All posts by Michael K. Smith

Of the Triggered, by the Triggered, and for the Triggered

With election day looming (November 6) Trump “resistance” hysteria is at its shrieking worst. Yet again we face “the most important election of our lifetimes,” or as some prefer to put it, “the second most important,” the first being the election of 2016, when “deplorables” put Donald Trump in the White House. Now, say the Trump haters, these scarcely human degenerates will have a chance to redeem themselves by voting “responsibly,” i.e., according to how their self-appointed betters tell them to vote. The persistence of this incredibly arrogant attitude is a good way to deliver a permanent Trump majority. Just ask Steve Bannon.

Even the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting has been made Trump’s fault, though the shooter was clearly anti-Trump. (Thank God there were no mass shootings in the Obama era!) The toxic brew of Trump “xenophobia,” “racism,” “misogyny” and “Islamophobia” somehow made the shooter a raving anti-Semite. It couldn’t be that decades of Identarian Politics rendering “white male” a dirty word paved the way for Trump’s nationalism, could it? Of course not. It’s that Trump is stained with original sin and must be removed to make way for … utopia?

In short, we are to understand that Trump-the-Monster (Trumpenstein?) single-handedly bred a political climate that produces everything bad directly out of his evil mind while exonerating establishment politicians of both parties whose political wreckage Trump only coincidentally rose out of. But it should be obvious that this makes history entirely irrelevant, since the Devil himself has triumphed. What’s the point of engaging in political action at all?

Liberals and fake radicals are so triggered by Trump that they don’t even notice their descent into madness, much to the delight of a vast swath of middle America that is willing to re-elect Trump on that basis alone. The incredibly misguided “resistance” has somehow convinced itself that boundless indignation over Trump will lead them to victory. They do not see, apparently cannot see, that their indignation is Trump’s rocket fuel: the more they hate him, the higher and farther he flies. Until they can stop being triggered by him, they have no chance of making him go away.

Investigative journalist Allan Nairn, a longstanding critic of the Democratic party, voices the thoughts of many progressives on this election eve:

Democrats are arguably war criminals – not as big as the war criminals on the Republican side, but still war criminals. And they belong in prison. But we are facing such a crisis in this country at this moment that you have to use your head. You have to be tactical. You have to, at this moment, vote in the warmongers who will preserve democracy to block the warmongers would abolish it – and then, the day after the election, go back to the deeper work of creating real, better, more constructive political alternatives and also helping the base of the Democratic Party take back the party from the consultants, from the rich donors. But that’s for the day after the election is completed … Right now, the task is to stop the incipient fascism that Trump and the rightist revolution represents. And you can’t really say that you were working toward an anti-fascist goal if you’re not mobilizing for the Democrats right now. That’s the urgent reality that we’re living.

It is sad to see Nairn falling for the one-sided “fascist” caricature, which we hear practically every five minutes is taking over the country. Nairn’s view of fascism does not include Antifa thugs beating people senseless, “social justice” crusaders rioting to shut down speaking events for views they consider heretical, “always believe the woman” rage brigades jettisoning the presumption of innocence and rules of evidence painfully acquired over centuries of struggle etc. etc. In a gesture to broad-mindedness Nairn concedes that Democrats are warmongers, but wants us to believe that fascist evil is a Republican monopoly. But it’s just not so: the totalitarian impulse runs along the entire political spectrum.

Maybe Juliet Hoffman, presiding judge at the 1969 Chicago conspiracy trial, summed up this totalitarian attitude best: “The substance of the crime is a state of mind,” he said. That’s it. Trump’s mind is criminal. Therefore, our own unethical and criminal conduct just doesn’t matter, since we are acting in heroic “resistance” to evil incarnate. Nor does it matter whether Robert Mueller turns up anything impeachable, since Trump’s very existence is a crime. Tens of millions of Americans are in lockstep with this view, which the late Harry Elmer Barnes would call “totalitarian liberalism.”

Totalitarian liberals seem to have forgotten that we already fell prey to “fascism” under GW Bush. We heard the claim repeatedly in relation to the draconian Patriot Act, the illegal invasion of Iraq, the suspension of habeas corpus, the revival and expansion of administrative torture, and on and on. We even heard talk of American fascism when Arnold Scharzenegger won the recall election for governor in California. (It must have been the Austrian accent.) In any event, Nairn says nothing about the threat to democracy emanating from “resistance” mobs, screeching anti-Trump media (whose removal of Steve Bannon was achieved via pure hysteria), or Robert Mueller’s show-trial-in-the-making, if he can keep people awake long enough to make intermission.

