by Ramin Mazaheri
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016) by Nancy Isenberg is a book which is credited with the groundbreaking idea of studying the history of poor Whites in America.
It’s a necessary book because it gives us a lot of badly-needed historical information to analyze the major divide in the United States today: between pro- and anti-Trump factions.
Hillary Clinton denounced Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables” – i.e., White Trash.
And her supporters applauded. If you are pro-Trump you “do not represent America”, and certainly not the best of America.
Anti-Trumpers enjoy this incorrect feeling of superiority, but this cannot be a long-term policy.
What’s needed is understanding, and a good place for Americans to start learning about the absolutely real historical oppression of the class known as White Trash is with this book.
After reading it, I found it quite logical that today’s White Trash support Trump’s conservative call for rolling back the administrative state – this book proves over and over that the US government has done very little to help poor Whites, while it’s done plenty to elevate and maintain the status rich Whites.
We communists generally call this “capitalism”.
While Europe had the revolutions of 1798 and 1848, finding an actual remedy to White Trash poverty was never a real issue in America: It was only temporarily a focus after the crisis of the Civil War, the Great Depression and Johnson’s “Great Society” programs of the 1960s.
This experience is the opposite of Trash in places like Cuba, Iran, the USSR, the mourning Trash of Yugoslavia, China and elsewhere – in these countries a 20th-century revolution put a permanent focus on the needs of the average Trash, and they delivered.
Receptivity to socialism in the US is higher now than at any time since the Great Depression, and this should be no surprise: The underground earthquake which produced the tsunami of Trumpism was the Great Recession, which vastly expanded the social strata unfairly derided as White Trash.
The subsequent failure of Obama to hold anyone accountable allowed everyone to see the false lies of the “American Dream” – White Trash has been (re-) reminded of the “1%” and how “only profits are capitalized, but losses are socialized”.
Oh yes, they fear the White Trash Revolution (WTR)
According to The New York Times review of this book: “’White Trash’ is indeed a bummer….”
LOL, yes, national truths can never be as satisfying as national myths.
The fact is that White Trash are starting to take over, and they must, democratically. The key is for the left to win them over.
This is an enormous challenge in a country as politically reactionary as the United States, where leftist thought has been systemically oppressed and exterminated by the FBI, media owners and a culture that has always adhered to racist, capitalist, empire-maintenance.
But so many leftists in the US, even the more sincere ones, will never win them over if they don’t both understand and sympathize with them.
One would think that the archetype of today’s “White Trash” politician would be Dubya Bush, but he is surprisingly not mentioned at all in the book. Bush was a fake redneck, after all, and a teetotaling, born-again one at that.
But an interesting quote can be drawn from the author’s discussion of Sarah Palin, the Vice-Presidential nominee of John McCain and the first redneck woman to appear on a presidential ticket.
“Writing in the New Yorker, Sam Tanenhaus was struck by Palin’s self-satisfied manner: ‘the certitude of being herself, in whatever unfinished condition, will always be good enough.’”
If Sarah Palin is White Trash – an American peasant – this is how the fake left views them: unevolved.
Palin is not a great political leader, sure, but my point is that anyone even resembling Sarah Palin has been contemptuously looked down on for more than 400 years.
Now imagine if Tolstoy had used the same description while writing about his archetypal “good peasant” Platon Karataev in “War and Peace”…would it have been out of place? I think not.
But Tolstoy’s great love allowed him to see the virtues in Russia’s peasants. For the New York Times, The New Yorker and a seemingly-gigantic majority of the mainstream media, America’s peasants and pro-Trumpers are not only without political intelligence but also moral virtue.
Tolstoy is usually defined as a Christian Anarchist – and this is extremely close to a Communist in 2017. After all, Cuba reconciled with Catholicism two decades ago; China is promoting Confucianism and it’s necessary yin component of Taoism; Iran has married many communist ideas with religion.
While Tolstoy uplifts, reading the New Yorker is like getting a root canal because their elitist sentiment is so smugly pro-establishment. Shouldn’t it be “good enough” to be yourself? Must we put on fancy airs and pretend to be something we are not?
But there is no archetypal “good” White Trash in America – they are despised, marginalized, oppressed and segregated in American life, as this book repeatedly proves.
The WTR is looking more and more like a real historical wave, especially if the National Front wins in France and topples the European Union. If Le Pen is voted in she’s promised a ‘Frexit’ referendum within 6 months if elected.
If the WTR is a historical trend, what does it supplant?
It supplants the Politically Correct Revolution (PCR), which was a great revolution, despite its many xenophobic detractors.
The PCR has enabled it to now be well-known that the US democracy was always a sham due to racism and sexism – prior to that you had to have read or listened to somebody like Malcom X. I.e., you were you on the fringe.
