Saturday, September 30, 2017

Is The U.S. Political And Culture War Really A Class War?

Scene of one scuffle at Charlottesville between a racist (right) and Antifa member. Are such battles really based on class wars?

The author James Davidson Hunter, in a piece ('How America's Culture Wars Have Evolved Into A Class War', in The Denver Post (p. 1D, Sept. 17) makes a compelling case that the ongoing battle between Trumpites and the rest of us is actually a class war, not so much a "culture war" any longer.

He writes:

"The rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., reveals how the culture wars have evolved and metastasized into a class war with several sprawling components, far different from the one Karl Marx might have predicted. Much of this evolution has to do with a widening gap between members of America’s middle class."


"The cultural conflict of the last four decades has mostly taken place within the white middle class, mainly between the aspiring lower-middle and the comfortable upper-middle classes. But the cleavage between highly educated professionals and the less educated, nonprofessional, lower middle and working classes has widened in recent years, producing new tensions"

Make no mistake that this is a powerful observation and insight, since it means the nation is much more class conscious and class oriented than most have been led to believe.   It also interjects a powerful economic basis responsible for the class conflict because one class (upper middle, professional) is clearly making gains the other class isn't.   Making the case for this economic split, Hunter writes:

"What’s driving the wedge between these separate segments of the middle class? While the professional class has fared well in the recovery from the Great Recession, the lower middle class has lost ground. Wages are stagnating for middle and low wage workers, union membership and its traditional benefits are on the decline, income inequality is on the rise, and manufacturing jobs have been lost to technology and other countries. Thus those in the lower end of the middle class have grown increasingly estranged from their counterparts in the professional class as they have watched their opportunities and hopes for a better life grow more distant and, in some cases, disappear."


"What is more, these members of the lower middle class see many of the values and beliefs they live by — once perceived as honorable in their own communities — ridiculed as bigoted, homophobic, misogynist, xenophobic and backward by a relatively privileged and powerful elite. According to a study entitled “The Vanishing Center of American Democracy” conducted by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture (which I lead), about 8 of 10 Americans with less than a college degree believe that “political correctness is a serious problem in our country, making it hard for people to say what they really think” compared with 5 of 10 of the well-educated. Likewise, 7 of 10 of the less educated believe that “the most educated and successful people in America are more interested in serving themselves than in serving the common good

The last is especially serious as it discloses a gulf in perceptions that perhaps not even education can resolve or reduce.    Thus, it seems the more people (especially white, less educated males)  veer away from college education, the more "political correctness" is likely to be seen as the problem as opposed to economic disparity.

Added to this is the expectation of even greater distrust of government becoming an increasing attribute of the aggrieved class, as Hunter observes:

"A growing majority of Americans believe that their government cannot be trusted, that its leaders (and the leadership class more broadly) are incompetent and self-interested, and that as citizens they personally have little power to influence the powerful institutions or circumstances that shape their lives. Survey research shows that this distrust has grown and even hardened.

Unsurprisingly, this crisis, too, follows a class pattern. The poorly educated are one and a half times more likely than the college educated to hold the highest levels of distrust of the government; nearly three times more likely to be highly cynical of politicians; and over twice as likely to express the highest levels of alienation from the political process. Among the poorly educated who are religiously conservative, the levels of distrust, cynicism and alienation are even higher."

Note the correlation set out in the last sentence above, which is very worrisome.  As Hunter emphasizes:

"Yet the candidacy and presidency of Donald Trump are not an aberration, but a reflection of the political estrangement of our times. So is the authoritarian impulse we see bubbling up from the fringes"

This elicits the question of whether Trump's ascension to power hints at an ongoing class conflict and I believe it does, as well as being an indicator of a revival of white supremacy predicated on class. (And let's grasp that African-Americans suffer most at the hands of growing economic inequality.) Thus,  John Caldara of the Independence Institute names economic inequality as "public enemy number one" in our continuing political battles (Denver Post, p. 3D, Sept. 17) . Caldara writes:

" I have warning to my friends on the political right: Economic inequality is real. And the blowback from it could blindside us and cause a seismic leap to the left from which we may not return.

Or let me try it another way. We’re all feeling it: a political tribalism rippling through the country. People are not talking, but rather yelling past each other. Tensions are rising. Scapegoating has become the rage: Mexicans are taking our jobs, big banks control the system, Trump is causing hurricanes, neo-Nazis say it’s the Jews, Black Lives Matter say it’s the cops …

There is a root cause for this polarization. And no, it’s not racism, Obamacare or Trump. It’s economic stagnation. People are not getting ahead, and we feel it in our bones. Economic opportunity is passing us by. It scares us to the core. It makes us act out. It turns us into victims in search of the right oppressor to blame."

He has a point, and I brought it up earlier in a Labor Day post. This has to do with the economic  growth "rate" seeming  to be stuck at 2 percent per year and no more.  Caldara argues, and he is correct, the difference between 3 % growth (which used to be the case over decades) and 2 percent is not 1 percent but 33 percent, e.g.