It is ironic that Nairn urges us to be tactical and “use [our] head,” since he himself fails to do so. If we continue to let Trump trigger us into thinking he is an unprecedented evil, we give power to his blue collar base, which loves to stick it to us for having forsaken their interests for so long while sneering at their “unsophisticated” ways. Using our head means recognizing that tens millions of working class Americans hate our guts, and have every reason to do so.

What’s not to loathe in the political messaging on what passes for an American left? If you don’t “always believe the woman,” you’re a MISOGYNIST. If you have a belief in traditional marriage, you’re a HOMOPHOBE. If you think a fetus is alive and abortion is the taking of a human life, you’re waging a WAR ON WOMEN. If you question whether an asthma inhaler can alter the world’s climate, you’re a GLOBAL WARMING DENIER. If you think gender apartheid is as bad as racial apartheid you’re an ISLAMOPHOBE. If you think resources are finite and inviting tens of millions of economic and political refugees from the Third World to live here is harmful, you’re a RACIST XENOPHOBE. Contrast this with Trump’s changed rhetoric towards Kim Jon Un: He now says he’s “in love” with the man he originally denounced as “little Rocket Man.” Such an abrupt transformation is evidence not of a hate-monger, but of a salesman: his rhetoric shifts to fit an opportunistic agenda. Meanwhile, the contemptuous political commentary coming from the supposedly tolerant “left” never changes.

Nairn urges us to vote against our interests today then “go back” to creating better, constructive political alternatives tomorrow. But that’s not how things work. Voting for our castration today so we can have great sex tomorrow cannot possibly produce healthy political offspring. We have done this election after election for decades and have only mushrooming cynicism and self-contempt to show for it. And cynical people don’t act.

We’re in the political dead-end we’re in because of decades of voting for a Democratic Party that eagerly collaborates with the likes of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and now Donald Trump to make any renewal and expansion of still immensely popular New Deal programs impossible. In short, we have surrendered our initiative to ideological traitors, and no longer determine our politics. Why shouldn’t Trump take advantage?

By all means, go out and vote, just not for Trump’s enablers in the Democratic Party. Vote instead for candidates calling for meeting the most pressing needs of working families: Medicare for all, tuition free college, higher wages, and lower housing costs.

Donald Trump, Ann Coulter, and the Culture of Hysteria

As the establishment’s coup d’etat against the democratically elected government of Donald Trump gathers momentum, readers are invited to read Ann Coulter’s latest book (Resistance Is Futile: How The Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind), which the author says is a “self-help book for liberals,” though their hysteria about Trump will insure that few of them read it.

Psychologists have been treating “Trump anxiety” for some time now, and judging by the reaction of liberals to Coulter, they may soon have to treat Trump Tantrum Disorder as well. As Coulter points out, liberals have grown furiously unhinged by isolating themselves in self-righteous bubbles of Trump haters that exchange indignant comments about his latest outrages, most of which are simply imaginary.

For example, whenever the specter of American fascism is raised (every five minutes) we are told that Trump is a virtual Hitler clone. Uh, right. We all remember from our history books how Hitler went around boasting of his opportunities to grab women by the pussy, promising to replace the Treaty of Versailles with “something terrific,” and engaging in fawning adulation of anyone he hoped to get something from. As Coulter puts it, “I don’t remember Hitler or Stalin going around saying, ‘These people are great. Incredible, outstanding, quality people.’ And who in the WWII era would have described Hitler as Coulter describes Trump: ‘[He’s] utterly undisciplined, runs his mouth, flatters everyone, and agrees with the last person he spoke to. Why, it’s right out of the Mein Kampf playbook!”

The rage against Trump is proof that the election of 2016 never really ended. In her first post-election interview Hillary Clinton declared herself “part of the resistance,” rather than the customary “loyal opposition.” If Trump had lost and declared himself part of the anti-Clinton “resistance”, Coulter notes, there would have been demands to put him in jail. “He’s issuing a call to violence! ‘Resistance’ is a military term! It’s a ‘dog whistle’ to the militias and the KKK!” Touché.

