The folks Joe Bageant used to write about.
REhttp://www.greanvillepost.com/2017/03/30/reviews-white-trash-both-a-book-and-trump-revolution/‘White Trash’ – both a book and Trump revolution? (Part 1)
March 30, 2017 shorty
by Ramin Mazaheri
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016) by Nancy Isenberg is a book which is credited with the groundbreaking idea of studying the history of poor Whites in America. It’s a necessary book because it gives us a lot of badly-needed historical information to analyze the major divide in the United States today: between pro- and anti-Trump factions. Hillary Clinton denounced Trump supporters as “a basket of deplorables” – i.e., White Trash. And her supporters applauded. If you are pro-Trump you “do not represent America”, and certainly not the best of America.
Anti-Trumpers enjoy this incorrect feeling of superiority, but this cannot be a long-term policy.
What’s needed is understanding, and a good place for Americans to start learning about the absolutely real historical oppression of the class known as White Trash is with this book.
After reading it, I found it quite logical that today’s White Trash support Trump’s conservative call for rolling back the administrative state – this book proves over and over that the US government has done very little to help poor Whites, while it’s done plenty to elevate and maintain the status rich Whites.
We communists generally call this “capitalism”.
Editor’s Note: Where does the term “white trash” originate? The Wiki provides a useful summary:
“White trash” is a derogatory American English racial slur referring to poor white people, especially in the rural southern United States. The label signifies lower social class inside the white population and especially a degraded standard of living. The term has been adopted for people living on the fringes of the social order, who are seen as dangerous because they may be criminal, unpredictable, and without respect for authority whether it be political, legal, or moral. The term is usually a racial slur, but may also be used self-referentially by working class whites to jokingly describe their origins or lifestyle.
White Trash is simply degraded white people
In common usage, “White trash” overlaps in meaning with “cracker” (regarding Georgia and Florida), “hillbilly” (regarding Appalachia), “Okie” (regarding Oklahoma origins), and “redneck“. The main difference is that “redneck,” “cracker”, “Okie”, and “hillbilly” emphasize that a person is poor and uneducated and comes from the backwoods with little awareness of the modern world, while “White trash” emphasizes the person’s moral failings.
The term White trash first came into common use in the 1830s as a pejorative used by house slaves against poor whites. In 1833, Fanny Kemble, an English actress visiting Georgia, noted in her journal: “The slaves themselves entertain the very highest contempt for white servants, whom they designate as ‘poor white trashhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_trash
While Europe had the revolutions of 1798 and 1848, finding an actual remedy to White Trash poverty was never a real issue in America: It was only temporarily a focus after the crisis of the Civil War, the Great Depression and Johnson’s “Great Society” programs of the 1960s.
This experience is the opposite of Trash in places like Cuba, Iran, the USSR, the mourning Trash of Yugoslavia, China and elsewhere – in these countries a 20th-century revolution put a permanent focus on the needs of the average Trash, and they delivered.
Receptivity to socialism in the US is higher now than at any time since the Great Depression, and this should be no surprise: The underground earthquake which produced the tsunami of Trumpism was the Great Recession, which vastly expanded the social strata unfairly derided as White Trash.
The subsequent failure of Obama to hold anyone accountable allowed everyone to see the falsehoods of the “American Dream” – White Trash has been (re-) reminded of the “1%” and how “only profits are capitalized, but losses are socialized”.
Oh yes, they fear the White Trash Revolution (WTR)
According to The New York Times review of this book: “’White Trash’ is indeed a bummer….”
LOL, yes, national truths can never be as satisfying as national myths.
Photo: Walker Evans
The fact is that White Trash are starting to take over, and they must, democratically. The key is for the left to win them over. This is an enormous challenge in a country as politically reactionary as the United States, where leftist thought has been systemically oppressed and exterminated by the FBI, media owners and a culture that has always adhered to racist, capitalist, empire-maintenance.
But so many leftists in the US, even the more sincere ones, will never win them over if they don’t both understand and sympathize with them.
One would think that the archetype of today’s “White Trash” politician would be Dubya Bush, but he is surprisingly not mentioned at all in the book. Bush was a fake redneck, after all, and a teetotaling, born-again one at that.
But an interesting quote can be drawn from the author’s discussion of Sarah Palin, the Vice-Presidential nominee of John McCain and the first redneck woman to appear on a presidential ticket.
“Writing in the New Yorker, Sam Tanenhaus was struck by Palin’s self-satisfied manner: ‘the certitude of being herself, in whatever unfinished condition, will always be good enough.’”
If Sarah Palin is White Trash – an American peasant – this is how the fake left views them: unevolved.
Palin is not a great political leader, sure, but my point is that anyone even resembling Sarah Palin has been contemptuously looked down on for more than 400 years. Now imagine if Tolstoy had used the same description while writing about his archetypal “good peasant” Platon Karataev in “War and Peace”…would it have been out of place? I think not.
