Only the Right Believes in Class Conflict Anymore


CK MacLeod

WordPresser: Writing since ancient times, blogging, e-commercing, and site installing-designing-maintaining since 2001.

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110 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    There is a big debate among liberals about whether we should emphasize class more and deemphasize things like race, gender, and sexual orientation. A big fight between Bernie Sanders supporters and Hillary Clinton supporters is that Bernie Sanders supporters generally think that more stress should be put on class or economic issues and less on race, gender, or sexual identity issues. The other side argues that in the United States, that race, gender, and sexual identity issues are class issues because people of color, women, and certain classes of people within the LGBT community are more likely to live in poverty than other people in the United States. They also argue that emphasizing class and socio-economic issues will not win back the white working class so you might as well fight for issues of groups that will vote for you.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Also, when is that card from? The Democratic Party made free trade, or as they called it tariff reform, a political issue during the 1890s and 1900s. That card does not look that old.Report

  3. Avatar Kolohe says:

    They call the ‘ruling class’ the 1%. The more hardcore leftists generalize it to ‘capitalists’. (as in, “The problem of course was that Brazilian and Indian and Mexican capitalists are as evil as those of the United States and Britain and France.”)Report

    • Avatar Dan Scotto says:

      See, I think the whole 1% thing is not really a class conflict notion at all; it focuses on too small a sect of the population. True class conflict would be focused on the upper-middle class as well as the super rich. The “We are the 99 percent” notion keeps the upper-middle class, or HENRYs, or whatever else you want to argue, intact, at least rhetorically.

      Perhaps a “We are the 75 percent” would be a better slogan of true class conflict.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        It gives rise to the thought that most thoughts about ‘class’ are rooted in 19th century paradigms in a time when mass industrialization was only a generation or two old and the percentages of who did what and where they did it were vastly different.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I can tell you that there are plenty of people on the left that dislike upper-middle class bougie-boho liberals like myself. Loomis just went on a screed about how upper-middle class liberals are committing racists acts when they:

        1. Move to cities, gentrify neighborhoods, and displace older residents; and

        2. Move to suburbs with good public schools when they have kids.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Related and comes back a little to CK’s original post, it’s harder for Democrats to do traditional class war ( and easier for Republicans to talk about ruling classes) when something like 9 of the 10 richest counties in the US are all that way because of goverment sector and goverment sector adjacent employment (the 10th is from financial sector employment)Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        “True class conflict” is in the theoretical discourse of the beholder. So, from a Marxist revolutionary perspective, the 1% or 1% of the 1% or even a smaller number might at any time have ownership of the “means of production,” but be supported by a much larger number of “petite bourgeoisie” and a still larger number of people whose main purpose economically is to engage in unproductive consumption. At this point, Marxian approaches to an increasingly globalized system of production begin to diverge, in a way that mirrors (replicates and is replicated in) the fragmentation and exhaustion of the further-left. That’s one reason why I don’t claim that left-liberals made a bad choice one day in 1971, or something.Report

  4. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Perhaps I’m unclear what you’re thesis is here. Is it that the left has abandoned a certain rhetorical device (the term “ruling class”) when talking about domestic economy issues? Or is it that in practice, as a matter of policy, that the left has largely abandoned policies which actually help the working class, in particular, working whites?

    If it’s the latter, I agree with both you and Spiliakos when he writes

    Trump’s support is drawn disproportionately from working-class whites. These are the voters that Henry Olsen described as caring more about family and stability than about upward mobility. They worry about potential perverse incentives in government programs, but also feel that they need a government backstop in case of disaster. They are suspicious of free trade, and don’t see the need for increased low-skill immigration.

    I think any careful analysis of what’s happening right now (and something IS happening…) would conclude that one (not the only!) animating force of the working whites who increasingly identify as GOPers is that the current policy regimes championed by both R&D Reps (“overfunded” social programs, neoliberal trade, a lax view on low-skilled immigration, etc) constitute a real harm to their economic interests. They see lots of dollars and employment options going to people other than themselves, and they perhaps correctly identify the source of those problems with the non-partisan “ruling class”. And since the GOP has been more closely aligned with their own sentiments on these issues, they’re putting their policy eggs into the Republican basket, and in particular, Trumps. So I’m in agreement there.

