The Sorensen Monologues

Archive for September, 2017

If we talked about white poverty the way we talk about black poverty

To state the obvious, I am not saying that we shouldn’t care about white poverty or that poor whites haven’t had to endure their share of shaming from a punitive culture that uses wealth to determine the value of a human being (a source of condescension, it’s important to note, that originates from the right and its cult of market fundamentalism).

That said, there’s been a spate of sympathetic talk lately about the plight of working-class whites, expressing concern about the loss of economic opportunity in rural America and the rise of the opioid epidemic. A mythology has formed around the forgotten white man, and outrage has been manufactured — mostly by Fox and other conservative outlets — to blame the left for his struggles. This narrative has been so powerful that conventional wisdom spewers tend to forget that Trump’s voter base was relatively affluent and did not in fact represent the working class. (Valorization of white, blue collar men as the epitome of American authenticity is nothing new, of course. See: countless advertising campaigns from the past several decades.)

Again, I have no intention of diminishing the problems of anyone in the throes of poverty; yet I can’t help wonder where all this sympathy has been for black neighborhoods suffering from a lack of economic opportunity, or for the problems of addiction faced by communities of color. The condescending (and inaccurate) language used to describe black poverty is widespread among mainstream commentators on the right.

In response to this cartoon, a commenter on Daily Kos shared a link to this thought experiment by Anil Dash, imagining “if Asian Americans saw white Americans the way white Americans see black Americans.” I hadn’t seen it, but it’s making a similar point.


Immigration Fixation

There were other economic factors I could have mentioned in this cartoon, such as tax policy that promotes extreme inequality, or companies offshoring, or the entire perverse system of Wall Street incentives that benefits the investor class at the expense of workers. And there’s also the much-ignored fact that economic-minded voters tended to go for Clinton. Alas, I couldn’t fit all of these complexities into one comic. But I wanted address the problem that many anti-immigrant types tend to unfairly blame immigrants for economic woes while overlooking (or even enabling) policies that hurt ordinary Americans.

While I tend to avoid self-checkout lines myself, I understand that it’s impossible to go through life avoiding technologies that displace workers. Mobile check depositing, for example, is a blessing for freelancers. I try to look at the big picture and do what I reasonably can.


Assessing the Damage

This cartoon was initially inspired by the insane Fox headline last week, “CNN USES DANGEROUS STORM THREATENING AMERICA TO ADVANCE LEFTIST AGENDA.” Apparently CNN had the audacity to mention climate change.

The building codes I refer to are from an executive order by Obama establishing new construction standards for federal projects in areas prone to flooding. As this Slate article explains, the new rules took into account climate change projections. On August 15, just ten days before Harvey struck, Trump struck down the new building standards. Now, as the costs of reconstruction mount, those rules are apparently being reconsidered.

The improved building standards for flood-prone areas were one of many things the Obama administration did that fall under what is (ironically enough) known as the “submerged state” — vitally important stuff that goes on behind the scenes. It’s one reason I have zero patience for people who say both parties are the same and it makes no difference who you vote for.


Jen Sorensen is a nationally-published political cartoonist. She is a 2017 Pulitzer finalist and recipient of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

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