The Original Underclass

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by jnpy!$4g3cwk, Aug 10, 2016.

  1. jnpy!$4g3cwk macrumors 65816

    jnpy!$4g3cwk

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    #1
    This is a followup to a number of sub-threads, mainly in threads discussing Donald Trump, and why the majority of people in West Virginia and Alabama and in many rural districts in other states support Donald Trump and say they want to vote for him. And the genuine puzzlement regarding those people and why they keep voting against their own apparent self-interest. Coincidentally (?), there are two new books out, one of which was recently discussed on the NPR program Fresh Air (which I heard-- haven't read the books yet). And now, an Atlantic article. When I heard the Fresh Air program, I felt something wasn't quite on target with the first, provocatively titled, book: White Trash. The second new book is is Hillbilly Elegy.

    Then, I saw the Atlantic article, which reviews both books, and adds its own perspective. The Atlantic article, The Original Underclass, is truer to my own experience and perception, and I recommend reading it. (Warning: too many Atlantic touches and the paywall goes up.)


    http://www.amazon.com/White-Trash-400-Year-History-America/dp/0670785970

    http://www.amazon.com/Hillbilly-Elegy-Memoir-Family-Culture/dp/0062300547

    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/09/the-original-underclass/492731/
     
  2. Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #2
    Interesting thread title and topic, and an excellent idea for a thread.

    Must say that the Atlantic article was a thought-provoking read, thanks for linking it, and I would be interested in reading the books reviewed in the piece.
     
  3. thermodynamic Suspended

    thermodynamic

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    #3
    Everyone often says the same thing about the opposing candidate.

    Most interesting is the issue of "race", since plenty of blacks say Obama has been out of touch with them as well. So is it a "racial" issue, or something less wedge-like and more fundamental?
     
  4. LizKat macrumors 68040

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    #4
    Although some historians say this guy stretches some theories rather than proves them, Colin Woodard put together a fascinating regional overlay on these “united” states:


    The region of Greater Appalachia still houses today a large part of an "original" Caucasian group that in part by circumstance and in part through stubborn isolation has become an underclass. In Woodard’s early summary of the region’s characteristics we find some telling antecedents of today’s Trump fans...

    Greater Appalachia was founded in the early eighteenth century by wave upon wave of rough, bellicose settlers from the war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands. Lampooned by writers, journalists, filmmakers, and television producers as “rednecks,” “hillbillies,” “crackers,” and “white trash,” these clannish Scots-Irish, Scots, and north English frontiersmen spread across the highland South and on into the southern tiers of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois; the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks; the eastern two-thirds of Oklahoma; and the Hill Country of Texas, clashing with Indians, Mexicans, and Yankees as they migrated

    In the British Isles, this culture had formed in a state of near-constant war and upheaval, fostering a warrior ethic and a deep commitment to individual liberty and personal sovereignty. Intensely suspicious of aristocrats and social reformers alike, these American Borderlanders despised Yankee teachers, Tidewater lords, and Deep Southern aristocrats.

    In the Civil War much of the region fought for the Union, with secession movements in western Virginia (creating West Virginia), eastern Tennessee, and northern Alabama. During Reconstruction the region resisted the Yankee effort to liberate African slaves, driving it into a lasting alliance with its former enemies: the overlords of the Tidewater and Deep Southern lowlands of Dixie.

    The Borderlander’s combative culture has provided a large proportion of the nation’s military, from officers like Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett, and Douglas MacArthur to the enlisted men fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. They also gave the continent bluegrass and country music, stock car racing, and Evangelical fundamentalism. Greater Appalachia’s people have long had a poor awareness of their cultural origins. One scholar of the Scots-Irish has called them “the people with no name.” When U. S. census takers ask Appalachian people what their nationality or ethnicity is, they almost always answer “American” or even “Native American.”

    Woodard, Colin (2011-09-29). American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (Kindle Locations 181-195). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.
     
  5. vrDrew, Aug 11, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2016

    vrDrew macrumors 65816

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    #5
    There is a tremendous challenge here.

    How do progressive elements in American political and social life find common-ground and communicate with that vast swathe of middle- and lower income white people without sounding condescending or patronizing?