    Where I perhaps disagree (tho this isn’t within the scope of your post) is that those economic concerns aren’t the primary cause of their policy preferences nor their support for Trump, at least insofar as their rejection of the “ruling class” is concerned. That rejection is of a piece with Palinism, it seems to me, which is to blame deviations away from the conservative political-economic mythological Utopia on ideological elements external to conservatism, rather than recognizing that the myth is either incoherent or illusory.Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      Perhaps goes without saying that the larger phenomenon of the domestication and division of the working class, partly reflected in the rhetorical migration, has been developing for generations, with two breakaway presidential candidates whose last names happened both to be “Wallace” standing as historical signposts. It was already far enough long so that in the 1960s American Labor was already stepping forward as a force of social as well as political reaction, and not just in the South by any means.

      [O]ne (not the only!) animating force of the working whites who increasingly identify as GOPers is that the current policy regimes championed by both R&D Reps (“overfunded” social programs, neoliberal trade, a lax view on low-skilled immigration, etc) constitute a real harm to their economic interests. They see lots of dollars and employment options going to people other than themselves, and they perhaps correctly identify the source of those problems with the non-partisan “ruling class”. And since the GOP has been more closely aligned with their own sentiments on these issues, they’re putting their policy eggs into the Republican basket, and in particular, Trumps.

      In one way you may be giving the “working whites” too much credit, in another not enough (especially at the end of your post). What they have had plentiful opportunity to observe, ever since the ’60s, is that the Democratic Party’s first priority will be to its “special interests.” I’m not arguing that Democrats or left-liberals generally had any better choices, but the end result is something like a choice between the likes of Trump and people whose disdain for them, whose determination to see them come last in whatever queue for favors, and bear the brunt of whatever sacrifices in the name of “progress,” seems well-established and unshakeable.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    Almost completely off topic, but unless one takes pains to hide their identity, Google’s search results will be tailored at least somewhat to the individual. The order in which things are presented to me may be quite different than the order they are presented to you, particularly if the search includes terms that I have used in the past.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Hmmm. Didn’t know that. That sucks. Do other search engines do that as well?Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      Yes, @michael-cain – always worth keeping in mind when using Google searches in this way – one reason I present the results as only “preliminary.” In my case I suspect the heavy weighting towards mentions of the movie had something to do with that (I almost used an image from the Ruling Class 1-sheet as an illustration).

      I don’t know whether Google still “knows” that I visited Codevilla’s (excellent) essay when it was published 5 years ago. Could be. I’d be curious to see if others got similar results when they performed the search. I decided to go with it because the articles it turned up are still worth reading, and they struck me as representative of this particular phenomenon – the recurrence of leftwing classist/revolutionary terminology in self-consciously “conservative” discourse – which has been notable for quite some time, but surged during the first years of the Obama Administration and the rise of the Tea Party (a quite self-consciously “revolutionary” reference).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      This explains a few things. Like why so many of my searches wind up producing references to the Green Bay Packers. This may distort my assessment of how objectively popular the team really is.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        The other day I typed the single search term “cartogram” into the image search on Google. Of the first 30 or so images, three were cartograms I’d built and used in various places on the Web. There was a brief euphoric “How cool is that!” moment before I remembered… tailored search.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      The Linux distro I use sets Yahoo to be the default search engine, specifically for privacy reasons – Yahoo do not track you in the way Google does.Report

  6. Avatar Francis says:

    I refute the thesis thus: the PPACA. Also, the automobile industry bailout. And the 2009 Stimulus bill. And the Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. And the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And the appointment of Janet Yellen. And middle class tax cuts. And raising taxes on the wealthy.

    But other than those issues, sure. Democrats no longer use the term “ruling class”. One hypothesis worth considering is that since the Democrats have held the White House for the last 8 years, demonizing the “ruling class” as opposed to the “1%” or “.1%” or “.01%” might be a little bizarre.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      Well, see, they might USE the term, but they don’t use it the way racist Republican homophobic anarchists do, so it doesn’t mean the same thing and therefore doesn’t count.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw says:


    I don’t what there is to agree or disagree with here. No one disputes that Trump’s base of support is largely white working-class Americans with no college education but operate at semi-skilled and lower-level white collar work. John Judis wrote about this in the late summer or early fall. There was a bunch of polling that showed the same this week.

    There is a long-standing argument about whether immigration suppresses wages. There have been people on the left who argued against immigration from time to time. Keir Hardie (the founder of the Labour Party) was anti-immigration. It is clear that Trump’s supporters believe immigration hurts job security and lowers their wages. Whether this is actually true or not is another issue.

    You are also right that there are debates in the Democratic Party between people who care about economic inequality and more conservative Wall Street Dems. Bernie Sanders gets support from people who largely think HRC is too cozy with Wall Street.

