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Why Are We Sliding Toward Hell…?


Reactionaries and even fascists rise across Europe. Brexit feeds on and breeds hate. Trump threatens. Syriza, Podemos, and Sanders rise, but also suffer setbacks. Misplaced opposition to immigrants and blatant racism churn concern but so does anger at elites imposing collapsing services. Hypocritical lies confront legitimate and illegitimate desires. Elites push to preserve themselves and deflect or crush opposition. Will the final product be retrograde or revolutionary?

Progressive ideas and forces have for decades and in many places made serious gains along axes of race, gender, and sexuality. We haven’t won all we want, but have won quite a lot. We have done far less well and often even quite bad along lines of class. Nothing comparable in scope and complexity to the range of issues anti racist and anti sexist activists battle over has ever even surfaced about class.

I would like to suggest a possible cause of both white male working class support for the likes of Trump and the relative ineffectively of progressives at working class activism because I think understanding this cause will aid getting positive outcomes.

Leftist analysts tell us that while part of Trump’s support (and the Brexit vote) stems from fear of immigration and from racist, imperial yearnings for past triumphalism, another part comes from anger at being economically worse off than in a half century due to the machinations of the rich. Once we notice the latter factor, however, there is a very large elephant in the room that left analysts largely ignore.

Donald Trump is a billionaire and doesn’t for a second hide it. Given that a large part of the anger fueling his constituency is with economic impoverishment, why are his working class supporters so aggressively wedded to one of capitalism’s main practitioners of impoverishing others?

Consider videos of Trump’s supporters asked what it would take for them to not vote for him. Would you not vote Trump if he went back on some promises? If it turned out he had been a fraud in the past? If it turned out he was horrible to employees? If it turned out he has a swastika tattoo? The respondents all say no, they would still vote for him.

Okay, would you not vote for him if it turned out he had raped someone in the past? If he killed someone in public? If he said he was eager to use a nuclear bomb? The questions got more aggressive because the answer, from person after person, to the end, was no, I would still vote for him, he is my guy. People scoff at this solidity of support, ridiculing it, but scoffing and ridiculing is part of the problem.

Contrary to everyone’s impression, it is no accident Trump has demolished all the opponents he has thus far faced. Trump is no one’s fool. He is a lying, sexist, bigot, bully, exploiter, but he knows what he is doing.

So, again, how can Trump’s supporters be so angry at their personal economic plight – and they are – and yet so steadfastly, unswervingly, and unyieldingly positive about a billionaire? What happened to class consciousness?

The answer is that class consciousness is operating, quite strongly, just not the way most leftists conceive.

The passionate anger at elites coursing through a good part of Trump’s supporters – and I bet this holds true in the UK, Spain, France, Austria and Poland, too, – is, in fact, class conscious hostility to a perceived class enemy. The thing is, the hated enemy is not just, or perhaps even mainly, capitalists.

Most working people have never encountered a capitalist. Not once. But, they routinely encounter doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and others who have highly empowering jobs and major associated status and wealth. These empowered folk compose what I call the coordinator class, about 20% of the population. Workers daily serve these people, obey these people, get meager but absolutely essential benefits from these people, often paternalistically. Workers are routinely treated like children, or worse, by these people. And, yes, when we are talking about overall, averaged out attitudes – workers even despise these people.

Workers see the advantages that coordinator class members enjoy. Workers even often want their kids to escape the family neighborhood and its local employers to become one of these doctors, lawyers, engineers, or whatever, however infrequently it can happen given society’s definitions of jobs and circumstances and the different conditions people encounter growing up. But, even wanting their kids to become one, still, these coordinator class members are the people in society who angry workers most viscerally hate. When working class folks move around in society, on the streets, in the mall, going to the doctor, at work, they don’t encounter capitalists, not in any part of daily life. But they do encounter coordinator class types. People who dress differently, talk differently, enjoy different movies and shows, and expect the working class person to move out of their way or follow their instructions as they go about their domineering tasks.

Workers hate being administered, being bossed around, being rendered powerless, being considered inferior, dumb, and being paternalized – which may well be the hallmark of the interface between working class and coordinator class. Yes, workers also hate their own material deprivations and their own work conditions, but the group of human beings that workers daily experience as at least in part responsible for and benefitting from their personal plight, and as harshly derogatory and dismissive of them, is this group of empowered actors in the economy, the coordinator class.

