Class, the US and a source you don’t see quoted every day… October 6, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
This piece on Trump in the Guardian is interesting, not least for how he can play to perceptions of class – presenting himself as in a way beyond or outside class in order to lock into some voters affections.
Some would say he lacks class, in every sense. And there is a tenacious myth that, free of the ossified layers of agricultural and industrial Europe, America is a class-free land of opportunity, where someone born into poverty can become president. It is not so simple, according to sociologists. Arlie Hochschild of the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, said: “Class is profoundly important, imprinting all aspects of childhood, self, character and behind, and the denial of it is in the service of keeping alive the hope of lifting out of it. But America would be far better off talking about the realities of it.”
Robert H Frank, a professor of economics at Cornell University and author of Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy, added: “People here, if you ask them, will say they are ‘middle class’. Even relatively rich people will answer middle class because we deny there’s such a thing as class here, which is of course preposterous. The barriers are different from England but they’re real.”
And how about this?
Research suggests that Trump’s core support should not be simply characterised as the white working class. Many earn an average of $70,000 but are caught in the downdraft of deindustrialisation, losing jobs to factory or mine closures, lacking the skills for a digital economy, anxious that their children will be worse off than they were. Joe Sims, a member of the national board of the Communist Party USA, said: “My sense is that Trump’s support comes not so much from the white working class but the lower middle class and small business people who have been pushed into the ranks of the working class. The wages are flat and they’re pissed off.”
But in a supposedly classless society, there is often a gap between perception and reality. Sims added: “During the 1950s and 1960s there was a myth propagated about the American dream and the American way of life and the sense that everyone was middle class and upwardly mobile. Certainly during that period there was at least a steadiness in increase in income and their children were able to do a little better than them. But this idea of everyone being middle class has crashed on the rocks of reality. Wages have been stagnant since the 1970s.”
On that last point it is possible it is incorrect. But even the fact of the perception is fascinating in and of itself. The Guardian article notes that ‘social mobility was probably always exaggerated’ and that sounds about right. But again, it is perception as much as reality in relation to that. Perhaps given that we are talking about the fractious and vague aspects of class that perception is even more important than reality. The tropes of US society, that one can get ahead despite all else are comforting. I was asked during the week why did people vote for Trump? I think it is easy to answer that. Most people’s engagement with politics is actually quite limited, their time or energy to delve in forensically equally limited – even if they have the appetite. And most don’t. It’s not that they’re unaware, and certainly not that they are stupid, but other matters take much greater interest and importance in their lives. So it is hardly surprising that in a sense it is caricatures and simplifications of candidates and their platforms that drive so much of what we see leading to what may appear to be perverse outcomes – people voting against self-interest time and time again.
For those of us who are immersed in politics it can be difficult to appreciate this. But I look at neighbours whose engagement with the Dublin Gaelic team is of a magnitude of strength hundreds of times greater than their engagement with politics – attendance at games, flags and banners on houses, etc, etc. And so on with other issues that engage people. In a society like the US which is more difficult to find one’s bearings in, to keep ones head above water, it is hardly surprising that those other issues loom even larger. So, no, there’s no surprise that so many vote Trump. Indeed he is perhaps the flip side of the ‘hope’ that Obama represented and was, as was inevitable, unable to fulfil. Trump too offers ‘hope’ albeit of a somewhat different sort. But it is a hope that elides with those existing tropes in US society, the self-made ‘man’, distinctiveness from other, etc…
Now there’s a different discussion to be had about the Republican party and just what this pretends. A candidate who is by any reasonable yardstick apostate or worse on so many issues, a party that despite that has seen limited flaking away of members due to this, and note the fact that Trump has managed despite all else to corral – on a remarkably paper thin campaign the sort of percentages of support that would hardly embarrass any national candidate. Those are two aspects of this that require further analysis.
And here’s another…
America has been described as a split-screen nation and it is, of course, about much more than class: some polls show Trump at 0% among African American voters.
That last alone is so staggering as to almost defy comment.