    Because, quite frankly, that's the way a lot of liberal and progressive rhetoric comes across.

    How did a prior generation of liberal and progressive American leaders connect with white people in Appalachia and the deep South? In Texas and Oklahoma?

    There is no mystery here. Between Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson the game changed. In the 1930s and 1940s Government was seen as the vehicle that raised the white working class from penury into the lower strata of the middle-class. But by the 1960s and beyond, "Government spending" was seen by the same people as raising black and brown people into a state of effective equality with the same people who - a generation before - had been its most enthusiastic supporters.

    This is a process that has only accelerated in the past decade; with its alternative media universe; enabled by the fact-free leitmotif of Fox News and the Drudge Report.

    We, right here in this tiny internet forum, spend an inordinate amount of time, debating things that really shouldn't be debatable at all. Issues such as responsibility for deficits. Causes of the 2003 Iraq War.

    I wish I had the answers. I don't. But as long as 50 or 80 million white people continue to believe - as Gospel - that it's possible to shoot one's way out of a recession with an AR-15 - then this country and society are going to struggle mightily to advance.

    Maybe we shouldn't use words like "swathe" and "leitmotif." Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Irony's hard. Ain't it?
     
  6. LizKat macrumors 68040

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    #6
    So... are we still to think it's all down to racism? In the case of class if the underclass was white, we supported lifting people from poverty in the 30s, 40s. But then when people of color began to be lifted by civil rights enforcement and government efforts at battling poverty, what: we said wait a minute? These POC guys are trying to get over? Or maybe just "coming outta their place?"

    We likely have to consider sexism as well. A young possibly Appalachian white kid said on TV to Sally Jesse Raphael one morning, speaking of his pregnant wife, and as to why he had put a beating on her, that she "just come outta her place" one night when she'd asked him where'd he been and why got home so late.

    I can't remember now how Raphael went on from there because I was more or less dumbstruck by my prior ignorance that someone would speak in that way of his wife. I didn't even get to the class thing as a matter of race or socioeconomic status. "Her place"... simply stopped my brain processing.

    While working in NYC, I had not taken my equal opportunity for granted, or so I thought, and I certainly ran into my share of resistance in the 60s. But that morning watching that show while home sick with the flu, I thought to myself that I had been transported back to the 1900s. It wasn't that that young woman was denied equality. She was merely assumed not to have it.

    For awhile after that I thought ok, it's a religious thing, some sects of Christianity put focus on the wife submitting to the husband. It's not just Muslims, folks. But the more I thought about that, the more I realize that in insular communities, what goes in marriage goes in the community as well.

    And as I spent more time upstate here, I discovered that right in my own county, women can be pretty invisible. I had a car dealer tell me one day to "Ask your husband to come in or give us a call and we can go over those figures" when I asked for some detail on cost of options. I was livid. I stopped by a brother's place on the way home and told him about it. I expected him to be livid too! Silly me. He had lived up here for 12 years already. He said "Oh, okay, I'll give him a call tomorrow." Holy ****, I thought. What have I done buying a place up here.

    What I'm saying tonight: Maybe I do get it about the "elite" thing, I don't often collide with realizing I'm sort of in it. I think of myself as ordinary enough, although I know I got a first class public school education, first class private college education and for whatever reasons aside from those, managed to compete for 40 years in the NYC job markets as they expanded for women who were willing to press for what meant "equal opportunity". When I think about it, all that was probably not that ordinary.

    So to say I am ordinary, and then pontificate about what our ordinary dreams are... I'd be overstepping my welcome in some Appalachian homes, to be sure. I don't have a clue what that young Appalachian woman's dreams for herself and her baby were. It's possible she thought "her place" was right where her young husband had reminded her it was. I hope not but maybe it's elitist of me to assume my hopes suit her dreams.

    But I wonder about attributing our problems of underclass to racism. I still think it's more about capitalism, with the anger of labor displaced to anger at peers over competition for jobs. Racism, yes. Because it's easier than trying to find the CEO and throw stones at his limo. But not racism as primary constructor of underclass.

