Why do working class people vote for the party of the "rich people", not only in this year of the Trump phenomenon but in normal years too. Dada Vedaprajinananda offers a few reasons.

By Dada Vedaprajinananda

The politics practiced in the US is sometimes bewildering, especially for people living abroad, however, this year’s scramble for the presidential nomination is even more bizarre, with a brash billionaire, Donald Trump leading the Republican nomination process. How can this be explained?

Even in normal times, US politics are confounding.  A Spanish friend, now living in the US, once said to me “In my country the poor people and the working class people vote for the labor and left wing parties, but here in the US they vote for the Republicans.” He was absolutely right, poor people are seemingly voting against their very own interests by choosing the party of the rich people. They vote for a party that wants to take away the social safety net and privatize everything.  Why?

There are several explanations.  The writer John Steinbeck once said, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” There is a lot of truth in Steinbeck’s words.  In the US there is a great belief in upward mobility. Many people think that though they may be poor today, they will be rich in the future, so they want to make sure that when they are rich there will be a favorable environment so that they can enjoy their wealth.

On top of this myth of upward mobility, economists and politicians have added some more myths.  They say that jobs and wealth are created by the wealthy capitalists, and that these “job creators” should be allowed to work unfettered and with very low, or in actual practice, no, taxes so that eventually everyone will be benefitted.  The wealth that these people create, they say, will eventually trickle down to everyone below them.  During the epoch of President Dwight Eisenhower (in the 1950s) there was a 90% tax on wealth in the highest income brackets, but under the sway of “trickle-down economics,” which started to be implemented in the Reagan years, the rich people now pay practically nothing (when you take into account loopholes and tricks such as moving corporate offices to other countries). And despite continued GDP growth over the years, the real income of working and middle class people has been on the decline since 1970. Income clearly has not trickled down.

In recent years movements in the US have been promoting this kind of economic thinking.  The Tea Party Movement and the Libertarian Movement are two of them.  You would think that these would be led by the very richest class of society, but in fact these are insurgent movements populated by ordinary working people, who are fighting as hard as they can to promote the interests of the top 1% of society. It is amazing, but it shows the power of propaganda by a mass media that is owned by the rich.

But there are two more factors that help explain the seeming anomalies of American politics. In many cases the poor do not vote against their own interests.  They simply do not vote at all.  They see the rigid two party system, and view two parties that are almost completely alike and then do not even go to the polls on Election Day. Voter turnout in the US ranges between 40 to 60%, and this means that millions of people simply do not bother at all with a process that they think is rigged against them.

Finally we come to the last factor that shapes the framework of American politics, racism and emotive social issues.  Racism has been an important fact in American society even before the founding of the republic. Colonial society was highly stratified but poor whites were fed with notions of hatred towards Native Americans and the African slaves working in the plantations, and they were puffed up with the idea that they belonged to a superior race.  As a result these poor whites never raised any objections to their own mistreatment and followed the lead of rich whites. In more recent history the Civil War and its aftermath resulted first in “The Solid South” where all whites, rich and poor, voted for the Democrats and not the Republican party of Lincoln, which they saw as the party that had humiliated their society. In the Solid South, African-Americans were subject to segregation, lynching, and continuous persecution. After the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1965 Black people entered the Democratic Party, and the white people, rich and poor, shifted their allegiance to the Republicans.

Today there are social issues that politicians, especially Republicans, use to make people forget about their economic plight.  These issues include religion, abortion, guns and until recently the fight against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

All of these factors are responsible for an electorate that is not able to think about their immediate social and economic needs and vote rationally. Although the US claims to be the greatest democracy in the world, the current election, if it culminates with a Trump presidency, will make it look like the greatest foolocracy on earth.