The Corner

Politics & Policy

Oversimplifying the Working Class

Salena Zito makes the case that President Trump’s promotion of American manufacturing will aid his reelection. But in the course of making that point, she generalizes too much:

Trump’s brashness and unorthodox dealings also made members of his own party and the Washington political class cringe and recoil to their enclaves. But it made people who are not just good at making things but are proud to do so feel championed — even if the deals weren’t perfect, even if they got shortchanged, even if they didn’t like his style.

The problem with the people who cringed is that they’ve never worked with their hands, known anyone who works with their hands, or known anyone who likes working with their hands. If they did know what that’s like before they moved to the wealthiest counties in the country, they’ve left those memories behind.

“Brashness and unorthodox dealings” are at best a euphemistic way of describing the Trump traits and behaviors that turn some people off; and those people are hardly confined to the wealthiest counties of the country.

We don’t have data on the political attitudes of people who work with their hands. We do know that Trump got around 51 percent of the votes of Americans without college degrees in 2016, a four-point improvement over Mitt Romney’s performance in 2012, and that he got around 41 percent of those voters making less than $50,000 a year, a three-point improvement over Romney. Huge numbers of Americans without college degrees and with low incomes voted for Hillary Clinton; huge numbers of affluent Americans voted for Donald Trump; and the changes from previous elections, while very important, were on the margin.

I’m sure Zito knows all of these facts, but pundits and political reporters (including me) are often tempted to reduce people into categories and flatten the complexity of voters’ behavior. Sometimes we do it on the basis of race, sometimes of religion, sometimes, as here, of occupation. One way of guarding against that temptation is to keep in mind the interplay of these categories. We can safely infer that the vast majority of African Americans who work with their hands do not feel championed by Trump.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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