This attitude is simply a continuation of liberal hysteria during the campaign. Remember the Access Hollywood tape, somehow not a sleazy “October surprise” by the partisan media, which made no secret of its loathing of Trump? In spite of what was repeatedly claimed, there was no endorsement of sexual assault on the tape. Unless you are using a weapon, “they let you do it” means consent. Trump was simply uttering truisms about celebrity culture, not glorifying rape. Notes Coulter: “His whole point was to cite something axiomatically unacceptable — grabbing women by the P-word — in order to say that celebrity culture was so out of whack that a celebrity could get away with it.” One could quibble with the “out of whack” part of the comment, as on the tape it appears that Trump, in fact, found this benefit of fame both natural and desirable. What needed to be explained was not this reaction of a life-long egomaniac but the shocked indignation of the corporate media: after all, who knew that billionaires and other mega-stars enjoy sex on demand from beautiful women? Right, everyone. And as Coulter points out, Trump used the identical approach in saying his popularity was so great that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue without losing voter support. “That’s not a confession,” notes Coulter, “it’s hyperbole.” Nevertheless, she goes on, “Nexis can’t perform a search for all the publications that have accused Trump of admitting to ‘sexual assault,’ because it retrieves too many documents.” Long live fake news.

And while we’re on the subject of fake news, how long has it been since Trump was last accused of being a racist? Five minutes? Surely we can do better than that. Don’t let up for a minute on claims that he’s giving aid and comfort to “white nationalists” and therefore obligated to condemn David Duke every three minutes and defend himself against the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has warned of an imminent neo-Nazi-KKK take-over of the U.S. on a more or less constant basis for nearly four decades.

The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville a year ago has been regarded as the definitive proof of Trump’s racism, though a New York Times reporter tweeted direct from the melee that left-wing Antifa protestors were just as aggressively violent as the racist right. Nevertheless, Trump’s observation that there was violence (and “good people”) “on both sides” has been used as confirmation of his alleged white supremacist sensibilities. By now, official memory has it that Antifa violence wasn’t violence, and only “Nazis” were guilty of such. In one of her book’s best lines, Coulter notes, “The more the rally recedes in time, the fresher a memory it becomes,” which is an excellent description of all kinds of propaganda induced “memory.” With all due regret for the death of Heather Heyer, we still don’t know anything about the state of mind of the man who ran over her, who may have been in fear for his life, and few “journalists” are even curious about the matter.

But on to the alleged Trump-Russia collusion in the 2016 elections that is the main focus of Coulter’s book. The basic allegation is that Trump, according to liberals a boundlessly incompetent buffoon, somehow managed to engage in a byzantine international conspiracy with Russian intelligence to steal the 2016 presidential election from Hillary Clinton. The original claim was that Russia hacked the e-mails of the DNC (after allegedly being invited to do so by Trump in a presidential debate with Clinton) and Hillary’s aide John Podesta, then gave them to WikiLeaks, and that this somehow predictably benefited Trump. But why the Russians would have hacked the DNC to retrieve “lost” e-mails that were no longer on their server is difficult to explain. Furthermore, how could the Russians have had any assurance that the Podesta e-mails would end up helping Trump? That leak mostly hurt the DNC chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was forced to resign.

More to the point, the Russian election meddling theme is simply a joke. The U.S. meddles in elections all the time, and when that fails, overthrows unwanted governments by force, often assassinating their democratic leaders as well. At William Blum’s excellent archive at www.killinghope.org, you can read until your eyes bleed about the C.I.A. undermining democratic elections around the world going back seventy years. In recent years George Soros alone has repeatedly manipulated election outcomes in Georgia, the Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, variously called the Orange revolution, the Tulip revolution, and the Rose revolution. And while we like to wax self-righteous about Russia interfering in our elections, we tend to forget that Boris Yeltsin would not likely have become president of Russia without a major intervention by the U.S. But perhaps the most ludicrous notion of all is that a relative handful of Russian bots posting on Facebook handed the election to Trump, which is like saying that a coke poured in the water supply prevented us from curing our diabetes epidemic.

The origin of the story alone should make us extremely skeptical about any Trump-Russia collusion, even apart from the absurd pretense that the U.S. has the moral standing to accuse others of such anti-democratic practices. Hillary Clinton invented the Russian collusion story in the summer of 2016 because she needed to neutralize the DNC’s e-mails having shown up on WikiLeaks. This was a classic Clinton maneuver: whenever she is caught in a scandal she diverts attention to all-pervading imaginary enemies — misogynists, unscrupulous political opponents, racists, a vast right-wing conspiracy, and now, Russia and Donald Trump.