So how does this explain anything about Trump? Or how does it explain anything about the travails of a left that has perpetual difficulty gaining working class participation?

Trump’s supporters support him, even love him, because of all the faults that his critics point to rather than despite those faults. They believe Trump is a good guy, friendly, and mainly unrelentingly honest. He doesn’t masquerade. He isn’t a lying hypocrite. He doesn’t exude academic arrogance. He shoots straight. Tough. Reliable. Ready to fight. He is not some hypocritical, arrogant, dismissive, academic, coordinator class type – like Clinton – who will pander to workers, talk about workers, claim to support workers, but who they can viscerally feel really just doesn’t give a damn about working people and is so classist – yes, classist – that it is palpable in the way she walks, in the way she talks, in the very air that circulates around her, all of it so different than Trump’s walk, talk, and surrounding air.

And, sad to say, while Trump’s supporters love for him is of course horrendously misplaced – though not so different in its basis in personal impressions than the love many blacks feel for the Clintons which is also horribly misplaced – Trump’s supporters’ antipathy for the managers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants who earn many times what they earn and who have power and influence that dwarfs theirs and who treat them like children or fools, conveying zero real empathy but only a palpable air of holier than thou entitlement, is often all too warranted.

White working class hostility to what they call PC is in very large part hostility to the class that has all kinds of rules and norms that workers must obey, and that uses those rules, and their fancy manners and language, to stay above working people, to lord it over working people, and to defend class prerogatives at the expense of working people.

Okay, so we come to the election. If Sanders were running against Trump this Fall, I believe he could and would appeal directly to Trump’s voters, and I believe when he did so, in heads up exchanges with Trump, they would hear him. He would come across as caring, honest, and tough – not as a pose, but because he is. Sanders would have answers that Trump supporters really would like to hear. In turn, when Sanders won, Trump’s supporters would not feel that they had been disregarded. Far from it, they would have wound up supporting Sanders or, if not, at least respecting and liking him. Their class consciousness of all types would be alive, but their hope would be aroused as well, and they would be moving toward opposing real injustices and seeking real solutions, rather than becoming entrenched in scapegoating other victims of injustice.

But, Clinton running, and winning, could, I fear, yield a whole different trend, even if for countless other reasons her winning would be essential to beat Trump. To white working class guys, and I bet by election time many other working class folks as well, Clinton is the archetype despised, arrogant, academic, boss, who extolls solidarity, but exudes style and assumptions that put the lie to that solidarity. Sexism makes the hatred all the more intense for some, to be sure, but even without sexism, Clinton and a good part of the population would be oil and water.

Unless Clinton works a near miracle on her substance and even more so on her style – which, in fact, reflects true substance quite accurately – working males and many females too, will hear nothing she says even if she tries to communicate with them. And that is the best case. More likely, she will sense their hostility and develop a campaign that aims for Black votes, Latin votes, female votes, and young votes, and that basically ignores and constantly ridicules (with a coordinator-ish paternalistic tone) Trump’s supporters. And when Clinton wins – and in the nightmarish horror show we confront we have to hope that she does indeed win – while her victory will have kept Trump from power and will have kept the right wing machine from dominating social life, Trump’s supporters will feel even more angry and more ready to fight than earlier. They will have been ignored yet again. And so the phenomena of right wing populism trending toward fascism will not have been beaten back forever, but will have only been stalled and at the same time aggravated.

So what is the bottom line of this aspect of our query? It certainly isn’t to hope Clinton loses. You won’t get greater working class involvement in efforts at real social change by having their worst manifestations enshrined in the Oval Office. And what activism you do get, against Trump in office, will be largely aiming to get some liberal in, instead.

What we are discussing suggests Sanders needs to not only try to help beat Trump, and needs to not only try to facilitate creating a lasting left with a serious program and with real infrastructure, he also needs to organize Trump’s constituency away from Trump and toward class, race, and gender conscious politics that really does respect and address the actual needs of, among others, white working class guys.

If this doesn’t happen, I fear 2020 may see something catastrophic in the U.S., and likely in many other places in the world as well.

But what about the other side of the same coin? Why don’t progressive and radical forces have greater reach in working class communities? Why don’t the far more accurate answers left commentators have about the state of white working class lives, and the far more supportive history of activity of left organizers, as well, resonate more with the working class than Trump resonates with it?

