Class Confusion and Its Uses

There is an article in the Wall Street Journal that perfectly, albeit unintentionally, captures a common variety of confusion in American thought. The piece is “The ‘Longshoreman Philosopher’ Saw Trump Coming in 1970” by Reuven Brenner. The premise is that in Eric Hoffer’s 1970 essay, Whose Country is America?, he “eerily anticipated not only the political events of 2016 but the tone and language of last year’s campaign and the anti-Trump hysteria since Election day.” Brenner then goes on to blame ‘intellectuals’ for everything

It is completely idiotic. And it’s a propaganda piece. I would simply dismiss it, if not for the fact that the influence of such propaganda is all too real. Because it is pushed by corporate media, it is worth analyzing.

Keep in mind that Brenner is an employee of the Koch-funded Cato Institute, originally called the Charles Koch Foundation, one of the most powerful and influential right-wing think tanks in the world. He also has done work for the Koch-funded Fraser Institute and Shell corporation. Think tank employees are regularly given a platform on corporate media. But beyond that, the ignorance of the piece is maddening. And worst of all, I suspect the author to some degree believes his own bullshit or else believes that pushing such bullshit onto others is good for his personal and professional agenda, which is to say for the agenda of the likes of the Koch brothers and Wall Street Journal. He is apparently a highly sought after intellectual-for-hire, an intelligentsia mercenary.

About Brenner’s assessment quoted above, other people would strongly disagree. Al Hackle wrote that, “If a desire for decency and honesty equates to elitism, if billionaires are the common people — and if someone writing in 1970 to bash the hippy youth, etc., of that era from a pretentiously anti-intellectual (but highbrow!) standpoint was actually foreshadowing the politics of 2016-17 — then this article makes perfect sense.”

I wasn’t familiar with the particular Hoffer essay in question. Brenner begins with this quote from it: “Scratch an intellectual, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of the common folk.”

That is plain bizarre on multiple levels, according to the normal definition of ‘intellectual’ (i.e., someone focused on intellectual activity as a career, lifestyle, or identity). I’ll have more to say about this further on, as the usage is apparently highly idiosyncratic. Also, one might suspect, as Matthew Watkins argued, that “I felt like the quoted passages were pieced together to validate the author’s anti-intellectual take on the election.” Well, Hoffer wrote those words almost a half century ago and so probably wasn’t attempting to predict distant future political events. But for the moment, let me take it at face value, in the way Brenner is treating it.

Hoffer is a famous American intellectual, even though he was of the self-taught working class variety (so he claimed; more about that below). This is nothing unusual, considering America has a long history of working class intellectuals. For that reason, it’s strange to hear anti-intellectualism from an intellectual, as if Hoffer worried that there is some kind of shame to being an intellectual and that he wants to defend against any accusation that he too is an intellectual, however he defines it. Stranger still is the fact that this is being quoted by Brenner who has made a long, successful career out of being a professional intellectual, and it’s quoted in an article written for a conservative newspaper that styles itself as highly intellectual (Wall Street Journal not being a low brow publication for the dirty masses). As one commenter put it (Patrick McCafferty), “Define irony: An intellectual essay complaining about the influence of intellectuals and their essays.”

Somehow, these ‘intellectuals’ are all of those other people to be dismissed, presumably the elite left-wingers aspiring to rule the world, bias the media, and propagandize the children. It turns intellectuality into some foreign danger invading the body politic and threatening the Real America of Real Americans, and accordingly this is why Real Americans (what right-wing culture warriors used to proclaim as being the “moral majority”) supposedly voted for and gave a political mandate to Trump. This portrayal of intellectuals, along with the portrayal of the American public, is a caricature in the demented fantasies of right-wing rhetoric. It’s amazing that this attack on intellectuals so often comes from intellectuals themselves, although less surprising when those intellectuals work for right-wing think tanks. One might suspect they are being disingenuous. Anyway, the average non-intellectual doesn’t read either Hoffer or Brenner. These intellectuals attacking other intellectuals, one might argue, are projecting their own sense of disconnection from the rest of the population. It would be amusing, if it weren’t so pathetic, specifically in the case of Brenner (as for Hoffer, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment, since his words are being used for someone else’s purposes).

