Let’s be clear, when Bernie Sanders refers to the “working class,” he really means the “white working class.” It is not an all-inclusive term. Sanders’ supporters were and are primarily white. And while, of course, there were some people of color who supported his candidacy, their concerns did not fuel his message. He admitted last year in an interview with CBS that he came “from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party can’t talk to the people where I came from.”
When asked about whether he would have won the 2016 election in Hillary Clinton’s place, he responded by saying, “She should have won this election by 10 percentage points.”
“The question is why is it that millions of white working class people who voted for Obama turned their backs on the Democratic Party,” said Sanders.
This is the same man who has never understood that racial justice isn’t just about economic equality. Leveling the economic playing field by providing more avenues to a higher education and retraining workers left out of the technology boom or creating a single-payer health care system is not going to change the white privilege that American society was built upon. Bernie did not win the hearts of Black voters. Hillary Clinton did.
Donald Trump has put a white nationalist and a neo-Nazi in the White House and his voters don’t have any problem with that. These are the same voters who Bernie believes the Democrats have ignored at their own peril.
I couldn’t disagree more.
As a Democrat, I have no desire to reach out to people who voted for a man who has made his racist and sexist intentions clear. And Sanders’ accusation that Democrats have ignored the working class or that they just represent elite liberals who live on the coasts is utter nonsense.
When Democrats support union workers, when they vote to extend unemployment insurance, when they propose paid sick leave and maternity leave, when they vote to raise the minimum wage or when they voted to support Obamacare, and when they consistently support a woman’s right to choose, it isn’t with elite liberals in mind.
It is with working class Americans in mind — all of them — not just the white ones, and not just the men.
Clinton supported retraining for coal workers. Her platform included free tuition and improvement to the Affordable Care Act. Women’s issues from equal pay to access to health care were front and center in her campaign. She listened to the parents across the country struggling with kids who were addicted to opioids and had a policy crafted to address it. She also addressed our institutional racism and pointed out white people’s role in perpetuating it.
It is my contention that her support of Black people and their support of her cost her votes. Too many white people don’t understand their privilege. They don’t get that even working class whites are privileged. Neither does Bernie Sanders.
White Americans responded to Trump’s rhetoric that it’s time to make America great again, which is code for “make America white again.” His voters bought into that. White Americans’ concern for people of color who have long suffered in a society that functions and works against them didn’t exist in this last election.
For some, their conscience was assuaged because they had voted for a Black man and that was “proof” that they weren’t racist.
I would like to know what Sanders means when he says Democrats have to learn how to talk to the white working class? Does it mean we have to educate people that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act are the same programs with a different name? Many of them believed they were two different things.
Does it mean that when they say the voted for Obama and then voted for Trump that we should explain that what each of these men believes in and stands for is diametrically opposite?
Do we have to show them the pain of women who have been sexually assaulted to help them to understand that to knowingly vote for a man who has been accused of assault, many times, is not voting in support of women?
Do we have to hold their hands and explain that a businessman who is known for not paying his bills, for screwing the little guy and who has gone bankrupt many times is not the kind of “businessman” that you want anywhere near the White House?
Do we have to remind them that Trump was the original birther, that he sought to discredit our first Black president with an unrelenting viciousness?
And where are the facts in all of this? Trump’s tweets and lies were well known before he was elected. His gross behavior towards women and Mexicans was no secret. These white working class people voted for him.
I have no intention of trying to reach out to these voters, nor do I want the Democratic Party to do so. Should they take the time to educate themselves, to read and think about all that is at stake and to shed their narrow privileged view of the world then I, and many others, will happily engage in a conversation. Until then, let them enjoy Trump.
Mr. Sanders, I am white and I care deeply for all people, but I know better than to suggest that the answer to the Democrats “problem” is to fine-tune its reach to the white working class. Even those who struggle and have lost jobs are still better off than their Black counterparts, and for the foreseeable future, they always will be. Your privilege shows when you think that accommodating the needs of white working class voters is a key strategy in strengthening the Democratic Party. The next time one of them gets shot with their hands up while not in possession of a weapon — then, maybe we can talk.
– Jan Harrison