The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.Most of the discussion I've seen around this marvels that Williamson dares to spit on "the base" -- those normally reliable masses of Republican voters who need only the merest sign that the leadership shares their concerns, prejudices, and objects of worship to be kept aboard. Why was he abandoning such a successful shtick? You just show some concern for their increasingly tenuous employment prospects, and (while continuing tax policies that encourage offshoring) promise to kick out Mexicans and to immiserate the other, darker poor so these good sons of the sod will never be mistaken for them, and they follow you like baby ducklings. It worked for decades! And you didn't even have to give a shit.
But in truth, conservatives have been losing that knack for a long time. I notice the one traditional conservative instrument Williamson employs in his essay is Marriage & Morality Nagging. We're rich because we no longer worry about meat shortages, says Williamson, but "the family-life numbers, on the other hand, came down on us like a meteor... divorce in 1960 was so rare as to carry a hint of scandalous glamour... add to that the violence of abortion, which fundamentally alters the relationship between men, women, and children," etc.
So Williamson does blame heathenism -- but he shows no sympathy for the poor crackers he says suffer from it. It sort of makes sense -- after all, backwoods preachers (on whose act modern scolds base their own) didn't show sympathy for adulterers, they called down wrath and invited shame.
Other conservative thinkers who specialize in M&MN may be gentler that Williamson, but they're not so much sympathetic as clinical. Charles Murray, in his Fishtown/Belmont mode as poor-white diagnostician, wants the enlightened richie class to "drop its condescending 'nonjudgmentalism'" and "start preaching what it practices" -- that is, telling white wastrels to get married and do other things richies do, presumably ballet lessons for the kids, golf for the men and service on charity boards for the ladies, which the poors will afford by floating a loan.
And there's Williamson's colleage, David French. When word got around about the elevated suicide and drug abuse rate among working class white people last year, French shook his moralizing fist. His target then was liberals; thanks to their "celebrating hedonism" with love-ins and pot parties, "the sexual revolution is gutting the working class," he cried, and not only that, these "cultural aristocrats" look down on their victims, the poor whites, because "mocking poor whites is among the last acceptable forms of bigotry."
But then came Trump and now look at French: He has a post called "Working-Class Whites Have Moral Responsibilities -- In Defense of Kevin Williamson." No longer does he rage at hippies for sexing up the honky proles -- though he sticks in a brief mumble over "the role of progressive culture and progressive policies in cultural decline," perhaps by reflex. Mostly he rages, or rather sighs dismissively, at the proles themselves:
For generations, conservatives have rightly railed against deterministic progressive notions that put human choices at the mercy of race, class, history, or economics. Those factors can create additional challenges, but they do not relieve any human being of the moral obligation to do their best.
Yet millions of Americans aren’t doing their best. Indeed, they’re barely trying.As proof, he tells us how his church tried to help a bunch of these meth-addled hillbillies and it didn't work -- so obviously it wasn't the church's approach that was the problem, it was the trailer trash's "sense of entitlement":
...it was consistently astounding how little effort most parents and their teen children made to improve their lives. If they couldn’t find a job in a few days — or perhaps even as little as a few hours — they’d stop looking. If they got angry at teachers or coaches, they’d drop out of school. If they fought with their wife, they had sex with a neighbor.In short, it's everything they've been laying on their traditional enemies -- the hippies, the blacks -- except now they're turning on their traditional friends. I'm not quite sure why. Maybe grifts don't always die when the sucker catches on -- or even, as the Trump phenomenon suggests, when the sucker moves on to a splashier grift. Maybe grifts also die when the confidence man loses his confidence.