Donald Trump’s appeals to working-class white Americans have no doubt stoked racial tensions. But his popularity among these voters has also put an unexpected spotlight on their grievances—whether they feel left behind by globalization and immigration or resentful of an elite political class that seems to ignore them. Do poor white Americans suddenly feel more disgruntled than ever, or are the rest of us just now paying attention? How much of their pique has to do with economic factors versus matters of race or, simply, health? And what does it all mean for American politics—in 2016 and beyond? To answer those questions and more, Politico editor Susan Glasser and chief political correspondent Glenn Thrush convened four scholars from our Politico 50 list who have studied the history of white people in America and documented their recent troubles; Thrush also interviewed J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, a bestselling memoir about working-class white culture. In a way, they all said, the discontent that propelled Trump to the nomination has been a long time coming.
Susan Glasser: I’d love to just jump right in and ask each of you: What is going on with America’s white people, and how much is that driving the Trump phenomenon in this year’s election?
Anne Case, Princeton University economist: Angus and I touched a nerve last fall when we published a piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that documented that, among white non-Hispanics in middle age, mortality, after having fallen for large parts of the last century, actually turned up and started to go the wrong way. And, with the Centers for Disease Control also redocumenting what we had done, the big drivers in that trend are what we call “deaths of despair,” which are suicide, drug overdose and alcohol-related liver disease. Partly the surprise is that it is not just men; it is men and women. And it appears to be happening all over the country. And that resonated in this political season.