So Clinton campaign chairman Robby Mook went on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos to tell the world about the Russian conspiracy on July 24, 2016, the eve of the Democratic National Convention. “Experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, took all these emails and now are leaking them out through these Web sites …. And it’s troubling that some experts are now telling us that this was done by — by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.” The anonymous reference to “some experts” has not been cleared up to this day.

Of course, Hillary Clinton would have preferred to spin a web of conspiracy around Trump and ISIS or Trump and North Korea, but Trump didn’t have business interests with either of them, so she revved up a new Cold War instead. She somehow managed to convince herself that the press was dead set against her and her Russia-connection conspiracy, even though only two of the fifty-nine largest newspapers in the country had failed to endorse her. Matt Taibbi and Glenn Greenwald were among the few liberal skeptics of the fantastic story.

In any event, by September 2016 the New York Times conceded that the consensus among government intelligence agencies was that WikiLeaks had no ties to Russian intelligence.

Two years and dozens of breathless claims later we still have zero evidence for the alleged Trump-Russia collusion. The FBI never investigated for the simple reason that the DNC wouldn’t allow the Bureau to examine its computers. As Glenn Greenwald noted in The Intercept, “there is no evidence . . . just CIA assertions over and over …”

Initial media response found the claim of a Russian conspiracy “remarkable,” and this held true until Hillary lost the election. Then it suddenly became a news story worthy of Watergate, replete with Congressional investigations, saturation media coverage, and an “independent” counsel. Obama reacted by meekly telling Putin to “cut it out,” but he imposed no sanctions, issued no major rebuke, and refrained from retaliation. This for something Thomas Friedman compared to Pearl Harbor and 911. In other words, after mild initial reaction, two years of intensive searching by the nation’s top investigative journalists and up to 100 FBI agents has yielded nothing like collusion.

What has passed for evidence in the case is a dossier authored by Christopher Steele, a British spy who offered Hillary Clinton and the Democratic national Committee dirt on Trump from the Russians. Did Hillary recoil in shocked outrage at this treasonous plot? Of course not. She paid Steele for the information. Yes, that’s right. Hillary Clinton colluded with the Russians to discredit Trump, but Robert Mueller isn’t interested in that collusion. He’s looking for collusion between Russia and the victim of the plot.

Explains Coulter: “Hillary’s campaign and the DNC hired Steele, using a Seattle law firm as a cutout. The law firm hired Fusion GPS, which in turn hired the British spy, who paid current and former Russian government officials for incriminating information on Trump.”

Steele revealed his motive to Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr, saying he was “desperate that Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” OK, but motives aside, did he come up with anything? Not if you believe the New York Times, which says that the information in the Steele dossier “was not corroborated, and the New York Times has not been able to confirm the claims.” And remember that the New York Times, like the press in general, loathes Trump, and would gladly have reported substantiation of the claims in the Steele dossier had they found any.

In fact, so eager was the NY Times to discredit Trump that it flat-out stated that his firing of F.B.I. director James Comey had “echoes of Watergate,”when in fact it did not. For Comey himself admitted under oath to Senator James Risch (R-Ohio) that the F.B.I. hadn’t been investigating Trump at the time he was fired, so Trump couldn’t have been “obstructing justice” in an ongoing case against him. In point of fact, Trump fired Comey precisely because he wouldn’t stop publicly insinuating that Trump was under investigation when in fact he wasn’t. Meanwhile, journalists simply assumed that Trump was guilty of colluding with Russia, and that firing Comey was a transparent attempt to cover up criminal activity.

In short, the mountain keeps laboring, but brings forth but a mouse. The charges to date are a complete farce. Here’s a partial list:

National Security Adviser Michael Flynn: He talked to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period between the Obama and Trump administrations, and then didn’t disclose it on security clearance paperwork, which is not customary because such meetings are routine.