No doubt there are many answers, many factors. But realize, this is not about the last six months or year, it is about the last fifty years. And during that span, don’t we have to acknowledge that “the movement” often comes across as not worker aligned, not worker identified, not worker led, but rooted, instead, in more coordinator class connections, assumptions, and even values, often literally dismissive of working people in its manners, style, tone, taste?

And isn’t that reality apparent to class conscious workers even when some candidate or anti nuke organizer or campus radical says screw the 1% and champion the workers – because the choice of words, phrasing, and style says, wait, I am really not one of you. Don’t they often hear from us, not explicitly, but in our tone, manners, and style – and sometimes even our pronouncements – I am a fledgling manager, lawyer, doctor. And I know it. And I look down from up here, thinking your views are dumb and you need my guidance, my instructions. I dismiss your pain as wrong headed. Mostly, I talk a lot about owners and profit seeking but I show no interest whatsoever in changing the relation between my class, or my class to be, the coordinator class, and your class, the working class, much less any interest in eliminating the class difference entirely.

Why are we surprised, then, that this underlying reality of difference, and our approach when interacting creates a gigantic impediment to unity, and indeed even to hearing one another with the slightest sense of belief, empathy, and understanding? This is something to consider. And if you decide this isn’t a problem, well – something sure is.

12 Comments

  1. mike sheck July 2, 2016 2:53 pm 

    Here in the fly-over states we have another name for the “coordinator class”. Successful. I think what might be more useful is designating a “theme park class”; academics, celebrities, media folk etc. These are the people who live in a make-believe world filled with make believe answers to all of our problems. Evil doesn’t exist, and strangers are just friends you haven’t met.

  2. avatar
    Paul D July 2, 2016 4:13 am 

    The trouble is, a lot of the resentment of this posited “coordinator class” has nothing to do with economic class – it is entirely cultural. Here in southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia – a hotbed of Trumpism, the Trumps supporters largely look pretty damn well-off to me. They own a nice house out in an outlying town or rural area 70 miles or more from their job in Pittsburgh or Morgantown. They commute to their job a big, late model pickup truck and SUV which they spend enormous amount of needles money fueling when they could have bought, for less money and far less fuel costs, a 40 mpg Hyundai Elantra or Toyota Prius the like. They have his, hers, and kiddie-sized “quads” (ATV’s) costing tens of thousand of dollars which they burn more gasoline tearing up the wild areas, while thy call us people who only try to enjoy the outdoors with only a sturdy pair of shoes and a rucksack “elitists”.

    Meanwhile, in the city, the hated “hipsters” and young engineers group-up to afford a small apartment, often don’t own a car and rely on our largely dismantled Pittsburgh public transit syatem or a bicycle to get around. they are far poorer than the rural rednecks by every objective measure. And we are not even talking about the destitute black Pittsburghers in Homewood, Wilkinsburg, Braddock, West Mifflin, Duquesne living in the shadow of the high wage USW steel facilities – and further out, the high-wage union coal mines (no, they aren’t all closed) – who only employ – you guessed it, the Trump-loving white rednecks commuting in from the sticks in their pickup trucks.

    Yet none of these poorer young urban, black urban and poor urban immigrant poeple are joining the Trump movement. Why?

    Sorry, but I simply don’t buy this class-analysis of the Trump supporters – something else – largely cultural – is going on – and it is ugly.

    Sorry about the bluntness in my rant – but that is simply how see things first hand in my area.

    • avatar
      Paul D July 2, 2016 4:20 am 

      And I should add – generational. Lets not forget that the Trump supporters are largely people between 35 and 60 years of age. No young person anywhere in my area is supporting Trump. A soon as they can they are moving out of Punxatawney or whatever and moving to the city.

    • avatar
      David Jones July 2, 2016 1:38 pm 

      I see something similar here in Montana, Paul. Fossil Fuel workers, miners, tradespeople with high school diplomas are pulling in six-figure salaries, consuming like mad and supporting Trump. They experience no “class belonging” or solidarity except on the cultural identity level (fear of the Other, fear of rapid change, etc..). Everyone hates the rich and everyone wants to be rich.

      Michael thinks the answer lies in language – if only Woody Guthrie came back to explain disavowal, or the TPP, in plain-speak to the Proles- but we have already raced to the discourse bottom and lost to the Right. They can always out-simplify us in terms of narrative and it just seems so…condescending.

