Twitter has been merciless to Renee Elliott, the laid-off Indiana Carrier worker whose speech at a labor-group press conference in mid-January made her the face of the Trump-voting white working class. In a voice vibrating with emotion, Elliott said she’d been excited to vote for Trump, who had visited the plant and promised to keep Carrier jobs from going to Mexico: “He’s walking through and we’re in awe, like, ‘Savior!’” But now, as pink slips were being handed out to 215 workers, including herself, Elliott felt “angry and forgotten.” You might think there’d be a little bit of empathy out there for this middle-aged, divorced mother who’s overcome health problems and other setbacks, only to face a rocky future in a declining community. But no. Typical responses: “stupid,” “ignorant,” “gullible,” “turned on by Trump’s bigotry,” “selfish,” “self-absorbed.”
To tell you the truth, my first response too was mockery and blame: Oh, you poor baby, throwing everyone else off the bridge didn’t help after all. Sad! (Twitter is catching.) I completely agree that “economic anxiety” is not a full explanation of why white working-class people chose the creepy tweeter. As Brittney Cooper said recently at a panel at the New York Institute for the Humanities, black and brown people are also facing hard times, but they didn’t vote for Trump. (On the other hand, Trump didn’t promise them anything; he just called their communities ghettos, hells, and war zones and quipped that they should vote for him because what did they have to lose?—ha, ha.) Sure, Elliott was foolish, even in terms of her own immediate self-interest, ignoring the warnings of her then–union leader, Chuck Jones, who, for his troubles, was called out by Trump on Twitter.
But Elliott was hardly alone in focusing on her own personal situation at the expense of the larger picture, in hearing what she wanted to hear, or in being overly impressed by a candidate’s personal attention. Nor is she alone in naively placing her trust in someone notorious for being untrustworthy. In any case, what’s done is done. 2018 is coming up, and then 2020, and we don’t want her to make the same mistake. So let’s ask: What does she face going forward, thanks to Trump and the Republicans?
Trump not only broke his promise to preserve Elliott’s job; he and his fellow Republicans are working overtime to make life harder—much harder—for her in her likely future. For instance, let’s say Elliott, who will receive a one-time payment, severance pay, and six months of health insurance from Carrier, goes on unemployment, something she is proud to say she’s never done. Uh-oh. The Labor Department has indicated it wants to give states greater leeway to drug-test unemployment recipients, which is pretty humiliating.