Monday, January 18, 2016

Is Trumpism "The Socialism Of Idiots"?

August Bebel

A lot of the discourse these days about Trump says that his supporters are the dispossessed members of the shrinking white middle class and the embattled white working class.  I am not really sure if I buy this.  Trump strikes me as an extreme herrenvolk Rightist in the tradition of the Birchers and George Wallace.  He seems to be attracting people who are into that way of thinking, not necessarily because of their social class.


To the extent that this is true, I am reminded of August Bebel's deathless quip that "Anti-Semitism is the socialism of idiots."  Bebel was one of the leaders of the German Social Democrats of the late 19th and early 20th century, and witness to the rise of the scourge of anti-Semitism.  I've found this quotation applicable in many instances because Bebel is commenting on how the social class resentments of those lower on the social order can be exploited.  To the extent that Trump appeals to to white working and middle classes, he is telling them that their economic struggles are the fault of the Chinese and Mexican immigrants.  He invokes paranoia and hatred against Muslims, further appealing to white racial fears.

The last forty years have been an economic disaster for the majority of people in this country, and the loss of factories and farms is now being felt with a drastically elevated death rate among lower-educated whites.  This phenomenon has been much commented on, but few have tried to divine its political impacts.  Downwardly-mobile whites might well be reacting to their situation by clinging furiously to their whiteness and the privileges that go with it, one of the few things they have left.  If someone is telling them that they can "take our country back" and is directing his ire at immigrants and Muslims, he doesn't need to spell it out for them.  They might not have well-paying jobs and might live in some crumbling old mill town or hollowed out farming village or depopulating exurb, but dammit, this country is still theirs.  Conservatives have had the ability to appeal to this sentiment, but Trump has gone for broke and made it the center of his campaign without cloaking it in dog whistles.

Now if Trumpism is indeed the socialism of idiots (for white people), the Left needs to get its act together.  The Democratic Party has been so beholden to the wealthy elite that it rarely makes the case that there is a need to redistribute wealth in order to halt the growing inequality crushing so many under its wheels.  This is why a 74 year old senator from a tiny state who had been an independent socialist for most of his career is currently poised to challenge Hilary Clinton in Iowa and New Hampshire.


Anonymous said...

There is another story here. I think the Left in America (not to be confused with the Democratic Party itself) has largely given up on the white working class. Long, long gone are the days when lefties like Tom Frank would pontificate about how to convince socially conservative but economically disadvantaged whites to vote their own material interests. No one is trying to make connections across cultural divisions anymore. Quite the opposite - if you look at progressive new media publications and the younger generation of left pundits, there is quite a substantial emphasis upon cultural criticism, predictably arguing that some aspect culture that they don't like is somehow pathological. In 2016, culture, not economic class is the only recognized form of solidarity. The only time the Left speaks to working class whites is to tell them how privileged they are, which brings me to a suspicion that I've always had about the New Left and the emergence of "Social Justice" politics and activism. It's an attempt to dismiss an age old tension, ever present since the very conception of the New Left - the division between students and workers, culture and class. Deep down, a lot of people from the New Left have always had a deep contempt for many of the people with whom they would logically be obliged to show solidarity. Conveniently, they now have a means to dismiss the suffering of these people as relatively unimportant, as they fit into the wrong place on the race and gender hierarchy.

Has this had any effect on the Dems? Well, do you think we will really see Hillary in the cringe-worthy photos in the working class taverns of Pennsylvania or Ohio like we did in 2008? Instead, we are treated to Lena Dunham - the cultural anithesis of the white working class - stumping for her. In terms of demographics, this may be the rational choice for the Dems as working class whites quite literally dying off. Just my thoughts.

James W.

Werner Herzog's Bear said...

I've been meaning to write about this. The priorities of the Left are being driven by white people from bourgeois backgrounds who are very willing to confront their racial privilege but not their classism. Deep down they really believe that they are better than working class whites. After all, if those working class folks have racial privilege, why have they not ascended up the social ladder? Then they must be the ones to blame. I also think that bourgeois Leftists are purposefully ignoring the fact that it is through the labor movement that you see the most solidarity and political action by a multi-racial constituency. It just doesn't fit their narrative. I also see much more intermarriage and many more interracial friendships in the working class white milieus that I know, but that's just anecdotal, of course.