In his farewell address, President Obama called for political solidarity among “blacks and other minority groups” and “the rural poor . . . . but also the middle-aged white guy”. It is only, perhaps, in a farewell address that a president may speak so frankly about race and class. Yet the sentiment was familiar. As he had from the earliest days of his first presidential campaign, Obama was conjuring a bridge over America’s starkest divides.

More often, in discussing poverty in America, politicians choose sides. Elections have been decided, in part, by the symbolic force of epithets such as “illegal”, “welfare queen”, “deplorable” and “superpredator”. These racially loaded terms suggest a distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor. [read more]

Times Literary Supplement 19 January 2017