A recent Instagram photo of Donald Trump munching a Big Mac meal offers hope to blue collar America. With an economic defense of Joe Lunch Bucket as his campaign’s centerpiece, Trump should now defend working class folk from their cultural adversaries across the political spectrum.
There’s a campaign underway to stigmatize working class culture because our political and public health elites are afflicted with Mary Poppins Syndrome. They won’t rest until Americans are practically perfect in every way. And, the farther down the socioeconomic ladder, the more perfecting there’s to be done by those who know what’s best for us.
Health elitists are extending the nanny state in order to clamp down on what they consider inappropriate, even immoral, pleasures. From Michael Bloomberg to Michelle Obama to the FDA, they crusade against ‘unhealthy’ lifestyle choices. They see stereotypical blue collar Joe as an obese couch potato addicted to junk food and the Powerball, swilling beer and smoking cigarettes all day. Stereotypical blue collar Jane and her teenage daughters carry the extra burden of their fake tan obsession.
The Bloombergs of this world find the blue collar view – i.e. drinking’s acceptable, gambling’s fun, fatness is tolerable, tanning beds are harmless, and smoking’s relaxing – ignorant and dangerous. Statistically, blue collar Americans are far more likely to be overweight, smoke, drink beer, play the slots, and don a spray tan. So, the working classes must be saved from themselves. They are simply told, “It’s for your own good.”
As health elitists view a blue collar lifestyle as the enemy of a long (if not an enjoyable) life, they’ve pushed a menu of taxes and regulations to change the behavior of ordinary people. Junk science-based claims about lifestyle and disease are often used to justify these specific prescriptions for perfect health.
The prescriptions include online gambling and indoor tanning bans, and public smoking bans in bars, those traditional bastions of working class culture. And, our cultural betters either want or have secured economically regressive taxes on soda, fast food, alcohol, and cigarettes.
Although establishment politicians rhetorically defend the “working man,” no one defends working class culture. That’s because, as one Midwestern factory worker told me recently, “Nobody in politics really understands working class lives.”
The health elitists shouldn’t feel too secure in their cultural assault. Working class culture isn’t a minority taste. A great many hardworking, unpretentious, no-nonsense Americans have more money than their working class parents had. But, that doesn’t mean their working class cultural preferences have disappeared. Far from it.
Working class culture still dominates everyday life. From the NFL, fast food restaurants, and Marlboros and Newports, to reality TV, celebrity magazines, Six Flags, and Vegas vacations, American culture is still underpinned by such tastes, comforts, and vernacular.
The class-based cultural campaign employs slice-by-slice tactics because abolishing traditional pleasures in one grand gesture would be too obvious, too crude, and arouse too much passionate opposition. Instead, the campaign seeks to ease them gradually out of existence.
There’s already a growing sense in working class communities of suffering endless condescension, a feeling that urbane America has written off their culture as a relic or, worse, as a modern-day joke. Fifty years ago, working class culture was seen as dignified and respectable. Today, it is sneered at, or ridiculed as “white trash.”
Candidates’ positions on nanny state issues matter because working class voters are increasingly using them to test whether politicians respect their culture or mock it. As more people appreciate that freedom implies some leeway for personal risk and minor foolishness, there’s an opportunity for someone to speak a little politically incorrect truth to power.
An artful candidate like Donald Trump should stand in front of the health elitists’ regulatory march and yell, “Stop!” Blue collar voters will thank him in November.
Patrick Basham directs the Democracy Institute and coauthored the report, “The war on working class culture: How public health elites denormalize a way of life.”