The fact is that White Trash are starting to take over, and they must, democratically. The key is for the left to win them over. This is an enormous challenge in a country as politically reactionary as the United States, where leftist thought has been systemically oppressed and exterminated by the FBI, media owners and a culture that has always adhered to racist, capitalist, empire-maintenance.
But Tolstoy’s great love allowed him to see the virtues in Russia’s peasants. For the New York Times, The New Yorker and a seemingly-gigantic majority of the mainstream media, America’s peasants and pro-Trumpers are not only without political intelligence but also moral virtue.
Tolstoy is usually defined as a Christian Anarchist – and this is extremely close to a Communist in 2017. After all, Cuba reconciled with Catholicism two decades ago; China is promoting Confucianism and it’s necessary yin component of Taoism; Iran has married many communist ideas with religion.
While Tolstoy uplifts, reading the New Yorker is like getting a root canal because their elitist sentiment is so smugly pro-establishment. Shouldn’t it be “good enough” to be yourself? Must we put on fancy airs and pretend to be something we are not?
But there is no archetypal “good” White Trash in America – they are despised, marginalized, oppressed and segregated in American life, as this book repeatedly proves.
The WTR is looking more and more like a real historical wave, especially if the National Front wins in France and topples the European Union. If Le Pen is voted in she’s promised a ‘Frexit’ referendum within 6 months if elected.
If the WTR is a historical trend, what does it supplant?
It supplants the Politically Correct Revolution (PCR), which was a great revolution, despite its many xenophobic detractors. The PCR has enabled it to now be well-known that the US democracy was always a sham due to racism and sexism – prior to that you had to have read or listened to somebody like Malcom X. I.e., you were you on the fringe.
Yet I always found it funny that the most impassioned PCR adherents expressed such respect for the Trash of, say, India, and yet they would look down as though from Mount Olympus on poor White cultures in America?
Part of this fine: Giving the hicks – of the Andes Mountains or Central Africa or the Eskimos or whoever – their cultural due is absolutely necessary. Looking down on them only proves your inability to comprehend their culture.
Yet these PCR die-hards expressed SUCH contempt for the hillbillies in America – for White Trash – and they still do.
I am thankful to say that I had White Trash friends (I don’t to write ‘have’ and offend them, LOL) and they were great. They taught me a lot and certainly taught me that city folk and middle-and-upper class people were totally ignorant of many key aspects of life.
But in segregated, suburban, gated America, it seems very few getting out to the country and sincerely trying to make friends?
The WTR is feared by these supposedly “left” publications, because White Trash, and Trash in general, are on the verge of upsetting the established order. But it is not the order established by the PCR, but a rigid class order that was established from the moment of British colonization, as the author repeatedly demonstrates.
The WTR created by the end to the denial of their democratic power
The book elevates the importance that post-Civil War poll taxes were also unaffordable for White Trash. It is the banning of poll taxes with the 24th amendment in 1964, and not the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which finally gave poor, landless White Trash a true democratic voice.
This gives the WTR a truly historical basis which has been largely ignored by the PCR in favor of their false, class-ignorant, “poll taxes harmed only Blacks” theory.
The reality is that poll taxes – which would not even begin to be eliminated until the 1930s and would not be fully eliminated until 1964 – allowed all Trash regardless of color to finally participate in American democracy.
Because there has been no modern revolution in the US since 1776, American Trash have only had the slow slog of those forced to work within the constraints of the capitalist/social democratic system (due to the constant and violent suppression of communist thought).
Well, it has taken 50 years, but the White majority – who come from the 99% – has finally elected a president who did what White Trash have always asked for: End four centuries of oppressive rule by the moneyed elite, the landholders, the wage-stealers, the aristocratic class, the global capitalists (who also happen to be mainly White, for those who are permanently stuck in the PCR).
The WTR, after 50 years of mass media control, also finally surmounted the media domination of the capitalists. Trump was endorsed by just 2 of the top 100 newspapers; even right-wing Fox News fought him for months; Hollywood was a constant stream of anti-Trump messages.
Another thing the WTR did was overturn the idea that the president should be an aristocrat in nature, and the book proves this idea has been dominant for decades.
As the move to end poll taxes became inevitable, “…the longing for a more regal head of state was advanced. The Democrats swooned over Kennedy’s Camelot, and Republicans ennobled the Hollywood court of Reagan.”
Trump is no moral hero like Carter (LOL to that notion), no reformed alcoholic/Christian like Dubya, no (sellout) racial hero like Obama.
Trump is probably no “great man” but, as Tolstoy would agree, one drop of the historical WTR wave. This wave has eliminated Cameron, Renzi, Sarkozy, Hollande, Clinton and others.
It’s unfortunate that this wave includes xenophobia, but we must agree that the nationalism is no longer petty: average Americans and Europeans and are now victims of a global corporate imperialism and radically-new digital high-finance class.
Trump is not White Trash – he is a billionaire – but Trump is clearly the first White Trash President.
Trump was elected to smash the system
This is something which White Trash has wanted to do since always. And what does that mean?
