Even though I arrived early at the station to get to work, the train was once again running late.
After it finally arrived, I got off to walk up a long hill towards the second train I needed to take, only to find that it too was running late.
Finally, I arrived at work to start my day, even though I felt I already had a whole day hustling to get there.
I worked the afternoon to evening shift as a mental health worker (MHW) at an inpatient facility. As I would begin my shift, the managers and other people in higher positions, who mostly worked the 9-5 shift, were winding down their day. I saw that they spent most of their day in a safe environment within their offices, while many of my colleagues and I would be beginning a long and potentially dangerous shift at the front lines with poor conditions and few staff to assist or support us after 5:00PM.
Of course, I liked my job and found it to be very meaningful, but I could not help but feel frustrated sometimes. I – and many of my colleagues at the front line – often felt neglected by the people in the higher and top management positions. I felt that it was easy for them to overlook our needs because they did not work the same hours as many of us did and did not have to endure the difficulties we had to. I also felt we had to take on the hardest parts of the job while receiving the lowest pay with the worst conditions and worst security.
What I just described may be a common narrative for many Americans currently serving in the working class. From long and difficult commutes to poor working conditions to feeling neglected by their managers, many American workers today feel frustrated with their current status, and this is something we will need to both acknowledge and address if we are going to truly make America better in the post-Trump era.
As we are heading into the Biden years, I often hear people saying this will be the beginning of a “healing process”, but that will require more than just silencing White supremacists. Indeed, in order to heal the division and racism that were revealed during the Trump years, we will need to address the reasons why he came to power in the first place.
While racism certainly played a role in Trump’s victory in 2016 (and relative success in the 2020 elections), another primary factor was the legitimate grievances of the White working class.
Although I have never supported Trump, working for 18 months as an MHW gave me a glimpse into the life of an American worker and helped me understand why a lot of them like him. Many people in the working class may like Trump’s rhetoric, not necessarily because they uphold a White supremacist ideology, but rather because they are genuinely frustrated with their current livelihoods. When you feel stuck in a lower position and feel neglected, you can’t help but feel frustrated with the people above you, such as the people in the establishment, and find it difficult to have empathy for others when you yourself are struggling to make a living
I had the fortunate of knowing that I would not always be stuck in my position. I knew I was going to further my education with a Master’s degree in Social Work and am now an outpatient clinician with a good job under much safer conditions. However, other people in the working class are not as fortunate. Many of them are still enduring the difficulties I described above and, because they feel behind and neglected, it is understandable why an anti-establishment figure like Trump is appealing to them. As former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote in The Guardian on Labor Day,
“Much of the political establishment wants to attribute Trump’s rise solely to racism. Racism did play a part…but racism’s sordid history in American politics long predates Trump. What has given Trump’s racism – as well as his hateful xenophobia, misogyny and jingoism – particular virulence has been his capacity to channel the intensifying anger of the white working class…If Biden is elected, he would be well advised to remember the forces Trump exploited to gain power, and to begin the task of remedying them.”
The past four years under Donald Trump have created many obstacles and challenges for us going forward, but it may have also been the wakeup call we needed to realize why we cannot continue to ignore the needs of the White working class. If we want to truly build a better America in the post-Trump era, we should not ostracize the American workers who voted for Trump, but rather reach out to them, hear what their needs are, have empathy for them, and try to come up with solutions together because, the people in the working class not only have legitimate grievances, but are also an essential and valuable part of our society.