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University of California, San Diego
MWF 10:00–10:50, Mandeville B-150
Office hours: W 11–1, SSB 472
From one perspective, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election wasn’t surprising. We can predict presidential election outcomes pretty well by looking at income growth in the middle six months of the election year coupled with how many terms the incumbent party has held the presidency. This predicted the popular vote result almost perfectly in 2016. Also, most Americans are firmly attached to their preferred political party and each party has the support of about half of the electorate. Most Republicans and Democrats will automatically vote for their party’s candidate, which guarantees each candidate at least 45% of the votes.
From another perspective, the election outcome was shocking. Donald Trump was one of the most objectionable presidential candidates in our country’s history — an impulsive, mean-spirited, narcissistic, thin-skinned serial liar and confessed sexual predator with little interest in policy details. According to pre-election YouGov polls, Trump was viewed as “not qualified” by 60% of Americans, “not honest and trustworthy” by 58%, and “crazy” by 56%. Yet 63 million Americans, nearly half of those who voted for one of the two major-party candidates, cast their ballot for him.
One key reason is that a significant number of whites without a four-year college degree — “working-class” whites — seem to have wanted a president committed to changing the country’s economic and/or social direction. Trump won this group by a margin of almost 40 percentage points. That’s a stunning number, and a significant increase from the margin in previous elections.
What do these working-class whites think is wrong? Some possibilities:
- Frustration at the disappearance of “good” jobs. Joan Williams: “‘The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,’ a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. White working-class men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree.”
Worry due to economic insecurity: fear of losing your job and not being able to find a comparable one to replace it, fear of your home’s value falling, fear of losing your home to foreclosure, fear of poverty in retirement.
Frustration at lack of economic improvement. Wages for the lower half of Americans have been stagnant since the late 1970s. For men without a college degree, they’ve decreased. Household incomes have increased, but not a lot, and since 2000 they too have been stagnant.
Frustration at perceived economic decline. In 2014, whites without a college degree (aged 25-54) were twice as likely as similarly-educated African Americans to say their standard of living is much worse or somewhat worse than their parents’.
Frustration at the high cost of child care, health insurance, housing (in an area that’s safe and has a good public school), college for your kids.
Resentment at growing economic inequality. Those with college degrees have been doing fine economically, and the rich even more so.
Resentment at groups who receive government help that you don’t, from social assistance to disability benefits to health care to affirmative action. Arlie Hochschild: “You are standing in a long line leading up a hill, as in a pilgrimage, patient but weary. You are in the middle of this line, along with others who are also white, older, Christian, native-born, and predominantly male, some with college degrees, some not. At the crest of the hill is the American Dream, the goal of everyone waiting in line, a standard of living higher than that your parents enjoyed. Many behind you in line are people of color — poor, young and old, mainly without college degrees. You wish them well, but your attention is trained on those ahead of you…. But look! Some people are coming from behind and cutting in line ahead of you! As they cut in, you are being moved back. How can they just do that? You’re following the rules. They aren’t. Who are they? They are black. They are brown. They are career-driven women, helped by Affirmative Action programs.”
Frustration at loss of economic and social status. This may be particularly pertinent for working-class men, whose identity used to be centered on having a solid-paying stable full-time job in a “male occupation.” There are fewer manufacturing jobs available, and it feels like other stereotypically male occupations, such as solider and police officer, have lost some esteem and status in the eyes of many Americans.
Resentment at lack of fair treatment by the federal and state government: ignored, given fewer resources, saddled with unfunded mandates. Government is seen as favoring other groups — minorities, the poor, immigrants, big cities, corporations, everything except rural communities and their residents.
Frustration at liberals’ and government agencies’ perceived privileging of the environment and endangered animals over jobs.
Dislike of government deficits and debt. Families have to reduce spending when economic times are tough, so why shouldn’t government have to do the same?
Frustration at neighborhood and town decay — fewer good jobs; less attendance at religious services; schools and infrastructure decaying due to revenue decline, which spurs population decline, which furthers the revenue decline; more people on meth, opioids, or heroin. Along with the perception of absolute decline, this has a relative component too: big cities seem to be doing great, with growing populations, rising property values, declining crime, loads of restaurants, nice parks, new housing. Even some large cities that were in bad shape a few decades ago, from New York to Pittsburg, seem to have come back successfully, whereas smaller cities and towns feel like they’re getting worse.
Discomfort with social and cultural modernity and its perceived assault on traditionalism — the embrace of racial and ethnic diversity, openness to nontraditional family structures and sexual orientations, rejection of guns, political correctness, and ascendance of secularism.
Frustration with the diminution of national pride and “America First” sentiment.