(2- 1)/ 3 x 100 %  = 1/ 3  x 100% = 33 %

And he argues this makes a huge difference as to whether we live amicably with one another or are at each other's throats.    The implication is that those having to live with less will be filled with grievance and likely xenophobia that blames others for their plight. As he puts it:

"Compound that over a decade and you get an idea what was lost. Lost was what gave past generations their first real job, a first home, a college education without crippling debt, a savings for retirement and the sense of security that everything happening around them wasn’t a risk, a threat to their livelihood"

Left unsaid, at the heart of all the class conflict and discontent,  is that false consciousness may play a huge role in exacerbating class divisions.  False consciousness is an illegitimate basis for economic perceptions often fed by PR from media sources, in this case including fake news outlets. It serves to distort a population's own class position relative to others and thereby mutes any reasonable response to being made an underclass.

The Economic Policy Institute in 2003 asked generally where people thought they were in the economic spectrum: upper 1% (earning $320,000 year or more); upper 5% (> $80,000) or where?

A full 19% in this random survey claimed they were in the privileged class of the top 1%. A virtual statistical impossibility in any random study.

In fact, internal survey cross-check questions on income category showed many of these working at a little above minimum wage, and even the highest were at barely $44,000/yr. Nowhere near the 1% threshold! Other commentators on this study (e.g. Froma Harrop, Ellen Goodman) pointed to this ignorance as a basis for lower economic classes supporting the Bush tax cuts, which overwhelmingly favored the rich elites. Thus:

A) They didn't know where they themselves fit, and indeed inflated their wealth and positions relative to the whole.  Hence they were more likely to support the Bush tax cuts that predominantly benefited the rich.

B) As author Michael Parenti has noted ('The Dirty Truth') 94% of all wealth comes by way of inheritance, not paid work.  Why do you suppose the top of Trump's tax "reform" plan is to eliminate the estate tax? So, the working class Trump supporters are fooling themselves. Unless they have a rich elder relative hidden away with a vast fortune, they'd be better off thinking they may have to work until they're 70 or 80 and even that may not be enough to financially stay in place. (46 percent of Americans can barely scrape together $400 in case of a minor emergency, according to Federal Reserve stats. Two thirds of the working underclass live on $2 a day or less.)

But sadly, the Overclass and its minions (including the GOP, a basic "sub-division" of the Kochs) consistently get working class folk to act against their own vested interests by distracting them with moralism ploys - raising "moral" issues like abortion, transgender rest rooms, gay wedding cakes and what not - just long enough so that many working class voters keep their eyes off the ball when election day arrives. Then these workers wonder why they never get ahead.  Watch it happen again with Trump's proposed tax cuts which mainly benefit the wealthiest - like him.

Thus, the primary directive of the Overclass propagandizers - to divide and conquer - is to succeed in sowing a fictitious system based on false consciousness. That is to say,  a persistently class-less system or false equality world view at variance with reality.  To grasp the strategy one must  first know what false consciousness is.

'False consciousness' is the term given to a false information system that's been absorbed in part or whole, osmotically or via direct mental ingestion (fake news), by the majority of a population. It has specific uses in our Corporatocracy to mislead a population about how things actually work, and also on the basic economic and other data which are used to formulate policies. I touched on a number of the inherent economic lies and disinformation ploys in a 2011 blog post:

But realize these ploys are just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, the effects of language and PR debasement of reality extend to the whole political system which can best be described as one of legalized, corporate-fuelled bribery. While citizens do get to vote every two or four years, in reality it's only to choose their next set of Overseers, errr....Overclass masters. Once the votes are in, the true powers - the corporate ones- take over and direct (via their money and lobbyists) the real choices and possibilities. Any pol can thus say "Yes, we can!"  or "Make America great again!" all he or she wants, but the truth is that it's more: "Yes we can- make America great -  IF the corporations and the wealthy agree our 'great' is the same as theirs!"

This dynamic is certainly in play now with the Trumpies (Dotard voters, supporters) believing they really were doing better, until shocked into economic reality by the "elites" perceived as lording it over them.  The ironic fact? Many of the white nationalists parading in Charlottesville in July actually hailed from upper middle class, entitled families. Go figure!

This spectacle interjects yet another political fact: archconservatives in both parties have always - or nearly always- defeated their Left and Center Left opponents by dividing their natural constituency: the bottom two thirds of the nation's economic pyramid.  This division is mainly along racial or ethnic lines and many of those divided still get by on barely two dollars a day.

Those Democrats who've successfully countered this 'divide and conquer' strategy used by the Koch brothers, Trump and others didn't turn their backs on the civil rights of African - Americans or Mexican Americans. Rather they emphasized a fundamental interest in prosperity that unites the working and middle classes.  This is something to bear in mind as Dems seek to overthrow the Trump Imperium moving forward.


Darrin Rychlak said...

I hate reductionist answers but in America, it has always been about class. The country was built by the rich for the benefit and authority of the rich. Race, ethnicity, religion or credo all take a backseat to economic class and are useful wedge issues used to control or influence the labor class, the have-nots, the Hoi Polloi.

These 'Makers' are few. We 'Takers' are many. For the few to control the many, fear centered authoritarianism (see Dr. Altemeyer) is and always has been the vehicle used.

I have been away from your site for a bit. I hope you're doing ok.

Copernicus said...

Thanks, Darrin. Generally doing ok, mainly bouts of incontinence I have to put up with, but so far things look under relative control. Have to have another PSA in about 4 weeks and hopefully the numbers are still going down. Last was 2.0 so hope the next is 1.0 or lower!

You are spot on in your perceptive comments on how the many are controlled by the few.