White, working-class, middle-aged Americans are one of the only demographics in the world that has seen its life expectancy fall. But Mike wasn’t just a statistic.
I am really sorry for your loss.
This are just results of policies that were implemented from 1980 to today. Outsourcing manufacturing gutted middle class but what killed it was systematic destruction of traditional family values. Ironically, white males who are always blamed for everything wrong in this country, are biggest losers in last 30 years.
But hey according to MSM and our elites, some average Joe from flyover country, who saw complete destruction of his town by Wall Street and big business, saw worst of opioid epidemic in community, lost all economic perspective, is complety ignored by Washington is somehow still enjoying white privilege and is root cause of systemic racism and all problems in US.
I think the author is way off. He bifurcates Republicans and Democrats, as if they aren’t part of the same club. Given there are certain members of each party who probably really want to do good for the American people, but once they get to Washington, K Street takes over, and they forfeit their souls (most of the time). This isn’t a Republicans or Democrat problem; it’s an aristocracy problem, run by the club of two parties.
This is a deeply personal piece, and I appreciate that. I'm trying to fit it into my experiences and coming up a bit short. I came from a literally dirt poor family (our first log cabin had a packed dirt floor) with no electricity or running water, and home schooled through grade 10. The outhouse was the way of doing business. Four kids, nuclear family, parents quit drinking before we were sentient. All four of us have reasonably comfortable lives and families. Bit of providence there, but maybe statistically significant? Leaning towards the core nuclear family as the prominent factor instead of being poor. Thoughts?
Damn....a whole lot to unpack in this.
First, I would tell the author to bail on the democrats. They are addicted to elitism and big money. Their core constituency, at least as they seem to see it, consists of black women, trans activists, college professors, the Martha's Vineyard and Hamptons crowd, and big Silicon Valley and big Pharma money. They are not interested in the white working class or any working class really. If your white, male and working class, you are about as far from their interests as your gonna get. If you believe in God more than in the Metaverse or Tik Tok, you are not one of them, in fact you are the enemy. If you drive a truck and have a dirty job, you are to be used until you are no longer useful. If you work at Walmart or the local grocery store, you are to be unseen and when you are too old or too sick to support yourself they will give you just enough to keep you unseen. They have no interest in bettering your condition and like the Walmart worker they would prefer the kind of jobs you do not be seen and be exported to places where they do not have to witness it, smell it or have it interfere with their green spaces. They certainly do not want you to have the kind of economic stability that translates into political power. Stay in your place, be useful as long as you can and then fade away and be quiet.
Are the republicans any better? Depends on which republicans you are talking about and what you mean by better. If you mean the Mitch McConnel's of the world who envy the democrats ties to Wall Street and Silicon Valley then the answer is very likely not. If you mean the more populist types who are averse to unfettered free trade, who question green orthodoxy, who actually think that the country is bigger then the Boston to DC corridor or San Francisco, who think that best way to help people is to provide an environment that creates and maintains good paying working class jobs, who think that excessive immigration creates too much competition for jobs at the lower end, well then maybe that is a group for you. Are the republicans cynically taking an opening to the white working class? Probably. But then the democrats have taken what used to their constituency and they need the working class to win. Is that perfect? No. But it beats being used by the democrats to serve their primary constituency while enduring mocking and being humiliated by them as the price. And, at least, because they need you, these new, populist republicans are going to make some effort to address your concerns. At least with them you have some leverage.
You may have missed it, but there has been a major political realignment happening for 30 yrs and it started with Bill Clinton, NAFTA, globalization, the democrats moving closer to big money with banking deregulation. It carried on under Bush Jr. and China entering the WTO and it really revealed itself under Obama and the bank bailouts. Trump, for all his flaws, saw this and called it out and took advantage of it. Its one of the reasons that the democrats and the old school republicans like Romney and McConnel hate him so much, he exposed that the game was rigged and worse, he showed the working class that they do still have power enough to create havoc for those who have ignored them when not outright trying to make their lives harder while treating them with contempt, mocking their values as they cling to God and guns while showing up at Veteran's Day parades in trucks with American flags on them. From the perspective of the old school republicans and the democrats, the best thing the working class can do is be useful to them or serve in the army and then disappear.
