The Troubled American

A Special Report on the White Majority


October 6, 1969:


Who was this story about?

The basis for Newsweek's 32 page special report was a Gallup poll of "the white population with special attention to the middle-income group-the blue- and white-collar families who make up three-fifths of U.S. whites."

Or, as the editors simply put it, a sample of "2,165 white Americans."

The report began:

"All through the skittish 1960s, America has been almost obsessed with its alienated minorities-the incendiary black militant and the welfare mother, the hedonistic hippie and the campus revolutionary. But now the pendulum of public attention is in the midst of one of those great swings that profoundly change the way the nation thinks about itself. Suddenly, the focus is on the citizen who outnumbers, outvotes, and could, if he chose to, outgun the fringe rebel. After years of feeling himself a besieged minority, the man in the middle-representing America's vast white middle class majority-is giving vent to his frustration, his disillusionment-and his anger.

'You better watch out,' barks Eric Hoffer, San Francisco's bare knuckle philosopher. 'The common man is standing up and someday he's going to elect a policeman President of the United States.'

How fed up is the little guy, the average white citizen who has been dubbed 'the Middle American'"?

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Was the "working class" part of this "middle class"?

Was a construction worker in the same "class" as a white collar worker on Wall Street?

What did they have in common? What were their differences?

Why did it matter in American politics?


From a special section of the Newsweek report:


"The disgruntlement of Middle America finds its cutting edge in the nation's traditional working class-families whose breadwinners have at most a high-school education, hold blue collar jobs and bring home incomes of $5,000 to $10,000 a year. In this supposed age of affluence and upward mobility such families feel trapped in a marginal life. But they comprise 23 percent of the white population, nearly twice the black population, and a fifth of the total country. It is in this group that troubled discontent shades closest to angry violence...

Will there be a working class rebellion? Prophecies of a rising in the white ghettos are surely exaggerated...Nonetheless, the potential for trouble is there..."


In fact, according to writer Barbara Ehrenreich, "America's blue-collar workers were in revolt in the late sixties and early seventies, but not along the right-wing, traditionalist lines sketched by the media. The late sixties saw the most severe strike wave since shortly after World War II, and by the early seventies the new militancy had swept up auto workers, rubber workers, steelworkers, teamsters, city workers, hospital workers, farmworkers, tugboat crewman, gravediggers, and postal employees. For all the talk of racial backlash, black and white workers were marching, picketing, and organizing together in a spirit of class solidarity that had not been seen since the thirties. Nixon's "silent majority" was yelling as loud as it could -- not racial epithets but the historic strikers' chant: 'Don't cross the line!'

There was even the possibility, in the late sixties, of an explosive convergence of the working class insurgency and the student movement...But the middle-class stereotype of the working class helped ensure that America's radical students and insurgent workers would not get together. Students, like their elders, came to think of blue-collar workers as racists, hardhats, and 'Neanderthals.'"

Historian Christopher Lasch disagreed with Ehrenreich:

"She counters one stereotype with another, the image of Archie Bunker with the image of revolutionary solidarity enshrined in the annals of the left. The second image bears no closer relation to reality than the first...

Radicals and social democrats ignore (the worker's) opposition to busing, affirmative action, abortion, abolition of the death penalty, and other liberal causes. In support of her untenable contention that workers never moved to the right, Ehrenreich feebly argues that workers who voted for (George) Wallace in 1964, 1968, and 1972 were attracted only to his economic 'liberalism.' But if they wanted economic liberalism, they could just as easily have voted for Johnson, Humphrey, or McGovern. What they wanted, it would seem, was populism, with its petty-bourgeois morality as well as its economic radicalism; and Wallace provided them with the closest approximation to the real thing."

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How do these arguments relate to the events of May 1970, and to the way those events were reported?