Sociologists talk about the disaffected white underclass. Marxists talk about the lumpenproletariat, or riff-raff, which makes “Trumpenproletariat” almost irresistible. But others on both the left and right have used more familiar epithets. A columnist in the New York Daily News calls Trump’s supporters “bigots, bumpkins and rednecks.” The New York Post calls them the “hillbilly class” and “white trash Americans.”
Back in 1989, the historian C. Vann Woodward said that “redneck,” is the only epithet for an ethnic minority that’s still permitted in polite company. He could have said the same thing about “hillbilly” or “white trash.”
The fact is that Americans don’t find class prejudice quite as shameful as racism. College fraternities are thrown off campus when they hold parties with themes like “Crips and Bloods” or “south of the border.” But there’s no surge of indignation when their members break out their mullet wigs and “wifebeater” shirts for a “white trash bash.”
Used in a loose way, those labels all call up the same images: the good ol’ boys at Trump rallies wearing feed-store caps and Confederate flag T-shirts or the hapless Kentucky layabouts living on opioids and food stamps that J.D. Vance describes in his bestseller Hillbilly Elegy.
To be sure, those aren’t actually the typical Trump supporters, who turn out to be a bit more affluent than other non-college whites— not so much the people who live in the trailer courts as the people who own them. Even so, the words embody the long history of class contention that the Trump phenomenon has brought to the surface.
Over the years, Americans have probably coined more epithets for poor whites than for any other group, even including blacks. Rednecks and hillbillies, white trash and trailer trash, Okies …