By the time I knew what the term “blue-collar” meant, I wasn’t. 

I suppose at one point I actually was, as an infant and toddler who had no idea that my father was working three jobs while going to night school and my mother was working a couple of jobs to help supplement our meager income. I come from a long line of blue-collar people, proud Italians and Irish who were carpenters and cooks and iron workers and in the case of my beloved Pop Pop, a trashman. Mike Fusco would have dissolved into tears of laughter if you’d called him a “sanitation worker” or worse yet, an “environmental waste specialist.” He hauled trash for the city of Philadelphia, was proud of it, and raised three children who all graduated proudly from high school. For a man who had to leave school in the third grade like his wife Mamie, that was a singular accomplishment.

The people I loved most in the world were blue-collar, until they weren’t anymore. My parents were able to move way up in the social and economic ladder through lots of sweat, even more tears and dedication to each other. And while my maternal grandparents will always be two of the four most important persons in my life, I grew up relatively privileged. But being blue-collar-adjacent, so to speak, has formed my conscience and my view of the world. To me, class has always been more divisive than race. Donald Trump figured that out, and here we are today.

My dear friend Donna said just that the other evening in a telephone conversation. Donna is an extremely educated woman with several degrees in her pocket. She has a doctorate, and so many awards and honors that I can legitimately say she is one of the most accomplished women I’ve ever met. And yet, when she opens up her mouth, you hear the sounds of her Italian ancestors, the way they would have pronounced their vowels and their consonants, still sharp and reminiscent of the lilt of the old country with the sanded down edges of the educated. I have that same way of speaking too. If you get me at a certain moment, tired or angry or excited, the Philly twang comes out and the diphthongs go sideways. This is a part of me that I cherish, it tethers me to the roots that go very deep into West Philly and North Philly soil.

Why am I talking about being blue-collar, even if I’m really not? Simple. The upcoming elections, like the last few, are about how people see themselves, and how they think others see them. More specifically, it’s about the respect they believe is owed to them simply by virtue of the fact that they are Americans who pay taxes, obey the laws and raise their children to salute the flag — figuratively if not literally.

Unlike some political observers, I don’t really believe that people will be voting about discrete issues like abortion, the war in Gaza and whether Joe Biden is senile and whether Donald Trump is a fascist. I know that this is what the pundits want us to believe is important, and I’m sure that some people place these issues at the center of their electoral decisions, but I honestly believe that the way we vote has more to do with how we look at ourselves than with any separate or distinct controversy.

For example, the most important issue for me is abortion. I just came from speaking at a rally in Philadelphia celebrating the second anniversary of the Dobbs decision. It is an integral part of who I am, this need to save babies from annihilation in the mother’s womb. And yet there are many other things that matter to me, including immigration, the economy, protection of law enforcement, respect for the role religion plays in society, and how much money I have in my bank account. 

When layered on top of each other, these issues help build my sense of self and track my priorities. And when I look closely, I realize that my priorities were set by my blue-collar grandfather, who worked almost until his dying day at a grueling job to raise the family that he loved. He asked for no handouts, and was humble in his needs. A pack of Chesterfields, a cold glass of Ballantine beer, and the love of his family. I don’t smoke, I hate beer, and I’m neither married nor have children, but I am who I am because of who he was. 

I am writing this before the first debate between the former president and the man who beat him. I’m aware that a lot of the people who hate Trump think that the folks who support him are bigots and zealots, ready to rid the country of rainbows and minorities and immigrants. I don’t necessarily disagree with that description of the man, if we are to judge him by the language he uses. That language is repellent.

But as the great Salena Zito wrote in 2016, the people who hate Trump take him literally and not seriously, and those who love him take him seriously but not literally. Perhaps that’s changed a bit in the last eight years, because I think a lot of liberals take Trump seriously. They think he will destroy democracy.

To be honest, they could be right. He’s done some crazy things. But in going after one man, they demonized a whole group of people that Hillary Clinton threw in a basket, and that Barack Obama ridiculed for clinging to their guns and religion. This class warfare thing has gone on for a long time, and to be honest, the folks who are pulling out their hair about Trump have only themselves to blame for his success. They made fun of Sarah Palin, and they got Marjorie Taylor Greene.

And in mocking my grandfather, they are reaping the whirlwind.

Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61

This piece was originally published in the Delco Daily Times.

5 thoughts on “Christine Flowers: Blue-collar values and the way we vote”

  1. Excellent post. Many of us relate, no matter where we’re from. As a much younger GOP political operative 40 years ago, I dreamed of my party crafting an agenda that attracted people who worked with their hands and drove pickup trucks. It took us a while to shed the “country club Republican” epithet, but we have. The country clubs are now full of sanctimonious and deluded AWFULs: Adult white female urban liberals.

  2. The phrase “reap the whirlwind” has been used for centuries. In the Book of Hosea in the Hebrew Bible it is translated: “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.”
    Nimrod was a mighty man, but it is the names of Abraham, Jacob, Mike Fusco, and others, who may not have been kings, but followed the will of God that we remember the most. Our power and worth come from God.
    “Blue-collar” people are authentic, hardworking, reliable, and determined. They are loyal to their team and employers and strive to do the best job possible. They also tend to be self-motivated and independent; they don’t like people with soft hands telling them what to do or how to do it. They are like the shop keepers, restaurant owners, and other small business owners that thought Fauci was full of it – and he was! You might be onto something.
    Babylon Bee’s recent meme says: “Dems Stick With Biden As It Would Be A Real Pain To Reprint These Ballots They Already Filled Out.” It’s funny because the mail-in voting process is baloney, and we all know it.

  3. Well done. To borrow (not steal) another term from scripture, the term Salt of the Earth, comes to mind.

  4. “For example, the most important issue for me is abortion. I just came from speaking at a rally in Philadelphia celebrating the second anniversary of the Dobbs decision. It is an integral part of who I am, this need to save babies from annihilation in the mother’s womb. And yet there are many other things that matter to me, including immigration, the economy, protection of law enforcement, respect for the role religion plays in society, and how much money I have in my bank account. ”

    So would you vote for a candidate that reflects all of these values , except for abortion? Of course not, you’re sole political focus is abortion.

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