For working-class, middle-aged whites, the news has been incredibly depressing in 2015: a study conducted by Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton found that between 1999-2013, mortality rates among non-Hispanic whites aged 45-54 (especially without a college education) had increased substantially. The causes for the rise in premature deaths vary, from suicide to complications from diabetes to alcohol abuse and liver disease. But if there is one word that, in a nutshell, explains why more white Americans are dying in their 40s and 50s, it is economics.
Life expectancy rates run the gamut in the U.S. Men on average are living until their early 80s in affluent areas like Marin County, CA and Fairfax County, VA compared to a mere 64 in the predominantly white and much poorer McDowell County in West Virginia. In fact, men in parts of rural West Virginia are dying even younger than men in notoriously unequal countries in Central America. The sad reality is that the increasing misery among working-class middle-aged whites is, in some cases, self-inflicted: in red states especially, many of the people who are dying from alcoholism, morbid obesity, poor diet and untreated diabetes are the same people who watch Fox News religiously, vote straight Republican and show up at Donald Trump or Ted Cruz rallies.
Less educated Americans who are drawn to Trump or Cruz wouldn’t dream of voting for centrist Hillary Clinton, let alone a self-described democratic socialist like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. They have been conned into believing that outspoken progressives like Sen. Elizabeth Warren are enemies of free enterprise when in truth, they are pushing for a more ethical form of capitalism. And the more they vote for far-right politicians who support tax breaks for the 1%, the destruction of America’s social safety net and the outsourcing of American jobs to poor developing countries, the worse their lives will become.
Here are eight reasons why white, aging, angst-ridden Trump or Cruz voters should be supporting a progressive/left agenda instead of digging their own graves by supporting far-right wingnuts.
1. Health Care Reform
The Affordable Care Act of 2010, aka Obamacare, has brought health insurance to at least 16.5 million Americans who were previously uninsured. The remaining Democratic presidential candidates acknowledge that the ACA, in its present form, doesn’t go far enough: Sanders would ultimately like to replace it with a single-payer system while Hillary Clinton calls for expanding the law and strengthening its protections. But instead of supporting universal health care, the modern-day GOP has fought it every step of the way. And sadly, there is no shortage of poor, aging whites with diabetes or heart disease who remain uninsured yet vote for the Republicans who would like to keep them that way. Some of the very people who need health care reform the most—struggling working-class whites who remain uninsured at 50 or 55—can often be found at Trump and Cruz rallies applauding their desire to abolish Obamacare.
The U.S. does have one form of socialized medicine for people 65 and older: Medicare, enacted in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. It is wildly popular even among those who are ignorant of how it works—for example, the Tea Party wingnut who, in 2009, famously demanded that the government keep its “hands off my Medicare.” But the people who should be keeping their hands off Medicare are Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and other far-right Republicans who favor Medicare privatization. Meanwhile, Sanders and Warren in the Senate and Grayson in the House of Representatives call for not only defending traditional Medicare but expanding it.
3. Social Security
With pensions on the decline and banks paying record low interest rates for IRAs, protecting Social Security is more important than ever. Even Trump has criticized fellow Republicans for proposed Social Security cuts, saying it is “not fair to the people who have been paying in.” But most GOP presidential hopefuls have been attacking Social Security with a vengeance: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul all favor raising the retirement age, and Cruz has praised President George W. Bush for wanting to privatize Social Security. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders has stressed that he is “categorically against” cutting or privatizing Social Security, and favors expanding it, realizing that the 80-year-old program is especially vital for older blue-collar workers who have worn out their bodies through years of hard physical work. But if they’re white, middle-aged and Republican, some of the people who need Social Security badly are happily voting for those who would ravage it.
4. Banking Reform
The misery the banking sector has caused certainly isn’t limited to African American or Latino areas: plenty of working-class whites have suffered during the Great Recession, and the Case/Deaton report bears that out. But instead of joining Sanders in his call for breaking up megabanks into a bunch of smaller banks or applauding Sen. Warren’s proposal to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 (which mandated a strict separation of commercial and investment banking), many older working-class whites will vote for Republicans who support letting the too-big-to-fail behemoths grow even bigger.
5. Raising the Minimum Wage
All of the current Democratic presidential candidates have advocated raising the federal minimum wage; Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley to $15 per hour, Clinton to $12 per hour. But Republican presidential candidates, from Trump to Rubio to Ben Carson, are adamantly opposed to any hike in the miniumum wage.
Many Republicans buy into the notion that the ultra-rich are unfairly taxed in the U.S. and that the poor don’t pay enough taxes. But America’s poor pay plenty of taxes, from sales taxes to utility taxes. If Fox viewers knew their history, they would realize—as Sanders points out—that under Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the ultra-rich were taxed at rates as high as 91%. According to Sanders, “I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower. But we are going to end the absurdity, as Warren Buffet often reminds us, that billionaires pay an effective tax rate lower than nurses or truck drivers.”
7. Union Busting
One of the absurd arguments one hears from Fox News viewers and AM talk radio hosts is that unions are much too powerful in the U.S. when in reality, unionization in the American private sector fell to only 6.6% in 2014. That’s quite a contrast to unionization rates of around 35% in the mid-1950s, when the American middle class was, on the whole, much better off than it is now. Many working-class whites have been duped into supporting stridently anti-union Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and they contribute to their own misery by doing so.
8. The U.S. Postal Service
The destruction of the U.S. Postal Service—something Republicans are committed to—would be terrible for the country on the whole, but would be especially bad for small towns and rural areas. If postal delivery were totally at the mercy of private monopolies, there is no way that a letter sent from rural Mississippi to rural South Dakota, for example, would continue at current USPS rates. Prices in rural Republican-dominated areas would go through the roof. The more competitive prices would likely be found in places where there is the most competition for customers: crowded cities like San Francisco, New York and Boston, leaving rural poor whites underserved.