Why Conservatives Blame Poverty on the Poor
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A new essay by National Review’s Kevin Williamson exposes the ideological blind spots of responsibility politics.
Scapegoat, prophet, moron, rogue—the poor white is a shapeshifter. He changes forms as the needs of his beholders change. When liberals need to blame a class for Donald Trump’s presidency, the poor white will do; never mind that two-thirds of all Trump supporters made $50,000 or more a year. When conservatives need to cast liberals as aloof elitists they appoint themselves the poor white’s defenders—until their ideology is threatened, and then it is time to take out the trash.
In a recent piece for National Review, Kevin Williamson chooses the latter, though he makes a few sound observations before settling on the poor-bashing. Central to Williamson’s argument is the existence of a phenomenon he calls “acting white,” a performative affect infecting the conservative class. This performance, he claims, assumes that authenticity “is not to be found in any of the great contemporary American business success stories, or in intellectual life, or in the great cultural institutions, but in the suburban-to-rural environs in which the white underclass largely makes its home.” It involves conservatives painting poor whites as this country’s principal victims and “valorizing” their “underclass dysfunction.”