Born in the U.S.A: Trailer trash like me

In the column-writing business, you get a lot of mail from your “secret admirers.” Whether they’re mad about what you’re saying, how you’re saying it or they just feel like personally insulting you, the hate mail aspect of the newspaper job is probably one of the most rewarding – I get a kick out of how worked up people get over what I say and how I’m saying it.

This brings me to the last piece of hate mail I received, and I only bring it up here because I think it proves a broader point and brings up something that I feel doesn’t get enough discussion in our political discourse – the idea that some Americans are worth less than others because of where they come from.

The letter itself was my favorite kind – a barrage of personal attacks with just about nothing about the merits of the arguments I’ve made in previous columns. Among the charges levelled against me were that I was “trailer trash,” a “hick,” and I was kindly reminded that I was from Kentucky where people are “dumber than the average.”

I shrugged it off, but something about the word “trailer trash” bothered me. If not on a personal level (I actually did spend the first four years of my life in a trailer, for what it’s worth) but on a level that really got under my skin the more I thought about it. What is “trailer trash,” exactly? Why is this line of thinking perfectly acceptable among so many otherwise kind and decent American citizens, of both progressive and conservative persuasions?

Sexism and racism are not considered to be legitimate discourse in this country as they were half a century ago; homophobic comments, too, although all too common, are increasingly becoming rare as our society becomes more tolerant of gays and lesbians. I wish we could say the same thing about the way people talk about and think about people they perceive as “trailer trash.”

Those who subscribe to this kind of thinking aren’t only mainstream, they are actively encouraged by a media that showcases the lives of working class Americans as if it were a carnival for the rest of the country to sneer at and look down upon.

The president took a lot of flak in 2008 for comments about voters who “cling to their guns and their religion,” as well he should have. The kind of elitism present in the progressive movement is repulsive and undermines the legitimacy of a movement that is supposed to stand up for the “trailer trash” against Wall Street.

Of course, it’s nothing compared to the kind of elitism that supports the wholesale abolition of the social safety net and believes that the best way to improve the economy is to give tax cuts to millionaires.

Either way, I hope that one day in this country, we won’t judge a person by the size of their pocketbooks. That’d be fine and dandy with “trailer trash” like me.

Column by Devin Griggs, opinion editor. Devin serves as vice president of finances for the Murray State College Democrats.

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