One Year Later: American Workers and the Trump Vote

Trump Vote and American Workers: Alessandro Portelli

Trump Vote and American Workers: Alessandro Portelli

On Monday, October 9, the Guarini Institute for Public Affairs presented the panel discussion “One Year Later: American Workers and the Trump Vote.” Moderated by JCU Professor Federigo Argentieri, the panel featured Professor Alessandro Portelli from the University of Rome “La Sapienza,” and Professor Hans Noel from Georgetown University.

The lecture focused on the outcome of Trump’s election in relation to the two-hundred-year cultural and social history of Harlan County, Kentucky, from frontier times to the current de-industrialization crisis. The county was the theater of class struggle, union organizing and miners’ strikes throughout the twentieth century. In 2016, the majority of the coal-mining county voted for Donald Trump. While mostly white and traditionally Republican, the county witnessed much radical working-class activity.

Having lived in Harlan County, Portelli discussed a few important issues that took place over the last century, such as immigration, strikes, industrial developments, racial discrimination, and violence. Among them, he focused on mass migration to Harlan and on the mechanization of the coal industry. Portelli highlighted that mechanization significantly affected jobs distribution, and left the working class marginalized if not humiliated. As a result, the working class still feels left out. To them, “making America great again means bringing back the coal mines,” and that’s exactly what Trump had promised to do, said Portelli.

In contrast to Portelli’s argument, Professor Hans Noel noted that the influence of the US rural working class on Trump’s election is often overestimated. He stated that the majority of Trump voters are instead middle class. He also introduced other possible reasons Americans voted for Trump, such as their economic frustration, and racial tensions. Noel remarked that for a couple of decades, the Democratic Party has been losing its supporters, and there has been a shift in popularity towards the Republican Party. Noel and Portelli concluded that as of now, the majority of Americans haven’t changed their mind about Trump’s presidency.