    I think there is general Democratic support for fighting income and wealth inequality. Raising the minimum wage is a big Democratic issue especially in city politics. So are evictions and affordable housing. What the Democratic Party will not do is engage in race and ethnicity base economic fights. The Democratic Party is not interested in playing zero-sum games that pit the White Working class against other economically disadvantaged groups. Trump is clearly game for this though. Trump can be pulling a variant of “I can put one-half of the working class against the other half.”

    IIRC there is a lot of evidence that the Democratic Party does decently to well with white-working class people in every part of the United States but the South.Report

  8. “Why the American Ruling Class Betrays Its Race and Civilization“

    That is, it doesn’t hate dark-skinned people and Jews enough, Which is, I fully admit, an idea only the Right champions these days.Report

  9. Avatar Maribou says:

    I think it’s the term, rather than the ideology, that has been devalued. Bernie likes to use the phrase “billionaire class” (I think as a way of NOT attacking the middle class, something that old school lefties did all the time). Others use, of course, “the 1 percent.”

    Searching stuff like “class war,” and the terms above, still brings back plenty and plenty of leftist hits at the top of the results (at least for me, Cain is right about the filter bubble).

    Here are a couple of interesting related articles:

    (sorry for the scattered comment, this is one of my fave topics andbut i am pretty distracted by working right now.)Report

    • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

      “Class War” gets skewed in my results due in part to the existence of a leftwing English group that went by that name. However, as far as the argument of my post goes, I wasn’t arguing that ALL revolutionary leftwing terms of art have migrated to the right. “Class war,” “class conflict,” “class consciousness,” “the Proletariat,” “the masses,” “revolutionary vanguard,” “general strike,” and so on, do not make appearances in the pages of Townhall and RedState, and I don’t expect most of them to do so.

      The two articles you link, @maribou, offer some useful observations, especially the first one as to the disappearance of “working class” from political discussion. In my no doubt biased observation, it appears either in the way that the author at the Washington Post observes – in passing, nostalgically – or in connection with “working class whites” and voting preferences or polling tendencies commonly attributed to racism.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      Interesting the disappearing middle class is one of Hanley’s cri de ceour’s on facebook. He insists that the middle class is disappearing because they are largely getting wealthier and not getting poorer. So he gets cranky at the disappearing middle class meme.

      Now I find this all confusing. Middle class is simply should be the median income, should it not?Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        “Working class” is not the same as “middle class,” and the theory at the base of workerism was not a theory about demographics or income distribution, it was a theory about ownership of “the means of production” and control of “surplus value” by a class different from the one that, through its direct labor, was actually engaged in production, and therefore also possessed the latent, sooner or later inevitably to be realized power to take them over and operate them in a superior way and in the universal interest.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          Right but has anyone on Trump’s end argued that the working class should control the means of production? Have any of his supporters? I think not.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Trump’s supporters, seems to me, are enamored of his vocal anti-establishmentarian rhetoric, which they perceive as the ultimate dis on the current power structure. So they’re effectively disestablishmentarianists.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              But what do they want? Drum had some data yesterday that showed a majority of Americans still believe in the American dream. The exception seemed to be the demographic of Trump supporters that are white-Americans without a college degree.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                But what do they want?

                My guess is they want an end to a series of policies and positions (and power structures!) that have made their lives increasingly uncomfortable and unproductive. They want a repeal of social norms governed by PC rhetoric; they want a better labor market where jobs aren’t shipped overseas or given to illegal immigrants; they want to see fewer tax dollars going to social programs serving what they view as a constituency of bought votes. I think they see this stuff and related as a growing force in government which is increasingly oppressive and disregarding of regular ole working folks, culturally and legally as well as economically.

                Seems to me that no particular grievance stands alone, but rather is part of a nexified web of discontents which are mutually connected and reciprocally justifying, leading to the conclusion that the Establishment – and established institutions – are beyond redemption or repair and only truly radical steps can Make America Great Again.

                Something like that anyway.Report

              • SSM is a major one for social conservatives. Dreher in particular sees the fact that corporations support it as the ruling class imposing its own values on people like him.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                I’m waiting on that one… biding my time. At some point someone needs to write an article to Dreher and be like “Hey Rod, that SSM mob that’s gonna take away your religious tax exemption and force your cat to marry your dog, when’s that supposed to be showing up again?”Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                @north, Rod is upset that some LGBT activists are upset the government is actually on his side for once, when it comes to giving waivers from Title IX from a small number of religious schools.


