Voting Their Interests

A recent post described a confrontation between the author of a book on American “whiteness” and a group of Neo-Nazis who attended his book signing in order to let him know that “Christian” white guys intend to remain in charge of America.

Jonathan Metzl, the author whose book signing was crashed had a column in the Washington Post referencing the intrusion; in it, he insisted that America needs to have a genuine discussion about whiteness.

It’s time to talk about what it means to be white in the United States.

That’s what I was trying to do Saturday afternoon at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest Washington when I was interruptedby a group of white nationalists. Ironically, the protesters’ chant — “This land is our land” — served only to reinforce my point.

For too long, many white Americans have avoided this conversation, and we’ve done so for a reason: We don’t have to see the color white. Race scholarsoften arguethat white privilege broadly means not needing to reflect on whiteness. White is the default setting, the assumed norm. A white American does not have to think about being white when walking down the street — while people marked as not-white are often noticedand surveilled. White people have the superpower of invisibility.

Metzl noted that the rhetoric employed by Trump focuses on a white identity characterized  by shared resentments. In researching his book, Metzl spent eight years studying how what he calls the “politics of racial resentment” have harmed working-class white communities.

I traveled across southern and midwestern states to track the everyday effects of anti-government, anti-immigrant politics and policies. Time and again, I found that the material realities of working-class white lives are made worse not by immigrants and citizens of color — but by GOP policies that promise greatness but deliver despair.

Metzl isn’t the only researcher who has come to this conclusion–far from it. And when an article or book documents the harms done to the white working class by the policies of the GOP, when researchers and pundits point out that Trump’s base will be those most negatively affected by his sabotage of the ACA, or the idiocy of his tariffs, etc. etc.–the conversation will veer to a predictable lament and question: why are these people voting against their own interests?

Metzl’s book–and his experience at the bookstore–should provide the answer. These people aren’t voting against their interests. They’re voting against what reasonable people believe their interests should be. They should base their votes on policies affecting their incomes, their access to healthcare, the education of their children… policies that have a direct effect on the quality of their lives.

But that isn’t how the people in Trump’s base define their interests.

The “heartland” folks that Metzl interviewed define their interest as maintaining the fiction of white superiority. Their overriding interest is in preventing erosion of their privilege. They believe passionately in what Metzl calls “zero sum” formulations of race relations — in a world where there’s only a finite amount of power, and a finite supply of resources, and where having to share either means there will be less for them.

Fortunately, not all white working class people define their interests in this way. It’s doubtful that even a majority are “zero sum” voters, although far too many are.

As Metzl writes,

During my research, I saw countless examples of white Americans in the reddest of red counties who were proud of their conservative values but also understood their moral obligation to immigrants and citizens of color. In other words, they were willing to see their privilege and to begin the work of dismantling it.

The others–the voters whose entire self-image is invested in the importance of their white skin–are a big problem. But the problem isn’t that they aren’t “voting their interests.”

The problem is, they are.

 

 

32 thoughts on “Voting Their Interests

  1. The GOP’s entire platform is founded on the myth of scarcity. Take that away and they have nothing!

  2. It’s just not “white supremacy” were fighting, but also God.

    “RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM- Akins found virtually all militia and KKK members to be deeply religious: Most believed they were acting for God. His research shows that Christian fundamentalism is the most prevalent religious orientation among militia members. One of the anthropological standards used to determine whether a religion is fundamentalist is called “dualism,” which refers to the belief that there’s an absolute black and white to everything. A person is either good or evil, nothing in between. By simplifying beliefs in this way, militia members develop very rigid concepts of right and wrong. The introduction of religion as a major conduit for hate groups has not been without controversy.”

    From “Meet the Klan: a UNF professor’s dark journey into white supremacy” by Tricia Booker in the FOLIO WEEKLY MAGAZINE, November 9, 1999.

    How do you fight something like this? You can’t. All you can do is WARN of the ultimate outcome.

  3. Sheila; I believe much of this can be traced back to the era of “red lining” and “white flight” in neighborhoods throughout this country. The decline of neighborhoods can also be traced back to those origins which became more and more evident as “white folks” continued moving away from areas where blacks were moving in; including creating entire housing developments in suburban areas in their attempt to escape. The situation only appeared to become somewhat acceptable as some neighborhoods became more racially mixed; but in all areas “neighbors” were and are not “neighborly” even among the same race. It appeared to be less transient physically but the separation of races became a separation within the races.

