My far-left friend Jonathan Chait has a new piece over at New York Magazine that my old Beltway friends would call a real “talker” — and it’s about something I have a little bit of expertise in: the psyche of stupid, white working-class men.
At first blush it doesn’t seem like the Dig has much in common with bumpkins from flyover country. Whereas I exude an effortless cosmopolitan cool from my swanky studio apartment in Park Slope, these shoeless rubes would gawk and get scared if they so much as saw a slice of real Brooklyn pizza pie or heard a snippet of a rap song. While I’m a plugged-in Beltway insider whose Blackberry is teeming with texts from fellow high-statuses, the normals probably get their news from inferior, dumbed-down sources like Nate Silver or George Will protege Chris Cillizza. And while I’ve won several Motions to Prove My Point With Logic in family court thanks to my legal bravado and debate finesse, the flyovers waste their meager savings on suspenders-clad country lawyers to fight their constant DUIs.
But the Dig is a humble man who, deep down inside, identifies with Real America. My father is a war veteran who took part in important operations in Chile, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. I paid my way through Wellesley (in a special, temporary co-ed experiment) with tough manual labor at the kind of job that puts hair on your arm and stains your shirt a deep yellow. And to this day I have a deep love for Michelob, a high middle-end beer I’ve really only ever seen sold in gas stations, Shea Stadium, and rural drinking holes that resemble barns.
I understand on a personal level how working class whites think. These folks wake up at the crack of dawn, light a Newport, strap on their overalls, and drive their Ford trucks to the coal mines, factories, and Spencer’s Gifts where they toil hours on end. They’ll sneak a peak at Facebook, where they’ll share a meme from popular groups for lower whites such as Shut Up I’m Still Talking, Real Life Bad Guys, or Second Chances For Guys Who Saved Their Own Lives But Are All Out Of F*cks To Give. Knowing their existences are cursed, they retain energy by sipping Monster and Nos drinks, just so their supervisor who has it out for them doesn’t flag them for slacking off. After work, they hop in their vehicles large enough to transport their gigantic children and go to a bar, where they’ll pound Fireball shots and enjoy a mixed martial arts or sportsball match. They can barely afford these beverages, but it’s the only thing stopping them from relapsing on Fentanyl tea or driving into a ravine.
Maybe they competed in sports when they were younger, but owing to either a knee injury or the always troublesome DUI number 8, they had to quit. Now they work at their awful jobs with their managers who always have it out for them, for low pay, and are spit on by slightly better whites. They’ve been mandated to buy health insurance, but their fat fingers smeared with mozzarella stick grease crashed their netbooks, and now they face a penalty. Smarting from the wounds of what they feel would have been a lucrative career in sports, they’ll curse at the bar’s TV about how Fighter X or Football Player Y is a flashy hip-hop style athlete, and they always had class when they were involved in athletic pursuits. After they’ve induced enough numbness, they waddle into their idiot trucks and go home reeking of cheap liquor laced with corn syrup to yell at their big sons and daughters about playing Call of Duty too loudly as their equal parts wretched and porcine offspring hurl racial slurs into the Xbox Live lobby.
They hurl their bloated bodies into their beds, go on a Facebook rant about how sometimes you think someone is your friend but you caught them stealing all the copper from your garage and it’s sad that people are fake, shove some Xanax down their gullets, and drift off into sleep. They dream about a world where there are fair dealings, endless kegs of Rolling Rock, and their bosses get killed in the next terrorist attack, which they feel is imminent. They wake up, and they do it all again, like Prometheus chained to the rock. Except instead of stealing fire from the gods, they just have bad brains and are large.
These poor white voters live miserable, thankless lives in a brutal economic system where they’re falling further and further behind. What they really want from their politicians isn’t a Bernie-style “lectuh about the billionaiuhs” or Hillary-style scolding.
What they want is humor. They need something funny to anesthetize them from the crushing boredom and sundry humiliations of their meaningless work-a-day lives.
In this post-JibJab era we live in (god, I miss the hilarious JibJab), comedy is the most important political capital. From the viral Joe Biden Like A Boss meme to the hilarious-but-also-makes-you-think Notorious R.B.G. photoshops, we are lucky to be so awash in high-concept satire. But even that’s not enough for our worst-off voters.
You see, working class whites’ lives are so intolerable that, like opioid addicts (which several of them are), they require funnier and funnier content just to get the same high. The same old BuzzFeed cat videos and epic Rachel Maddow snarks just don’t make their bull run anymore.
Enter Donald Trump.
From Day One of his campaign the reality TV star brought the viral LOLs that downscale whites living in dying communities need.
He invented hilarious catchphrase after catchphrase from “The wall is gonna be yuge!” to “Mexico is sending its rapists and criminals” to “I promise you a real rain will come to purge the filth.” (Eat your heart out, Urkel!)
He went on SNL to do the “Hotline Bling” dance and take part in a hilarious sketch where Larry David (a stereotypical “heel” to working class whites) ironically calls him a racist.
He brought “yuge” ratings to the debates with zinger after zinger like telling Rand Paul, “you don’t deserve to be here. Do not look at me. You are subhuman.”
And he let his followers burn off some steam by going buckwild physically assaulting people at his rallies, as if they were at a dogfighting ring or backyard wrestling affair.
I’m proud to say that I, along with some of my media colleagues, immediately picked up on Trump’s Comedy Factor. It was pretty much the only story about his campaign all last year while he rose in the polls and systematically destroyed each of his opponents for the nomination. The Huffington Post even had the foresight to cover his campaign in the Entertainment section.
It seems like the only guys who didn’t pick up on Trump’s comic genius were his opponents. Blindsided at first, they frantically tried to co-opt Trump’s viral success, but came off as stilted and forced. Marco Rubio’s “Trump has small hands” material flopped, while Ted Cruz’s “Donald, please don’t talk about my wife like that” was just plain sad. The only one who even got a chuckle was John Kasich campaigning while wearing a barrel and slipping over and over again on the same banana peel, but I’m told neither of those events were intentional.
Now, having explained all this… chances are you’re not one of these working class whites (I used a lot of big words back there), and you’re appalled by Trump’s showmanship. You see him on every network all orange-faced, doing his old “The first step is we put the Muslims on a list” routine or a solid five minutes on Jeb’s wife, and you shriek, “Whoa now! The epic rap battles on YouTube are more than enough humor for me, mister!”
In short, you’re wondering how to break Trump’s spell on impoverished lowlifes.
The answer isn’t easy. You need to give these depraved clods hope again. Hope that Washington will come together in a bipartisan way to solve the problems plaguing their pathetic, dysfunctional communities. Yes, I’m talking to you, Rs and Ds. You need to put aside those letters and get serious about issues like raising the retirement age, replacing shuttered factories with entitlement reform, and paying off the debt through for-profit charter schools. Comedy is just what working class whites want; mature entitlement reform is what they crave.
Voters won’t want to disrupt Washington anymore when they see it’s already full of disruptors (the good kind, like from technology). Simpson and Bowles taught you this years ago. You just didn’t listen. And that’s no joke.
Carl “The Dig” Diggler has covered national politics for 30 years, and is the author of “Think-ocracy: The Rise Of The Brainy Congressman”. Got a question for the Dig? E-mail him at [email protected] or Tweet to @carl_diggler. Check out his predictions at SixThirtyEight.
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