Empathizing, or at Least Understanding, Older Working Class White Men
By Tony Campolo
Older white working class men have been hurt and are angry—and for good reason. They have suffered three-quarters of the eight million job losses caused by the 2008 financial crisis. The male-dominated industries of construction and manufacturing were the hardest hits by that recession and the effects are still being felt. Close to 20% of working class men in their prime working years were not employed by 2016. Sociologist will tell you that financial stresses are the major causes of marital disruption and there were many divorces and other family difficulties as a result of husbands being unemployed.
Progressive social justice preachers, like myself, have championed causes for every other oppressed group except for these older white working class men, whom we have often cast as “the enemy” in accord with the prejudices of some of our human rights groups. Perhaps this is one of the reasons they have drifted out of our churches.
We social activists have preached against global warning, which we believe has been caused in part by carbon emissions, and we have lobbied the government to put restraints on those factories that were guilty of such emissions. This, of course, caused many industrialists to take their factories and the jobs that go with them, and move them to other countries like Mexico and China, where restrictions on carbon emissions were not as strict as they are here in the United States. So when Donald Trump told them that he would financially punish those industrialists who try to take their factories out of our country, working class white men cheered.
Trump told them that they had been left behind by the social movements that the liberals in the Democratic party have espoused over the past half century, so it should not surprise us that they found in Donald Trump someone who expressed what they felt.
In the past, the Democratic party has claimed to be the party of the working class, but these older working class white men tended to see it as a party made up of an educated, latte drinking, haughty, and condescending elite with whom they could not identify, and that did not seem concerned with their plight. The Democrats assumed that because they were members of the working class they could take their votes for granted as they had before.
The possibility of winning working class people back to the Democratic party has not been helped by those party professionals who declared them to be people who stupidly voted against their own political and social interest. Nor did the Democratic party do itself any good when some of their “sour grapes” losers accused these neglected citizens of being Islamophobes, homophobes, xenophobes, and sexists. Many of the rest of us also may have harbored such unfair prejudices but have learned sophisticated, politically correct, ways of concealing them, knowing that these attitudes would be unacceptable in the circles in which we travel. Not surprisingly, there are an array of these working class older white men who really know this and mock our hypocrisy.
It is time for all of us to remember that Jesus did not find His followers among the elite of His day. As a matter of fact it was the religious and political elite who deemed Him a threat to their privileged status. They were the ones who eventually crucified Him. It was the working class folks, on the other hand, who heard Him and from whom he chose His disciples.
A prime concern of mine right now is that President Trump, along with his new cabinet members and his other appointees, could betray these older white working class men who have cheered their new president at his many rallies. There is growing evidence that they are introducing policies that could harm them. My hope is that he will respond to their hurts and frustrations in ways that will give them—and the rest of us—hope. Given the Wall Street bankers and financiers that Donald Trump has appointed to high offices so far, and, on the other side of the political aisle, the Wall Street billionaire operative who is now the Democratic minority leader in the Congress, I wonder if the concerns of these older white working class men on Main Street will continue to be ignored. I fear that could happen. Let’s pray for better things.