    My lack of understanding racism began at a very young age; I questioned why the black children living 2 blocks from “my” school didn’t attend school, I was told they attended a different school but not why. The same was true of the Catholic families in my middle-class neighborhood where their children not only did not attend “my” school; they were also not allowed to talk to me or play with the rest of “us”. Was politics part of the separation at that time or was it all racial and religious at its base and is now used as a political weapon? The neighbors who used to at least be neighborly and talk to me; with my Democratic yard signs during every election, now basically ignore me after planting “Trump for President” signs in their yards. Those nearest my home are white Catholics.

    “The others–the voters whose entire self-image is invested in the importance of their white skin–are a big problem. But the problem isn’t that they aren’t “voting their interests.”

    They all keep voting for the same Republicans over and over as our small neighborhood and surrounding areas decline and the value of our homes decline along with it. When I appealed (and won) my claim against the increased assessment of my low-middle-class home and the 50% increase in property taxes, I did some research on real estate values in this area. In the entire 46219 area, which includes Irvington and Warren Township, once the better parts of this city, the low median assessment on all homes is $54,000 and the high median assessment is $120,000. They are killing themselves by continuing to maintain the GOP rule in this city and state; based on race or religion it is driving us to the same economic loss level. Isn’t it always “follow the money”?

  4. Voters core values do not relate to facts because core values are by definition a reduction of facts. This has allowed candidates to use shorthand to touch voters through these same core values . Facts themselves or Fact checking, intelligence, education, party affiliation or race does not move voters unless it is approached via these ‘core values.’

    You will note that ‘core values’ is a term created in business to get a business mission statement together, in humans it is a horrible distillation of reality. In life there is little that is ‘either or’ yet through this reductionism called core values the individual is encouraged to seek simple solutions to complex problems.

    The following article by a couple of professors is not encouraging but it is a fair depiction of where the individual voter is in the US at this time.

    https://theconversation.com/from-total-exoneration-to-impeach-now-the-mueller-report-and-dueling-fact-perceptions-116488

    It does not take a rocket scientist to comprehend what this means for the 2020 election.

  5. ML nailed the GOP platform yesterday:

    “The four pillars of the Reactionary-Right Wing-Evangelical Republicans are guns (more is always better), selected sections of the bible, steroid capitalism and blind obedience to authoritarian strong men. This blind obedience can be to “religious” leaders (men), the Pentagon Warrior Cult, or the 1%.”

    The youth have 3-4 generations of mixed races within them so I think they aren’t too worried about dying off white racists in the long term. In the short-term, these racists are a pain in the ass but they’re out of the barns now. They wear suits and are called congressmen.

    Now, the question is what is the “announced” or “declared” Four Pillars of the DNC?

    All the new ideas are coming from Progressives: Universal Health; Green New Deal; Criminal Justice Reform; Universal Basic Income; etc.

    What has been the DNC’s responses to these policies? “No, not yet, incremental, etc.”

    I even read comments on this informed blog where people want to combat reactionary authoritarianism and racism with “can’t we just all play nice.”

    MLK, Jr. said in the 1960’s, “…I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice […]”

    MLK also said, “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

    #WakeUp

  6. Marv, is correct @ 6:35 – How do you fight something like this? You can’t. All you can do is WARN of the ultimate outcome.

    The white supremacists – Neo-Confederates have always used religion as the ultimate force to validate their superiority. Here in Western Hemisphere it began with missionaries, even when Native Americans and African Slaves were “converted” they were still second class.

    The Neo-Confederates are deluded by the 1% into thinking they are oppressed or persecuted by the others which are non-whites and woman who do not adhere to male supremacy.

    It seems startling to many of us how easily Candidate Agent Orange took over the Reactionary-Right Wing-Evangelical Republican Party, with his brazen displays of appeals to white and male supremacy. President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence are the logical outcome of a trajectory the GOP has been on since Nixon’s Southern Strategy. Now the whole country is subjected to the “Southern Strategy”.

    We might have counted on public schools in the past to break as Marv calls it dualism, with rational thought, or critical thinking. The proliferation of publicly funded religious schools has made sure young minds will be cloistered as surely as the Medieval Monks and Nuns were from outside (sinful) forces.

  7. I believe there is more to it than what this author writes about. In my rural deep red region it has been pounded into people’s brains that Democrats are lazy and want the people who have jobs and actually work to be taxed to death so that everything can be given to the lazy Dems. Only the GOP are good hard working people.

