New Yorker Surprise: Understanding for Trump's Appeal Among the White Working Class

By Jerry Kammer on May 12, 2016

This blog has posted several laments about the sneering New Yorker disdain for those of us who oppose illegal immigration or want to reduce legal immigration. Six years ago, I noted the complaint by the magazine’s William Finnegan that: "Anti-immigrant groups, which have proliferated in recent years, are not racist by nature, but they certainly attract racists and give them a platform." I added this response to Finnegan: "So what's your point for those of us whose concerns are non-racist, and in many cases rooted in progressive values? Shut up or you’ll be smeared?"

The New Yorker is the native habitat of Upper West Side provincialism and post-national cosmopolitanism. Its writers tend to approach the working-class world as if they are anthropologists embarked on a study of a primitive tribe in the South Pacific. Working-class conservatism is seen as a cause for astonished fascination, like cannibalism among the savages.

So imagine my shock as I read in the current issue reporting by George Packer about Donald Trump’s popularity with the middle-aged white working class, which Packer describes as "the base of the [Republican] Party".

Packer writes that this group "has suffered at least as much as any demographic group because of globalization, low-wage immigrant labor, and free trade. Trump sensed the rage that flared from this pain and made it the fuel of his campaign."

What a surprising, non-New Yorker-like contrast to last summer's nine-page, very New Yorker-like takedown of Trump supporters that was titled "The Fearful and the Frustrated". Author Evan Osnos fixated on the anxieties of a series of white nationalists, using crime statistics and academic studies to belittle their concerns. Osnos provides only scant acknowledgement of working class trauma, noting on page eight of his nine-page story that in recent decades "nobody has been hit harder than low-skilled, poorly educated men." He made no room for metrics that document the damage and relate it to immigration.

Packer continues his brief story with a remarkable acknowledgement of a bias that saturates and corrodes much of the immigration reporting in the New Yorker and other elite publications. He writes:

Identity politics, of a different brand from Trump’s, is also gaining strength among progressives. In some cases, it comes with an aversion toward, even contempt for, their fellow-Americans who are white and sinking. Abstract sympathy with the working class as an economic entity is easy, but the feeling can vanish on contact with actual members of the group, who often arrive with disturbing beliefs and powerful resentments — who might not sound or look like people urban progressives want to know. White male privilege remains alive in America, but the phrase would seem odd, if not infuriating, to a sixty-year-old man working as a Walmart greeter in southern Ohio. The growing strain of identity politics on the left is pushing working-class whites, chastised for various types of bigotry (and sometimes justifiably), all the more decisively toward Trump.