Paul Manafort — Briefly Trump’s “campaign” chairman, he was originally accused of violating the same (unenforced) lobbying registration law that ensnared Michael Flynn, but has since been charged with setting up offshore accounts to avoid taxes, which could make him guilty of practicing capitalism. In October 2017, journalist Ken Silverstein wrote that “I can say with certainty that the law, which Manafort is accused of violating, known as the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, is a complete joke.” The article in which this comment appeared was entitled, “I’ve Covered Foreign Lobbying for 20 Years and I’m Amazed Manafort Got Busted.” In any event, Manafort’s guilt or innocence hasn’t been demonstrated to have anything to do with Trump.

Carter Page — a non-entity whose name Trump appears to have lifted out of a hat when confronted by media claims that he didn’t have any establishment certified national security advisers on his team. Page was subsequently slapped with a FISA warrant, which proves he is appallingly guilty of something. For as Ronald Reagan’s former Attorney General Ed Meese memorably informed us, “If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” What could be clearer?

Attorney General Jeff Sessions — He also met with Russian ambassador Kislyak, when he was a senator, and then didn’t record the dastardly deed on security clearance forms, which the FBI doesn’t want because such meetings are routine.

But wait! Didn’t former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pay Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her affair with Trump? That’s a violation of campaign finance laws! Possibly, but such violations are a dime a dozen, and if we run every politician who has paid off a mistress out of office Washington will be a ghost town.

There is much, much more in Coulter’s book, but check it out of the library rather than buy it, since Coulter herself is equally prone to slipping into political hysteria when the topic is Communism or Islam. She insists, for example, that Martin Luther King was under the control of Moscow when he made his (accurate) claim that the “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world [is] my own government.” And, of course, many of us remember her advice for dealing with the Islamic world following the 911 attacks, when she said, quite subtly, that “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

American politics is a tale of two hysterias. Rationality has been driven from the stage.

Class Dismissed: Identity Politics Without The Identity

“The goal of mainstream politicians of both parties should be to drive a wedge between the viciousness of white supremacy and people who are basically decent but tired of what they see as ‘political correctness’ that ignores the very considerable challenges faced by working-class whites while directing them to feel sorry for a whole range of other groups.”

–Joan C. Williams, White Working Class – Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America

“We’re voting with our middle finger.”

–South Carolina Trump supporter

“There was no reason why the Left had to abandon its old blue collar base.”

–Milo Yiannopoulos

My apologies to Ta Nehisi Coates and the “it’s all about race” school of politics, but by now it should be clear to just about everyone that attempting to achieve a democratic majority by multiplying victim minorities is doomed to failure.

For the four decades we have seen neo-liberal economics at work, white working class fortunes have gone steadily down the drain while diversity enthusiasts aggressively demanded universal sympathy for a growing list of victim groups: the poor, blacks, Latinos, “native” Americans, Asians, the disabled, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, the transgendered, queers, non-binary people, the asexual, along with every possible “intersection” of  these identities. Meanwhile, legitimate anger at the economic squeeze imposed on working people from outsourcing and mass immigration from the Third World has been written off as racism, sexism, nativism, and xenophobia. By 2016, the longstanding depression visible throughout rural America was a key factor in elevating Donald Trump to the presidency.

Something unprecedented was at the root of flipping battleground states that had previously gone to Obama to Trump this time: In working class America people are for the first time dying at a younger age than their parents. The death rate of white working class men and women increased sharply in the past generation, a reversal of the trend established over the three decades following the end of World War II. The opioid epidemic is a particularly grim feature of this tragic story.

But in the optic of identity politics, white people are “privileged” by definition, so downward mobility can only be the result of personal failure. In particular, if you are white and don’t have a college degree, and two-thirds of American adults do not, then you are not part of the good life and have only yourself to blame.

As a result, the white working class is virtually invisible today. The movie “A Day Without A Mexican” attempted to show how indebted California is to immigrant labor, but there has been no parallel cinematic attempt to show how the white working class (largely) keeps our power lines working, our buses running, our sewers functioning, our trucks delivering goods to market. They also empty our bedpans, take our X-rays, watch our children, and respond to our 911 calls. Without them, the American Dream that they are increasingly excluded from could not exist. But there is virtually no public depiction of their plight.