Resentment at economic, cultural, media, and governmental elites’ condescending view of working-class whites as ignorant, simple-minded, backward, blindly religious, intolerant, “deplorable.”
Distrust of politicians who argue for staying the course. They must be in the pockets of the rich and powerful or the well-organized. Perhaps they’re lining their own pockets.
Our aim in this course will be to figure out which of these matter most, and why. We’ll also consider how, if at all, they can be addressed.
Readings are to be done before class. You can access many of the readings via the links below. There are three books — by Sherman, Cramer, and Partanen — all of which are available via amazon and other booksellers.
April 3 (M). Course introduction
April 5 (W)
- Nate Cohn and Toni Monkovic, “How Did Donald Trump Win Over So Many Obama Voters?,” New York Times: The Upshot, 2016. LINK
- Jeff Guo, “Yes, Working Class Whites Really Did Make Trump Win. No, It Wasn’t Simply Economic Anxiety,” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage, 2016. LINK
- Larry Bartels, “2016 Was an Ordinary Election, Not a Realignment,” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage, 2016. LINK
- Charles J. Sykes, “Where the Right Went Wrong,” New York Times, 2016. LINK
April 7 (F)
- Ruy Teixeira, “Things Look Bleak for Liberals Now. But They’ll Beat Trump in the End,” Washington Post, March 3, 2017. LINK
- Lane Kenworthy, “America’s Social Democratic Future,” Foreign Affairs, 2014. LINK
April 10 (M)
- Pete Hamill, “The Revolt of the White Lower Middle Class,” New York Magazine, 1969. LINK
- Joan C. Williams, “What So Many People Don’t Get about the U.S. Working Class,” Harvard Business Review, 2016. LINK
April 12 (W)
- David Brooks, “One Nation, Slightly Divisible,” The Atlantic, 2001. LINK
April 14 (F)
- Andrew Levison, The White Working Class Today, Democratic Strategist Press, 2013, pp. 18-59. LINK
April 17 (M)
- Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Metropolitan Books, 2004, pp. 1-27. LINK
April 19 (W)
- Jennifer Sherman, Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t: Poverty, Morality, and Family in Rural America, University of Minnesota Press, 2009, Introduction and ch. 1.
April 21 (F)
- Sherman, Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t, ch. 2.
April 24 (M)
- Sherman, Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t, chs. 3-4.
April 26 (W)
- Sherman, Those Who Work, Those Who Don’t, Conclusion.
April 28 (F)
- Arlie Russell Hochschild, “I Spent Five Years with Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans. Here’s What They Won’t Tell You,” Mother Jones, Sept-Oct 2016. LINK
May 1 (M)
- John Judis, “The Return of the Middle American Radical,” National Journal, 2015. LINK
- Michael A. Lindenberger interview with J.D. Vance, “Trump’s Appeal among Working Class Rooted in Resentment of Elites,” Dallas News, Sept 21, 2016. LINK
May 3 (W)
- Katherine Cramer, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, University of Chicago Press, 2016, chs. 1-2.
May 5 (F)
- Cramer, The Politics of Resentment, chs. 3-4.
May 8 (M)
- Cramer, The Politics of Resentment, chs. 5-6.
Essay 1 due: Wednesday, May 10, in class
May 10 (W)
- Cramer, The Politics of Resentment, chs. 7-8.
May 12 (F)
- Joel Rogers and Ruy Teixeira, “America’s Forgotten Majority,” The Atlantic, 2000. LINK
May 15 (M)
- Monica Prasad, Steve G. Hoffman, and Kieran Bezila, “Walking the Line: The White Working Class and the Economic Consequences of Morality,” Politics and Society, 2016. LINK
May 17 (W)
- Thomas B. Edsall, “Have Democrats Failed the White Working Class?,” New York Times: The Opinion Pages, Dec 9, 2014. LINK
- Mike Konczal, “Would Progressive Economics Win Over Trump’s White Working Class Voters?,” Medium, Oct 16, 2016. LINK
- Jared Bernstein, “Yes, the Rust Belt Demands an Answer. But Does Anyone Know What It Is?,” On the Economy, Nov 29, 2016. LINK
- Noah Smith, “Four Ways to Help the Midwest,” Bloomberg View, Dec 16, 2016. LINK
May 19 (F)
- John Lanchester, “What the West Can Learn from Japan about the Cultural Value of Work,” New York Times, Dec 18, 2016. LINK
- Betsey Stevenson, “Manly Men Need to Do More Girly Jobs,” Bloomberg View, Dec 7, 2016. LINK
May 22 (M)
- Andrew J. Cherlin, “Why Are White Death Rates Rising?,” New York Times, 2016. LINK
May 24 (W)
- Arthur C. Brooks, “The Dignity Deficit,” Foreign Affairs, 2016. LINK
May 26 (F)
- Thomas B. Edsall with Mary D. Edsall, Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, W.W. Norton, 1992, pp. 3-31, 154-171. LINK
May 29 (M). No class: Memorial Day
May 31 (W)
- Michael Tesler, “The Education Gap among Whites This Year Wasn’t about Education. It Was about Race,” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage, 2016. LINK
- Michael Tesler, “How Racially Resentful Working-Class Whites Fled the Democratic Party — Before Donald Trump,” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage, 2016. LINK
- Michael Tesler, “Views about Race Mattered More in Electing Trump Than in Electing Obama,” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage, 2016. LINK
June 2 (F)
- Anu Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life, HarperCollins, 2016, chs. 1-2.
