Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: White Trash, The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

I don't usually post reviews on my blog, but this is an important book, so I'm making an exception.

I would give this book a ten if the ratings went that high.

In 300+ pages with extensive notes, the author explores the history of the lowest rung of the people of America and the USA, the vagrants and criminals sent by the early British investors to work in the New World, thus solving the problem of the undesirables spoiling London and the need for cheap labor in the New World. By exporting their least desirable population, called "waste" and other names, however, the early investors set in motion an economic and political situation that has grown and changed over the centuries but continues to bedevil this country.

This is the story of the harsh reality behind the soaring and uplifting rhetoric of the Founding Fathers, and the failed attempts to address the growing numbers of "waste" or "rubbish" or "trash" in the US population. The men of means, who could afford to buy land and exploit the laborers, disliked this segment of the population but could never figure out what to do with it. Some seemed to think that by opening up the west the landless would move and "disappear," but of course they didn't. The plantation system in the South exacerbated the plight of the farmer/laborer, and its collapse after the Civil War created another version of that culture that crippled both poor whites and blacks. Few politicians looked at those living on the margins and understood that they too were Americans, and had earned a place at the table.

The author offers insightful discussions on the development of the lower economic class, and the form class conflict has taken in different eras while politicians spoke movingly of equality and opportunity and upward mobility. Published in mid 2016, the author discusses the 2008 campaign but little beyond that. Her purpose is to bring the reader to a more accurate perception of the lowest class in America and the treatment its members have been subjected to by those on the rungs above. She explores how this class has appeared in the world of entertainment in recent years, and how others have tried to grapple with a social group that offends their sensibilities and perception of the United States. She ends with a deeper discussion of the myths that are crippling us and an understanding of how our own country operates. Her examination of the impeachment of President Clinton and the report by Kenneth Starr is a telling unfolding of the role class has played at the highest levels.

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