Not that these workers want the pious solicitude offered to the poor. They don’t. They simply want to earn a decent life for themselves by working, as they used to be able to do. They want respect for their work ethic and what it has earned them, and recognition that our entire physical infrastructure functions only thanks to their effort, skill, and dedication. A guaranteed income might cover their economic needs, but would leave them with nothing to do and nowhere to go. Similarly, guaranteed paid sick leave, pregnancy leave, or a higher minimum-wage cannot possibly substitute for a steady job that supports a traditionally middle-class lifestyle. That’s what members of the working class used to have and what they still want. Unfortunately for us all, theirs is the identity that identity politics has no place for.

Donald Trump, however, did have a place for them, at least on the campaign trail. The strongest indication of Trump support was a concentration of high-school educated voters, and no one should have been surprised at that. Over the past several decades the Democratic Party has shed all concern for high-school educated workers in preference for professional and managerial elites it laughingly calls the “middle class,” though households made up of such workers (one sixth of the total) had a 2015 income of $173,175. Obviously, this is well above working class, which used to be considered at the heart of the middle class, but today refers to those who are neither rich nor poor, and for that reason are consistently overlooked.

In a capitalist society, work is at the core of identity, and here there are sharply divergent attitudes between professionals and the working class. For professional and managerial elites, work is not simply about the lifestyle it affords off the job; it’s about “pursuing your passion,” i.e., finding self-fulfillment in work itself. It also means risk taking for self-actualization; for example, founding an innovative start-up company to disrupt settled patterns that block the way of technical advance. Professionals value sophistication, “thinking outside the box,” and creativity, all of which are primary values for getting and keeping a job if you’re an order giver.

But matters are quite different for order takers. Their lot is to fill rigid, highly supervised jobs that are monotonously repetitive. Medical technicians, factory workers, bus drivers, construction workers, truck drivers, orderlies, nurses, and cashiers cannot “follow their bliss”; they have to develop the stability and dependability to support their families. Furthermore, to adopt an attitude of creative risk-taking would be evidence of “having an attitude,” which just gets one fired. For the working class, the goal is developing the iron will to do a detested menial job for forty years without complaint. Self-fulfillment is simply irrelevant.

In a largely unionless economy dedicated to profit extraction and nothing else, working class family life goes something like this:

“Mike drives a cab and I work in a hospital, so we figure one of us could transfer to nights. We talked it over and decided it would be best if I was here during the day and he was here at night. He controls the kids, especially my son, better than I do. So now Mike works day and I work graveyard. I hate it, but it’s the only answer: at least this way somebody’s here all the time. I get home at 8:30 in the morning. The kids and Mike are gone. I clean up the house a little, do the shopping and the laundry and whatever, then I go to sleep for a couple of hours before the kids get home from school. Mike gets home at 5, we eat, then he takes over for the night, and I go back to sleep for a couple of hours. I try to get up at 9:00 so we can have a little time together, but I’m so tired that I don’t make it a lot of times. And by 10:00, he’s sleeping because he has to get up at 6:00 in the morning. It’s hard, it’s very hard. There’s no time to live or anything (emphasis added).”

There’s no time to live, but it’s the only way to survive.

Theoretically, they could increase their income by moving where there are more and better jobs to be had, but working class Americans have good reasons to be wary of the paycheck nomad lifestyle professionals embrace as a matter of course. Moving around the country in order to ascend a career ladder that places money above every other consideration holds little allure. Maintaining one or even two full-time jobs in order to have a settled life in a familiar area is typically preferable. Close family and friends offer the only balm there is for the daily humiliation of being bossed around for low pay. Partly for this reason personal morality and dedication to family is what commands respect, not careerism and “merit.” But after forty years of declining wages and disappearing benefits, working class people worry that opportunities for a settled lifestyle may soon vanish altogether.

University education also might increase working class incomes, but ordinary workers tend to distrust higher education. For elites, extensive formal education is valued, but for the working class “being churched” is more important. Formal learning may be tolerated, but only as long as it’s not put on display, in which case it’s evidence of a “swelled head.” More money is not worth it at the price of moral decline.

So for the working class college is decidedly optional, and may not even be desirable in many cases. What’s indispensable is not a college degree, but a skill that will make people pay you for your work. So if go you go to college and end up without such a skill, you have wasted time and money both. [An increasing number of male college graduates end up in low or medium-skilled jobs.] But if you don’t go to college but nevertheless do acquire such a skill, you can still make out. Working class kids worry that they might end up with a prestigious degree but be unable to secure work with it because they lack knowledge of the unwritten social codes of professional life, which are learned by osmosis in professional families. Is it really surprising that a child from the professional elite is three times more likely to be admitted to a selective private institution than a lower class white with similar qualifications?