Smashing the system is what revolution is: you chase out the rich, you retake control of the armed forces and you finally reflect the democratic will. This is an enormously rare event, and it has only been done recently in places like Cuba, China, Iran, the USSR and a few others. This has happened in places like Burkina Faso, only to be subverted by the West. This is also something which has not been done in Western nations since 1776 for the US, 1789 for France and never in the UK.
Trump is not a revolutionary, but he could accomplish some of these WTR dreams. He could reorient US foreign policy away from imperialism; he could reorient the US from free-trade global capitalism.
The WTR is an exciting idea, but it is just a phase and not an end.
The reason Trump is destined to fail – although he is about 50/50 after six weeks in office – is that he is trying to do it from within the system and through reforms. (Editor’s Note: Trump has basically caved in to the usual plutocratic script since the writing of these lines.)
That is not revolution, but a coup.
Still…history is also full of coups that turned out well for the average person, mainly in places where the bar was already set quite low. Trump receives only one mention in the book, and his presidency will probably turn out like the author wrote:
“Donald Trump’s The Apprentice, billed as a ‘seductive weave of aspiration and Darwinism,’ celebrated ruthlessness. In these and related shows, talent was secondary; untrained stars were hired to serve voyeuristic interests, in expectation that, as mediocrities, they could be relied on to exhibit the worst of human qualities: vanity, lust and greed.”
We simply cannot fairly say if Trump will finish as an object of hero worship like a Castro or as a mediocrity who was hired to serve non-White Trash interests – his actions as president will determine that.
But we must realize that what Trump has achieved is based on the strategy of not bashing White Trash and their political interests.
And what are Trash interests?
Historically that has been land, just like in every country. In every modern, anti-imperialist revolution “land reform” has been essentially the guiding policy: USSR, Cuba, Zimbabwe – the list goes on and on.
The book proves that White Trash was systematically excluded from good land as a matter of government policy. The idea that the Frontier provided a White Trash family the ability to claim, clear and hold good farmland for generations is totally disproven. “They are blamed for living on bad land, as though they had other choices.”
Out of sight, out of mind: the most restrictive and undemocratic laws in America are zoning laws, after all.
They are still used to keep White Trash segregated: gated communities, trailer parks, congressional redistricting…all are designed to keep rich Whites away from Trash of any color.
Highways block off Black-filled urban housing projects; trailer parks are on the outskirts of town and by the factory/railroad/cattle pens/dump.
I think some White Democrats express genuine concern about Black poverty, but you never hear them utter a sentence like in this book: “Trailer trash had become America’s untouchables.”
They certainly are.
As the author demonstrates, this is because extreme White poverty has been systematically obscured and ignored in America. White Trash has always been a huge problem and it’s gotten much bigger due to the Great Recession. Despite the decline of individual farming, land reform is still required in America because nothing has really changed: the biggest marker of class and status is the value of the land where you live.
Just like everyone in real estate knows: “Location is everything. Location determines access to a privileged school, a safe neighborhood, infrastructural improvements, the best hospitals, the best grocery stores.”
The obvious solution is for the government to force economic integration via rent controls, to subsidize poor people to live in rich areas and to use economic redistribution to uplift poor areas.
News flash: This is what communists have already done in places like Cuba. The most run-down areas of Havana are at least the most desirable real estate as they are just steps from the water. In any capitalist city Havana’s waterfront property would instead be the most valuable and reserved for the ultra-rich.
After the Iranian revolution the government first rebuilt south Tehran, the city’s poorest area. Ahmadinejad, so derided in the West, was a rock star in rural areas but an “illegitimate president” in the richer areas of the cities.
Doesn’t that sound familiar in 2017?!
Republican France has laws for housing integration on the books but they are never properly enforced, even under the fake-Socialist Francois Hollande.
The facts are all in: Communism leads to more stable growth and actual equality while capitalism shuns equality and widens the gaps during any downturn. Trump, and we see this from his pro-capitalist stance, is probably only going to exacerbate this lack of justice.
Again, the WTR is just a phase, and it’s a bumpy one, but it’s better than the previous era that followed the death of the USSR, the “TINA-UCV”: There Is No Alternative-Unstoppable Capitalist Victory.
So what is White Trash, really?
In describing NASCAR fans the author writes: “They embraced a certain species of freedom – the freedom to be a boor, out in the open and without regrets.” Does this not perfectly describe the electoral campaign of Donald Trump? Goodbye PCR!
Sloughing that off – as it became no longer just a necessary tool but an end in itself – is indeed progress.
But here in France we just call those types of boors “the French”.
And these people are far more interesting, fun and numerous than the other French archetype: aloof, stylish (rich) and sexually sadistic…but also “cosmopolitan”, pro-EU, fundamentally pro-capitalist, anti-Le Pen but still racist because the hijab is a “prison”, etc.
The gulf between the boor and the angelic yet earthy peasant Karataev is real.
But was Karataev angelic and earthy, despite being White Trash, due to the superiority of Russian genes? Certainly not. Karataev was so wonderful and inspirational because he was not a real person but a fictional character; but we can assume Karataev, and his author, “learned” his socialism/Christian anarchism from his culture.
