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Class, the US and a source you don’t see quoted every day… October 6, 2016

Posted 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.


1. Dermot O Connor - October 6, 2016

QUOTE: 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.UNQUOTE


QUOTE: Rational ignorance is refraining from acquiring knowledge when the cost of educating oneself on an issue exceeds the potential benefit that the knowledge would provide.

Ignorance about an issue is said to be “rational” when the cost of educating oneself about the issue sufficiently to make an informed decision can outweigh any potential benefit one could reasonably expect to gain from that decision, and so it would be irrational to waste time doing so. This has consequences for the quality of decisions made by large numbers of people, such as general elections, where the probability of any one vote changing the outcome is very small.

The term is most often found in economics, particularly public choice theory, but also used in other disciplines which study rationality and choice, including philosophy (epistemology) and game theory.
The term was coined by Anthony Downs in An Economic Theory of Democracy.


2. Dermot O Connor - October 6, 2016

Those of us who read Joe Bageant’s columns when he was still alive can never let a thread about pass without wishing he was still alive. Anyway, one of his classic (a ‘redneck socialist’ from the US south, he had a LOT to say about class in the USA, and myths thereof):


My father died with some of those (business leaders’) heel marks on his neck. For much of his life he ran a gas station/garage for a small businessman. He was proud of his craft, and good at it. Worked six 12-hour days six a week laying on wheelies under cars, mucking out grease pits, living on sandwiches. He never drank — he could never afford to start — and feared a fundamentalist god. He’d give your tail a whuppin if you swiped stuff, and take you all-night fishing on the Shenandoah River. Pop believed Jimmy Hoffa was proof that all unions are crooked, and loved to eat ice cream straight out of the carton late at night when he got off work. I used to slip downstairs in my jamas, snuggle up with him, and watch Gunsmoke. He had his first heart attack in his late 30s, lived in debt to doctors and hospitals ever after. He never had health insurance until he finally went on social security. The small owners he worked for became quite well off because of his ceaseless efforts to gain friends and customers and do perfect work — for $55 a week. In 1963. Yet he trusted the system and accepted all his troubles as personal failure. He had one hell of a huge funeral though, the biggest one ever in his church. Which I guess counts for something. Hope so. Because he sure as hell got nothing else for his troubles in this life.

* * *

How on god’s green earth did we Americans ever come up with the notion that a bunch of downtown pickle vendors, gasoline retailers and real estate jerk-offs — people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing — were the bedrock of our democracy? That they are an indicator of what is right for America? Well, we didn’t of course. The pickle vendors and the politicians and the corporations that own Congress did. Once it was discovered what a wonderful generator of low wage, non-union, disposable, part time, non-insured, jobs these small time sweatshops were, and that any job counts statistically (even a 20-hour-a-week job sawing bloated dead sows out of hog farrowing crates for minimum wage, which I actually held once) their owners were deemed mighty engines of employment growth! The beating heart of our economic engine! So Wall Street soars giddily at the news of thousands being laid off and, “Hi ho, hi ho! It’s off to work we go” at the local Tyson’s processing franchise to merrily stab turkeys for minimum wage alongside the El Salvadorian who keeps glancing over his shoulder for the INS which will never come because the fix is in with the owner. When is anybody going to figure out what a nest of self-serving sleazeballs the so-called small business establishment is in this country? When is anybody going to call these bastards on it?

One recent winter day, after the long dark commute back from the D.C. metro area, I stepped into my living room, where for a split-second I saw my daddy sitting on the couch by the flicker of the television eating ice cream straight from the carton, just like he did when I was a kid. Even a spilt second with an apparition is a long time, an eternity which defies our very notion of time. After the electric waves of shock quit going through my body, I sat down on the couch and reminded myself why I am a socialist: If I can do my bit, however small that may be, to prevent good men like my dad from working their guts out to line a lesser man’s pocket, or restore dignity to labor in even the smallest way, then I will do it. And if I can use the only damned gift I ever had — the one he never understood — in testimony, then I will do that too.


3. gendjinn - October 6, 2016

MI,IN,OH,PA the boomer generation have watched their towns and communities empty of young people over the last 25 years in much the same way the west of Ireland saw its communities emptied by emigration. There are no decent jobs, if their children got a college education they have a mortgage worth of debt.

Wall St got into residential real estate in a big way in 2009/2010 and rents are being inexorably driven upwards at unsustainable rates.

NAFTA gets the blame and it is Clinton’s legacy. A disciplined GOP campaign would tie that anchor around her neck, sweep the rust belt and eek out a narrow electoral college victory.


WorldbyStorm - October 6, 2016

Yeah, I think you’re right. Mind you this is a very indisciplined Republican Party.


gendjinn - October 6, 2016

CNN decides that 3rd party means undecided

Trump is acting as a lightning rod and saving the GOP senate & house majorities. A month ago the senate was definitely Dem and the house was looking optimistic (which it had no right doing given the current gerrymander).

The Clinton campaign is flailing. Trump is saving their asses too.


4. CL - October 6, 2016

..-“When I see the people that react to Donald Trump’s words at those rallies, I see the same look in their eyes that I saw [in the eyes of Sheriff Clark and his posse]-a look that says, ‘you’re not a part of us, you’re not a part of the American family, you come from someplace else.’ When Trump talks about building a wall, to lock certain individuals out, people rallied. They screamed and yelled. It reminded me of some of the rallies that I saw on television for [infamous racist/segregationist Alabama governor] George Wallace during the ’60s…I think the Trump campaign is trying to take us back to another place, another time, “-John Lewis


5. CL - October 7, 2016

“In nominating Donald Trump, the Republican Party has asked the people of the United States to entrust their future to a man who insults women, mocks the handicapped, urges that dissent be met with violence, seeks to impose religious tests for entry into the United States, and applies a de facto ethnicity test to judges,” the letter reads. “He offends our allies and praises dictators. His public statements are peppered with lies. He belittles our heroes and insults the parents of men who have died serving our country. Every day brings a fresh revelation that highlights the unacceptable danger in electing him to lead our nation.”-(that’s just the Republicans)

He’s at 44% in the polls, but Clinton is at 48%, and the gap is widening. The ‘unpalatable’ is vanquishing the ‘unthinkable’.


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