    This mindset became much deeper during the 60s-70s when welfare seemed to be really out of control. I recall seeing people at the grocery checkout using food stamps to buy steaks and wonderful food that I could not afford, yet I worked full time. They drove away in a much newer and nicer vehicle than I had. Everyone noticed these things. That was back when jobs were much easier to obtain.

    Citizens were rightfully angry and complained and the government did a 180 and made getting any kind of assistance for food or shelter so difficult that far too many people now are homeless and starving.

    There are people who really need government assistance – especially health insurance, but refuse to apply for it because that would mean that they would be one of “those people” that they hate and have believed for decades did not deserve help. These people will choose to die before they become one of the people that they have despised.

  8. Todd, @ 7:10 am you are correct. The DNC (Corporate Democrats) has no platform or pillars to support a platform. All the DNC and Corporate Democrats have is appeasement. Oh, they do not call it appeasement, the DNC markets or sells it as Pragmatism or Incremental Change. It is the nod and the wink to Wall Street, trust us no matter what we say here at the DNC – We have your back.

    Joe Biden is the perfect appeasement candidate, as I said before he is the Clement Attlee of the Corporate Democratic Party.

  9. The people we are talking about are entranced by what they deem the “logic” of their position, i.e. “We are good, so if you disagree with us, you must be bad.” I’ll leave it to the readers to define good and bad.

  10. ML,

    “Joe Biden is the perfect appeasement candidate, as I said before he is the Clement Attlee of the Corporate Democratic Party.”

    Here we go. It’s Bill Clinton’s “triangulation” all over again. Shouldn’t we just dig a deeper hole in order to get out of this mess? Doesn’t that make a lot of sense?

  11. to be poor again in the segregated 60s? the unknown world of,or known little of,living in a low rent side of town. those marginal times when whites really felt above,others even in my darker side of town.handed down generations,by then,the judgement was for,the whites. even today as i travel, i have my socio-economic standard,the one i grew up in. no issue,ive seen where the whites have always kept his,head above others,even when thier own personal standard,is no better.the neonazi,just a mouthpiece for hate,while being hated. when someone stands up to be counted,they get knocked down or picked up,(depending on propaganda standards) by todays media,before the new social media,we just ignored them. threat? not really considering the lack,of mass,(and brains)only now the present slime in the WHITE house has been able to parlay their words of hate,and misunderstanding all at once. the present news media,corprate,social,huckabee, are really the purveyors of hate. like a spoiled child, all the attention. hey donald jr,ya listening? im from across the river from nyc, and we knew far more about trump and the rich assholes of that burg,long before you..but nobody asked the locals, about fifth ave filth. we are afterall, a bunch of ignorant people,looking for welfare,because whitey,got all the good jobs.or we didnt have 35 cents for a bus to get to work.thats how it works, whitey now gets to kick someone below him.hey don jr,ya listening? people who live next to squalor, like bezos in seattle,dont tax me to help the homeless or ill pull my multinatioanl corp and my 265 million a day for my persoanal gain,and leave…… yea,but,you could never get far enough away.. hey,musk,gotta car to take em to outter space? and leave em there..the next time you knock social welfare issues,better look at why they exist ,,im living it. best wishes..

  12. Beware of the overuse of the term appeasement, the word I associate more with Neville Chamberlain than Clement Attlee, and a hot word the equivalent of spying, which the right is attempting to substitute for ordinary surveillance by those charged with investigation with the out of order argument that we must prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt before investigation of the grounds therefor.

    Triangulation has gained a similar growl from us liberals as well, but that’s unchangeable history, and while we can learn from history we need not impair our future by the use of lessons it has taught, rather using such history as something not to repeat. I consider using such hot words a misuse of our time and energy which rather could and should be focussed on ridding ourselves of the more immediate danger to our democratic values and institutions posed by Trump and his congressional toadies; that we instead note history and its lessons but apply ourselves to the far more pressing problem of what to do about tomorrow’s soon to be history what with a real estate investor in the Oval Office backed by his cult whose designs include the destruction of our democracy. That is changeable.

  13. “During my research, I saw countless examples of white Americans in the reddest of red counties who were proud of their conservative values but also understood their moral obligation to immigrants and citizens of color. In other words, they were willing to see their privilege and to begin the work of dismantling it.”

    I can’t reconcile this statement. Conservative “values”, these days, do NOT embrace morality, immigrants and people of color. These so-called values include the false gods of wealth, whiteness and self-service. The “bright red” people will vote for Republicans while reinforcing the myth that Republicans are conservative. They are not. It’s a great con game. Republicans have become right-wing extremist reactionaries who are wholly owned by the 1%. Full stop!