Yet I always found it funny that the most impassioned PCR adherents expressed such respect for the Trash of, say, India, and yet they would look down as though from Mount Olympus on poor White cultures in America?
Part of this fine: Giving the hicks – of the Andes Mountains or Central Africa or the Eskimos or whoever – their cultural due is absolutely necessary. Looking down on them only proves your inability to comprehend their culture.
Yet these PCR die-hards expressed SUCH contempt for the hillbillies in America – for White Trash – and they still do.
I am thankful to say that I had White Trash friends (I don’t to write ‘have’ and offend them, LOL) and they were great. They taught me a lot and certainly taught me that city folk and middle-and-upper class people were totally ignorant of many key aspects of life.
But in segregated, suburban, gated America, it seems very few getting out to the country and sincerely trying to make friends?
The WTR is feared by these supposedly “left” publications, because White Trash, and Trash in general, are on the verge of upsetting the established order. But it is not the order established by the PCR, but a rigid class order that was established from the moment of British colonization, as the author repeatedly demonstrates.
The WTR created by the end to the denial of their democratic power
The book elevates the importance that post-Civil War poll taxes were also unaffordable for White Trash. It is the banning of poll taxes with the 24th amendment in 1964, and not the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally gave poor, landless White Trash a true democratic voice.
This gives the WTR a truly historical basis which has been largely ignored by the PCR in favor of their false, class-ignorant, “poll taxes harmed only Blacks” theory.
The reality is that poll taxes – which would not even begin to be eliminated until the 1930s and would not be fully eliminated until 1964 – allowed all Trash regardless of color to finally participate in American democracy.
Because there has been no modern revolution in the US since 1776, American Trash have only had the slow slog of those forced to work within the constraints of the capitalist/social democratic system (due to the constant and violent suppression of communist thought).
Well, it has taken 50 years, but the White majority – who come from the 99% – has finally elected a president who did what White Trash have always asked for: End four centuries of oppressive rule by the moneyed elite, the landholders, the wage-stealers, the aristocratic class, the global capitalists (who also happen to be mainly White, for those who are permanently stuck in the PCR).
The WTR, after 50 years of mass media control, also finally surmounted the media domination of the capitalists. Trump was endorsed by just 2 of the top 100 newspapers; even right-wing Fox News fought him for months; Hollywood was a constant stream of anti-Trump messages.
Another thing the WTR did was overturn the idea that the president should be an aristocrat in nature, and the book proves this idea has been dominant for decades.
As the move to end poll taxes became inevitable, “…the longing for a more regal head of state was advanced. The Democrats swooned over Kennedy’s Camelot, and Republicans ennobled the Hollywood court of Reagan.”
Trump is no moral hero like Carter (LOL to that notion), no reformed alcoholic/Christian like Dubya, no (sellout) racial hero like Obama.
Trump is probably no “great man” but, as Tolstoy would agree, one drop of the historical WTR wave. This wave has eliminated Cameron, Renzi, Sarkozy, Hollande, Clinton and others.
It’s unfortunate that this wave includes xenophobia, but we must agree that the nationalism is no longer petty: average Americans and Europeans and are now victims of a global corporate imperialism and radically-new digital high-finance class.
Trump is not White Trash – he is a billionaire – but Trump is clearly the first White Trash President.
Trump was elected to smash the system
This is something which White Trash has wanted to do since always.
And what does that mean?
Smashing the system is what revolution is: you chase out the rich, you retake control of the armed forces and you finally reflect the democratic will.
This is an enormously rare event, and it has only been done recently in places like Cuba, China, Iran, the USSR and a few others. This has happened in places like Burkina Faso, only to be subverted by the West. This is also something which has not been done in Western nations since 1776 for the US, 1789 for France and never in the UK.
Trump is not a revolutionary, but he could accomplish some of these WTR dreams. He could reorient US foreign policy away from imperialism; he could reorient the US from free-trade global capitalism.
The WTR is an exciting idea, but it is just a phase and not an end.
The reason Trump is destined to fail – although he is about 50/50 after six weeks in office – is that he is trying to do it from within the system and through reforms.
That is not revolution, but a coup.
Still…history is also full of coups that turned out well for the average person, mainly in places where the bar was already set quite low.
Trump receives only one mention in the book, and his presidency will probably turn out like the author wrote:
“Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, billed as a ‘seductive weave of aspiration and Darwinism,’ celebrated ruthlessness. In these and related shows, talent was secondary; untrained stars were hired to serve voyeuristic interests, in expectation that, as mediocrities, they could be relied on to exhibit the worst of human qualities: vanity, lust and greed.”
We simply cannot fairly say if Trump will finish as an object of hero worship like a Castro or as a mediocrity who was hired to serve non-White Trash interests – his actions as president will determine that.
But we must realize that what Trump has achieved is based on the strategy of not bashing White Trash and their political interests.
And what are Trash interests?
Historically that has been land, just like in every country.
