The working class GOP contingent

For once, a decent article in the NYT about the social conditions that have led to the rise of Trump.
Still, it suffers from a flaw that I'd call Frankism, after its most famous advocate, Thomas Frank. The idea, here, is that the "uneducated" - the high school graduates and dropouts of the GOP working class - were led along like stupid zombies by a GOP that used "gods" and "guns" to trick them.

This, I think, is a massive misreading of the strategy of the GOP cohort. They voted for politicians who continually promised to privatize Social Security and cut taxes not because they believed in cutting social security, but because they didn't believe the GOP was serious. They wanted the tax cuts because that was money in their pockets - and they needed that money. Wages have been bad for a long, long time, save for a few years in the nineties. This means that those households needed their discretionary spending. Meanwhile, fica was, due to the rotten deal between the Dems and the Republicans in the 80s, rising as the great Federal tax.

What changed in 2008 and was changing before then was that tax cuts no longer were enough. And now, after having paid more and more for social security and medicare, the GOP seemed more serious about vouchering them into inexistence than about anything else - save tax cuts for the wealthiest.

I think that the working class GOP pursued a strategy as well as the elites. They were willing to grant the elites their plutocratic gains in return for more discretionary income and the "cultural" issues, which were really lifestyle issues, issues of how to have a life on a more and more restricted budget. God, among other things, is cheap - there's no charge for going to church. On the other hand, going to Disneyland is expensive.

I don't want to ignore racism here, which is interwoven with the story of who gets what. The inability of the GOP working class to feel any solidarity with the black working class is certainly the result of a long history of racism in this country. The inability of the elites to even see the landmined life of the black working class is of course due to racism too.

The Sanders movement is going to have to confront that racism, instead of assuming that solidarity will happen if the economic issues are laid out clearly enough.


Weaver said…
This is fair enough, although I think it's a little unfair on Frank, who has always made it clear that the reason the culture wars pitch works with those who have no economic reason to vote Republican is because the Democrats having nothing to offer them in economic policy either (in fact, he's apparently just written a book on this very failing of the Dems). It's hardly false consciousness to pick one party of the rich over another party of the rich because your choice has promised to stop gay marriage or save your guns or deliver some other reactionary idiocy from your wishlist. The truth is that the "hardhats" or "red staters" or "Tea Party" or whatever we're calling them have never been put to the test of having to choose between social "conservatism" and economic "populism" because neither party ever offered the latter. Nor will they in the future, because neither Trump nor Sanders is likely to get the nomination, and Sanders definitely (comparatively sadly) won't.

If I was going to fault Frank about anything it would be that he of all people should realise the importance of taking care to distinguish between the lower middle class and the working class, and I'm not sure he's taking enough care in that regard in his commentary on the current circumstances, how ever much it may be true that both groups are victims of neo-liberalism. Historically fascist and quasi-fascist movements have found their rank-and-file amongst the petit bourgeois, and not the proles as the usual slurs suggest, although the usual "Hitler was elected" lie continues to serve as a bien pensant demonstration amongst nice liberals that the working majority can't be trusted and should be ignored. It's possible Trump's supporters are mostly working class and if there is solid demographic data to show it I'd like to see it. To me they still look like the local notables infected with the fear of falling that these sort of constantly recurring American nativist recrudescences tend to be made up of, not working class, the difference being that when the petit bourgeoisie feel under threat they have a considerably more marked tendency to punch downwards.

Of course, in America political terminology is so confused, and the class war so shot through with ...intersectionailty, is that the term now?, that getting hard data on the class basis of Trumpism may prove impossible.
The nation would be in trouble when working class are stressed out.

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