White Trash by Nancy Isenberg

book on class in AmericaWhite Trash: The 400-Year Untold history of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg (2016)

Equality as an ideal, in the abstract, serves as the theme of American democracy. It is false, of course, as a reality.

Rich white men never willingly gave any power, money, or anything else to anyone unless they were forced to do so. Married women were denied legal existence being subsumed upon marriage only as a adjunct to the husband. And were legally chattel back in the day.

Americans are not and have never been living in a “classless society.”

While our nobility cannot claim royal blood as the basis for their superiority, money serves as an accurate determinator of class status. The nobility back in the day also had money of course, but even when it was gambled or wasted away, they still maintained that awesome power of their blue bloodline.

Over our succeeding generations, our monied and small group of “enlightened” founders still became dynasties of blood. Spend any time in almost any area of endeavor and you will find that THE FAMILY YOU ARE BORN IN contains the limits or possibilities of your future and all the succeeding generations of your family line.

Sure there are the lottery winner exceptions like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and mainly other men of particular intellect, the right time and place, and other factors (family money being MOST significant along with connections).

Hollywood royalty is just that: dynasties of actors and their children and related tradecraft opportunities. The seduction of America is that it is still possible, however difficult and unlikely, to break through the kinship and money and power ties and succeed. However, for that one exceptionally lucky and persistent and dedicated person, there are thousands and thousands more that will never be able to give up their day job in retail or the service industry.

Who you know (or family) and how much money you have to persist will make the difference. This is why “WHITE TRASH” is an appropriate discussion to have to evaluate class in America. The narrow view serves to simultaneously illustrate why systemic racism must be overcome, but that is not the subject of this book.

The book is available on cd and I listened to it first. Some parts I played over and over to really grasp the meaning. Then I checked out the hard copy (321 pages before the notes) to further be able to deepen my understanding of the author’s premise.

This is a book well worth reading and listening too as well. Here is a sample from the Epilogue (p. 310 plus):

Two persistent problems have ruled through our “democratic” past One we can trace back to Franklin and Jefferson and their longing to dismiss class by touting “exceptional” features of the American landscape, which are deemed productive of an exceptional society. The founders insisted that the majestic continent would magically solve the demographic dilemma by reducing overpopulation and flattening out he class structure. In addition to this environmental solution, a larger, extreme useful myth arose: that America gave a voice to all of its people, that every citizen could exercise genuine influence over the government. (We should note that this myth was always qualified, because it was accepted that some citizens were more worthy than others — especially those whose stake in society came from property ownership.)

The British colonial imprint was never really erased either. The “yeoman” was a British class, reflecting the well-established English practice of equating moral worth to cultivation of the soil. For their part, nineteenth-century Americans did everything possible to to replicate class station through marriage, kinship, pedigree, and lineage. While The Confederacy was the high mark — the most overt manifestation — of rural aristocratic pretense (and an open embrace of society’s need to have an elite ruling over the lower classes), the next century ushered in the disturbing imperative of eugenics, availing itself of science to justify breeding a master class. Thus not only did American NOT abandon their desire for class distinctions, they repeatedly reinvented class distinctions. Once the government of the United States began portraying itself as “leader of the free world” the longing for a more regal head of state was advanced. The Democrats swooned over Kennedy’s Camelot, and Republicans ennoble the Hollywood court of Reagan.

In 2017, the rise of the ignorant, malicious, billionaire class of 400 or so families determined to eliminate all but two classes — the haves and the have-nots — has reached the zenith of American class warfare.

It is now widely acknowledged that American no longer leads the free world. American is no longer a democracy or a republic for that matter. Though pundits emphasize the dark money backroom control of the billionaires claiming America is an oligarchy, we fail to meet even that level of functionality.

The current power class deliberately has chosen to NOT LEAD to forward, towards progressive equality of opportunity much less outcome, social justice, environmental security, or anything else positive. Class warfare now is all and only about wealth accumulation and hoarding for the top economic class. The motto could be “wage work or die” with the added insult of blaming poverty on the impoverished and declaring the poor fundamentally immoral because of their lack of wealth.


Leave a Reply