      Look at the left’s explanation of class: Bernie’s “billionaire class”, Albert’s “coordinator class” ( 20%-30% of the population) the “political class” , the 99% (working class?) the “middle class”, the Power Elite. Try laying that out in simple terms to an Uber driver who enjoys trading Penny Stocks and ammo reloading.

      Better IMO to talk about ecological limits to growth, about atmospheric budgets and debt that will foreclose their children’s future.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert July 3, 2016 3:46 pm 

      Saying there is something cultural going on does not mean it is not a phenomena related to class…even that particular part of it.

      If you consider pretty much any part of entertainment – sports, music, movies, tv, even food – it becomes clear that there are differences that aren’t just personal, but, instead track the class membership of people. So the fact that hostilities exist which seem to center around cultural tastes, say, doesn’t mean they are not very intimately connected to class difference – particularly in the case when the class difference is precisely about different conditions of life – one set empowering, the other disempowering.

  3. Richard Bluhm July 1, 2016 9:19 pm 

    Some of my students of American History and Current World Events really took an interest, and others went into a coma. These were all middle to lower middle class students and 40% were minority. It occurs to me that those who took an interest, majority and minority, remain so today, and the others probably remain ignorant. The former will probably approach politics and policy intellectually while the later will react to austerity viscerally, i.e. The Donald.

    Human beings are a product of nature and nurture, and today there are so many distractions and soooooooooooooooo much propaganda, the purpose of which is to marginalize the masses, that it is no wonder that people are seduced by a demagogue. Trump is the last thing that anyone including the 1% needs, but as Steven Hocking recently lamented the greatest threat to the Earth today is greed and stupidity. Sadly, the oligarchy/plutocracy needs Hillary, and it is engorged with greed and stupidity of a certain kind, and it has made certain that ignorance and non-engagement permeates society today so that it cannot interfere with their agenda.

    Sorrowfully, we live in those interesting times that the old Chinese curse wished upon its enemies. We need a makeover TODAY because the four horsemen are at a gallop. We don’t have until 2020. This two-party kabuki dance cannot deal with the runaway realities that threaten life on this beautiful planet.

  4. John Vincent July 1, 2016 5:47 pm 

    It is not surprising, or shouldn’t be anyway, that an “underlying reality of difference” creates an impediment to unity. As the working paper by Peter Temin that Thomas Ferguson refers to in his recent post points out: America has a two-tiered economy.

    The majority resides in a low-wage sector whose incomes have stagnated while those in the top 30% who have access to a high-quality college education are able to advance and achieve income gains in what is referred to as the Finance, Technology and Electronics sector.

    Policies enacted by political elites like the Clintons, Obama and those before them have increasingly made access to quality public schools and universities more difficult for those in the lower tier who face public school closings, standardized testing and astronomically high college tuitions.

    Maintaining a layer of professionals, the doctors, lawyers, engineers, and those working in the finance and technology sector, who all have an opportunity to increase their incomes through advancement, is part of the neo-liberal agenda. It is those in the upper layer who still benefit from our current capitalist system that protects those at the top who are primarily responsible for setting the policies that marginalize the majority. The working class increasingly must compete in a globalized market place, while those in the professional class, the coordinator class, are protected through licensing and accreditation restrictions.

    Yes Donald Trump is a billionaire and doesn’t hide it and, why, given that a large part of the anger fueling his constituency is with economic impoverishment, are his working class supporters so aggressively wedded to one of capitalism’s main practitioners? Because, as I think you point out, in the eyes of the working class Trump was not the one directly responsible for the policies that have so blatantly and visibly marginalized the working class.

    It was Bill Clinton who pushed through NAFTA and forced American workers to compete with “a global peasantry”. It was Obama who managed the GM bailout and bankruptcy that ushered in the two-tiered wage system that forces new hires to work for a salary that one can barely live on. And it will be Hillary Clinton who will push through the TPP that will further erode workers rights by increasing the rights of investors. It’s no wonder why so many in the working class, and the left, hate the Democrats.

    Indeed, I think the left has been put in a very difficult position of defending the status quo, which promotes further neo-liberalization of the global economy, as the lesser evil in the coming election while trying to articulate an agenda for uniting and moving forward that in many ways just doesn’t resonate with those in the working class who are defending what little they have from further onslaught.