              • Avatar North says:

                Yep that’s ol’ Rod. I wonder how long before he has to admit he’s wrong on the matter?

                I mean with predictions you’re technically never wrong.. just not right-yet.Report

              • Avatar J_A says:

                When it was pointed out to him that the Obama Administration was in his side and was granting all the requested waivers, he doubled down:

                “[NFR: The victory will be defeat if this or the next administration decides that the activists are right, and there will be no accommodations made. — RD]”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                SSM is a major one for social conservatives.

                To the extent there’s overlap between SoCons and Trumpistas, then that’s certainly relevant. Teasing out the myriad grievances which define – only be subtraction! – “conservatism” is a monumental task.Report

              • Avatar LeeEsq says:

                So basically they want a return to the United States of the 1950s and early 1960s.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                Any time far enough away that the Mythology really kicks in, ya know?

                That’s not to say there aren’t rational, reasonable conservatives who argue for incremental changes/preservations along traditionally conservative lines: ensmallen government intrusion into private lives; ensmallen tax revenues/spending/power of the Fedrul Gummint; etc and so on. But those people, as we all know, are either RINOs or “moderates” or somesuch, and not true conservatives.

                To be a true conservative anymore, you gotta wanna eliminate 5, 6, 7 Big Gov agencies with the swipe of a pen. BOOM! They’re gone! Or round up all the illegals and ship over The Wall you’ve just forced Mexico to pay to build. Or carpet bomb Syria ISIS till the sand glows. And so on….Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            Never meant to suggest that the appropriation of some classically leftwing revolutionary terminology meant that the Trumpish right was classically leftwing revolutionary – only that, approximately as Dan put it on Twitter, the abandonment of the working class as such (or, perhaps, the demotion of the “white working class”) produced a vacuum that was bound to be filled. There is a peculiar conceptual overlap here between right-wing “producerism” and Old Left workerism, though. Trump, as possible traitor to his class, brings producerism somewhat more in line with workerism, since the populist right is also self-consciously antagonistic toward the “billionaire class,” to use Maribou’s term. So, Republicans believe that business-people and especially “entrepreneurs” are “productive” – are the most productive, the real authentic producers, thus their scorn for “you didn’t build that.” Marxists think of them more as parasites. Maybe Trumpists would fall somewhere in between, with unformed and inconsistent, or completely contradictory ideas on the question.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              I don’t think Trump is running as a traitor to his class in the same way that FDR was accused of being a traitor of his class.

              There is a long history of Americans being uneasy when discussing class. I am far from an expert but many Americans always seem to have saw themselves as aspirational. Hence Steinbeck’s famous observation about “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” There was a small movement that was willing to talk about class but they never really fit into the Democratic Party. The trade unionists who aligned with the Democratic Party during the mid-20th century were anti-Communists like Walter Reuther. They just wanted labor to be comfortable. They didn’t want public ownership as far as I know.

              Walter Reuther was a great liberal but he was probably to the right of Nye Bevan and Tony Benn on a good number of economic issues.

              I would agree that many members of the white working class might feel rejected by the Democratic Party but if that rejection came because the Democratic Party embraced civil rights, I would rather embrace civil rights.Report

      • Avatar Will H. says:

        I would say there are other salient factors, though income is something of a rough indicator.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          Yeah. I agree. I think one of the big problems is that in the United States, almost everyone wants to see themselves as middle class. Middle Class is virtuous in the United States because it implies economic comfort but having to work for it. Working Class implies a certain level of economic discomfort. Rich implies too much idleness and that goes against our Puritan heritage.

          Middle Class is a very hard to define concept because it can be relative. 125K might be very comfortable to wealthy in North Dakota but in NYC or SF or Seattle it can be much tighter especially if a person has a family.

          We have discussed this before but I think there are a lot of people who are income wealthy that would define themselves as being upper-middle class instead of rich. They can acknowledge their money but also say “I work for this. This isn’t investment income.”Report

          • Avatar J_A says:

            There was an NPR program some months ago, in which yacht owning families making several millions a year, described themselves as middle class.Report

            • They owned medium-sized yachts.Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine says:

                Sensible Honda yachts, or possibly the new Toyota Electric Yacht.

