It is not news that Trump won 62 percent of the white male vote, and 66 percent among white men without a college degree. If [Democrats] could speak to many of these men, they might be able to peel off a few million votes—what could be the margin of victory in November’s election. — Andrew Yarrow, Washington Post op-ed, January 18, 2019
There’s an underappreciated voting bloc that could help to unseat Donald Trump in November: alienated white working-class men. What? Weren’t they one of the key groups that helped to (s)elect him in 2016?
A lot of men chose Trump because they believed him when he pledged to revive the coal industry and to jumpstart US manufacturing. Once in office, of course, you-know-who broke his promises. If the past three years have shown nothing else, it is that these men are still on the outside looking in—their noses pressed against the bakery window of the American dream—watching as onepercenters gorge themselves on tax-break pastries. Are these men beginning to realize that they’ve been scammed?
When it comes to reaching out to these men—and there are millions of them—there’s a, well, elephant in the room. Progressive activists, quick to empathize with many groups of struggling voters, fail to include working-class white men, callously generalizing that “men don’t have problems; they are the problem,” as journalist and historian Andrew Yarrow wrote. We cannot afford to leave these men on the outside another day.
When the modern-day profeminist men’s movement began working to transform men and manhood more than 40 years ago, we began by acknowledging (reluctantly at first) that conventional masculinity unfairly advantaged men. We recognized that feminism was key not just to women’s liberation but to our own. When it came to other men, though, we had a blind spot. After we began rejecting our own male socialization (which is a lifelong process), many of us became impatient with men we arrogantly assessed as less “enlightened,” indifferent to their plight, expressing more selfrighteousness and judgment than empathy and compassion.
Don’t get me wrong. Men who stubbornly refuse to give up their unearned privilege and entitlement must be challenged. Their insistence on patriarchy’s virtues must be confronted. At the same time, if we abandon these men, cede them to the men’s rights movement, then disempowered, alienated, and hurting men will continue to vote against their own self-interest. While it’s always been important to reach out to them, in 2020 it is imperative.
Nearly 25 years ago, I led groups for men acting abusively in their relationships. A cofacilitator coined the term “compassionate confrontation” to describe our approach: yes, we would hold you accountable for your behavior toward your partner, and yes, we would treat you humanely as a person. No shaming, no humiliating. Much the same can be said about alienated working-class men today. If we write them off as misogynists, or worse, we are missing an opportunity to see them, to connect with their humanity. We can simultaneously demand more of these men and empathize with their economic plight—including the emotional toll it’s taken on those no longer able to adequately provide for their families.
The #MeToo movement has shaken up a lot of men across the race and class spectrum. Its challenge is also an opportunity—a gift if men can move past our fear. We can and should expect more from ourselves: from how we behave in our relationships to how we show up as fathers, spouses, caregivers, householders. White working-class men must be invited into the tent of the disenfranchised, not uncritically or unconditionally, but honestly, compassionately. Once inside, they can become part of a grassroots movement supporting those who are struggling.
More than a year ago, in his prescient Washington Post column, journalist-historian Yarrow wrote: “Helping all people in physical, socioeconomic, and psychological distress should be a defining characteristic of a humane, caring, and democratic society. However, in our bitterly divided times, these foundational goals have been politicized: Many on the right have drawn attention to men’s problems, some thoughtfully but more often to bash feminism and women, while many on the left are silent because they are implausibly unaware of such issues or, more likely, that highlighting them would be deemed politically incorrect. This failure of liberals is not only morally wrong, but it also hurts their own prospects of winning broader support among men.”
While the large minority of voters who condone—no matter how illegal or immoral—Trump’s behavior, includes a lot of men, is their support for him unshakable? It is possible that as more revelations of his malfeasance come to light—not to mention being painfully reminded how he has betrayed them—some may very well begin to abandon him.
The Chinese have no equivalent for the word “crisis.” Rather, they utilize two symbols, one above the other. The top symbol means “danger”; the bottom “opportunity.” In considering the plight of white working-class men, we have to recognize the danger inherent in leaving these men outside the big tent of change, and the opportunity if we invite them in.