Essay 2 due: Monday, June 5, in class
June 5 (M)
- Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything, ch. 3.
June 7 (W)
- Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything, ch. 5.
June 9 (F)
- Partanen, The Nordic Theory of Everything, ch. 9.
Final exam: Monday, June 12, 8:00-11:00am
Course grades will be determined as follows. See below for details.
- 40%: in-class discussion
- 25%: essay 1
- 25%: essay 2
- 10%: final exam
Each of these will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100. So your numerical course grade is calculated as: (in-class discussion x .40) + (essay 1 grade x .25) + (essay 2 grade x .25) + (final exam grade x .10).
Your letter grade for the course will be determined as follows:
- 97 and above = A+
- 93–96 = A
- 90–92 = A–
- 87–89 = B+
- 83–86 = B
- 80–82 = B–
- 77–79 = C+
- 73–76 = C
- 70–72 = C–
- 60–69 = D
- below 60 = F
There will be no extra-credit projects or assignments.
Participation in class discussion is required. Your discussion grade will be based on your participation. There are lots of ways to do this: ask questions, comment, critique, explain, think out loud.
Attendance may also affect your grade. Beginning April 10, you’re allowed to miss three class days without penalty. If you miss four, your discussion grade will be reduced by 5 points. If you miss five, it will be reduced by 15 points. If you miss six, it will be reduced by 25 points. If you miss more than six, your discussion grade will be zero.
The following won’t count as missed days: (1) holidays or special events observed by organized religions (for students who show affiliation with that particular religion), (2) absences pre-approved by the UC San Diego Dean of Students (or Dean’s designee), (3) extended illness (this requires a doctor’s note). Let me know if you miss a day for one of these three reasons. I’ll need written verification of the circumstances.
You will write two short essays. For each, you will pick one of the sources of white working-class dissatisfaction listed at the beginning of this syllabus, or another of your choosing, and argue for why it is particularly important. (Don’t use the same source of dissatisfaction for both essays.)
Grading will be based on the following:
- Make an argument.
- Refer to relevant evidence. Opinion and logic are fine but insufficient.
- Address potential objections to your position.
- Write clearly. And use proper grammar and punctuation (use of first person — “I” or “me” — and of contractions is fine).
- Adhere to the following length, formatting, and citation instructions. Length: Each essay should be 1,500 words (excluding footnotes), plus or minus no more than 100 words. Formatting: The essays must be typed single-space on 8½-by-11 paper with 1-inch margins on top and bottom and 2-inch margins on each side. Use 11-point or 12-point font size. Sources and citations: Consult at least five sources of your choosing. Use footnotes (not a reference list or bibliography) to give credit to anyone from whom you borrow evidence or argument. The footnotes aren’t included in the word count. I’m not picky about the formatting of the footnotes, but include the author(s), title, and year rather than simply listing an internet address.
Some additional readings that may be of use to you are listed at the bottom of this syllabus.
If you need help with writing, consider seeking assistance from the UC San Diego Writing Center.
Due dates are listed above. An essay turned in late but within 48 hours of the deadline will be penalized 25 points (out of 100). An essay turned in more than 48 hours late, or not turned in at all, will receive a grade of zero.
Turn in a hard copy and upload your essay on TritonEd. Emailed essays won’t be accepted. To upload it on TritonEd, go to tritoned.ucsd.edu, log in, choose this course, and click on “Upload essays” in the blue menu bar. Your essay won’t be visible to other students; this is just to allow a check for plagiarism and length.
Don’t plagiarize. If you aren’t sure what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, see the UC San Diego Library’s guide to preventing plagiarism.
The final exam will cover all of the course material. The date and time of the exam are listed above.
Students are encouraged to share intellectual views and discuss freely the principles and applications of course materials. However, graded work must be the product of independent effort unless otherwise instructed. Students are expected to adhere to UC San Diego policy on academic integrity.