BTW professor, when is the last time you came out of the classroom or the faculty lounge and went and had coffee with the janitorial staff at the university? Have you ever invited one of the campus cops to a cookout? When is the last time you stopped to have a conversation of any length with the lady who cleans the dishes in the cafeteria? When your plumber comes to the house do you make any effort to try and appreciate what he does and ask questions or even the kid who changes the brakes on your car? I can tell you that this republican does precisely those things. The democrats need more Mike Rowe's and fewer AOCs.
Did you know that it is easier to find a Java programmer or a Business Analyst than a good plumber or machinist? I cannot walk the streets of Boston or DC without tripping over a Phd looking for a job engaged in mental masturbation that will pay for their Starbucks habit, but I'll be damned if I can find a guy to do good tile work for under $600 a day and needs less than 3 weeks to get to me.
Not everyone is cut out to be a financial analyst or a doctor or a VP of sales. Some people lack the intellect. Some people lack the drive. Some people are just not temperamentally cut out for that kind of work. Some people are cut out to work with their hands. That is not to say they are stupid, a lot of trades and manufacturing jobs are physically tough but also require a good brain. Ever tried to do the calculations for the cuts to install trusses? Ever tried to figure out how much load a new AC unit will put on an electrical system in a house or whether a booster is needed to run an internet cable?
I do not disagree with you about minimizing the role of luck, but two points. First, the government is not going to fix family dysfunction and the impact on kids by handing out money. It is going to HELP fix it by creating an environment that allows people to have the dignity and purpose of a good paying job. The government cannot make parents better people or better parents period. What it can do is to try and create an environment where people have an opportunity to mitigate the dysfunction by having less financial stress and fear and have the pride and dignity that come from meaningful work. Second, to a certain degree we create our own luck. We just do. But even then, we are never going to eliminate the impact of chance.
Finally, we need to restore RESPECT for people who do all those kinds of blue collar jobs. We need a culture that treats the people who do that work with respect. We need a culture that values these people not one that ignores and denigrates them. The farmer on the tractor or the dental hygienist are as human and important and valuable as any dentist or professor of Women's Studies. Now go convince your democratic friends, your faculty peers, of this. Tell your students that they are free to drop out and go to trade school and still have your respect.
Beautiful article. At a very human level it’s impossible for me to grieve the loss of Mike, and others like him.
I come from a similar background, though in Maine, where it was the loss of the paper mills (among other factors) that lead to the slow death of the working class. My family too has its abuse and alcoholism.
Two things helped me escape:
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy (to get as far from home as possible) and when one of my first Chiefs suggested therapy might help my rage, I went.
I refuse to buy into a narrative that strips the people I knew growing up from the agency to struggle with their demons, personal and cultural — it robs them of their humanity.
I can and do morn the death of people like Mike, but I can’t, and don’t wish to try, to mourn the death of a population who refuses to adapt.
I've watched two white male friends die deaths of despair. Both were fatherless. Bloodworth mentions alcoholic fathers, violent sons of bitches, and that's always been a problem for some, but since he was growing up in the 80s, post-second wave feminism, I can't help but wonder whether this movement escalated that alcoholism and rage, because I credit feminism and other progressive narratives with our current epidemic of loneliness, these deaths of despair. The message is that we don't need men, isn't it? And what drives men, on a fundamental level, is providing for their family. To take away the obligation to provide, to serve as 'head' of the family, you take away a vehicle for purpose and pride. Add to this a denigrating narrative on the working class -- salt of the earth occupations -- mocking Christians and "family values" and what you get is plain chaos.
One white male friend (he was gay) -- he and I connected over our father's deaths when we were young. He worked as a sort of companion for the elderly, and seeing how they go out -- lonely and forgotten -- depending on hired help -- facilitated his decline into alcoholism, which killed him. The last time I saw him, he was yellow, and couldn't eat.
The other one, his father left his family and had little to do with them; the mother and children were supported by the church (in Holland).