Karataev would probably be proud to be called a “redneck” today, but he would not have been proud to have been called a “boor”. He’d be a fun clown at a party, yes, but that is not a boor.
This book does a great service because it investigates, redeems and promotes the historical class oppression endured by America’s White Trash.
It seems clear that Trump and Bannon do not truly idolize the hidden virtues of White Trash – they idolize King Reagan and King Croesus– but it is still too early to say for certain.
They say getting money shows who a person really is – the same probably goes for power.
It is capitalism which accuses, however: “You White Trash must raise yourself up.” It is socialism, and only socialism, which lends both the helping hand and the shield from those who will certainly try to break brotherly bonds.
Middle- and upper-class America are desperately fighting the WTR, just as they have historically always fought off White Trash demands for justice and fairness. And it is true that there is no guarantee at this date that the WTR will not descend into fascism. Certainly, many of the same xenophobic and fascist elements are similar to the 1930s.
This is partially why the demonization of Trump supporters is something which should never be tolerated by any thinking or moral person – it only fuels the climate of ignorance and anger which fascism thrives upon.
Regardless, the separate point is that this book shows that the WTR – via the empowerment of White Trash – has been decades in the making in the United States.
Fortunately, socialism is centuries in the making across the world.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. http://www.greanvillepost.com/2017/03/30/white-trash-a-book-review-of-our-family-part-2/White Trash-A Book Review of Our Family (Part 2)
March 30, 2017 shorty
“The US had so many advantages and possibilities to build a true Utopia, and yet their unparalleled geographical richness has been squandered by capitalism and imperialism…”
Americans, whether you like it or not, and whether you admit it or not, this book review is about our family.
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America (2016) by Nancy Isenberg is a book so necessary that it compelled reviews in “The New York Times” and “The Wall Street Journal” because it finally gives White Trash the place in American history that they have always been denied.
ABOVE: The Oklahoma land rush, 1890s. Beginning with Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, the West became a hugely-effective safety valve for class discontent but it was never the hugely-effective producer of social leveling that people assume. It didn’t work, because hyper-individualist capitalism was in the saddle. So the great land of the US —the best agricultural land in the world—was turned over to cattle barons and resource extractors, plus millions of pitiless exploiters who descended on the land like a plague of locusts, ready to fight one and all, tooth and claw, to the bitter end. CLICK ON IMAGES FOR BEST RESOLUTION.
After all: “The tenant farmer with his mule and plow is not a romantic image to remain in historic memory.”
In the book’s final paragraph is a pithy historical summation of America’s contempt and disregard for White Trash: “They are not who we are.”
Any good history book allows the reader to draw parallels with the current age. “They are not who we are,” also aptly describes the raging combat in the United States between the Trumper and anti-Trumper camps.
What was the book’s goal?
“If this book accomplishes anything it will be to have exposed a number of myths about the American dream, to have disabused readers of the notion that upward mobility is a function of the founders’ ingenious plan, or that Jacksonian democracy was liberating, or that the Confederacy was about state’s rights rather than preserving class and racial distinctions.” (My emphasis)
The man-made dust bowl created unspeakable misery and a huge migration further west.
Lack of social mobility and preserving class distinctions: keeping peasants in their place – the ultimate goal of aristocrats and today’s anti-Trumpers.
What this book does is to prove how poor Whites have systematically been denied land, opportunity and a voice just as much as Blacks and women.
There has never been social mobility for all Whites – just rich Whites – and this will be the bursting of a major myth for many people who believe America is, or at least used to be, “the land of opportunity”.
If you are not dissuaded of that myth at the end of this book review all I can say is: Read this book.
What this book does is to prove how poor Whites have systematically been denied land, opportunity and a voice just as much as Blacks and women…There has never been social mobility for all Whites – just rich Whites – and this will be the bursting of a major myth for many people who believe America is, or at least used to be, “the land of opportunity”. But elevating race in order to deny class is what Americans always do, and that’s why the author decried this systematic class unconsciousness on the book’s very first page: “It is as though in separating from Great Britain, the United States somehow magically escaped the bonds of class and derived a higher consciousness of enriched possibility….The very act of migration claims to equalize the people involved….”
This book has been criticized by some reviewers for ignoring Blacks.
Well, it’s a book about Whites, and I see no reason not to study this ethnic group. I also see no reason to delve into race wars in this column either, so I guess I’m a racist too, or whatever.
As a communist, I view all race war as a legislatively-correctable absurdity, anyway.
Instead of discussing race politics, I argue that this book proves we absolutely must reject the anti-Trumper’s contention that the current schism in the US is a cultural divide and not a class war.
The White Trash Revolution (WTR), a theme of mine which gained a foothold with Brexit, has always been about class and not race. How else could someone named “Ramin Mazaheri” be one of its leading propagandists?
