Conservative populist politics and the remaking of the “white working class” in the USA
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For decades, scholars and journalists have intricately tied presidential elections to the idea of a struggling “white working class.” They explained the 2016 presidential election by investigating the politics of low- or middle-income white conservative voters. This article instead focuses on the way in which white low-wage and unemployed small town residents question, distrust, and embrace conservative populist politics. The paper first explores how conservative populism and the media response are remaking the white working class along cultural and racial lines. Drawing from research conducted in a predominantly white former manufacturing town in central Maine, I then document that some poor and low-wage white workers distrust conservative populist politicians and are angry about being pushed aside by business-first politics. While populist and neoliberal politics have contributed to a remaking of the white working class around a white worker ideal, the concomitant decline in the social safety net and good jobs has been generating a sense of betrayal among those who are struggling the most. The article thus offers an alternative to the white working class caricature and argues that a contradictory consciousness results from workers living within and reacting against economic precarity and conservative populism.
KeywordsWhite working class Conservative populism Rural United States Donald Trump
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