The Dutch friend never found his place in the world, despite loyal friends, and his sisters. His wife had the elite job, and he too slipped into alcoholism. Part of what brought on the alcoholism was the lack of a father. Sisters helping him get a job. Women succeeding, him failing. His wife eventually quit the marriage, but in the end, it was his ex-wife who held his hand as he died of loneliness (due to the lockdown, when he had nothing to do but drink himself to death).
As my mother's days appear to be numbered, I've been writing cards with holiday memories, which brings up so much wistfulness. I'm among the many "unintentionally childless" people (1 in 4) who face an even lonelier demise with no children to advocate for us. I'm traveling back in time to suburban streets shrieking with kids; families gathered on lawns in their Easter best for photographs before driving off to church, family dinners -- this collective social world resides in my memory alone, it seems a thing of the past. As a kid, I was always holding babies; I haven't held a baby in thirty years -- my nephews (late 20s, early 30s) appear to be headed down the childless road despite the modeling of a sound marriage in their parents...most of the people I work with are childless and live alone...
There's an epidemic of abandoned bodies -- people of more diverse social classes ending up in unmarked graves. Loosening the morals on marriage and family is, in part, responsible for this. In a presentation I gave recently on dying alone, the social-justice bent of the audience was one of hubris. They cared more about inmates dying alone in their cells (ironically, inmates don't die alone) than the story of a 74-year-old childless career woman who died alone in her bathtub, unknown until her decomposing body stunk up the building. They insisted that their "chosen" families were superior to creating blood families. Hubris.
Thank you for sharing your story.
I am not from your class background, but the year I spent teaching working class kids in my hometown high school opened my eyes to the working class experience. I taught the cruelly-misnamed "College Prep" classes (only 9/39 actually went on to college, some were semi-literate) while the kids of my fellow professionals contended with higher order ideas in Honors down the hall. One of my students is now homeless, another committed suicide, the sharpest mind works at a gas station, and the only one who attended a private, four-year school is now a single mother on disability with $40,000 in college debt left to pay off. There is no neat political approach that would fix all these problems. There is no pro or anti-government fix. What's lacking first and foremost is empathy, which begins with seeing. My former students and their families are invisible here.
Valid points, but ascribing these problems as being caused by a changing economy is myopic. Everything in this story strike me as cultural failings. A western people adrift without a powerful worldview, without a Christian worldview. Why expect the government to solve cultural problems? Money doesn’t make you happy. Gratitude does.
Very sad story. But saying it’s the government’s job, or a political party’s job to fix it is misguided. Society itself has lost its soul. We chose to abandon God. We chose to drive him out of schools and the public square. And with it went the basics-- Love you neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have done to you. You are your brother’s keeper. Had Mike belonged to a loving church, he would have found a family who cared for him. And knowing that love, he could have sorted out his life better.
This resonated with me a great deal. I’m between funerals right now - my cousin committed suicide. Maybe was murdered, but it was a long time before the body was found, so hard to tell, and if she was, well the police in her economically depressed semi-vacant strip-mall suburban town are drowning in fentanyl overdoses so they don’t have a lot of time to prioritize yet another drunk redneck domestic violence killing. In a few weeks I’ll be at the funeral of one of my oldest childhood friends who drank himself to death at 39.
Like a lot of others, my observation of all of this is less that there’s something here for the government to fix, and more that my people - white working class people - have a profound cultural sickness that we need to address. Yes, there are all manner of external political and cultural forces that contributed to this, from the end of manufacturing to a cultural narrative that tells these people that they’re worthless, especially the men. But no one will fix that except our own communities.
One major, major issue I see is the fallout of divorce and broken and unstable families, plus substance abuse. My cousin was a child of divorce, was divorced herself, and was estranged from her son and his family due to her substance abuse; my friend was a child of divorced parents who lost his own marriage and custody of his kids due to his drinking. The normalization of divorce has been profoundly toxic for our society - and I speak as someone who is divorced myself (thankfully without kids) and now remarried with stepchildren. The amount of support and help and work it takes to help my stepchildren heal from the breakup of their parents’ marriage is massive and requires a profound subordination of self by all the adults involved - and these are kids who still have a close emotional relationship with both parents, are financially stable, etc. Without that, the almost inevitable legacy is emotional damage that makes it very hard for kids to, themselves, form stable families - and we know those stable families are the bedrock of a functional society.