Let me break down Brenner’s argument:

Hoffer started his analysis with “the conspicuousness of the young”—that is the baby boomers. “They have become more flambouyant, more demanding, more violent, more knowledgeable and more experienced,” he wrote. “The general impression is that nowadays the young act like the spoiled children of the rich.”

Similar accusations had been made toward prior generations of youth, specifically the generations born into the emerging America of industrialization and growing middle class, from the Lost Generation born into consumerism and violence to the Silent Generation born into affluence and a pampered childhood. How can any reasonably informed person not know this? How can such historical amnesia have such persistence?

This lack of basic knowledge is all the more shocking when it comes from intellectuals. Maybe that is what one gets when an intellectual dismisses intellectuality. An anti-intellectual intellectual is a confused person. I might be able to excuse Hoffer because he was a working class autodidact and so his self-education was maybe more random than thorough, just some guy voicing his opinions after reading some books (like me). Brenner, on the other hand, has gained wealth and respect as a formally educated public intellectual. Worse still, Brenner is the elite of the elite, not only a respected thinker promoted and read by the elite but also a college professor and published academic. Even if Hoffer didn’t know better, Brenner should.

A bit further on, Brenner writes that,

The “phenomenal increase of the student population”—enrollment in colleges and universities would more than triple between 1958 and 1978—created a critical mass: “For the first time in America, there is a chance that alienated intellectuals, who see our way of life as an instrument of debasement and dehumanization, might shape a new generation in their own image.”

Actually, the sharp increase in college enrollment began in the 1940s, initially because of the GI Generation returning from war and taking advantage of the cheap college education offered through the GI Bill. Besides that, there were other reasons. The college students from the late 1930s to the mid-to-late 1960s were mostly of the Silent Generation, depending on the years defining that generational cohort. The earliest wave of Boomers hitting colleges didn’t happen until 1964 and it would only have been in the following years when they would have become the majority on campuses. The Silents were the first generation to receive universal public education (it having been made compulsory in the early 1920s) and so the first generation with high rates of high school degrees, a requirement for enrolling in college. They were extremely protected in childhood and, upon reaching adulthood, never had to fight in any major war. Because of the peace and prosperity of the times, more of them were able and could afford to go straight from high school to college.

It’s possible that Hoffer was directing his antagonism more at the Silent Generation than any other. They fit the description of what he was complaining about, as they were the rising vanguard of intellectuals, radicals, activists, and leaders that brought on the tumultuous 1960s — having included such figures as Martin Luther King jr and Malcolm X, Jane Fonda and Wavy Gravy.

Hoffer was of the Lost Generation (according to the birthdate he gave), the generation before the GIs. They were one of the most criticized generations in modern history (the earlier equivalent of Generation X), although largely forgotten now as a cohort. Unlike the Silent Generation, they were not pampered and instead were latchkey kids.

The Lost Generation was known for growing up quick because they had little choice, having been born into a world of mass industrialization and urbanization, of absent parents and broken communities. Most of them spent their childhoods working, rather than in school, and they experienced little parental oversight. They were a precocious lot, the first generation of mass consumers, and possibly the most violent generation America has ever seen. The world they knew as children was rough and chaotic. They were notorious for forming youth gangs in the cities rapidly becoming overcrowded (think of the movie “Gangs of New York” which, although portraying an earlier generation from the mid-19th century, was based on a work written by someone of the Lost Generation, Herbert Asbury). Later on, they were the veterans of WWI who experienced the larger world and came back not just with a cosmopolitan woldliness but also suffering PTSD, alcoholism, and addiction. They were among the most famous gangsters and bootleggers, not to mention among the most famous artists and writers: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Nucky Johnson, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, Norman Rockwell, Grant Wood, George Gershwin, etc (some of the Elliot Ness’ Untouchables were of the same generational cohort). This generation made itself known and notorious during the Roaring Twenties, as I previously described them:

The members of Lost Generation were many things, but respectable they were not. They were immigrants and the children of immigrants, hoboes and migrant workers, gangsters and bank robbers, socialists and anarchists, drunks on Cannery Row and Bonus Army veterans camped out in Washington, DC. The Lost Generation members of my mom’s family in Southern Indiana included moonshiners and moonshine runners. They were born into a rough world, lived rough lives and often had rough endings. They were what the KKK so feared, what the older generation saw as a threat to the American Way.

