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Book Review for “The New Minority: White Working Class Politics”

new minorityIn his recent book, The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality, Justin Gest reminds readers that it wasn’t so long ago that the white working class occupied the middle ground of American and British politics and society. But in recent years, members of that same group have felt increasingly silenced and ignored by mainstream parties, and drifted out to the political margins. In the U.S. and United Kingdom, economic decline, nativist reactions and anxiety/anger regarding the unknown have even incited the creation of new right-wing parties and unprecedented levels of support for unconventional political candidates, most notably Donald Trump.

Gest notes that the struggles of working class whites – and their difficulty in finding political leaders who genuinely care about their plight – have raised hard questions about rebuilding centrist coalitions in both the U.S. and U.K.. How did a group of synonymous with Middle America get pushed to the ends of the political spectrum? What’s behind the growing radicalism? And what could possibly lead a group with such enduring numerical power to, in many instances, consider themselves a “minority” in their home countries? In The New Minority, Justin Gest interview people living in formerly thriving working class cities (like Youngstown, Ohio) to arrive at a nuanced understanding of their political attitudes and behaviors. Gest makes the case that tension between the vestiges of white working class power alongside its perceived loss have created the unique phenomenon of white working class radicalization.

Reviews

In a prominent review, national correspondent for The Nation, Bill Greider, writes that
“With both sympathy and objectivity, Justin Gest explains the tragedy beneath the anger of the white working class. They have not only lost good jobs and incomes, but also their middle class social status and the respect-and gratitude-of the larger society. Political elites pretend to be surprised and bewildered by them. Yet it is those same governing elites who engineered this great injury to working people. This will be illuminating reading for anyone who seeks to understand the motivations and the possible impact of this ‘new minority,’ particularly in light of the upcoming presidential election.”

Eric Kaufmann, author of Changing Places: The White British Response to Ethnic Change and professor at University of London, calls Gest’s work “An incredibly timely book. White working class dynamics explain the populist right surge and centre-Left slump in Europe. They underpin rising white suicide rates and Trump support in America. Justin Gest asks poor whites the penetrating questions that help us understand.”

And Professor of Communication Studies, at UCLA, Bill Schneider, notes the importance of Gest’s focus on talking directly to working class people rather than looking for answers in statistics and reports: “White working-class resistance movements are convulsing politics in the U.S. and Europe- Donald Trump, neo-fascism, anti-immigrant backlash, white identity politics. What’s driving it? Gest’s book gets to the core of the matter: the experience of marginalization and the sense of loss. He gets there, not just by analyzing data, but by actually talking to working class people and grasping the texture of their lives.”

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Emery Reddy