 than to remain at the bottom.
That wasn’t magic. It was economic growth driven by real investment and enabled by better public policies than those that had prevailed before.
So, let’s have some more of that.
I suppose we could indulge the energies that drive the Trump movement, i.e. using racial identity politics to help poor whites feel better about dependency. But I don’t want them to feel better about it. I’d much rather they took the necessary steps to improve their condition in life, and that Washington would take such steps as would enable and encourage them.
The preening working-class-hero shtick doesn’t even work for Bruce Springsteen any more. I can’t see its being much use to conservatives, in the long run.