Like so many working-class kids, I was raised not to judge others by what they did or didn’t own and never to bring dishonor to the people I come from.
My mother never let go of the chance to remind her children to heed these lessons. Early in my career, when I started giving speeches to community and professional groups, my mother never attempted to tell me what to say. How I behaved, however, was always her business.
“Look your best,” she’d say. “Represent.” She always added, “And remember who sent you.”
She was referring to my roots, not my employer.
A few years ago, an editor who was frustrated with my choice of column topics lost his temper and said, “Connie, you are not working-class. You are an intellectual.”
I am my parents’ daughter, always, and that day was no different. “Well, if that’s true,” I said, “then I’m an intellectual from the working class. We have smart people, too.”
I’ve been thinking of my parents a lot these days, thanks to Donald Trump. He is a bloviating billionaire who built his riches on the backs of mistreated employees and jilted suppliers. Now he is masquerading as a presidential candidate who cares about the people I come from.
After he won the Nevada caucuses in February, Trump exalted his supporters.
“We won with highly educated. We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated. We’re the smartest people. We’re the most loyal people.”
As various news organizations reported, 57 percent of those voters with a high-school education or less had supported him in that contest.
How could white working-class men think he is on their side? Theories abound, but I’ll mention only one to illustrate how readily some pundits cast the people I come from as clueless dolts.
This is from Paul Sracic, a professor at Youngstown State University, where every year, thousands of working-class kids become the first in their family to go to college:
“Trump’s secret weapon with these voters is that they know he is not really a Republican,” Sracic wrote for CNN. “For these voters, the classic Republican is someone like Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush — who they see as country club Republicans, representing the interests of the rich.
“Trump, ironically the billionaire owner of many such country clubs, has somehow managed to sell himself as the anti-Romney, and the slayer of Bush. The hatred that both of these traditional Republicans show for Trump actually helps him convey this message. It is telling that some of these Ohio Democrats who supported Trump said they wanted to ‘switch to the Trump party.'”
“Some”? How many is “some”? Who knows.
Sracic’s research on that began and ended with a link to a Youngstown Vindicator story that included this nugget: “A number of Democrats taking a Republican ballot when voting early at the board ‘say they want to vote for Trump,’ said Joyce Kale-Pesta, Mahoning County Board of Elections director.”
I don’t doubt that Kale-Pesta heard that, but it’s not a provable or quantifiable claim. It was, however, just enough fodder to bolster yet another piece about how clueless working-class voters can be.
And now Trump claims to be one of them, while his behavior represents everything I was raised to reject.
He brags about not paying taxes, for years. He offers mocking parodies of a reporter’s disability and Hillary Clinton’s brief bout with pneumonia. He demonizes and ridicules anyone who isn’t like him, and that’s a long list. Women, immigrants, people of color — they’re all targets.
Donald Trump has no idea what it means to be a working-class American, which he proves whenever his behavior fails to “represent,” as my mother put it — which is virtually every time he opens his mouth.
Instead, he’s the loud, living proof of what my father used to tell us whenever we witnessed the bad behavior of an adult with more money, more things.
“Money can’t buy class.”
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.