“White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” was released June, 21 via Amazon

They’ve been called waste people. Off­s­courings. Lubbers. Bogtrotters. Rascals. Rubbish. Squatters. Crackers. Clay-eaters. Tackies. Mudsills. Scalawags. Briar hoppers. Hill­billies. Low-downers. White niggers. Degen­erates. Red­necks. Trailer trash. Swamp people.

But most people call them white trash. And, some would say, many of them are the sup­porting base of Donald Trump’s rise to promi­nence.

These are the descriptive titles Nancy Isenberg has given poor whites in “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America,” pub­lished June 21, 2016.

We are raised to believe America is the land of equal oppor­tunity for all. Isenberg squashes this myth — but not in the way you might expect. She does not defame America for its sinful treatment of blacks, but for its class structure that pri­marily abused poor, white south­erners.

“White Trash” reex­amines American history through the lens of socioe­co­nomic class.

Although all history prior to the New World is viewed in terms of ruling class versus the common people, American his­to­rians trag­i­callyor rather, pur­pose­fullyleave out important class dis­tinc­tions.

Colonists came to the New World for reli­gious and eco­nomic freedom, according to the main­stream nar­rative. But Isenberg sug­gests the colonists were “roguish high­waymen, mean vagrants, Irish rebels, known whores, and an assortment of con­victs.” Few people went to the colonies to pursue a “divine plan” or establish a “city upon a hill.” She says the British Crown sent “waste people” to work in a “waste land.”

Isenberg avoids the left-right par­adigm of American history. This gives her freedom to crit­icize American history, without dis­missing it because of its blunders, such as slavery.

Isenberg illu­mi­nates a belief widely held from America’s col­o­nization to the Civil War: “Slavery was a dan­gerous con­tagion spreading death and decay, and feeding a class war by ‘depop­u­lating’ the nation of its white inhab­i­tants.”

By “depop­u­lating,” Isenberg means slavery ren­dered poor whites useless. White trash could not find work, and some did not desire to work. Those who didn’t want work starved and ate clay, while those who wanted work moved West in search of it.

Slave-owners and upper-class whites con­vinced white trash of the necessity of slavery. They claimed the Southern economy could not survive without it.

According to the southern traveler and writer Hinton Helper, “Economies dependent on one source of wealth created extreme class con­di­tions.”

In the South’s case, cotton created huge class divi­sions. But the biggest factor was poor whites’ belief that even though they lived in squalor, they were still viewed more highly than slaves, which was not true. Slave-owning whites despised white trash.

Isenberg sum­ma­rized Helper’s view of white trash: “Their igno­rance and docility had made them worse than Russian serfs when they com­pli­antly voted the ‘slaveocrats’ into office time and again.”

Perhaps the most shocking section of “White Trash” is Andrew Johnson’s speech to a South Car­olinian del­e­gation, in which he said, “While this rebellion has eman­ci­pated a great many negroes, it has eman­ci­pated still more white men.”

Isenberg crit­i­cizes the government’s failure to establish a market economy: “A slave economy monop­o­lized the soil while closing off oppor­tu­nities for non-slave­holding white men to support their fam­ilies and advance in a free-market economy,” Isenberg said.

Unfor­tu­nately, Isenberg seems to have aban­doned the pos­si­bility of a truly free market economy.

“Markets did not at any time, and do not now, mag­i­cally pave the way for the most tal­ented to be rewarded; the well-con­nected were and are pref­er­en­tially treated,” she said.

Isenberg does not give a clear-cut solution to the problem of a per­petual under­class; she only shows it exists.

Whether markets or gov­ernment inter­vention provide the solution to America’s class structure is at the center of the United States’ political debates.

The 2016 pres­i­dential race is proof that two of Isenberg’s findings ring true for American voters in 2016. Donald Trump, a man who speaks in short, pow­erful phrases at about a fourth-grade level, appeals to the American voter who “had to be wooed for his vote. He had no patience for a can­didate who refused to speak his lan­guage.”

And the man who tweeted that “The beauty of me is that I’m very rich” knows how to par­tic­ipate in Andrew Jackson’s “game of brag.”

Trump exem­plifies Isenberg’s thesis: Those born into wealth and power rule America, while the scalawags, lubbers, and mudsills buy into their charade and allow their reign to con­tinue.
“White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” was Released June 21, 2016, and can be bought at major book­sellers and Amazon.