The other thing I see is a culture of being aggrieved. My cousins are always quitting jobs because they were disrespected, because the boss didn’t value them, because they were smarter than the boss...and not quitting for something better. Quitting to sit on their couches (or often their parents’, siblings’, or ex-spouses’ couches) with their Playstations and cheap beer. If they’re not quitting, they’re getting in fights. It’s southern honor culture gone to a squalid extreme - they aren’t dueling or starting feuds, they’re getting into punch-ups by the dumpsters behind a strip-mall sports bar because a guy flicked a cigarette butt too close to their feet.
We only fix these things ourselves, with God’s help. Daddy government isn’t going to step in from DC with some piece of legislation that digs us out of the hole of addiction and broken families and poor economic prospects. And if he did, we’d hate ourselves even more, because the sickness at the heart of all of this is rooted in a deep lack of self-respect and powerlessness.
A very sad story. But what I takeaway the most, because the author seems fixated on it is, you don’t put your trust in democrats. You don’t stay a dem and your life certainly shouldn’t rise or fall on getting a job with the democrat party for heck’s sake.
God this is sad. Parents matter. Love matters. This is NOT the governments place to make this happen. Our government is made up of a bunch of shitheads capitalizing on their positions. What's really sad is, luck does matter. Did you get lucky and be born to two people who prioritize their kids, who want them to be independent and confident and capable, or two parents consumed with themselves? It's all luck. You can't pick your parents and your start in life. If you have a good base, you can get through all the hard stuff, and there's always hard stuff.
“Democrats, who used to be our party, who remain my party, are our last, best hope, if they can only find their way back to the class-based political space they once inhabited.”
I’m sorry, but this sounds like wishful thinking. Even 50 or 80 years ago, when the Democrats really did cater to the working class, they were not your friends. They used you. It was a snow job, a long con.
Look at the despicable leadership of the Democrats today, people like Schumer, Schiff, Pelosi, and Newsom. They are as dishonest as the day is long. They lie easily, and they are bought.
This is why Trump was so successful, and why the Democrats, in a temporary alliance with establishment Republicans, have scrambled to take him down for indiscretions that they completely ignore and forgive among their own.
They’re not your friends. Your friends are your friends, your family, your coworkers, fellow church members… your community. To rebuild the kind of coalitions that are needed to take country back from the radical Left, opportunists, and China-owned crooks will take a grassroots effort that may no longer be possible in our shiftless society.
I’m from a small cowtown in Colodado, graduated from high school in 1980. My parents had seven kids on a Jr. College professor’s salary. Then he got brain cancer when I was in 5th grade. We went from white collar to blue collar to falling down hard.
I think what saved my brothers and sister was the Catholic Church, Mom and Dad’s refusal to divorce each other and my mother’s parents among also hundreds of people in our community.
I'm sorry for your loss, Mr. Bloodworth, but this essay reads like survivor's guilt to me.
Yes, life is tough and far tougher still if you're one of the millions who don't have anyone who has your back. Dysfunctional families breed dysfunctional humans, but I don't know that that's necessarily the fault of politicians of either party.
I don't think it's a question of burrowing down, so you shut out what you don't want to see. I think it's a question of realistically defining your own sphere of influence. You _can_ help people—but only if they are willing to accept your help.
"We didn't need to be studied. We needed to be represented." THIS. RIGHT HERE. But the Dems won't get it. Never will. A sense of progressive elitism rules the roost over there, and it's almost impossible to break, because it's LIFE-DEFINING for so many Dem thought leaders. It gives them meaning in their lives, and there's almost nothing more powerful than that.
Me? I'm a mildly grumpy Asian man (son of immigrants) who'se tired of being labeled as "white adjacent" by these narcissistic idiots. In the end, it's all about them.