  14. Todd at 7:10 – Significant social/cultural change addressing inequalities doesn’t come at the snap of a finger – see the civil rights movement, women’s rights, gay rights, Medicaid, ACA, etc. All took many years , many increments and lots of compromise. Even “freeing” the slaves took at least decades. Beware “instant” megachange proposals. It is not in the nature of representative democracies to operate that way…but it is for authoritarian governments…as we are seeing now.

    The hope for significant change is long gone – died with Obama. If we march for wonderful change and do not focus on getting rid of the rabid beasts in DC, we are doomed.

  15. There is some self fulfilling prophecy with white republican voters continuing to support the people that hurt them. It makes it easy for those politicians to point and say, see you are worse off. The politicians then can feed the fear that the “OTHER is hurting you”.

    It is circling the drain on the way to fascism, but it is a proven political persuasion tool.

  16. Metzl ” The “heartland” folks that Metzl interviewed define their interest as maintaining the fiction of white superiority. Their overriding interest is in preventing erosion of their privilege.”

    This may be Metzl’s “interview” experience but having lived in multiple places in the heartland all my life, including the deep south, I have never heard a semblance of this type of expression.

    Another chapter in let’s beat up on folks in rural America is what they are more likely to opine.

  17. Lester and Gerald,

    “The hope for significant change is long gone – died with Obama. If we march for wonderful change and do not focus on getting rid of the rabid beasts in DC, we are doomed.”

    I must have missed something. Obama was for significant change. Who are we kidding?

  18. I would agree with Todd’s posting of MLK:

    MLK, Jr. said in the 1960’s, “…I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice […]”

    For those that think in terms of “incrementalism”, what would you have told the Blacks in the 1870’s who began to feel the wrath of Jim Crow?? Sorry, wait 100 years for us to get rid of it. What would you have told the women who wanted to vote in the 19th Century? – Oh just wait for us to get it on the agenda, we have to move SLOW.

    What do you tell the people of today who do not have healthcare, or have high deductibles, or cannot afford their medicine for diabetes?? Oh, we have to move SLOW, in the meantime some of you will die.

    Incrementalism is defeatism, we have incrementalism to the point of a lack of any detectable movement.

  19. Michelle Alexander explains it all in her 2010 book, “The New Jim Crow.” Privileged Whites learned to divide poor Whites from poor Blacks by anacting laws meant to treat poor people of color differently than poor White people. The message, “You may not be much, but you’re better than that ni**er.” Sadly, the message still works. Hopefully, Donald Trump will be the impetus that makes us to deal with the problem, rather than continuing to deny that we have a problem.

  20. THE REVOLUTIONARIES

    ” A revolution society is a dual society in which the outlines of a new social order are appearing within the confines of the old. At points of confrontation, each negates the other. The negative aspects of the relationship between the young and the old illustrates both the dualism and the negation that are characteristic of today’s revolutionary situation. The trouble with revolutionary negation is that it is at a serious disadvantage in confronting counterrevolutionary negation. The counterrevolutionary knows what it wants; the revolution does not. Revolutionary negation now extends not only to the ESTABLISHMENT but also to what might supplant it. The danger is that the rebellion may grow and become quite effective without producing positive supplementary and alternative institutions. Lacking a positive program, it promises to succeed only in bringing the WRATH OF THE ESTABLISHMENT down of a wave of repression and reaction. The most alarming prospect facing us is not revolutionary chaos but a new wave of counterrevolutionary FASCISM.” p. 303

    “The Politics of Revolution” by Harvey Wheeler, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (The Glendessary Press, Berkley, California, 1971).

    See The Political Epidemiology Institute at http://www.StrategicPower.org.

    A two-party system, BY ITSELF, is impotent in the face of a rising FASCIST movement, the likes of which we are now experiencing in the U.S.

  21. It’s obvious we need someone willing to extend an olive branch over the aisle. Someone that can really bring the two sides together. Someone with a proven record of bringing unity to folks of differing sides. That someone is JOE BIDEN! Joe “Unity” Biden.

    I cannot decide which moment is his greatest at meeting across the aisle.

    Clarence Thomas hearings.

    Unity with the GOP on the Iraq War.

    Deregulating the banks.

    $200,000 Speech for GOP rep.

    Allowing college students the privilege of accruing debt that cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.

    Biden is the obvious choice!

    Resist!

