Why do they vote against themselves?

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By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx was fit to be tied when she spoke to a Fox News interviewer in March. 

The issue that got her blood boiling was the Democratic-controlled House had just passed a measure that extended labor protections for workers. Foxx railed that this was nothing but a gigantic goodie bag giveaway to unions. 

The relatively tame bill in effect simply restored a couple of provisions of labor law put in place by former President Barack Obama that required disclosure of payoffs from corporations for union-busting activities. It also gave unions the right to collect fees from non-union members who reap gains from union contracts and agreements but do not pay a nickel to the union for those gains.

Foxx’s media outburst against worker protections was no surprise coming from a congressional representative who for four years up until 2018 got a zero rating from an array of labor organizations. They included the American Federation of Government Employees, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the Communications Workers of America, the National Farmers Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers. 

They were a virtual who’s who of unions that represented legions of white, female, non-college-educated, blue-collar and rural workers. Many of those workers were in Republican-controlled red states.

Foxx’s rant against for workers many of whom in her North Carolina district almost certainly had voted for her was hardly a surprise. She was squarely in the mainstream of long-standing Republican policymakers and representatives who waged relentless war on anything that even faintly did anything to protect, enhance and expand worker pay, benefits, and protections. 

Study after study amply proved that if it was a choice between a law, initiative, amendment or presidential executive order that was pro-worker, the GOP would go on the attack against it.

The GOP’s relentless ingrained war on workers and the poor have had countless, embarrassing consequences for millions of impoverished GOP supporters. Start with what should be the most embarrassing of all. 

That the overwhelming majority of the poorest Americans by a lop-sided margin reside in counties that are in red states. In the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, a survey of just who the insurrectionists egged on by former President Donald Trump revealed that the great majority of them were white and male. It also noted that only a small percentage of them were businesspersons and white-collar workers.

The bulk of them were plain bread workers. A substantial number of them were lower-income, or unemployed. The financial status of the 200 plus persons charged with federal crimes in the Capitol Building takeover was even more revealing.

Sixty percent had serious financial problems. Those included bankruptcies, notices of eviction and foreclosures, bad debts and unpaid taxes that spanned more than two decades.

The bankruptcy rate of the defendants was double the average of Americans. One in five were one step away from being booted from their homes because of non-payment. In some cases, their financial woes weren’t small. There were unpaid tax bills of $400,000.

Then there was the case of Jenna Ryan, whose face was plastered over newspapers when she giddily shot a video that went viral of her illegally entering the Capitol Building. Ryan filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and was still in hock up to nearly $ 40,000 on a lien for unpaid federal taxes. Ryan, facing federal charges, in a moment of epiphany, confessed, “I bought into a lie, and the lie is the lie — and it’s embarrassing. I regret everything.”

The seeming double irony is that the man and the ostensible reason that Jenna “bought into the lie” and launched the Capitol insurrection against, Joe Biden and his presidential win, had proposed an array of policies — a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, expanded unemployment benefits, tax fairness —would have helped the very ones who were financially broke and desperately needed financial help. The man and the party, Trump and the GOP, offered no help in any of those financial policy areas and much obstruction.

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a political science professor at American University in Washington, D.C., tried to make some sense of their actions that on the surface was ludicrous. 

“I think what you’re finding is more than just economic insecurity, but a deep-seated feeling of precarity about their situation. And that precarity — combined with a sense of betrayal or anger that someone is taking something away — mobilized a lot of people that day.”

The representatives in the Senate, House of Representatives and state legislatures for Ryan and the other Capitol insurrectionists in almost all cases were Republicans. And in almost all cases, those needy Republican voters reliably and enthusiastically voted them back into office election after election. 

Judging from the 74 million voters that backed Trump and a Republican Party that has done everything humanly possible to kill any initiative, legislation or program that benefits their people that’s not likely to change to their and the nation’s continued peril.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. This is the first in a periodic series examining why so many Americans back Republicans against their interests. The series is based on excerpts from his forthcoming book in 2022 “Voting Against Themselves: the GOP’s Grip on America’s Underclass.” 

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