Working-class white voters manipulated by Trump

Paul Green Potrait

In 1945, members of the “Greatest Generation” helped establish Roosevelt University as a place of equality and opportunity. Many of them were white and working class, a demographic that, 70 years later, is being exploited to great effect by Donald Trump, a Republican presidential candidate few would align with Roosevelt’s enduring mission of social justice. How did this happen?

To get to an answer, we have to start by thinking about the generation that fought World War II. A decade before that horrific war, they also endured the Great Depression. The end result of both these battles was the overwhelming belief that they must demand a better life for themselves and their children.

In many ways, Roosevelt University personified the hopes and dreams of those who sacrificed and suffered through hard times. Its earliest faculty, students and supporters believed in Franklin Roosevelt’s vision for a more just world. His coalition was diverse and his voting blocs were not always supportive of each other’s aspirations. But they were united in their support for FDR, who used his political and administrative genius to keep his allies together in peace and war.

Dr. Wayne A.R. Leys, Dean of Faculties, and the first five students to register at Roosevelt College

One of FDR’s important blocs was made up of “WWCs,” working-class whites, a group that played an important role in the University’s formation and early focus on social justice.

Today, unfortunately, working-class whites appear to make up much of the support base for Trump, who is dominating the 2016 election conversation with outrageous and obnoxious statements that merge easily with his egomania and showmanship. (For the record: I am chairman of the City Club of Chicago and, in that position, moderated Trump’s appearance at the club in June. I can confirm from this experience that there is little difference between Trump’s private and public personas.)

Trump has hit a chord with WWCs who feel bypassed as America moves in new economic directions. The decent-paying jobs at steel mills, stockyards, coal mines—any manufacturing jobs in general—are dwindling to a precious few. As political scientist Robert Putnam has pointed out, education is the new divider in American society between the haves and have nots. Like many other groups, WWCs don’t see themselves as part of this country’s future.

As a result, many latch onto Trump’s mantra that America is being led by a bunch of losers who are allowing other nations to rip us off on trade and immigration and lessen our standing in the world.

Anger is a great political motivator and these individuals are looking for a spokesman to speak to their needs, hopes and dreams. Unfortunately for them, Trump has manipulated their concerns into a brash, cartoonish version of their political views. It must be remembered that these folks have little in common with America’s No. 1 billionaire huckster.

Social justice is an inclusive, not an exclusive, philosophical concept. To me, it represents the idea that individuals should be able to have the dignity of a job, be guaranteed their full rights as citizens and find acceptance in the mainstream of American life. It is not limited by race, gender or sexual orientation.

I hope that soon a candidate, or candidates, will challenge Trump on his alleged championing of white working-class concerns and link them, in a meaningful manner, with other groups seeking social justice in America. As for Roosevelt University, we should continue to be in the forefront on this issue—for this University exists for all people seeking a better way of life. We should never forget it is the main reason why Roosevelt was created 70 years ago.


  1. says

    Paul Green says what is no doubt expected of him and does it with alacrity. However, his attacks on this candidate are both unwarranted and reflect a “low information” bias of a political partisan. “Social justice” is being used here as a political hammer, rather than as the beginning point of what should be a constructive debate on issues Mr. Trump has raised.

    Such ad hominems include such turns of phrase as “obnoxious statements that merge easily with his egomania” in characterizing Mr. Trump. This ill befits the requirements of an honest political dialogue. “Social justice” is a complex notion; it is now being used as a weapon, rather than an a category of policy analysis. We have here in my opinion a bit of propaganda written with the intent of enforcing conformity, something that does not reflect the values of those of us who, in the sixties, bled for a concept he uses to this end. – Steve Bayne (BA. 1967-1973)

    • Hamp says

      Well then why is Trump’s polling base largely what is stated in this article? If you were an observer of people and cultures and trends, this article makes sense with the current climate. As far as the name calling……..No one does it better that Trump.

      I’m enjoying the 2015 political reality show!!

  2. Victor beze says

    I went to Roosevelt, not really politically oriented, but was an award winning adman. Like most you beat around the bush. You know what a theorem is, points based on facts. To make it simpler for us working class, please present point by point ending with a summation. SIMPLE

  3. says

    Although, Trump can be “over the top” with his comments, at least he’s bringing up issues many of the other candidates are afraid to address. There’s a reason that working class whites have identified with him. They’ve watched for decades as blacks and browns receive special treatment and handouts from public and private institutions while they are expected to still work and earn everything.

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