Employers overwhelmingly favor people who mirror professional habits and values, people whose hobbies might be sailing and classical music, but not pick-up soccer and country and western concerts. Research shows that putting the latter set of interests on your resume will get you far fewer professional job interviews than the former.

Then there’s the matter of ending up tens of thousands of dollars in debt in return for attending college, an increasingly common phenomenon throughout the USA. Average college debt among graduating seniors who had taken out student loans more than doubled between 1986 and 2008, and increased 56% in the decade before 2014. Accumulating a mountain of debt is extremely risky for anyone, but especially so for a working class kid. In 2009 student loans were draining off 35% of college dropouts’ annual income.

And aside from all this, the working class often just sees more value in its traditional jobs than in professional work. Many workers want to work with their hands and think that being a fire-fighter, for example, adds more value to a community than learning how to boost superfluous consumption with manipulative ads. So there are lots of good reasons to be skeptical of the college track, which is always going to be a minority option no matter how much we praise it.

But this leaves working class families trapped in an insoluble dilemma: (1) higher education is either unattainable or undesirable; (2) middle-class jobs are increasingly unavailable; (3) accepting government help is outright shameful. And gaming the welfare system in order to receive extra benefits (like buying sodas with food stamps and then selling them for cash) is doubly shameful. So working class people are often unwilling to use government benefits even when they are available to them. In fact, they tend to resent poor people who eagerly snap up any government benefit they can get. (Working class blacks are an exception to this. They tend to have a non-judgmental attitude towards those in need, recognizing from bitter experience that being in need has nothing to do with lacking personal merit.)

Interestingly, working class people resent professionals but not the rich. Becoming rich is assumed to be the result of hard work, whereas professional wealth is regarded as the product of dubious entitlement, and professionals themselves are seen as phony and snobbish. So working class people tend to dream of self-employment as the only route to wealth that doesn’t involve forfeiting one’s character. For them, self-employment, not collective action, represents class consciousness. The dream is not to migrate out of their class milieu, but to stay with the people they like and resemble – while making more money. Trump epitomizes this: he made his original fortune in grand casinos flouting his “garish bad taste.” Life on one’s own terms!

While professionals move in an increasingly secular world, working class whites are proud of their Christian morality and deeply resent being depicted as ignorant homophobes. If liberal elites don’t want them to embrace Rush Limbaugh, maybe they should stop insulting them with such caricatures. Not that liberals are the only guilty party here. On what passes for a political left in the U.S. many dismiss working class demands for jobs on the basis that it’s just “white privilege”!

Working class accusations of “political correctness” are often a taking umbrage at such class cluelessness and its attendant snobbery. For example, in working class communities being a stay-at-home wife is a sign of elevated status and a much sought after luxury, not evidence of a backward attitude towards sex roles. (Trump won working class white women by 28%.) For many working class families, having mothers in the workplace represents not “liberation” but additional stress and disruption. By the Trump years a new generation of workers had lost any hope of fulfilling this aspiration, though their parents and grandparents had managed to do so. On the other hand, for professional and managerial women, being a stay-at-home mother represents a decline in status, i.e., “just a housewife.”

While professional class husbands more often espouse egalitarian gender ideals, working class husbands do more child care. Who’s more sexist?

As for racism, many working class whites do harbor fears of blacks sporting “flashy cars, booze, and broads,” and who “don’t even want to get ahead for their families!” But many professional class whites are also racist, stereotyping blacks as lazy, violent, recklessly sexual, and less competent than whites. All forms of racism should be abandoned, of course, but in the meantime professional class whites have no call to indulge their class prejudices against working class whites on the grounds that only the latter are racist. It’s just not so.

As anthropology professor David Harvey reminds us, it is “all too easy to blame the victims for what happens when capital leaves town.” But whatever workers’ flaws are taken to be, “it is preposterous to claim that these can account for the total devastation of industrial regions that had for generations been the backbone of capital accumulation.” For destruction on this scale we can only thank “the neo-liberal counter-revolution of the 1970s.”

There is a showdown with capital coming, says Harvey, that will make the upheavals of the 1960s “look like child’s play.” When that day dawns those of us who want to see corporate and national security elites displaced by popular democratic forces will need the bulk of the white working class on our side. If we continue to define it as inherently reactionary, it won’t be.

