People Are Paying Attention to Ken Bone for the Wrong Reasons

October 11th 2016

Danielle DeCourcey

The second presidential debate between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ushered an unexpected internet hero to the forefront — and that man could teach us something about white American male voters.

The town hall style debate on Sunday included questions from the audience, and one of those questions was asked by 34-year-old Ken Bone from the St. Louis, Missouri area.

Bone was wearing khakis, a snug red sweater, and black rimmed glasses that drove the internet wild for its simplicity and "every man" quality.

He also came onto the floor at the end of the debate and took a picture with a disposable camera. (Bone explained on Twitter that this was because no electronics were allowed inside the venue.)

On Monday, Bone told CNN that he originally planned to wear a suit to the debate, but he gained some weight and split the suit pants. He had to wear the bright red sweater instead. He also said that his grandma was previously one of his only Twitter followers. Now he has thousands.

(There were also off-color jokes about his last name on Twitter that we won't go into here, but they're not hard to find.)

However, the most important thing about Bone that we should all pay attention to isn't his outfit.

Bone has a similar background to many working class white men in the U.S. and as of yesterday he was still undecided. He's an operator at a coal plant in Illinois and he works 12 hour shifts in the control room, according to the New York Times. He said that he's concerned about the future of his industry, but also about being environmentally responsible.

His question to the candidates reflected his background: "What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?" he asked the candidates during the debate.

Three days after Trump's latest scandal broke, where a 2005 tape was released of him referencing grabbing women "by the p*ussy," and after watching Sunday's debate, Bone is still undecided.

He told the Times that he was leaning toward Trump going into the debate, but Clinton "really impressed" him "with her composure and some of her answers last night."

To recap, two days after the graphic recording of Trump talking about women's bodies was released, Bone was still leaning toward Trump going into the debate.

He did not mention the scandal in his media interviews as a factor in his decision on Monday.

“I try to focus less on the negatives and more on the positives,” he said to the Times. “And there haven’t been enough positives on either side for me to make a firm commitment.”

Trump has done a better job that Clinton of appealing to working class white voters, especially working class white men without a college degree.

While we don't know whether Bone has a college degree, or what his exact concerns about either candidate are, we do know that overall working class white men are worried about the their place in the future of the country.

The types of jobs that working class people do are changing. There are still more than 12 million Americans working in manufacturing jobs in the U.S., but it's declining. The U.S. lost five million manufacturing jobs between January 2000 and December of 2014, according to the Economic Policy Institute. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. as nurses, personal care aides, cooks, waiters, retail workers, and operations managers. And the industry that Bone works in, mining, has also been in a long decline.

White Americans have also polled lower for optimism and life satisfaction than Black Americans and Latinos, even when those groups are making less money. The suicide rate among middle-aged white people reportedly shot up, particularly among working class white people.

Robert P. Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, told ATTN: that some white voters feel disenfranchised in the increasingly diverse landscape of America.

"For example, two core groups of Trump supporters—white working class Americans and white evangelical Protestants—are more likely than other Americans to express concerns about encountering immigrants who speak little or no English," Jones told ATTN: last week. "Strong majorities of these groups believe that discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minority groups."

Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" calls back to a time in the 1940s and '50s when white working class men had a more dominant place in society, according to Kyle Kondic, managing editor of Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

"His primary audience, white men and particularly white men with lower levels of education, may feel that the country is not working for them and that Trump can return to some previous era where they may have felt more comfortable with their place in society," he said to ATTN: in August.

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