    Not meant as drift but more back to the thread topic, I cited elsewhere in a post today a fragment remembered from Bruce Watson's book Bread and Roses: Mills, Migrants and the Struggle for the American Dream. It was about the 1912 textile mill strikes and riots in Lawrence, Massachusetts. As that relates to this thread, I think, the battles between labor and management in America are part and parcel of who we are. Our immigrant underclasses in all their determination to rise are where our labor forces came from -- in assorted waves -- and where management in the 21st century has now reverted to trying to make them stay: as underclass struggling to get up off the floor again.

    The battles of 1912 were hard fought, and the grim realization that winning in the end meant losing -- as the mills closed and drifted south -- in some ways exacerbated not only class but racial tensions. Management went south and and poor whites and blacks took the former jobs of the Poles, Irish, Germans, Italians, Turks, Syrians, Greeks...

    Labor about to be displaced even now tends to forget about its beef with management and displaces that anger, aiming it instead at their peers in the underclass: newer immigrants and people of color. As unions fade away it becomes easier still to fragment the power of ordinary people. Yet "right to work" remains a rallying cry of an underemployed white underclass. It seems such a conundrum.
     
  7. pdqgp macrumors 68020

    pdqgp

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    #7
    I don't see where the above is true at all. Please drop the AR-15 talk too as that's not a firearm used in war. Most people couldn't articulate why we're over in the middle east to begin with. If they did they would realize that wars aren't used as tools to get us out of these lulls in our economy. Not today.
     
  8. A.Goldberg, Aug 11, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2016

    A.Goldberg macrumors 68000

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    #8
    This article reminds me of a post I had long ago about my thoughts on Trump's rise to power.

    As the article alludes to, the lower class and even perhaps middle class White Americans feel their needs are sidelined. The economy generally sucks and these peoples quality living has either decreased or they feel stagnant. When you turn on the TV much and listen to the political candidates, much of the talk is about these abstract ideas like minority equality, gender rights, and how white priveledge rules (when they have none), etc.

    ------

    I don't buy the authors theory on disgruntled whites being the cause of increased drug and alcohol abuse. The statement I find borderline offensive considering my career and knowledge. I think that's more a matter of marketing, availability, and social acceptance- as well as societies ability to cope with problems. If you look at the demographics, some of the communities hit hardest by heroin are upper/upper middle class- which is why why the issue has gained so much public attention. In fact, the more money you have the easier it is to maintain drug use. To another degree, it's difficult to maintain a successful lifestyle when addicted to drugs.

    The spread of OxyContin in Apalechia is strongly connected to false advertising, overprescribing and misprescribing due to incorrect mfg and unethical marketing, insufficient prescription monitoring systems, as well as a lack of access to addiction and mental health treatment These communities tend to have subpar law enforcement as well. OxyContin also served as a means of income for the poor income (get a script, sell on the street).

    The idea that drug abuse is discontent white hillbillies is a little off the mark. It's also worth pointing out addiction, particularly alcoholism, has a strong genetic component which explains why there are more white alcoholics than any other race.

    Poor communities have more drug issues due to less education, less access to healthcare (to treat co-occurring mental health issues), increased likelihood of parental neglect, and increased likelihood of parental drug abuse. What's facinating about the heroin epidemic is that these traditional factors seem to be ignored while middle and upper class individuals get hooked.
     
  9. LizKat macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #9
    It can be somewhat alarming to realize that your investment banker may be in need of rehab but isn't quite ready to cop to it... one of my siblings worked in that segment of caregiving and so of course had helped treat people in all walks of life from mob capos to law enforcement officials, bankers, restaurant owners, lawyers, you name it. as well as people in less rarified occupations. He said it was always interesting when in rehab these guys realized they were not special for having got hooked on the drug that the guy who mows their lawn can get hooked on too. Equal opportunity addiction...

    The thing is, if you're already in the underclass when you get hooked, it can be impossible or at least very hard to get the kind of treatment available to someone who's just recently tumbled from top-rail to nearly unemployable. The latter might still have family, friends, a home, a little money, some of the things that make for a decent prognosis if he engages in treatment. But someone flailing about in the underclass as a drug addict is sometimes just one of a crowd, all dying together. Remember reading a piece about some community in Indiana virtually collapsing under the scourge of meth production and addiction.

