I was reading an article in the New Yorker today on the white working class in America and how they are falling further and further behind economically and socially. If you haven’t read it, I would urge folks to read George Packer’s essay, “Poor, White and Republican.” Packer gives a good description of these folks and what has become their slow, descent into hell:
F.D.R. called him “the forgotten man,” but that was long ago. By 1972, he was a member of the silent majority and had become a Democrat for Nixon (he wore a hard hat with an American-flag sticker). 1980 produced the Reagan Democrat (this time he came from Macomb County, Michigan, and was discovered by the pollster Stan Greenberg). By 1994 he had curdled into the Angry White Male (he elected the Gingrich Congress). In 2008, he was simply the working-class white—by then he was no longer forgotten, and no longer a Democrat of any kind; he was a member of the much-analyzed Republican base. The television godfather of the type, of course, is Archie Bunker, but you can also trace his lineage more darkly through the string of hard-bitten blue-collar movies that begins with “Joe” (Peter Boyle, 1970), goes on to “Falling Down” (Michael Douglas, 1993), “Gran Torino” (Clint Eastwood, 2008), and, in a rural context, “Winter’s Bone” (2010). He’s a descendant of the thirties Everyman played by Henry Fonda and Gary Cooper, except that in the intervening decades he lost his idealism and grew surly, if not violent, consumed with a hatred of hippies, immigrants, blacks, government, and, finally, himself.