October 9, 2020


Responses to John Hultgren’s essay “Those Who Bring From the Earth: Anti-Environmentalism and the Trope of the White Male Worker” (2018)

We are the party of America’s growers, producers, farmers, ranchers, foresters, miners, commercial fishermen, and all those who bring from the earth the crops, minerals, energy, and the bounties of our seas that are the lifeblood of our economy. Their labor and ingenuity, their determination in bad times and love of the land at all times, powers our economy, creates millions of jobs, and feeds billions of people around the world. Only a few years ago, a bipartisan consensus in government valued the role of extractive industries and rewarded their enterprise by minimizing its interference with their work. That has radically changed. We look in vain within the Democratic Party for leaders who will speak for the people of agriculture, energy and mineral production.
Republican Party Platform Committee 2016

The Republican Party’s strategic and conjuring rhetoric distinguishes themselves from Democrats replaces “environmental protection” with “natural resources.” Biblical language, very King James “dominion” rhetoric from Genesis.

Republicans (amplified under Trump) promulgate white male optics around this American identity, which we can see in the accompanying campaign images.  

Moments in Hultgren’s essay ring loud alongside the centuries-old pro-slavery deflation of the importance of class among white men, and a fortification of solidarity along racial lines.

The cumulative result has been a gradual cultural redefinition of the working class. Thomas Frank (2004) argues that, by the 1990s, conservatives had successfully moved debates over class from the economic to the cultural register. Class politics had become less about wages and collective bargaining, and more about authenticity; the hard-working, straight-shooting residents of Main Street USA have it; the liberal bi-coastal elites don’t. The political economic projects of the Right were, under the banner of cultural politics, transformed into issues of morality, decency, taste, and honesty; one’s class became defined by ‘what one drives, where one shops, how one prays’

Who is excluded from the privileges to shop, pray, and drive? It’s not legal any longer to segregate, but the practice continues to make itself real. Even in the production of ideology with regard to land use/envinronmental protection:

Black Americans are not included in the typical taxonomic matrix of resource vs environment, except in the context of environmental justice work (and is it even a versus?).
Only as a different set of concerns from those of limousine liberals—presumably white city folk who love to protect–even  quarantine—US lands from unregulated resource extraction by men of the land.

And per usual, indigenous rights to sovereign land management, and an approach to land and culture distinct from these binaries are left out of the discourse entirely. 

In an era in which historically dominant forms of environmentally intensive, white male labor are declining, the symbolic potency of mining, oil and gas extraction, and heavy industry has increased.

Why? Hultgren believes these strong men act as a populist(?) proxy and a mythological cover for conservative middle- and upper-class people who might not have “backbreaking” relationships to the land. With this iconic American mythopoesis of lost freedoms, these Republican champions of Drill Baby Drill can continue their neoliberal (and frankly stateless) constitution of self under a nationalist flag-waving figure of machismo.