                Really just a boat, actually; a boat on which you can sleep, and maybe host guests, and has a place for the crew, and a kitchen with which to feed everyone. Think of it as an water based RV – an aquamobile; that’s middle class, no?Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                A boat is a hole in the water into which you can throw an infinite amount of money.Report

            • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

              I didn’t hear that story but that kind of thinking is deeply part of the American psyche and psychology. For a variety of reasons, we have never developed the same sort of class consciousness as the UK. This is both good and bad.*

              Interestingly, CK might be right here. The white working class/lower-middle class is the most class conscious part of American society. In the UK, you can potentially argue that UKIP supporters are more class conscious that old and new Labour Party supporters or even old-school Tories.

              *FWIW, I think it is largely good.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                How “deep can it be if, by definition, only a tiny segment of the population can hold that particular worldview?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                The white working class/lower-middle class is the most class conscious part of American society.

                Errra no. Or at least, I disagree. I think the hypothesis is more accurate if you include another word in there, to wit!: the white working class is the most class self-conscious part of American society. Expanding on that a bit, I’d say that the white working class is more aware of how shifting cultural, economic and policy norms affect themselves in relation to others, and that self-awareness is itself based on a self-oriented conception of the role the white working has played in American society, in particular, its centrality in American Mythology.

                Personally speaking, I have a hard time believing that white people of any class in the Good Ole USA are more class-conscious (along any of the meanings of that term) than people of color.Report

            • Avatar Matty says:

              I think it may have been on this very site I read something along the lines of.

              Fred thinks he is middle class because he can afford a fishing rod but not a boat
              Bob thinks he is middle class because his boat isn’t the biggest in the marina
              Tom thinks he is middle class because he only has one large yacht and the others are tiny, barely worth mentioningReport

          • Avatar Michael Cain says:

            Re the last couple of sentences, they may also be in the situation that if the employment went away and it took them a year to find a new position, there would have to be significant changes in expenditures. Somewhere recently I read a piece about families with a quarter-million or more in annual income who were effectively living paycheck to paycheck.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            “125K might be very comfortable to wealthy in North Dakota but in NYC or SF or Seattle it can be much tighter especially if a person has a family.”

            Tighter? Sure. But tight? Hardly. Plus you get paid more in NYC than in ND.

            Two elementary teachers in the middle of their careers (i.e., in their 30s) make a combined $150K/year in the greater NYC area. They probably make 2/3 of that — if not less — in ND.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            “Oh, sure, I make six figures, but I want to make seven.”Report

          • Avatar Roland Dodds says:

            I second this comment from @saul-degraw. I don’t know anyone who wants to actually identify as working-class (except for college students, but that’s a whole other can of worms…). People I know who fit the very definition of working class often frame their identity differently. Perhaps this is how successful conservatism and Americanism have been at peeling traditional working class voters away from political identities that have flourished elsewhere.Report

      • Now I find this all confusing. Middle class is simply should be the median income, should it not?

        In my opinion, as long as you are clear about what definition you’re using, you’re welcome to use median income to define middle class. There are other definitions, most of which seem to compete with each other even today and many of which are not mutually exclusive, but some were more salient at certain times than others:

        Middle class = being aristocratic landowners or villeins/serfs and whatnot
        Middle class = being urban (“bourgeoisies” from “bourg”).
        Middle class = the people who own their own businesses
        Middle class = the people who own businesses with portfolios
        Middle class = the people who manage the labor of others
        Middle class = White collar workers
        Middle class = People who can afford to live something called the “American middle-class lifestyle,” which often means owning a car and a house.
        Middle class = being self-consciously part of a business owning, property owning, and portfolio’d class.
        Middle class = Anyone who is not the undeserving poor or the rentier rich, for mostly arbitrary and inconsistent values of “undeserving,” “poor,” “rentier,” and “rich.”

        I’m not a fan of the term myself, because people as a rule tend to bandy it about as if they were clear on what it meant.Report

  10. Avatar North says:

    This was a good post and an even better comment thread. Well done.Report

  11. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    I have noticed as well, how increasingly frequent classical leftist phrases are turning up in rightwing dialogue.

    It is, I think, motivated in part to economic anxiety, but still, I believe the real driving fuel is race and gender anxiety.

    The populist right never directs their rage at any economic class- the “elite” are defined for them almost always by cultural signifiers.

    So for example a “Black Womyn’s Studies” professor at a junior college is elite, but Don Blankenship is just a successful guy.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I’ve been making this observation for years and on this blog. In Trump and Palin land, an elitist is a Smith graduate who lives in Brooklyn and earns 40,000 a year as an admin assistant but really wants to be a playwright. I’ve been pondering it for years. Some thoughts:

      1. It goes back to economic security. Blankenship can’t exactly off-shore coal mining even if he does/did show a callous disregard for the life of his miners. Same with Trump because construction is not offershoring. This goes back to the whole job-creators thing. There are liberals with successful businesses but they tend to be smaller. I am thinking of liberals as law partners or owning graphic design firms, not huge coal companies. Liberals (or at least Democratic Party supporters) with large businesses tend to have businesses that need highly-educated employees. Google and Facebook, not Massey Coal.