But elevating race in order to deny class is what Americans always do, and that’s why the author decried this systematic class unconsciousness on the book’s very first page:
“It is as though in separating from Great Britain, the United States somehow magically escaped the bonds of class and derived a higher consciousness of enriched possibility….The very act of migration claims to equalize the people involved….”
It does not, so give up your racial, gender and sexual politics. Let’s get to the down-and-dirty of it all – class.
The foundation of the US is White Trash and you know it
What is trash? Above all, it is waste.
Early settlers to Oklahoma territory. They came with barely the shirts on their backs. Over generations, most would not rise above their original class.
16th century England was obsessed with waste, and that certainly fits in with the stereotypical view of an obsessive English person who can’t waste a thought, much less a minute and even still less a New World of “wasted” natural resources.
The author relates that it also meant “waste people” – i.e. the poor.
So-called “peoples’ history” books such as these are so great because events like Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, “one of the greatest conflicts the colony ever witnessed,” are restored from obscurity to show that class was always from Day 1 in America.
There is, “…ample evidence to show the participants made it about class warfare….It is important that we understand that Bacon’s Rebellion for what revealed: the most promising land was never equally available to all.” (Author’s emphasis)
And imagine if America’s kids identified with the true situation of their 17th century counterparts? You’d have a nation of budding communists: “Waste men and waste women (and especially waste children, the adolescent boys who comprised a majority of the indentured servants) were an expendable class of laborers who made colonization possible.”
Such books also remove the luster of historical figures, which is probably why Arkansas is considering a bill to ban the books of Howard Zinn’s, such as “A Peoples’ History of the United States”.
The deconstruction of Thomas Paine is especially interesting as he was the main propagandist of the American Revolution. As a journalist who is regularly accused of being a propagandist, I’d like to note the already-clear differences between him and me: “His overarching argument was that European-descended Americans were a new race in the making, one specially bred for free trade instead of the state machinery of imperial conquest.”
Critically, the Englishman Paine had been in the US for just a year when he wrote “Common Sense”.
He clearly had only a very superficial level of understanding of how America actually worked, and I can only imagine how false my analysis of France was after only my first year here.
However, Paine did make a true democratic contribution: He destroyed the godly aura of monarchy and openly revealed its parasitic nature – this anti-authoritarian idea was indeed radical.
But his outlook was inherently aristocratic: “(Paine argued) Therefore, if the leadership class did not seize hold of the narrative, the broad appeal for political independence would be supplanted by an incendiary call for social levelling.”
Despite the historically-revisionist claims of today’s jingoists, social leveling was thus not a goal in 1776.
The West as a White Trash dump
Oklahoma, 1890s. A mass of propertyless whites wait by the land office to register their claims. (Click on image)
The US had so many advantages and possibilities to build a true Utopia, and yet their unparalleled geographical richness has been squandered by capitalism and imperialism.
Beginning with Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase, the West became a hugely-effective safety valve for class discontent but it was never the hugely-effective producer of social leveling that people assume.
“The western territories were for all intents and purposes America’s colonies,” and squatters, crackers and poor White Trash would flee to the frontier to escape the indentured servitude of tenant farming.
However, they were rarely able to stay there for long, much less for generations: At best, early settlers would clear the land for the “real farmers”, i.e. rich farmers with connections to land speculators, who had government contacts that would sell them the best farmland as each new region turned into an official state.
The lack of social mobility is evident in the name given to these squatters, such as “swampers”, and good luck raising good crops there. “Tarheel”, “bogtrotter”, “briar-hoppers” and “tackies” are all both insults and descriptions of the lousy land they lived on. In 2017 even “trailer trash” is a term to describe someone who lives on a bad and small patch of land isolated from society.
“By the 1850s, poor whites had become a permanent class. As non-slaveholders, they described themselves as ‘farmers without farms’….Whether they stayed put or moved west, poor whites occupied poor land.”
‘Biology is destiny’ means Trash stays trashy
In the 1840s and 1850s, as Europe was discovering Marxism, the US was only discovering a reactionary social science known as evolutionary biology. This ideology made biology destiny, and in the 1850s the term “White trash” became widespread. The author repeatedly stresses that the term mainly connoted physical defects, and not just a culture of poverty and a character marked by frontier wildness.
Poor whites were now labelled as a degenerate class, biologically induced to crime, immorality and even incest. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s humanistic and moral “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” (praised by Tolstoy) had a 2nd book that was as anti-white trash as the first was anti-slavery, per the author.
By promoting evolutionary biology instead of Marxism, America employed such great ideas like the right to exterminate all the Indians, mulattos being defects, Hispanics being unevolved. Sweet, righteous Anglo-Saxons could not even live by Indians.
But let’s forget all that, because such racism is already well known.
What this book focuses on is the widespread belief of the time that – much like undocumented immigrants lowering wages today (sidebar: that solution is total amnesty and open borders) – slavery was something which was ruining not just the allegedly-perfect DNA of whites, but the living standards of poor Whites.
“In barring slaveholders from the territories he (the Republican presidential nominee of 1856 and ‘Free Soil’ supporter) would prevent northern white laborers from being reduced to virtual slaves in the West.”
