Angry Blue-Collar Catholics

Donald Trump swept the Republican primaries in the Northeast Corridor in large part due to the turnout of angry blue-collar Catholics. He may do the same in Indiana today.

Trump’s biggest victory was in New York – which is 44 percent blue-collar – where he racked up an astonishing 61 percent of votes cast and carried all sixty-two counties. On Long Island where a large majority of GOP voters are Catholic, Trump received an astonishing 70 percent.

Frankly, the New York results were not surprising. In 2010, another darling of the Tea Party movement, Carl Paladino, a vulgar and intemperate man from the Buffalo area, handily beat GOP establishment candidate Rick Lazio in the gubernatorial primary, and went down in flames that November to Andrew Cuomo.

Trump, in my judgment, is another Paladino – just in more expensive, empty suits.

The important question, however, is why do candidates like Trump and Paladino strike a cord with blue-collar Catholics?

Leftist political analyst Thomas Frank, in his new book, Listen, Liberal, blames this phenomenon on a Democratic Party presided over by Martha’s Vineyard summertime residents: Ivy Leaguers and corporate elites. This crowd, Frank charges, walked away from the party’s historic mission of defending and promoting the interests of the traditional working class. Modern Democratic rule by experts “excluded rule by people.”

Obama, Frank believes, is a captive of the “cult of innovation” and his commitment to traditional Democratic concerns is “somewhere between indifferent and icy.” Obama’s Democratic Party combines “self-righteousness and class privilege in a way that Americans find stomach-turning” and is dedicated “to serving and glorifying the professional class.”

As for the Republican Party, many analysts hold that a large subset of its blue-collar Catholics is no longer comfortable in a party they believe merely gives lip service to their economic and cultural concerns.

While these observations have merit, the seeds of frustration were planted decades before Obama.

In 1945, most veterans returning to civilian life didn’t aspire to join fancy country clubs or to live on Park Avenue. They wanted good paying, secure manufacturing jobs that matched their skills and permitted them to raise their families according to their religious beliefs.

In the post-war boom years, there was an abundance of such jobs in the mighty industrial states of New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ohio, and a vast majority of the blue-collar workers were Catholic.

By the early 1960s, however, these New Deal Catholics sensed their way of life was being threatened by the social planners taking over their party.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to supporters as he takes the stage for a campaign event in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Working-class ethnic Catholics no longer felt at home in a party that was becoming subservient to entitlement constituencies and their army of lobbyists. These voters were frightened by a new fairness doctrine that meant not equality of opportunity but equality of results by means of goals and quotas, not merit or excellence.

They also sensed challenges to their cultural mores. Rampant neighborhood crime, the decline of the traditional family, soaring welfare costs, and declining respect for the American flag distressed them.

From the mid-1970s onward, blue-collar Catholics experienced the destruction of their local economies. Government interference, onerous regulations and mandates and growing overseas competition destroyed America’s manufacturing base.

So 7,231,000 manufacturing jobs (37 percent) were eliminated between 1979 and 2015 and major industrial cities – Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Scranton, Erie, Detroit – were turning into ghost towns. The median household income of blue-collar high-school graduates which (in constant dollars) was $56,395 in 1973 was down to $40,701 by 2013.

In the 21st century, the cultural and economic lifestyle of millions of blue-collar Catholics has been obliterated. Their neighborhoods have been razed; the equity in their homes has been depleted. And sadly, an ever growing subset of Millennials who stayed in the old rustbelt cities have abandoned their faith, are chronically unemployed, gaming the welfare system, avoiding marriage and fatherhood, and becoming an underclass – impoverished people with very low social status.

In 2008 and 2012, these seething Catholic voters stayed home – they had no faith in the Obama’s rhetoric or McCain and Romney’s platitudes. But this year, their anger reached a boiling point and they just can’t take it anymore. In record-breaking numbers, they have come out to support the person who appeals to their gut, not to their mind – Donald Trump.

­Self-proclaimed white knights, like Trump, are not new. In modern times, we had Huey Long, George Wallace, and Ross Perot. Americans, thanks to their horse sense, quickly grew weary of the cliché-ridden, bombastic rhetoric of those demagogues. The Trump phenomenon, which encourages violence and hatred, and preys on the desperate with a bumper-sticker slogan “Make America Great Again,” will likely experience a similar fate.

Angry blue-collar voters may be on a high because they were key to Trump’s primary successes. But there are not enough of them to put him over the top in the general election.

Blue-collar whites comprised 36 percent of voters in 2012 but are expected to be 33 percent in 2016. Meanwhile, the share of Hispanics and Asian voters has increased during the past four years.

If Romney couldn’t win the election with 27 percent of the Hispanic vote and 26 percent of Asians, Trump can’t win if his share of those voting blocs drops to 10 percent. Then there’s the largest bloc of voters – women. Right now, 66 percent say they will never vote for him. That means Trump will get 35 percent, versus Romney’s 44 percent, of the women’s vote.

The numbers just don’t add up for Trump. And his defeat will guarantee that the Federal Courts and bureaucracy will rule, until 2020 and perhaps beyond, against the issues Catholics hold most dear.

Regardless of who wins in November, Washington’s elected officials must wake up and address the cries of forlorn blue-collar Americans. If they fail to act or continue to patronize these angry voters, who have been gathering peacefully at rallies, our disenfranchised may turn to what James Madison and his co-authors of the Constitution feared most – mobocracy.

George J. Marlin

George J. Marlin

George J. Marlin, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter, Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative, and Christian Persecutions in the Middle East: A 21st Century Tragedy. His new book, Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner, will be published on St. Patrick's Day.



RECENT COLUMNS

Archives