Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Trump, Brexit, And Radical Populism - Class Struggle Is Back
Over 16 million Britons voted to leave the EU, and more than 13 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries. Despite this vote of confidence for sovereignty, a more populist democracy, and nationalism Establishment elites on both sides of the Atlantic in churlish, snide, and dismissive remarks have branded a large percentage of their countries as rubes, ignoramuses, and weak-willed, manipulated political sheep.
In the United States race, gender, and ethnicity have been the most common distinguishing markers of social division in both countries, but class has rarely been cited. Socio-economic status has also been a commonly-applied indicator of political preference. By and large those who are less well-educated, hold low-level jobs, live in rural areas, and who see few benefits from the economic system tend to vote Republican. Those who live in metropolitan areas, have college degrees and professional or managerial positions vote Democratic.
Although the terms ‘'upper- middle- and lower class" are useful indicators to suggest levels of opportunity, need, mobility, and wealth, few commentators talk about class in the British sense. Upper class in Britain is defined as an aristocratic, selectively bred and schooled population of inherited wealth, distinguished pedigree, and disproportionate power and influence.
Working class defined those who labored in industry, mining, public transport, agriculture, and low-end civil service employment. Those in the middle – with neither breeding, family, or inherited wealth nor legatees of feudalism – are an amorphous lot, important to Britain, essential to its economy and productivity, but neither fish nor fowl. Up until recently reference to traditional class categories was common, accepted, and understood as a part of Britain’s social history. Now, a much more polyglot culture, such easy classification is rare.
In the United States class has been a dirty word since Eugene Victor Debs, Samuel Gompers, the Socialist and Workers’ Parties, and McCarthy. There was no such thing in America most citizens claimed, and the attempts of Socialists and Communists to deny our independent, individualist, and ambitious roots and to classify us only within the context of the means of production, labor and capital, and the dictates of economic determinism was beaten down roundly.
Now however, class in its most classic sense has returned. Not that a workers’ revolt is at hand, nor a return to Marie Antoinette, the Romanovs, and Henry VIII; but a a new populist class arrayed against one of intellectuals, academics, and highly-educated professionals.
During the primaries in the United States, seldom had such classist criticism been directed at Trump voters. According to the Eastern Establishment, such voters ipso facto were retrograde, racist, xenophobes. Although liberal commentators focused their attacks on Trump, there was no doubt that it was meant for his electorate.
Many on the progressive Left have condemned Trump as a demagogue with Hitlerian powers of manipulation and wizardry; but in so doing they were heaping even more scorn and opprobrium on his supporters. He was the Devil, they were the Devil’s advocates, and together they spelled doom for America.
Although the United States is a country divided in many ways – rural-urban, white-black, gay-straight, male-female – perhaps the most significant division is between those who value logic, rationality, and considered opinions and those who believe that life begins and ends with faith.
For people of faith, the Bible is the received Word of God, and everything is derived from it. Opinions and beliefs about Creation; the nature of man, woman, family, and sexuality; principles of law, civil behavior, punishment, and forgiveness all come from the Bible. Once one has made this ‘leap of faith’, abandoning logic for belief and received Biblical wisdom, then one cannot be expected to use logic in the same analytical way of the intellectual class.
Is this a reason to dismiss their deeply-felt and –held convictions? Listening to Establishment commentators, the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’. Such ignorance is a threat to Enlightenment, social progress, and progressive ideals. Anyone who holds conservative views on marriage, sexuality, abortion, prayer, Creation, guns, government, and civil rights is a threat to American democracy.
This dismissiveness, of course, is the far more ignorant position. Every one of the so-called ‘belief’ convictions of fundamentalist conservatives has a legitimate basis. On any one of the issues suggested above, there are at least two sides. There is no such thing as settled science or settled social policy when it comes to any of them. More importantly, in a democracy such as ours, respect for differing opinions is – or should be – the bedrock of society.
The Trump candidacy has finally given lie to the progressive vision of ‘inclusivity’ and pluralism. People of color, alternate sexuality, varying ethnicities and religions all have a place in the big tent; but conservative, fundamentalist, traditional white Americans do not.
Most liberal intellectuals will claim that they are indeed tolerant. I may not agree with what you say, they claim, but I defend your right to say it. This is not enough. Real tolerance is saying, “You may be right”.
Tens of millions of Americans did not vote for Trump because of his economic or foreign policy. They voted because he stood for something intangible but fundamentally important – personal and national sovereignty. Many in the populist class have felt increasingly marginalized by the arrogated centers of power in Washington and Wall Street. They have become increasingly angry as the juggernaut of progressive programs have disrupted that natural order of things. They have felt powerless as decisions which should be left to the electorate have remained in the offices of the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court. Trump does not have to be accurate, factual, and careful. He represents an indefinable resentment and anger that goes beyond intellectual parsing.
The same is true in Great Britain. Most economists, senior politicians, and academics have come down on the side of Remain. To leave, they contended, would amount to a social and political Armageddon. As importantly, Britons would be worse off economically, at least in the short run.
Millions of Britons were having none of it. They were so frustrated and resentful of European bureaucrats and British politicians that they – like their American counterparts – said that they were willing to take the risk.
The Establishment in Britain and in the EU didn’t get it. They were so far from getting it that they were shocked. They were blindered by their own classist arrogance.
Class is back. Not in the old-style traditional style of chateaux, manors, and top hats, but the arrogation of intellectual authority. The new intellectual class is as arrogantly dismissive of the populist class as their aristocratic forebears were when it came to working men and women.
This is only the beginning. Populism is finally out of the bag and is the force to be reckoned with.