Sources. 

Joan C. Williams, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America (Harvard, 2017)

Jonathan Kozol, Savage Inequalities, (Harper, 1991)

David Harvey, Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism, (Oxford, 2014)

Support Our Vets: Promote Social Revolution

If love is blind, patriotism has lost all five senses.
— William Blum

Today is Veterans Day, which used to be called Armistice Day, and differs from Memorial Day who knows exactly how. All we are supposed to know is that military service makes one a national hero, not (as used to be the case) for having demonstrated courage on the battlefield, but merely for signing up. We are well into the era of grade inflation, and as public school officials like to say, “everyone is above average.”

Whatever respect is owed the martial virtues, it is not clear how much longer the human race can survive the era of super-patriotism. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock is set at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, the closest we have been to atomic annihilation since the Reagan administration installed first-strike Pershing missiles in Germany (1982) while babbling about “winnable” nuclear war.

Though it is only by sheer blind luck that military brinksmanship has not terminated the human race, we are still encouraged to believe (especially on Veterans Day) that we should be grateful to the military for defending “our freedoms” around the world. The suggestion juxtaposes itself incongruously to the realities of the “war on terror” era: preventive detention, institutionalized torture, the “right” of the president to kill American citizens without due process of law, universal snooping and data mining by corporate behemoths and the national security state. True, this is no fault of U.S. soldiers, but it is hardly sensible to congratulate the military for defending our freedoms when they are constantly under attack by the very national security state that claims to be protecting them.

Furthermore, well prior to the launching of the “war on terror” it was impossible to believe that Washington’s endless interventions and invasions had much to do with defending our precious Constitutional freedoms. Just how did the 1983 invasion of Grenada, for example, shore up our Bill of Rights?

In the name of patriotism we have turned a small  presence in Afghanistan into a world-wide terrorist menace, although death tolls from its murderous attacks in the “homeland” are frequently eclipsed by random sociopaths mowing down dozens of people in church, at concerts and movies, or on school grounds. But surely ISIS stands a good chance of winning our permanent attention with a carefully planned WMD attack in a U.S. city. After all, it has been more than a generation since journalist Robert Fisk reported that two themes dominate titles in the bookshops of Algiers: fanatic religious tracts and nuclear, chemical, and biological engineering books. (Doesn’t anyone read for pleasure anymore?)

Veterans Day often tends to go with “We’re Number One” nostalgia, though it won’t do to mention that the U.S. is first in the world in per capita prison population, financial bailouts for corporate looters, homicide and death by guns, and massive imperial bloodshed. Such dismally routine features of American life cannot be said to embody love of country any more than the many schools that are falling apart, public hospitals that are closing down, and essential public services that are being cut so plutocrats can have yet another huge tax cut. Thus, we avert our gaze and praise our soldiers, whose job it is to protect U.S. corporate “interests,” not the United States itself.

These perverted values obliterate our capacity for basic moral judgment. For example, when the USSR basketball team beat the USA team at the 1988 Olympics, political scientist Michael Parenti reminds us, the American media treated it as though it were an “end to civilization as we know it.” In post-game commentaries NBC lamented how the Americans had been seriously handicapped by lack of practice time and the loss of a key player, and thus had been unable to overcome the “the Soviet onslaught.” The evil Communists “never let up their attack” and were a “relentless juggernaut.” “The impression left,” comments Parenti drily, “was that the Americans were facing the Red Army rather than another basketball team.”1

By 1992, the U.S. had arranged for professionals to play in the Olympics, so Americans were able to delight in NBA all-stars slaughtering a ragged team from Zaire, composed of kids who had to work for a living and barely raised enough money to get to the games, and who had only begun to practice together a few months before the Olympics began. In short, a heavily tilted playing field allowed an orgy of jingoism to masquerade as normal pride in legitimate national achievements. It wasn’t the only time.

There are many fine men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces, motivated by a genuine desire to give their lives if necessary to defend their country. Unfortunately, the mission of the U.S. armed forces is not to defend the country, but to protect and expand the far-flung empire. Our nation is bled to feed the imperial vanity of our rulers, so “support our troops” ends up meaning, “cut their benefits.”

Let’s see some real patriotism: dismantle the empire.

  1. Michael Parenti, Superpatriotism, (City Lights, 2004).