Commentary: For working-class voters, it's about getting stuff done

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Vincent Lubrano, a retired 83-year-old bricklayer from Brooklyn, voted for Donald Trump.

Donald Trump walked in on my mother in the women's room.

It was 1983, when Trump Tower in Manhattan was being completed, and my parents were checking out the lobby's pink Breccia Pernice marble from Northern Italy. My mom found a restroom, not knowing that it hadn't been completed, and that part of a wall was missing. Trump, unaware that the bathroom was even functional, popped in with some colleagues holding blueprints.

He apologized, and my father was impressed with the chagrined look on Trump's face.

Cut to 1986. New York City had failed to build an ice-skating rink in Central Park after an effort that took six years and cost more than $10 million. Trump intervened and got the thing built in four months for less than $3 million.

The ladies room and the rink are why my dad, a retired 83-year-old bricklayer from Brooklyn, voted for Donald Trump for president.

I hear a lot of people say Trump supporters are racist, sexist, white nationalists. My father is none of these. Like a lot of men who belonged to craft unions and carried their lunch to work, he was a Democrat who voted for JFK.

He is the kind of blue-collar white man who pundits now say the party somehow lost track of, like misplaced car keys. What he says is that nobody in government has spoken for him in years.

I wrote a book about the white-collar children of blue-collar parents in 2004 (Limbo: Blue-Collar Roots, White-Collar Dreams, Wiley).

What I learned from speaking with 100 people I called "Straddlers" - and from my own blue-collar upbringing as the first man in my Brooklyn family to finish high school - is that working-class people like my dad look at the world differently than everyone else.

And, peering through that very particular lens, they pulled the lever for Trump.

What blue-collar people will tell you is that working-class guys get stuff done. They don't sit around conference tables polling stakeholders on what they need and what they're thinking, like middle-class types do. Just grab the hammer and let's get going.

That's why the rink was so important to my dad. Whatever baloney rules and regulations were bogging down the architects and bureaucrats in New York's city hall were not nettling Trump. He just did the job without the fuss.

Trump used to build things, which appeals to blue-collar people because a building is a tangible work product. Guys who shuffle papers, like middle-class people do, can't point to anything at the end of the day and say, "I did that."

Blue-collar people also like men who are direct. Trump at least seems that way to my father, the mogul's pronouncements about restoring America to perceived past glories devoid of hidden agenda and messy subtext.

Sure, he may sound a little rough, but people like my dad, who was in the Army, then worked on the Brooklyn docks, then spent decades on construction sites, don't engage in a lot of polite chit-chat as they toil in the cold and the rain.

Though Trump was to the manor born, his particular manor was in Queens, where the president-elect learned all about working-class bombast and macho swagger.

For guys like my dad, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are hard to take because, while they clearly are smart, they appear to be bloodless, egg-heady, and generally disconnected from the world of rough hands and rigor.

Of course, Trump is a guy who looks like he takes a limo to the bathroom. But for blue-collar guys, people who are rich are all right, since everybody wants to be rich. White working-class people resent professionals like doctors and lawyers, but admire the wealthy, noted Joan C. Williams in a piece for the Harvard Business Review earlier this month.

If Trump had spent his millions on first editions and underwriting archeological digs in Petra, he'd have seemed remote to the true blue-collars. But he dated models and went on television, pastimes that are unassailably cool to plumbers, ranch hands, and factory workers, many of whom were not raised to aspire to much more than surviving.

Trump, my father concluded, is a pragmatist, just like him and other blue-collar guys. For them, there's only one rule in life: Make as much money as you can to create as decent a life as you can, so your family can thrive. Nothing else matters.

After the election, my dad asked me if I voted for Trump. I said I went the other way, citing proposed Muslim registries, and the Mexican wall, and a few other things.

That's just talk, and nothing like that will happen, said my dad. But now we'll have a strong leader who'll stand up: "Do you see a problem with that?"

I mentioned one thing.

The day after the election, my 12-year-old daughter, who was adopted from Guatemala, asked me, "Am I going to be sent back there now?"

I told this to my father at lunch the other day. He put down his fork, then said nothing for the rest of the meal.

Alfred Lubrano is an Inquirer staff writer. alubrano@phillynews.com

215-854-4969 @AlfredLubrano