White Trash… by Nancy Isenberg


Given Trump’s success, this book’s timing couldn’t be any better since they were a major factor in the outcome and were lumped in with the “White Working Class.”

For starters, when does the term White Trash really begin? As hinted by the title, way back during America’s Colonial period in the 17th Century, minus the White identifier. England frequently rounded up poor people from London and other large urban areas and shipped them off to the Virginia and Carolina colonies. The plan wasn’t to make them self-sustaining farmers. The English government and intellectuals counted on many to die in America as fodder for the wealthier colonists, a sick kind of fertilizer. As for the more “enlightened” New England settlements, they didn’t fare much better because they were indentured by the powerful “pilgrim” families.

Isenberg’s book breaks things down by era and how this Socio-Economic class gets treated by the mindset in power:

  • Colonial-Revolutionary: The Founders didn’t care much for them with the exception of Jefferson proposing scholarships to rescue a few with exceptional minds.
  • Jackson-Manifest Destiny: Jackson’s considered the first White Trash president due to his coarse manners and lack of education.
  • Civil War: Here the stereotype of the South gets turned upside down as the gentry called Lincoln a mudsill for his Kentucky origins. Back in the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis and his ilk had to trick the Southern poor into dying for the status quo.
  • Reconstruction-Gilded Age: They get played again, especially in aiding the Ku Klux Klan and restoring the politicians of the Confederacy.
  • Progressive Era: The ugliness of Eugenics becomes pseudo-policy to eliminate these “defective” people through forced sterilization and classifying many legally as morons.
  • The Depression: FDR’s administration rejects the Progressives and works hard to help out instead of marginalizing White Trash. Examples include the TVA and some housing programs. Their argument is that poverty isn’t a genetic thing and everyone has potential if given the means.
  • The Great Society: LBJ trying to build upon what FDR did.
  • The Present: The White Trash backlash and the label gets intertwined with identity politics. Being called a Redneck is now a source of pride: Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sarah Palin and those Duck Dynasty phonies.

Does Isenberg have all the explanations on why this group of Americans constantly votes against its own economic interests? A bit but her focus (as said above) is more on how the numerous regimes treat this segment. There isn’t much from the White Trash side. Probably due to their illiteracy into the Twentieth Century, they didn’t write much down. She does bring up another ugly truth about America though. We’re not a real democracy, just a democracy of manners every four years. Whatever it takes to get the White Trash vote every cycle, eating pie in a diner or somehow coming off as a person you could have a beer with. Afterwards, they’re ignored until the next election since they often have little real power. Trump will prove this true for his policies are going to hurt them the most: trickle-down tax cuts, repealing Obama’s overtime order, any manufacturing work returning to America will be done mostly by robots and coal mining will continue to dwindle as renewables are competitive.

The book does tie in nicely with the other one I read recently on how America is more accurately 11 nations. Together the authors gave me a better assessment on where these pockets of “stupid” generally are. One thing that gives me hope is their declining numbers which will weaken their already disproportionate voting clout.

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