What? I thought the US Civil War was to free the Blacks?
Admit it, American: You already knew that the Emancipation Proclamation wasn’t issued until 1863, two years into the war. Why do you suppose that was?
They never gave us a satisfactory answer, but it’s – as usual – class and not race.
Forget what you knew about the Civil War
“We are not told the whole story, then, because social insecurities and ongoing class tension preoccupied the politicized population too.”
Is it any wonder the WTR is so anti-government when it is no exaggeration to say that the first thing the US federal government ever did for White Trash was to launch the Civil War!
Because our Southern American readers have just spit up their coffee over the previous paragraph, I will quote extensively here:
– “By 1861, both sides saw the other as an alien culture doomed to extinction….The two class systems – slave and free were locked in a battle for domination and only one would survive.”
– “In (Commanding General of the Northern Army and future President Ulysses S.) Grant’s estimation, the war was fought to liberate non-slaveholders, families exiled to poor land, who had few opportunities to better themselves or educate their children. ‘They too needed emancipation.’”
– “Discontented whites had been given the vote and, ‘being the majority they are the depositories of all your political power’.” James Henry Hammond, leading pro-slavery intellectual.
– “Sherman (general who led the total war/scorched earth “March to the Sea” campaign) made sure his men understood the class dimension of their campaign…They (Northern soldiers) saw secession as a fraud perpetrated against hapless poor whites.”
And, my favorite:
– “As one angry Southern writer declared, the northern party should not be called “Black Republicans”, but “Red Republicans,” for their real agenda was not just the abolition of slavery, but inciting class revolution to the South.”
(This is the very first mention of Socialism in the book, and there are only 3 others!)
In this way, the Civil War was the death of aristocracy in the US, but only the feudal kind – a capitalist kind was immediately elevated without any of the leavening of European socialism.
What capitalists and free-market proponents have always hidden is that Northern troops truly were rallied by an ideology in which “…they were benefactors of a government and society that promised class mobility and a genuine respect for the working man.”
What’s key is that this was the first time any such promises were made in American history.
Of course, we working men and women are still fighting today for these promises to be delivered.
But, because this is America, we have to get back to race politics. Ugh.
The Age of Eugenics (class groans audibly)
Because Socialist ideas could make no headway in the US, what reigned supreme instead was Social Darwinism. It was simply “nature” that men were unequal; that Whites were the supreme race; that legitimized the imperialist doctrine of Manifest Destiny – and no legislation could change that, so why even try?
It’s the same thing today….
The idea that “biology is destiny” is fundamentally rejected by communists, who award primacy to environment and culture. When we compare the literacy, health and security levels of White Trash in the US with the same indicators among Cuban, Iranian and Soviet Trash there is no comparison that the latter won out in a much, much faster manner.
But while the politically-correct revolution (PCR) focused on the White supremacy aspect of the eugenics era, this book focused on the fact that White Trash were also just as condemned for their lack of “fitness” to survive.
Because just imagine how the conquering Northerners viewed White Trash, who are now White Trash War Refugees, flooding into St. Louis?
Northern White Trash were now occupying Southern White Trash – it’s the poor who staff all armies, after all.
The author relates plenty of historical examples of Northerners talking of the “worthless barbarian” they had conquered; of the “ignorant, illiterate, and vicious” poor white, who had simply stopped disappearing into the bushes of the postwar South.
Blacks were often viewed more positively in the Reconstruction era: they were industrious strivers, now that their wages went all the way to something from nothing.
The pre-war Northern White Trash had been threatened by the “no-wage” system of the south, but now they were threatened biologically if they procreated with White Trash War Refugees.
It sounds crazy, but it’s true!
You know it’s true because this late 19th century era was the time of “eugenics mania” across the West as well as the colonial “Scramble for Africa”, and the two went hand in hand, of course. This was the time of Nietzsche’s “Ubermench” – the White Superman.
And in the US the Northern White (Trash) Superman was superior, genetically as well, to the Southern White (Trash) Conquered Superman.
This era produced fears of “mongrel” blood; hypotheses that isolated White mountain folk were genetically “pure”, just not “graded up”; sterilization laws in most of the country; “fitter family” competitions at state fairs just like blue ribbons for county’s prize pig; the idea of a “aristogenic” class (genetic leadership class).
“Even with such racial overtones, the major target of eugenicists was the poor white woman,” which I include due to its importance.
Why were Southern Trash so far behind, from a genetic/health standpoint?
Obviously, it was the centuries-long lack of public education funding and basic health or sanitation programs – it was not genetics, but the dominance of capitalist policies instead of socialist policies.
Fortunately, with the 1917 Russian Revolution this hysterical, discredited, absurd ideology all evaporated.
But only in the USSR.
“The 1920s saw social exclusiveness masquerade as science as disdain for rural backwardness and the mongrel taint intensify. In a culture under siege, white trash meant impure, and not quite white.”
Are we still White Trash when all Whites are poor?
White Trash went nationwide in the 1920s…but not in your family, I’m sure, superior anti-Trumper.
When unemployment hit 20%, the definition of White Trash suddenly expanded.
In 1934 the frontier was officially closed by the government, ending the so-called “safety valve” of the disproven “frontier migration thesis” of alleviating poverty and providing social mobility (so easily conflated with personal mobility in the US).
By 1937, the author writes, “…most Americans had already come to accept the uncomfortable truth about their national situation: equal opportunity was a grand illusion.”
But many formerly middle-class Whites found their Trashy status intolerable, and so White Trash Power spurred the demands for the first government assistance to White Trash since the war refugee assistance after the Civil War.
To make a long Depression story short: The United States could not remedy the problems of the Great Depression until they final overcame their hatred of White Trash.
(And we see the same phenomenon at play with today’s Great Recession and Trump, whose right-hand man Steve Bannon is a self-described “Leninist” who urges economic protectionism in order to, one hopes, redistribute wealth to the re-enlarged class of White Trash in America.)
It is not until 1935 that we first read of a centrally-planned, government-supported effort at attempting an obviously socialist remedy in the history of the United States: the Farm Security Administration.
This meant actually helping peasants: Loans for farm improvements, loans to improve living conditions like adding outhouses (indoor plumbing comes later), government education programs for new farmers, building experimental communities instead of tolerating shantytowns, etc.
It’s almost as if America realized that the government could do something, anything at all, to help clean up White Trash? What a radical use for taxes….
The head of this agency was mocked as a “parlor pink” who was “winking at Marx” – and this was the 2rd and 3th reference to Marxism or socialism in this entire book devoted to class analysis, with 4 references in the book total! Only in America….
(And this lack of Marxism is why the book got a major publisher – Penguin Random House. Had she added in more Marx…goodbye book deal.)
“The New Deal’s mission was to make individualism available to those ordinarily deprived it, freeing the many from their virtual imprisonment at the hands of the few.”
Winking at Marx indeed, Ms. Isenberg! Did you have to fight your editor to get that line included, LOL?
The Red Radical Isenberg proves (at least to me) that the famed Tennessee Valley Authority program – which coordinated among many southern states and created monumental public works – is the apex of socialism in America.
Its success is not disputed by anyone, not even school textbooks. It built not just dams and bridges, but libraries, recreation facilities, training centers, unprecedented adult education programs – “The TVA led to well-designed communities….”
The TVA remains a testament to the need for central planning today, whose success in creating steady economic progress amid capitalism’s inevitable depressions is attested to by the long-term growth rates of nations with 5-year economic plans like China, Iran and others.
“The straitjacket of states’ rights had suffocated southern progress long enough.”
Indeed. People are calling for a new TVA program today, and much of Trump’s legacy will rest on if he funds similar employment/public works programs.
Or we can just go back to mass war, like the US did with World War II.
Lotta money to be made there…but the Pentagon never did economic redistribution to White Trash.
Very interesting vignette, especially if you have read this far: At this time an intellectual sent questionnaires to top academics to define what “poor white” meant to them. The most common adjective was “shiftless.”
“It was connected to a string of synonyms: purposeless, hand to mouth, lazy, unambitious, no account, no desire to improve themselves, inertia.”
Basically, today’s version of “welfare queens”. Sure….
Elvis, the great White Trash rehabilitator
All hail the King:
“Elvis had achieved what no white trash working-class male had ever dreamt possible: he was at once cool and sexually transgressive and a “country boy”. No longer a freakish rural outcast, as in the past, Elvis was a ‘Hillbilly Cat,’ something many teenage boys wished they could be.”
The King in American-style democracy should be White Trash…that’s simple numbers.
Of course, communism is not mere “majority rule” democracy (which is actually “mob rule”) but elevates all together, realizing that harmony is produced by adding black ink to a white page.
Cultural sidebar: The author notes that popular early television shows like “The Beverly Hillbillies” and “The Andy Griffith Show” were mainly based on caricatures of White Trash, but also contained characters who were positive White Trash figures, like the star of the latter.
More importantly, these shows “…tapped into suspicions that modern America had failed to create a genuine melting pot; the cultural distance between rural and urban life, between rich and poor, was immense.”
And this cultural divide remains the main divide in Trumpian America because when was it ever resolved?
Crucially, it’s the 1960s which mark the true entry of White Trash into the American power structure.
Finally giving White Trash, not just Blacks, the vote
The passing of the 24th amendment in 1964 – the banning of poll taxes – is rarely brought up, despite being one of just 27 amendments to the US Constitution. What’s given far more press is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, when Blacks who were finally given the right to vote.
Giving Blacks the vote is correct, of course, and gives one a nice feeling that America has become a moral society.
So why is America not more openly proud of the 24th amendment? Because America ignores class, of course.
The author demonstrates that poll taxes were always used to disenfranchise White Trash as well. It’s much more well-known that prior to the post-Civil War introduction of poll taxes you had to be a landowner to vote in the US, but from 1865-1964 countless Whites were denied franchise, especially in the South.
If you insist on focusing on racial/identity politics you cannot explain, much less appreciate, the significance of the 24th amendment.
So we can use the elimination of poll taxes as when White Trash, when all Trash, truly began the WTR.
I’m getting a little misty here – sniff, sniff – for when the WTR turns into the ATR: the American Trash Revolution (i.e. communism).
And it should not be thought of as a coincidence that giving Trash the vote lent democratic support for major socialist-inspired successes like Johnson’s “Great Society” programs.
The civil rights movement meant: “Whites could no longer speak for people of color. Men could no longer speak for women.”
And now that White Trash truly had the right to vote, even in the South, politicians had to address them. Address them only with policies, but also changing their image to win their vote.
Saxophone-playing Bill did this; fake cowboy Dubya did this; Trump did this.
By the end of the 1980s “white trash” was finally reclaimed as a class having cultural value. In 1996 a man was charged with a hate crime for using the epithet “cracker”, while “redneck” became a badge of pride.
This was, of course, part of the PCR: “A larger trend was turning America into a more ethnically conscious nation, one in which ethnicity substituted for class. The hereditary model had not been completely abandoned; instead, it was reconfigured to focus on transmitted cultural values over inbred traits.” (Emphasis mine)
And this is the failure of Trumpism: Because It lacks the modernity and unity of socialism, it is merely an updating of the totally discredited ideologies of eugenics, racism, Darwinism. “White Trash versus the world!”
Of course, the moneyed White conservatives funding Trump also rely on a false and imagined economic history: “The same self-made man who looked down on white trash others had conveniently chosen to forget that his own parents escaped the tar-paper shack only with the help of the federal government.”
It is only via the promotion, application and enforcement of communism that people finally learn it is morally wrong to resent government programs which uplift the poor.
Again, a book on class but no Marx? Only in America….
Because no book review is “objective” unless it contains criticism….
Nearly 125 of the book’s 460 pages are just the footnotes: This strongly implies that the author is primarily a technocrat in her worldview.
This is a book by a major publisher and not an obscure university press – 27% of the book should have gone towards ideological discussion instead of anal facts us average readers will never bother to pursue.
Despite the Communist Manifesto being written in 1848, the revolutions of 1848, and the fact that Marx worked as journalist in New York, the first reference to communism does not occur until about 1861, just prior to the outbreak of the civil war. As previously stated: 4 references to socialism in a book about class seems willfully blind.
The author’s lack of political intelligence to accept and promote Marxism implies the acceptance of the contrary view – capitalism and racism.
And there is proof of this: Isenberg decries capitalism’s eugenics-filled and racist worldview and yet the title of her otherwise-fine epilogue is, “America’s Strange Breed”. (Emphasis mine)
It is not ironic but sad and bewildering that she uses this term to title this section, because the epilogue is otherwise rightly filled with condemnations of outdated genetic human branding of “breeds”.
But without communist class solidarity, one will always rest upon divisions: national, ethnic, religion, skin color – “breeds”.
Of course communists don’t believe in breeds. In Cuba nobody has improved more than Blacks (except women) after 1961. Russia was the first empire founded on affirmative action. Iran’s Supreme Leader is ethnically Azeri and Iran has the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel (with their own parliamentary representative).
“The sad fact is, if we have no class analysis, then we will continue to be shocked at the numbers of waste people who inhabit what self-anointed patriots have styled the ‘greatest civilization in the history of the world.’” (Emphasis mine)
I don’t’ see what’s sad about it? Class analysis is, by the author’s own admission, a freeing perspective. She clearly has some sort of bias against it, and that is to her own detriment.
And yet despite clearly not being a Marxist, the author is not interested in religion’s role in White Trash, either positive or negative? The only examination of lower-class Christianity is not until the 1980s and the Jimmy and Tammy Faye Bakker televangelism scandal. What about all the storefront holy-rollers, Pentecostal snake-handlers, etc.? Why only the sensational Bakkers and not the radio-era evangelists? Ignoring religion is the author’s right, but it should be all or nothing, I would think.
A far more major fault is that the author – who teaches at Louisiana State University and lives in Virginia – focuses way too much on Southern White Trash at the expense of both Western and Northeastern White Trash: “(Teddy) Roosevelt would have agreed: the distinct culture of the West did not translate to the South,” but this certainly not true of America 115 years later.
Television and the internet have created a situation where the “country twang” accent is a clear class delineation from coast to coast. Someone who speaks with a twang certainly lives all over the rural areas of so-called “blue states”.
Finally, the author, perhaps due to the lack of sympathy for humanity instilled by communism, vacillates too often between sympathy for White Trash and a clear abhorrence of them. She recounts way too many stories of a sensational or titillating nature about hut-dwelling, violent, unstable, dirty White Trash peasants.
If just a portion of these boringly scandalous stories had been replaced by proper ideological-based condemnations of the system she has studied, her book would have profited the reader much more both intellectually and socially.
Great book overall.
Now all we need is to get this White Trash painted red!