'White Trash' and Class in America

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A traveler in the backwoods of Arkansas seeks accommodation and directions from a squatter and his family, but finds them less than helpful. Original Artwork: Printed by Currier & Ives, circa 1870.

As the media have watched the ascent of Donald Trump with disbelief-going-on-horror, pundits have returned frequently to the question of who exactly his supporters are. Terms like "angry" and "white working class" are mentioned frequently, but the National Review several months ago put it the most pointedly and viciously. In an article lambasting Trump supporters, Kevin Williamson characterized them as lazy drug addicts, compared them to animals, and even suggested that they deserved to die. Though he did not say it directly, the implication was clear: these people were white trash.

We took that opportunity to take a deeper look at the idea of "white trash," with the help of writer and professor Nancy Isenberg, author of the forthcoming book, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Isenberg described to Brooke how the notion of "white trash" has been around for a long time, belying the idea that America is a "classless" society. White Trash comes out this week, and we're re-running our conversation in honor of it.