This Labor Day, I’m not feeling the least bit sympathetic for the supposedly beleaguered American worker.
Give me a break. The United States is still the land of opportunity for those who take risks and make good choices, and so I’m tired of hearing about the plight of the media’s newest charity case: working-class whites who live in so-called Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.
And I’m not the only one who has had his fill of violin music. A few months ago, outside of Chicago, I was in a car with a chauffeur who was born in Greece, left that country as a child, and made a life in America opening bars that became restaurants. Now his sons run the business in the Windy City and he’s spending his retirement not on the golf course but driving for a professional car service.
“America is all about opportunity,” he said. “You can do anything here, if you’re willing to work and not ashamed to do jobs that some consider low-class.”
You’ve heard how youth is wasted on the young. Well, the promise of America is wasted on Americans.
Meanwhile, back at the media ranch, anchors, reporters, producers and commentators are all fawning over this group of people that they’ve just discovered: blue-collar whites.
This isn’t news to J.D. Vance. As the author of the new best-selling memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” Vance not only shares his own story – which takes him from a poor upbringing to Yale Law School. He also tells the tale of working-class whites of Scots-Irish descent who suffer from what Vance calls “learned helplessness” – the feeling that success is out of their control.
We are told that working-class whites are feeling hopeless, and that they don’t believe the American Dream applies to them anymore. They feel forgotten, marginalized and neglected by their government. They feel that promises were broken, and that playing the game by the rules gets you nowhere.
You know, African Americans and Latinos have a word for this sort of thing. We call it: “normal.”
Still, in this presidential election, politicians in both parties can’t get enough of blue-collar white voters. According to political observers, the new battleground states are Florida, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, Arizona and North Carolina.
You’ve no doubt heard about how Latinos are going to elect the next president, and the one after that. Well, don’t believe it. Working-class whites are the new soccer moms of 2016. Populism is back with a vengeance.
To prove it, last week, on the very day that Donald Trump flew south of the border to meet with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, Democrats were on a tour of working-class white enclaves. Hillary Clinton was speaking in Cincinnati, and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, was in Bethlehem, Pa.
Kaine gives new meaning to the term “bilingual.” He spent the lunch hour at the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley where he spoke to seniors in Spanish. He talked about Trump’s trip to Mexico and his hateful rhetoric on immigration.
But then it was off to a public rally in Bethlehem, where – surprise, surprise – Kaine forgot to mention his supposedly kinder and gentler approach to the immigration issue, which includes giving legal status to the undocumented. This is not something that is warmly received by working-class whites – electricians, plumbers, landscapers, contractors – who worry about having to compete for better-paying jobs with newly legalized immigrants.
Across the aisle, Trump has built much of his presidential campaign on this worry. In his immigration speech in Phoenix, Trump doubled down on his trademarks: hate-filled language and overly simplistic threats. In the world according to Trump, there are tens of thousands of able-bodied Americans across the country who are champing at the bit to do the sorts of dangerous and dirty jobs that immigrants now perform.
“Most illegal immigrants are lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers,” Trump told supporters.
To fix things, the Republican nominee wants to get rid of illegal immigrants and change the rules for legal immigrants so that “open jobs are offered to American workers first.”
Perfect. More coddling. More excuses. More people playing the victim to cover up for their poor decisions and sense of entitlement. That’s not what American workers need. What they could really use is a reprieve from shortsighted politicians who harm them by lowering expectations and then claim they have their best interests at heart.
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.