      2. Culturally, Don Blakenship might have more in common with the white working-class over the Smith grad mentioned above or the stereotypical upper-middle class professional, liberal that lives in Brooklyn, SF, Boston, etc. During the early days of Trump mania, Jacob Weissburg at Slate theorized that working-class guys were attracted to Trump because he lived in a manner of how they feel rich people should live. There was no tasteful restraint, going to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, liking Dwell magazine, etc.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Varies a lot. Consider the Koch brothers, current scourge of the Democrats (or at least, I’m getting weekly e-mails telling me that the Kochs are coming to steal our Congressional seats and eat our puppies). All four have advanced degrees from elite East Coast schools. Two were basically bought out of the family business. One of those splits his time between Boston and an elite coastal community where he spends lots of money on sailing. The other lives in NYC somewhere. One of the two still in the business lives in Manhattan and does their high finance. All three of those are serious patrons of the arts in NYC and Boston. The last lives in Wichita and handles the large and complex nuts-and-bolts of their oil services business, and is active in the fine arts in Wichita.

        Telling that they have backed out of the Presidential politics for now, and are focusing on Congressional seats and state issues.Report

  12. Avatar greginak says:

    Hmm maybe the “Left” should start to talk about some class based issue like Inequality. That would aim at the large and growing difference between a very rich and powerful elite and most of everybody else. I’ll have to tell The Left about that and see what it thinks.Report

  13. Avatar b-psycho says:

    I strongly suspect that the shift described among the generalized “left” side of the American political spectrum, to a quite significant (though not total) degree, can be attributed to the reactions of other forces, some ameliorative in a utility sense & others openly hostile to questioning who holds the means of production.

    That is, they were more pushed off the edge than they necessarily jumped off as total choice of their own.

    As for the rise of Ethnicization of Class War, well, clearly divide & conquer works. Besides the ugliness of it, there is a want for a discourse that’s missing, the vacuum filled in a way that is ironically convenient for the actual ruling class…Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Divide and conquer. As labor issues were pushed out of the political mainstream, and private unions became less and less influential, the possibility of a working class coalition centered on labor issues slipped away, and Democrats were forced to focus on public sector labor issues (because these still had traction), civil rights issues (many of which are labor issues), etc., while Republicans could capitalize on the inherent social conservatism of the working class to capture votes from the folks who aren’t affected by the Democratic focus on “interest group” issues. This is compounded by the way white liberal elites talk about some of these social issues, and in particular about the people they take as representative of backwardness on them: the white, non-urban working class.

      The politics of fear made possible by late Cold War fear-mongering and then the “global war on terrorism,” politics which inherently favor conservative and nationalist politics, have only served to strengthen the bond between the white working class and the Republican party.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        Chris: The politics of fear made possible by late Cold War fear-mongering and then the “global war on terrorism,” politics which inherently favor conservative and nationalist politics, have only served to strengthen the bond between the white working class and the Republican party.

        The comment overall strikes me as a balanced elaboration on b-psycho’s argument, but I think the conclusion, quoted above, is too one-sided – as though there were no actual adversary during the Cold War period, even restricted to the “late Cold War” period, and in the Conflict Formerly Known as the Global War on Terrorism, but only an irrational “fear” to be “mongered.” The problem for the Left and especially the Center-Left or Democratic Party after Vietnam – in which, to say the least, the the Democrats were thoroughly implicated – was also that it ceded “nationalism” or its associated impulses overwhelmingly to the other side. There is abundant evidence, central to every epoch of social change in America, that nationalism is not “inherently… conservative” – in the American political sense of the term, and not in any one-sided way. The liberal-left allergy to nationalism, or evident mixed feelings about it, seem also part of (maybe most of) the generation of the “vacuum,” but its origins may have more to do with the state of left-liberalism than with inherent features of nationalism. (I admit it’s a complex question!)Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          “Conservative and nationalist” was meant as a conjunction, and not a necessary one. Fear favors both parts of the conjunction.

          And regardless of the existence of the threat, both in the 80s and the 00s, its exaggeration and misuse, it’s mongering, is undeniable, as I’m sure Iraqis would be happy to tell you.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            I disagree that fear inherently favors “conservatism,” though we’d have to take the time to define what we meant by “conservatism,” at some risk of defining it into thin air.

