Trump shows blue-collar values — but only the negative ones

JACKSONVILLE — In his commentary, Richard Morton, a Republican Party leader, calls Donald Trump “a blue-collar billionaire.” Which makes me wonder: What exactly do we mean when we call someone “blue collar” today?

My grandfather and most of my uncles were blue-collar workers. (So was I, for a while.) Years ago, the phrase referred to men and women (but mainly men) who built roads, drove trucks, and worked with their hands in factories, gas stations, restaurants, and machine shops.

Many of these workers had little education and often dropped out of high school to get a “real” job to support their families. These men were religious (though not always churchgoing), lived in modest houses, and believed a good spanking was morally beneficial for children.

They were practical and frugal. They paid their debts. They didn't get divorced. They prided themselves on plain speaking and listening to their gut feelings. They were uncomfortable with abstract thought and “fancy” language.

Blue-collar Americans tended to be social traditionalists. They were fiercely loyal to family and friends, and often suspicious of “others” (foreigners, Jews, blacks, gays, and uppity women), to whom they imputed various degrees of greed, depravity, and double dealing.

And, of course, they believed life was better when women were subservient to men.

So Morton has a point. Trump definitely exhibits some traditional “blue-collar” values.

But only the negative ones.

For instance, Trump has minimal respect for the education, expertise, and professional accomplishment of others. He is also contemptuous and dismissive of pretty much everyone who is not white, male, powerful, and wealthy (though he makes exceptions for women and minorities who fawn over and flatter him).

He is bored and uncomfortable with complex challenges and likes to hammer every issue into a simplistic premise based on his prejudice and egotism. He shows scant respect for women and reflexively views all females as sex objects to be rated and “scored” on their physical attractiveness.

But in other significant ways, Trump is not blue collar at all.

For one thing, he is a compulsive braggart, which is not a traditional blue-collar value. For another, he discards wives when they are no longer young, or when he gets bored with them.

As for religion, while Trump is happy to use church leaders to get what he wants, he has nothing but contempt for the values of Jesus Christ, whose message of love, kindness, and nonviolence he refutes daily. And of course, Trump's word is untrustworthy. Compulsive lying (even about trivial things) seems to be part of his DNA.

And yet, the idea of a blue-collar billionaire as president is not without precedent. Franklin Roosevelt, the Hyde Park aristocrat who shepherded the United States through the Great Depression, was as patrician as they come.

But in Roosevelt's case, his education, erudition, gentility, and diplomatic gifts were all placed in the service of the “common man,” and despite opposition from the millionaire class (who considered him a traitor), Roosevelt created massive government works programs that kept families from starving during the 1930s. In effect, Roosevelt helped created the big-government social programs that Republicans have been trying to kill for more than 80 years.

The irony is that in supporting Trump (who has promised massive infrastructure spending), conservatives are making a cynical, and perhaps naïve, deal with the devil, because in addition to billion-dollar government-works projects, Trump is calling for tax cuts that will send U.S. debt into the stratosphere.

And Trump is OK with this, because in his experience, whenever you get into financial trouble, you just declare bankruptcy and walk away, without paying all those blue-collar losers you hired to build your luxury casinos and hotels.

And that, my friends, is something my own blue-collar family would never do.

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