  22. Marv – Obama was for significant change – you betcha – and many folks wanted desperately to believe…But, what we got was the Financial Crisis, a poorly marketed ACA and a blocked key Supreme Court seat….Why believe again???

  23. The future vs the past. A world in turmoil. People whose foundations have crumbled underneath them as the world changes at a speed way faster than our lifetimes. We are truly frightened by the possibilities when so much is unknown. We’ve lost our confidence. That we share. What separates us is what to do about it.

    We try to be rational but at some level of risk emotions take over. Fight or flight. Anger or fear. The reptilian brain defaults to culture, the behavior that we have observed in others who we deem like us in response to others in similar environments.

    Is democracy a solution or the problem? Are we capabile of self government? Do we need to confer power on others to keep us in control and living law and order?

    Nobody knows.

    As for me, I believe that we were on the wrong path, our national enemies took advantage of it through weapons we didn’t know were, social media, and we are paying a similar price to collective failures in the past (wars and depressions). 2018 proved to be a watershed year. 2020 will, IMO, prove to be a collective return to sanity. Having said that I could turn out to be very, very wrong. 2020 could turn out to be a cliff. The end of all that we know.

    To end the chaos we need to listen to what prospective politicians say about themselves and ignore what others say about them and think to decide on our Primary choice. Once we get through that we have to change cognitive gears and unite behind the Democrat winner. Partisan I know, but we cannot risk Trumpublicans in the current state of their party.

    We simply can’t.

  24. I have decided that watching the current administration govern this country is like watching “Reefer Madness” to learn the dangers of marijuana. Where can I find just one joint to take my chances on that form of madness?

    Those of you bad-mouthing President Obama; would you take him back if you could at this time or do you prefer the current Bannon deconstruction which is escalating almost hourly now?

  25. Lester,

    Why believe again???

    Because Barak Obama, isn’t a good model for “our last significant change.” He was neutralized before he even set foot into office. I had warned about his weaknesses, months before his election, in the June 30th edition of The Nation Magazine.

  26. Joanne at 7:08:
    I didn’t grow up in Indianapolis, but I’ve been here since the ’70’s – long enough to watch white flight decimate beautiful neighborhoods. It’s depressing to drive through Indianapolis knowing that the abandonment of these areas, the decline of the public school system, and all other sorts of ills rest on racism.

    In the meantime, a friend who lives in Carmel after moving here from out of state described standing in line at one of the zoning hearings for the proposed mosque. After relating the anti-Muslim talk of some of the people around her, she said, “That’s just not who we are.” I could only respond, “That may not be who you are, but it *is* who they are.” Don’t interpret this as a general indictment of Carmel, because it could have happened anywhere outside the I465 ring, and clearly there are plenty of people who can speak against such talk.

  27. ML @ 11:06

    Perfect points! We Democrats need to be more aggressive with the intention to gain improvements to the lives of middle and lower income citizens.

    We really do need to support the progressives like as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and AOC. This country’s republican political control since Reagan has redistributed all the wealth into a few hands at the top by stealing from the middle class. Far too many who used to be middle class have fallen into the poor class during the period of time that the republicans also reduced or eliminated safety nets. People are either angry or defeated and without hope.

    Hope for a better future lies with the progressive politicians with plans for ending the redistribution of money to the 1%.

  28. Sherry; thank you, and you have also observed with the decline of those once beautiful areas, the result of further decline due to one ridiculous law which Republicans steadfastly refuse to change. An abandoned house or building due to unpaid property taxes must sit vacant for (I think) 3 years before it can be added to the tax “sale”. This often results in “sales” to out-of-state developers who buy blocs of houses and many never return to repair or renovate; probably eventually use them as a tax write-off and the property falls into further ruin…if not burned down by vandals. These areas are often those victims of “white flight”. The problem is that the tax law only allows buyers to buy the tax lien on the property, NOT the property itself. They must wait one more year before taking ownership of the property (if it is still standing); meanwhile they have no right or responsibility to protect or improve the property, it no longer belongs to Marion County so they have no responsibility for maintaining or protecting it from criminals, vandals, destruction, etc. And the Treasurer’s Office benefits from the sale of the tax lien, no idea where the money goes from there. Not into neighborhood improvement.

  29. To me, for me, Pete sounded the most rational in today’s responses. Who can know what tomorrow will bring, however, by making those others, the “others”, we tend to be doing the same thing we claim they are doing. Not the game I wish to play with the remainder of my life.

    Thank you Sheila, thank you Pete.

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