According to the U.S. Census Bureau the state with the lowest median income, and the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line, is Mississippi. Of the top 20 poorest states in the country, 19 voted to elect Donald Trump, 18 are represented by at least one republican in the senate, and 17 have republican governors.
These statistics aren’t very interesting. Most people know these are “red” states, and most people know these are poor states, and yet the reality of what that means is lost on so many. Considered hot beds of conservatism, states like Alabama, Kentucky, and Mississippi create the base of the GOP electorate. They also lead the nation three other categories, number of citizens on food stamps, number of citizens covered by the ACA, rate of use for social programs.
Ironically, one of the largest criticisms of immigrants, liberals, and people of color is that they are all somehow mooching off the government. This despite the fact that of the 18 states who contribute more to the federal government than they receive, 14 would be considered blue states. That’s 78%. Which begs the question, how is it that people who are reliant on welfare vote for the party that wants nothing more than to gut social welfare? And how is it that California, a state where people contribute more money than they are likely to get back, is the state where advocacy for social welfare programs is highest?
There are several explanations that dozens of scholars have made in the 6 decades. Scholars like Richard Hofstadter were wrestling with this phenomenon in the 1960s, at which time, Hofstadter suggested that citizens often confuse the root of the problem with the entity that they blame. He explained in a lecture given at Columbia University that the American political arena, which often becomes a playground for “angry minds”, frequently encourages a “paranoid style of political thought”, in which the thinker is convinced that an outside entity is after their identity.
Leon Friedman, a law professor at Hofstra University, takes it a step further, pointing out the behavior of the members of the Know-Nothing party in the 1850s when Italian and Irish Catholics were migrating the the U.S. and seemingly posing a threat to “American” life. More simply put, people in Mississippi would much rather blame the Blacks, Mexicans, and Liberals for their problems, because the other option is to face reality.
Still the question remains, why don’t people vote in their best interest. Certainly one could argue that Mitch McConnell, a millionaire who has worked in the comfy U.S. Senate for years, isn’t the right representation for the people of Kentucky, many of whom are barely making ends meet; and if McConnell is out of touch, then how could you possibly explain Mr. Trump?
One answer that isn’t often given is that the GOP messages well. Regardless of whether or not they care about the well being of citizens living in back woods West Virginia hollers, republican candidates often message well to their base. They have effectively trademarked patriotism and promoted nationalism, using prejudice and fear as a persuasion tool. They have identified that broke people in need of assistance also need someone to blame, and so they offer these people a place for their rage.
“You are broke because there are all these African American families living off welfare in Chicago.” And so these people, some of whom are also on welfare, look at the African American community as the source of their problems.
They tell them:
“The reason there are no jobs is because immigrants and the refugees come and they take them all.” And so these people, look at immigrants and refugees as a burden, despite the fact that in some cases it is immigrant tax dollars allowing them to eat everyday.
“The coal mines all closed because the bleeding heart liberals made up all this nonsense about climate change and made sure that regulations on mining were so strict that no company could afford to continue it.” And so these people fall – hook, line and sinker for – the notion that Democrats are opposed to American industry, despite the fact that liberals have railed against outsourcing and conservatives have cheered for it. More surprisingly, despite the fact that the man who swears he’s going to bring back industry, outsources manufacturing to China and Bangladesh.
The thing about poverty is that it leaves whole communities desperate for hope, and claiming that one group of people is the source of the problem gives these people hope that the problem can be solved. If immigrants took jobs, deport them all, build a wall and then the jobs will come back. If black people on welfare is the reason I am broke, then get rid of welfare and then I won’t be broke. If liberals are the reason coal went away, then vote them out, elect the angry guy and open up the mines. It’s simple right?
Wrong. Because the fact is that there are some realities for which no one is to blame. It’s no one’s fault that manufacturing is cheaper overseas than in the U.S., no one is to blame for the fact that natural gas has made coal obsolete. These are just part of the new reality of our nation. Yet because our nation is so politicized there’s an effort to use people who are in poverty and struggling to prove a point, the only difference is that the GOP is willing to prove that point with these people, while the Dems often talk about them in monolithic terms.
So no, liberals aren’t all government moochers, they have jobs that pay well enough to allow them to march against Trump on the weekends, and they don’t have government cheese lining their fridges. Similarly, citizens of states like Kentucky and Mississippi aren’t all stupid. They don’t all secretly harbor KKK-like aspirations, and they aren’t voting ignorantly. The more likely story? Liberals often display selective compassion, doling out march after meme over injustice, and poverty stricken conservatives have seen that compassion knock on every door but theirs.
Some of my sources 🙂