Caring About Small Minded White Working Class

White Working ClassMatt Bruenig wrote a great article over the weekend, Does It Matter That Blacks Oppose Marriage Equality? It counters what is a very common argument on the left: that we shouldn’t sympathize with the white working class because they are just a bunch of bigots anyway. There are many problems with this thought.

One issue is that the white working class may over all be bigoted toward black and brown skinned people, a large percentage of them are not bigoted in the obvious way that, say, Donald Trump supporters often seem to be. This is where Bruenig got the title for his article. It turns out that as a group, African Americans are really bigoted toward the LGBT community. While blacks and whites were pretty much together on the issue of same-sex marriage back in 2001, support has almost doubled among whites, but has barely changed among blacks.

Given this, should we say that the African American community does not deserve our sympathy because it does not have the same beliefs that we do? It sounds absurd when put that way. And it is especially true when it was the “liberal” president Bill Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act. And given that in 2001, only about 30% of Americans were in favor of marriage equality, does it mean that no Americans deserved sympathy in 2001?

But to me, the bigger issue is just how class-based this idea is. The issue isn’t about the bigotry of the white working class; it is about the form of that bigotry. Because here is the unfortunate truth: we are all bigots. And if we are going to slice and dice the acceptable from the unacceptable bigotry, then we are lost.

I can find plenty of reasons to excuse the LGBT bigotry of the African American community. But I can do the same thing about the racial bigotry of the white working class. And doesn’t it say something of the educated liberal class that it finds one group more acceptable than the other? After all, among the educated liberal class, marriage inequality was the default position quite recently.

It’s interesting that this issue is at the core of Thomas Frank’s new book, Listen, Liberal. The rise of the New Democrats (and related groups) was based in large part on the idea that the white working class was made up of a bunch of pro-war bigots. And that’s how we get to our current Democratic Party that is liberal on social issues but most definitely not on economic issues. (Good God: Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist when he’s just a traditional, New Deal liberal.)

But there is something that Eric Alterman has written about in this regard that I think is really important. In the 1960s, when we decided that we needed to reverse segregation, it wasn’t upper class whites who were asked to sacrifice. It was working class whites. And although northern whites might not have been as offensively and outwardly bigoted as southern whites, anti-segregation programs worried them.

So it is a little much for the same class of people who were were willing to do nothing themselves to fight against our country’s long racist tradition to stand up now and say that white working class people don’t deserve our sympathy. The educated class has been making this argument for decades. You might even say that they are bigoted toward the white working class.

Anniversary Post: State Sales Taxes

Sales TaxIt is very possible that on this day in 1921, West Virginia enacted the first broad sales tax. Do you know who loves the sales tax? The rich. I’m sure that the push to get sales taxes all over the United States was the result of the federal income tax enacted in 1913 via the Sixteenth Amendment. The federal income tax remains the only truly progressive tax in the United States. And the sales tax is regressive. This is why conservatives always go on about the federal income tax. They are just fine with the state sales taxes. In fact, many of them want to get rid of the federal income tax and replace it with a value added tax — basically a federal sales tax.

I should be clear, however. West Virginia legislated the sales tax at that time. But it apparently took the state forever to actually getting it working. That great bastion of liberty and supporter of the “common man,” Mississippi was the first state to actually get it going — in 1930, just when the common man could least afford it.

Here in the United States, we have a taxing system that is a mess. It is designed so as to take the maximum amount from the poor, but not make it look like this is what is happening. So everyone focuses on 15 April — the one day when our only progressive tax is collected. But every day — Every minute! — the poor and middle classes are being regressively taxed. But that’s just fairness. Unlike that terrible federal income tax, which is downright un-American!

Happy anniversary to the first broad-based sales tax — the beginning of a terrible American tradition.