SPECIAL NEEDS AND ACCOMMODATIONS
Students who need special accommodation or services should contact the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). You must register and request that the OSD send me official notification of your accommodation needs as soon as possible. Please meet with me to discuss accommodations and how the course requirements and activities may impact your ability to fully participate.
SUBJECT TO CHANGE
Information here, other than the grade and attendance policy, may be subject to change with advance notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.
- Bartels, Larry. 2016. Unequal Democracy. Second edition. Princeton University Press.
- Cowie, Jefferson R. 2010. Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. New Press.
- Gest, Justin. 2016. The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality. Oxford University Press.
- Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2016. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. New Press.
- Isenberg, Nancy. 2016. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Viking.
- Jones, Owen. 2011. Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Verso.
- Levison, Andrew. 2013. The White Working Class Today. Democratic Strategist Press.
- Murray, Charles. 2012. Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Crown Forum.
- Packer, George. 2013. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Teixeira, Ruy and Joel Rogers. 2000. America’s Forgotten Majority: Why the White Working Class Still Matters. Basic Books.
- Vance, J.D. 2016. Hillbilly Elegy. Harper.
- Williams, Joan C. 2017 (due out in May). White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. Harvard Business Review Press.
- Wilson, William Julius. 1995. When Work Disappears. Vintage.
- Austin, Algernon. 2017. “Three Mistakes in the Democratic Party’s Economics-Versus-Identity Debate.” Demos.
- Badger, Emily and Quoctrung Bui. 2016. “Why Republicans Don’t Even Try to Win Cities Anymore.” New York Times: The Upshot.
- Case, Anne and Angus Deaton. 2017. “Mortality and Morbity in the 21st Century.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.
- Cox, Karen L. 2013. “A New Southern Strategy.” New York Times.
- Drum, Kevin. 2016. “If the White Working Class Is the Problem, What’s the Solution?” Mother Jones.
- The Economist. 2016. “Place-Based Economics as a Response to Populism.”
- Edsall, Thomas B. 2016. “The Not-So-Silent White Majority.” New York Times: The Opinion Pages.
- Ehrenfreund, Max and Jeff Guo. 2017. “If You’ve Ever Described People as ‘White Working Class,’ Read This.” Washington Post: Wonkblog.
- Fischer, Claude. “Explaining Trump.” The Society Pages.
- Golec de Zavala, Agnieszka and Christopher Federico. 2017. “‘Collective Narcissism’ Explains at Least Some of President Trump’s Support.” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage.
- Hicks, Timothy, Alan M. Jacobs, and J. Scott Matthews. 2016. “Inequality and Electoral Accountability: Class-Biased Economic Voting in Comparative Perspective.” Journal of Politics.
- Holland, Joshua. 2016. “Stop Obsessing Over White Working-Class Voters.” Rolling Stone.
- Kenworthy, Lane. 2010. “Why Don’t Low-Income Whites Love the Democrats?” The Monkey Cage.
- Kenworthy, Lane. 2016. “Is America Too Polarized?” The Good Society.
- Kenworthy, Lane, Sondra Barringer, Daniel Duerr, and Garrett Andrew Schneider. 2007. “The Democrats and Working-Class Whites.”
- Leonhardt, David. 2016. “The Democrats’ Real Turnout Problem.” New York Times.
- MacGillis, Alec. 2015. “Who Turned My Blue State Red?” New York Times.
- Martin, Isaac Martin. 2016. “Deplorable Yourself.” Ideas.net.
- Molyneux, Guy. 2017. “Mapping the White Working Class.” The American Prospect.
- Murray, Charles. 1993. “The Coming White Underclass.” Wall Street Journal.
- Pruitt, Lisa R. 2011. “The Geography of the Class Culture Wars.” Seattle University Law Review.
- Rodden, Jonathan. 2017. “‘Red’ America Is an Illusion. Postindustrial Towns Go for Democrats.” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage.
- Rodden, Jonathan. 2017. “This Is Why Democrats Lose in ‘Rural’ Postindustrial America.” Washington Post: The Monkey Cage.
- Tankersly, Jim. 2016. “How Trump Won: The Revenge of Working-Class Whites.” Washington Post: Wonkblog.
- Tankersly, Jim. 2017. “Why the Bernie Sanders Approach to Winning Isn’t Enough for Democrats to Rise Again.” Washington Post: Wonkblog.
- Teixeira, Ruy and Alan Abramowitz. 2008. “The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class.” Brookings Institution.
- Tesler, Michael Tesler. 2013. “The Return of Old-Fashioned Racism to White Americans’ Partisan Preferences in the Early Obama Era.” Journal of Politics.
- Wilson, William Julius. 1998. “When Work Disappears: New Implications for Race and Urban Poverty in the Global Economy.” Working Paper 17. Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics.