February 10, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Biden’s buying off the racists

His new deal gets real.


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Every time I read about the American working class in the pages of the New York Times, I feel I’m reading someone who can just barely speak English, who has no idea they can just barely speak English but is manifestly convinced their command of English is mustachioed, donning a pith helmet and entitled to shout when the just barely-ness of their English is in doubt.

Every once and a while, but with more frequency when a Republican is in the White House, the Times dispatches correspondents to the dark heart of the American continent to enter into talks with native inhabitants, who entribal themselves there, without first considering that they have no idea what they care about, what they’re interested in, what they love and hate, or what they fear. And they don’t, because, well, they know everything they need to know. Just ask them!

The result is disinterested tidings that make sense to the rarified readers of a newspaper founded by, for and continuing to serve the top of America’s social, political and economic status heap but that, to everyone else, especially the American working class, betray a befuddlement about anyone who isn’t atop America’s status heap.

All the president is asking of white working class Americans is to consider the material differences between the choices offered by Donald Trump and the choices offered by him. You can choose the wages of whiteness, Biden is saying, or you can choose wages. “Here’s the deal,” Biden said over and over, knowing it’s so sweet most white working class Americans will take it.

So when it came time to interpret the State of the Union address through the lens of class and labor, on account of Joe Biden’s call for a “blue-collar revival of America’s economy,” the Times ran a “news analysis” giving the appearance, to the paper’s rarified readers, of being highly nuanced, deeply informed and shot through with arch-citizen seriousness, but in reality, reflects arch-know-it-all know-nothingness.

That wouldn’t so bad if the Times’s reputation for being seriously the most serious of all serious newspapers didn’t seriously give such smug know-nothingness a sheen of authority, as if the Times spoke for God, not for the very obscenely rich people who constitute its rarified readership. It would be better for everyone, even the American working class, if the Times gave up and said these people make no sense.

The cash-value of whiteness
There’s a reason why working class Americans makes no sense.

The American working class is, as Soviet Russia was to Winston Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” That, however, is only because those trying to solve this riddle-mystery-enigma are the kinds of people who, when trying to solve a riddle-mystery-enigma, quote Churchill. To working class Americans, the American working class is plain and simple, because there’s no other way of looking at yourself when you’re on the inside looking out.

First, if you’re not white, well, that’s it.

Everything else is reasonsreasons.

When you’re not-white in a white world, the truth is clear. When you’re white in a white world, the truth is the last thing you want. You’ll do anything to hide it, including making up all kinds of reasonsreasons.

So the riddle-mystery-enigma starts there. Reasonsreasons made up to hide the truth constitute the start of questions about the American working class as well as the end of the answers. That makes it a white working class. The white people there may not want to hear the truth about their whiteness, but they are exquisitely sensitive to it, probably because they don’t want to hear the truth about their whiteness.

Which is why Donald Trump appealed strongly to the white working class. The criminal former president reminded them their whiteness is worth something without also making them think about the truth of the white world. Not-white people cannot afford to make up reasonsreasons for why the world is white. That white people can and not-white people can’t is a cash-value difference worthy of protection. 

What you really want is a new deal
Though exquisitely sensitive to the truth about their whiteness, I don’t think white working class Americans would have cemented themselves to Trump without material conditions thrown into crisis. Most Americans are white. Most of those Americans don’t have college degrees. Most jobs that don’t require college degrees have gone. 

So if you’re white in a white world in which you don’t have to face the truth about your whiteness but have witnessed the value of that whiteness fall, slowly and then quickly – well, that’s when a man comes along and says he’s going to protect your whiteness against not-white people hoping to afford to live in a world in which they don’t have to think about being not-white. That’s a racist who gets your vote.

That’s where things will stay if material conditions thrown into crisis continue to be. To change that, someone in power must come along and say: I see the cash-value of your whiteness and raise you the cash-value of a terrific job providing wealth on which to base a terrific life.

He doesn’t doubt the value of your whiteness. Indeed, he sees it as a basis from which to advance his own political interests. He thinks only that it’s less important than acquiring actual wealth, status, etc. In effect, he’s saying that the old deal isn’t what you really want.

What you really want is a new deal.


Buying off the racists
That’s what Joe Biden did Tuesday.

He told white working class Americans who can afford to make up reasonsreasons for the world being white that he’s not asking them to think about anything they don’t want to think about. He’s not saying Donald Trump and the rest of the Republicans are scamming them.

All Biden is asking is to weigh the difference between choices offered by Donald Trump and choices offered by him. You can choose the wages of whiteness, Biden is saying, or you can choose wages. 

Laws passed during Biden’s first two years will push trillions into an already booming economy. According to the Times, “the money from those laws has just begun to flow, and a surge of hiring is coming. Many of those jobs will be in the industrial battlegrounds that Democrats either took back from Mr. Trump in 2020 or will need in 2024, when endangered senators like Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin face re-election.” 

Reindustrializing the midwest will climb to its zenith in a couple of years, around the time the president asks white working class Americans for their vote. He won’t get them all. Some are racist to their holiest of holies. But others, though also racist, will take up his offer.

“Here’s the deal,” Biden said over and over, knowing his deal so sweet and juicy most white working class Americans will take it. He’s buying them off. It’s that simple. The reasonsreasons can’t explain that.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

1 Comment

  1. Bennett Graff on February 10, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Great post, John. Another way to think this through is that Biden is engaging in a very traditional form of political jiu-jitsu: in this case, splitting the white vote. Leaving aside the white people already voting Democratic, Biden has made an interesting decision here. Nixon had a Southern strategy to separate white voters (often but not exclusively working class) from the Democratic party; Biden has–as far as I can tell–a Midwestern strategy to separate white voters from the Republican party. And it’s an interesting approach to because it will test whether white voters without a college degree (the closest anyone seems to get to what qualifies a “working class,” however erroneous a marker that is) glommed onto Trump largely because of “economic anxiety” or because they’re just plain racist who live according to zero-sum realities. We’ll see this tested, in particular, in 2024, because the percentage of whites without college degrees who voted for Trump did not change much between 2016 and 2020. If there’s no change, so much for wages over the wages of whiteness. If there’s some change, then Biden might be on to something and that economic anxiety talk wasn’t entirely hot air.

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