            Fear – and also a reasonable assessment of threat, including indirect threat – may turn an individual toward the group for safety, but whom precisely the individual identifies as the preferred group may vary, and, if the group happens to be a “liberal” or “leftwing” group, then the fear reaction would in that instance favor a liberal or leftwing response, or the interests of the liberal or leftwing group. I’m reminded that Tony Judt’s last hope for the Left was in fact that a “politics of fear,” as he described in Ill Fares the Land, would lead people into the welcoming and protective arms of the state, as in the past. The Left in numerous contexts, where successful, has often exploited types of fear. You might even be able to define the origin of all politics as located in fear or its close relatives.

            I also can’t help but note that, when I pointed out that the Left had a problem with nationalism, your response, one American to another, was to invoke the opinions of imaginary Iraqis.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              I invoked the Iraqis for quite another reason (as evidence that fear was mongered), as I’m sure you’re aware. What’s more, I’m not sure which Iraqis you consider merely imaginary, but I’m fairly certain that those many millions affected by a war of choice made possible by the politics of fear are in fact very much real, even if it is convenient for us to pretend otherwise.

              I think you’ve pretty thoroughly misrepresented Judt’s discussion of the politics of fear, within which he mashes basically the same point I’m making.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Nonsense. The imaginary responses of imaginary Iraqis would say nothing about the character of political decisions in the U.S.

                As for Judt, whose thesis at the time I read the book I found quite sympathetic, I’d be happy at any time to discuss Ill Fares the Land in more detail. It is, perhaps in part due to his personal circumstances – dying slowly – somewhat pervaded by the theme of fear. He writes specifically on fear in this passage near the end – and uses the phrase “social democracy of fear”:

                We must revisit the ways in which our grandparents’ generation handled comparable challenges and threats. Social democracy in Europe, the New Deal and the Great Society in the US, were explicit responses to them. Few in the West today can conceive of a complete breakdown of liberal institutions, an utter disintegration of the democratic consensus. But what we know of World War II – or the former Yugoslavia – illustrates the ease with which any society can descend into Hobbesian nightmares of unrestrained atrocity and violence. If we are going to build a better future, it must begin with a deeper appreciation of the ease with which even solidly-grounded liberal democracies can founder. To put the point quite bluntly, if social democracy has a future, it will be as a social democracy of fear.

                As I read my review of the book, written in September 2010, I find references to the same shift in “conservative” discourse that was the topic of this post. I also specifically described Judt as a “conservative” leftist, and oppose that type of conservatism to the nominal conservatism of the American Right. By now, this observation is a commonplace in political discussion, of course, but we still deploy the same old terms, leading to the same old confusions, anyway.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                On Judt, that is fair, though again, he makes the same point I am about the use of fear. When he asks later for a different, social democratic politics of fear, perhaps he has forgotten his own lesson.

                As for the claim of nonsense, I think you took my point, suggesting that it is not nonsense (though your insistence on making real people “imaginary” is telling). That you want to twist my point has nothing to do with me, and is not a game I’m interested in playing.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                There’s no “game” here. You made an argument that, whether you produced living and breathing Iraqis to testify or preferred to imagine a perfect unanimity of Iraqi opinion or one and only one correct opinion, would remain illogical regardless. Nothing an Iraqi or anyone else had to say about the effect of the American decision to invade Iraq would necessarily say anything about the motivation, or lead motivation, or character of the process that led to that decision. Saying otherwise is what I call “nonsense,” and I’m setting aside your apparent reflex to indict the motives or honesty or mental or moral competence of those who disagree with you or find your arguments unpersuasive. Apparently, the irony of your appeal to real or imaginary Iraqi opinion in a discussion of the American Left’s difficulties with nationalism or patriotism was lost on you. It’s a small thing, but seems more and more instructive as you continue to write as though I must certainly have had something else in mind.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Nothing an Iraqi or anyone else had to say about the effect of the American decision to invade Iraq would necessarily say anything about the motivation

                Sure there is. If every Iraqi said there were no WMD (as Blix and others adamantly said), then I think we could conclude, as most of us do anyway, that the public’s acceptance of the invasion resulted from fear-mongering.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Exactly. I didn’t know it was controversial that we were repeatedly told that Iraq had all these things they not only didn’t have, but for which there was little evidence that they had, or that we were told that they would give those things to terrorists, or even that it was implied, and many came to believe, that Iraq played a role in the September 11 attacks. Hell, I remember a certain publication, read almost entirely by white Evangelicals, claiming there was evidence that Iraq was responsible for the West Nile outbreak.