In every modern, anti-imperialist revolution “land reform” has been essentially the guiding policy: USSR, Cuba, Zimbabwe – the list goes on and on.
The book proves that White Trash was systematically excluded from good land as a matter of government policy. The idea that the Frontier provided a White Trash family the ability to claim, clear and hold good farmland for generations is totally disproven. “They are blamed for living on bad land, as though they had other choices.”
Out of sight, out of mind: the most restrictive and undemocratic laws in America are zoning laws, after all.
They are still used to keep White Trash segregated: gated communities, trailer parks, congressional redistricting…all are designed to keep rich Whites away from Trash of any color.
Highways block off Black-filled urban housing projects; trailer parks are on the outskirts of town and by the factory/railroad/cattle pens/dump.
I think some White Democrats express genuine concern about Black poverty, but you never hear them utter a sentence like in this book: “Trailer trash had become America’s untouchables.”
They certainly are.
As the author demonstrates, this is because extreme White poverty has been systematically obscured and ignored in America.
White Trash has always been a huge problem and it’s gotten much bigger due to the Great Recession.
Despite the decline of individual farming, land reform is still required in America because nothing has really changed: the biggest marker of class and status is the value of the land where you live.
Just like everyone in real estate knows: “Location is everything. Location determines access to a privileged school, a safe neighborhood, infrastructural improvements, the best hospitals, the best grocery stores.”
The obvious solution is for the government to force economic integration via rent controls, to subsidize poor people to live in rich areas and to use economic redistribution to uplift poor areas.
News flash: This is what communists have already done in places like Cuba. The most run-down areas of Havana are at least the most desirable real estate as they are just steps from the water. In any capitalist city Havana’s waterfront property would instead be the most valuable and reserved for the ultra-rich.
After the Iranian revolution the government first rebuilt south Tehran, the city’s poorest area. Ahmadinejad, so derided in the West, was a rock star in rural areas but an “illegitimate president” in the richer areas of the cities.
Doesn’t that sound familiar in 2017?!
Republican France has laws for housing integration on the books but they are never properly enforced, even under the fake-Socialist Francois Hollande.
The facts are all in: Communism leads to more stable growth and actual equality while capitalism shuns equality and widens the gaps during any downturn.
Trump, and we see this from his pro-capitalist stance, is probably only going to exacerbate this lack of justice.
Again, the WTR is just a phase, and it’s a bumpy one, but it’s better than the previous era that followed the death of the USSR, the “TINA-UCV”: There Is No Alternative-Unstoppable Capitalist Victory.
So what is White Trash, really?
In describing NASCAR fans the author writes: “They embraced a certain species of freedom – the freedom to be a boor, out in the open and without regrets.”
Does this not perfectly describe the electoral campaign of Donald Trump? Goodbye PCR!
Sloughing that off – as it became no longer just a necessary tool but an end in itself – is indeed progress.
But here in France we just call those types of boors “the French”.
And these people are far more interesting, fun and numerous than the other French archetype: aloof, stylish (rich) and sexually sadistic…but also “cosmopolitan”, pro-EU, fundamentally pro-capitalist, anti-Le Pen but still racist because the hijab is a “prison”, etc.
The gulf between the boor and the angelic yet earthy peasant Karataev is real.
But was Karataev angelic and earthy, despite being White Trash, due to the superiority of Russian genes? Certainly not.
Karataev was so wonderful and inspirational because he was not a real person but a fictional character; but we can assume Karataev, and his author, “learned” his socialism/Christian anarchism from his culture.
Karataev would probably be proud to be called a “redneck” today, but he would not have been proud to have been called a “boor”. He’d be a fun clown at a party, yes, but that is not a boor.
This book does a great service because it investigates, redeems and promotes the historical class oppression endured by America’s White Trash.
It seems clear that Trump and Bannon do not truly idolize the hidden virtues of White Trash – they idolize King Reagan and King Croesus– but it is still too early to say for certain.
They say getting money shows who a person really is – the same probably goes for power.
It is capitalism which accuses, however: “You White Trash must raise yourself up.” It is socialism, and only socialism, which lends both the helping hand and the shield from those who will certainly try to break brotherly bonds.
Middle- and upper-class America are desperately fighting the WTR, just as they have historically always fought off White Trash demands for justice and fairness. And it is true that there is no guarantee at this date that the WTR will not descend into fascism. Certainly, many of the same xenophobic and fascist elements are similar to the 1930s.
This is partially why the demonization of Trump supporters is something which should never be tolerated by any thinking or moral person – it only fuels the climate of ignorance and anger which fascism thrives upon.
Regardless, the separate point is that this book shows that the WTR – via the empowerment of White Trash – has been decades in the making in the United States.
Fortunately, socialism is centuries in the making across the world.
(This editorial is paired with a complete book review of “White Trash”.)
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television.
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