    There's another underclass we may not see so much of any more: half-hidden female alcoholics. After World War II, when things were supposedly settling back down again from the wild release of the immediate post-war period, female alcoholism rose in the 50s but was largely self-concealed. It had become more acceptable for women to drink, but not to be drunks, and certainly not to be alcoholics. So a lot of women quietly went mad in their suburban homes, sneaking off to the liquor store while grocery shopping, watering down the old man's booze, etc. And going nuts during withdrawal from accusomed amounts of ethanol. A common result was hospitalization in psych wards, and application of drugs or other therapies for mental illnesses whose symptoms are oftren mimicked by withdrawal from booze. An uncle in the medical profession said looking back on it he figured half the women admitted to the psych ward of his hospital in the 50s would have been fine with a shot of booze followed by gradual detox, but were sometimes treated with antipsychotic drugs for weeks or months instead.
     
  10. vrDrew macrumors 65816

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    #10
    Opioid addiction, in the form of Oxycontin or otherwise, is a serious problem in many parts of American society. But it doesn't really explain why Oklahoma and West Virginia will be voting for Donald Trump, and probably would continue to do so, even if he - as promised - shot someone in broad daylight.

    So we are really left with three possibilities: Racism; stupidity; and lies. I'm not sure which is worst; most depressing; or most intractable .
     
  11. pjh macrumors regular

    pjh

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    #11
    I know very little about American society, but the rise of Trump may simply be because large sections of the community (traditional working class or poor white people)feel they have gained nothing from successive governments controlled by the existing political establishment. Hence, they don't feel they have anything to lose by supporting a maverick who pro-ports to change things. You could even go a step further by suggesting that some people may be happy to see the chaos that would result in a Trump victory, such chaos would undoubted hurt those that have benefited from the existing economic system. There may be a chance for change if the pain felt by struggling communities spreads into the apparently successful ones? I'm sure many Trump supports would not consciously decide to vote for him for these reasons, but they may unconsciously do so.

    To be honest, if I was at the bottom of the economic pile, with little or no hope of social or economic advancement, I'd probably support him too. The almost universal, derogatory and or patronising attitude to these communities probably amplifies this discontent further.
     
  12. Eraserhead macrumors G4

    Eraserhead

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    #12
    2% pay rise over 50 years for white men.

    They've been totally ignored.
     
  13. vrDrew macrumors 65816

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    #13

    All true: But is that really the Democrats' fault?

    Look: One factor that has played a huge part in the stagnation of wages has been the near total evisceration of organized labor in American business. Without labor unions, the typical worker is pretty much powerless to negotiate decent wages, benefits, and working conditions.

    And, excuse me, but it's simply not Democrats who've been leading the charge to destroy what's left of America's unions.
     
  14. pjh, Aug 12, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2016

    pjh macrumors regular

    pjh

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    #14
    The off-shoring of labour has also played a major role in the decline of the working classes. With the best will in the world, American labour cost just can't compete with China, and neither should you want them to. The problem is that communities that rely on such jobs have been left to rot once the industry left. What is needed is inward investment, training and economic incentives to encourage other industries to spring up.

    In my opinion the US suffers from a similar problem as the UK, you have a significant percentage of your population that is in effect, economically redundant. Without help, such communities often spiral into social and economic collapse. The degree of degeneration becomes worse and more socially ingrained with each successive generation.

    On top of the normal free trade effects decimating your labour intensive, low skilled industries, you also have foreign industries, with the help of back-handed state support, encroaching on parts of the economy that function well. Chinese Steal production springs to mind. The end result is the creation of a whole social group that is trapped in poverty and feels abandoned, if not betrayed by their own government. Hence the rise of Trump. The oddity with Trump is that he is actually a key player and beneficiary of the very system that has taken a proverbial dump on these people. He may not be part of the political establishment, but he is certainty a part of the Economic Elite.