    We need to break apart the two-tiered system and get back to one that works for everyone, and until then people will continue to divide along class and racial lines…which the elite prefer. In the long run this will require a massive redistribution of wealth and property to repair our public institutions and put them into the hands of the people…an idea elites abhor and work so hard to prevent, be they Republicans or Democrat.

    • avatar
      David Jones July 2, 2016 2:03 pm 

      Where did those manufacturing and production jobs go? The Left might also have to acknowledge that millions in the developing world (China, India, SE Asia) have been lifted out of extreme poverty because they were on the receiving end of that investment. Sweatshops? For sure, but also a growing global income and wealth for what were peasants one generation ago.

      To accept nationalist protectionism is a double bind, a “very difficult position” indeed. My solution is to focus on globalized pollution (ie climate change) as the unifying force for equity and justice, measured as sustainability.

      • John Vincent July 2, 2016 3:22 pm 

        I think Noam Chomsky has the better analysis of globalization and who benefits and who doesn’t:

        “Globalization could be designed so that it’s beneficial to the general population or it could be designed so that it functions along the lines of the international trade agreements, including the Uruguay Round, the WTO Agreement, NAFTA, the current Atlantic and Pacific agreements, which are all specifically designed as investor rights agreements, not even trade agreements. Very high protection for major corporations, for big pharmaceuticals, media conglomerates, and so on, and very high barriers through intellectual property rights. Devices that allow corporations, but of course not people, to sue governments action that might potentially harm their profits. That is a particular form of globalization designed in the interest of the designers. The designers are concentrations of private power, linked closely to state power, so in that system they are consequences of globalization.”

        Besides, how many Trump supporters, who may have lost their job as a result of NAFTA, or otherwise seen their job off-shored, will be persuaded by the argument that it was good and beneficial because they were helping workers in places like China and India earn a few dollars a day after 16 hours of work in an unsafe, environmentally unacceptable sweatshop.

        The point is, it is these conditions that help bring about the “underlying reality of difference” that Michael Albert discusses above.

        As for focusing on globalized pollution as a unifying mechanism, I’m in agreement and all for it.

        • avatar
          James July 2, 2016 10:24 pm 

          You all sound like a bunch if over educated shitheads, with all your theories as to why, and who and shit. Get rid of the two tiered system, quote Chomsky, let’s no be condescending, start from climate change and pollution, no their not all working class from what I can tell, some are pulling a shitload…on and on and on.

          The truth is the “Left” is not even real. The “we” is bullshit. There is no fucking “we” or “Left”. And if someone can “design” a better way, where is it, what is it and how the fuck are you going to “sell” it to the rest of the world if all the over educated shitheads can’t even friggin’ agree.

          For fuck sake.

          Meanwhile back at the fucking Big Daddy White Geezer Hegemonic Power Grid ranch, they’re reloading for another assault and handing out cheap ammo. You’ll hear all about it on radio, but I bet none of you fuckers ever listen to sports radio, do ya?

  5. avatar
    Joel Isaacs July 1, 2016 5:29 pm 

    Yes, I agree. This is a very insightful analysis.

    And I want to suggest taking it one step further. Michael (Albert), could you please write a talk that you might give to a white, male, working class audience? That would make it more concrete for me, and easier to put into practice. And likely for many others also. Right now we are still using “coordinator class speak”.

  6. avatar
    Michael Lesher July 1, 2016 3:41 pm 

    This seems to me the most insightful analysis of the situation I’ve read to date. And it points the way to a very real and likely crisis. Established elites are determined to see Clinton triumph over Trump — that much isn’t hard to understand — but with a very specific, two-pronged PR strategy. On the one hand, they are aiming Clinton, if anything, to the right of Trump on the warmongering and imperialism that fills their corporate coffers. On the other hand, to “balance” that line, they’re systematically attacking Trump in precisely the way that most antagonizes his supporters: feigning shock at his crudity; “sympathizing” with women, Latinos, blacks, etc. (but not their actual political needs); mouthing platitudes about immigrants and hospitable American “values” (while supporting the bombing campaigns, etc. that are driving people out of their countries and continuing to bleed the working class). If such an approach leads to a Clinton victory, it will also lead us deeper into a nasty divide that threatens to paralyze badly needed political movement.

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