                My point in invoking real Iraqis is that they were the real people who suffered most from our politics of fear. I assumed this was clear, but apparently it was obscured by a belief in the unreality of Iraqis.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Well, I’m with ya there. And agree, of course. FWIW and all …

                Given that there in fact were no WMD, and that there was zero credible evidence of any, and that the UN inspection regime was adamant in denying that there were, it’s hard to conclude that the “don’t let the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud”-type rhetoric was anything other than fear mongering.

                Even unimaginably unreal Iraqis would agree with that.Report

          • Avatar Kolohe says:

            The fear mongering that impacted the Iraqis wound up tore asunder the white working class vote, leading to Dem victories in 2006 & 2008 and whose aftershock is still at the core of the fight for the heart and soul of the Republican party.Report

            • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

              There were twin shocks whose interconnection will be harder for those who were not rubbing elbows with conservatives (and who, incidentally, understand support for the war as simply a “fear” reaction) to keep in mind: The other major event that occurred during the 2006-8 period, and the issue that is rearing its head again, was W uniting with Teddy K, the Maverick, and congressional leaders on the immigration plan dubbed “Shamnesty” in the con trenches. Mobilization against McCain-Kennedy (a moniker that might have been transplanted directly from a “true conservative”‘s nightmare) took up at least as much activist energy as, for example, defending the Iraqi Surge. The image of the party establishment’s alienation from the rank and file was indelible. That the Maverick in his earlier Mavericky manifestations had singled out SoCons for attack had also not been forgotten. Well into the 2008 campaign, the seething hatred for McCain, including among many who would go on to vote for him anyway, was still near the surface. The Palin gamble was partly a product of McCain’s understanding of his problem – and, for a moment or maybe a moment and a half, seemed to have been well-calculated.

              “Immigration,” “nationalism,” and very significantly decisions relating to war and peace all revolve around and touch directly on questions of “identity” – and in the present instance point to a fractured relationship between personal and collective identity for those identified as “white working class.” Whether or not you agree with Saul that Civil Rights – and by extension the other social-progressive commitments characteristic of left-liberal politics in our era – are all, each and every one, worth the sacrifice of the rest of the progressive agenda, including the parts that might equally or even disproportionately benefit the “white working class,” the decision to do so produces a political trade-off, including opportunities for (yet another) “conservative” populist demagogue.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              This doesn’t actually address my point, and to the extent it could (with significant elaboration), it would be equally damning to that in the OP. That is, it only addresses my point if there was a significant defection of the white working class from the Republican party in those elections.

              Even if there was, Iraq was made possible by fear and the resulting militancy stoked by not only the Bush administration but pretty much everyone to the right of Daily Kos between September ’11 and the ’04 election.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I’m just saying that fear mongering used to attempt to tie the whole conservative & center right room together like a nice rug was peed on by the OIF debacle. So, irony.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                That assumes that the purpose of the fear mongering was to tie together domestic conservative political factions. Which strikes me as a rather bizarre theory given that the prima facie purpose of the fear mongering was to facilitate a neoconservative goal of invading Iraq.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I don’t mean to imply that was the purpose. The purpose was clearly to justify and garner support for defense spending in the first case, and neo-conservative military adventurism in the second. I was saying that the politics of fear used in both cases helped to widen the already growing chasm between the white working class and the Democratic party.Report

  14. Avatar b-psycho says:

    The tendency of nationalism to fuel xenophobia & bigotry surely is a factor…

    Perhaps if there were some way to close off the constant metamorphosis of concern for country into Hate of the Other it wouldn’t get the stink-eye. I think that’s a needle that cannot be threaded myself, but I’d like to watch people try it, if only for futile amusement.Report

  15. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Burt Likko presents: The Definition Of American Class.

    Which I find even more true now, and entirely in keeping with the OP here.Report

  16. Avatar Roland Dodds says:

    I don’t remember who said it (and I know I am late to this discussion), but somewhere in the now defunct Public Interest, they said something akin to “If you told a politician in 1940 that the Appalachian hills of West Virginia would be solidly Republican in 1990 while Hollywood would be overwhelmingly Democrat, they would have laughed in your face.”

    Maybe the working class angst has simply moved to people like Trump when the liberal left basically won the economic and cultural war. You can’t be a revolutionary in the America as a liberal, but a right wing populist is considered by many to be a very scary thing.Report