    EDIT: Minor edit to improve clarity
     
  15. lowendlinux Contributor

    lowendlinux

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    #15
    It's not just the poor or working class though their hit the hardest, it the vast majority of American society. We've had our jobs shipped out, our infrastructure decay, our education levels fall and costs increase, our health care costs increase and our pay stay stagnant. Now that we have had two generations of kids pushed to college at increasing costs employers are requiring a degree for entry level positions which means transitioning workers and students that don't succeed are now relegated to minimum wage work which increases entitlement spending with a lower tax base. "self lickin' ice cream cone" Our politicians simply don't want to do the hard work, the long term planning, and tell the voter base the truth they wrap themselves in the flag and tell people what they want to hear it's truly pathetic.

    While it's not the democrats fault entirely their economic move right and their social move left left a lot of people in a lurch and unrepresented. They pay lip service to the unions and take their money but don't exactly work hard to protect them unless it's expedient. The working class used to be that democratic base but they've been burned and now their Trumps base except radicalized the democratic party is pathetic.

    (yes the republican party is too so don't defect to them)
     
  16. pdqgp, Aug 12, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2016

    pdqgp macrumors 68020

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    #16
    Unions need to go. We don't need a group to negotiate wages or benefits and working conditions in 2016....please.

    Those who opened the doors and then forced US Companies to leave and made it so it's difficult to want to stay, expand or even open new and mixed that with the bright idea that our labor force had to compete with the minions in Mexico and China thus dropping the bar to it's lowest notch is to blame. Layer in taxing companies and people as much as we do isn't helping. Gov't needs to lesson it's need for taxing so much as it's just removing the fuel that drives success.
     
  17. SLC Flyfishing Suspended

    SLC Flyfishing

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    #17
    It must be awesome being so self righteous. You have a disgustingly condescending attitude toward other people don't you?

    Truth be told, Democrats are just incredibly out of touch with the group in question. They make a career out of speaking down about people like those in Appalachia. One only has to look as far as Obama's "they cling to Guns or religion" comment for evidence of this.

    The Democratic Party is so out of touch with what is important to these people. And they have the audacity to feel like they can lecture them on what is in their best interest?
     
  18. Eraserhead macrumors G4

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    #18
    The Republicans have taken advantage of them too and have offered them nothing.
     
  19. lowendlinux Contributor

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    #19
    But their not the traditional republican base though.

    SLC is very much right the dems have moved from being of and for the people they are as the cliche goes limousine liberals. At this point who stands for the steel worker, plumber, secretary, farmer, or miner heck who stands for the suburban family of middle managers?
     
  20. satcomer macrumors 603

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    #20
    I feel the Democrats are really starting to wrestle with themselves that they are loosing this sections to "No more coal", tax men still harass then on a daily basis, and SJWs saying they are all racists all the time!
     
  21. Eraserhead macrumors G4

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    #21
    The thing is that the minorities are what lets the Democratic Party win.

    And minorities don't like the racism of poor whites.
     
  22. satcomer macrumors 603

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    #22
    What I"m saying is the Democrats are pissing those voters away on a daily basis!
     
  23. Eraserhead macrumors G4

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    #23
    Agreed. But minority voters do care about racism. I mean they think the Republicans are racist in normal years.

    That said I'm not sure dog whistling is such a vote winner these days. I think if you offered something real that'd be enough.
     
  24. Limey77 macrumors regular

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    #24
    It's a fascinating question about what to do with the Appalachian states. Since their industry dried up they have been left high and dry. Sadly, they continue to vote against their best interests and it certainly appears that religion and racism (or at least the refusal to accept people of colour).

    Clearly lack of opportunity is key but even more important is lack of education. Not college education but simple basic education and access to the modern world.

    I don't believe they are doomed beyond saving. But it will take a concerted effort and from a politicians point of view - they're simply not worth it. Right now they'll vote republican regardless of anything because or guns, racism and religious belief. So the dems won't even try and court their vote and the repubs don't need to try - so nobody cares (politically).

    It is interesting though to see certain posters who continue to berate black communities not saying that these communities just need to hold up a mirror and try harder. Very telling on motives.

    There's plenty of things that could be done if only the will was there. Sadly the US' obsession with corporate success and ever increasing profits at the cost of everything else does restrict the options.
     
  25. Huntn macrumors G5

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    #25
    Great post. Racism and humanity, like peas and carrots, alive and well in America.
    --- Post Merged, Aug 12, 2016 ---
    Racism, sexism, tribalism, groupism, I think it's all related.
     

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