These younger Americans didn’t have respect for tradition and social order, especially not the young blacks and the young women who demanded equal rights, the women even gaining the right to vote in 1920. It was in this early twentieth century era when the NAACP was founded and when the IWW was organized.

Of course most of that generation were forgotten members of the nameless working class. But even among the working class, radicalism was in the air and the many workers organized to confront the powers that be, sometimes with violent results which usually meant workers getting hurt and killed by the agents of corporate and political power. For example, Hoffer belonged to the militant leftist ILWU that was formed following a 1934 bloody strike and was headed by Harry Bridges, another member of the Lost Generation. The mostly unknown men in that and many other strikes made sacrifices that would benefit the workers who followed them. The good life of later generations, including that of Brenner’s Boomer Generation, was built on their backs. And sadly all that many in the Lost Generation got for their sacrifices was high rates of poverty and short lives. But they paved the way for the better life that would follow in the post-war Boom era.

Interestingly, Hoffer speaks of “alienated intellectuals”. The odd thing is that he gives voice to the alienated intellectual, apparently perceiving himself as a thinker alienated from a new generation of thinkers, which is the source of his complaint. The largely uneducated Lost Generation is famous for its alienated intellectuals. They were also highly critical of American society.

The protests of the 1960s was child’s play compared to the violent rampage of the Lost Generation, a complete overturning of the social order at the beginning of the 20th century. They didn’t just have race protests. They went so far as to have race wars that involved WWI veterans fighting military-style battles on American streets, sometimes leading to hundreds injured and killed along with bombings and the burning down of neighborhoods. That was the origin of the Civil Rights Movement. The labor organizing of that era, not just on the docks where Hoffer worked but also in Appalachian mining communities, was the most ferociously combative in American history. And when the Lost Generation wasn’t involved in that kind of ideological violence, the most dangerous troublemakers among them were committing gang violence and sometimes fighting federal agents. Social conflict at such extremes and violence at such high rates hadn’t been seen at that time since the Civil War. And holy shit were their politics radical, rooted in left-wing ideologies of a working class variety: trade unionism, syndicalism, anarchism, Marxism, communism, socialism, etc. The Lost Generation were extremists in so many ways, particularly on the political left but also on the political right, including some drawn toward fascism.

Maybe more than any other generation, they helped create what modern America has become. Or at the very least, they most starkly represented the societal change that transformed America and the world, whether they are considered a cause or a product of that change.

Continuing his ‘analysis’, Brenner makes further use of Hoffer’s writing:

The problem for society is “that the alienated intellectual does not want to be left alone,” Hoffer wrote. “He wants to influence affairs, have a hand in making history, and feel important.” The country continued to be plagued by problems “like race relations, violence, drugs.” Common people, however, “know that at present money cannot cure crime, poverty, etc., whereas the social doctors go on prescribing an injection of so many billions for every social ailment.”

That is rich. If the likes of Brenner (and presumably Hoffer) had no desire to influence or feel that their existence mattered in the slightest, why all the writing directed at an audience consisting mostly of the educated? It has been mostly intellectuals like Brenner who have read intellectuals like Hoffer. These arguments aren’t to any great degree reaching the lower classes, not that they were ever the intended audience.

Once again, what is most irritating is the historical amnesia. It was the Lost Generation, especially later in life, that did so much to promote big government in throwing large sums of tax money at problems, such as helping to create Social Security and universal public education that helped following generations. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal was immensely popular among the that generation and that was decades before the 1960s. And that public spending was funded with the highest tax rate the country had seen before or since.

Many in the Lost Generation, for all the deserved or undeserved blame they got, didn’t want others to have to suffer what they suffered. And because of their sacrifices, they were the last generation of uneducated child labor. They worked hard to ensure their own children and grandchildren could get educated and get good jobs. I doubt many felt nostalgic and morally righteous about their own brutally deprived childhoods. Quite a few of them for damn sure believed in the role of collective action, through government and unions, in ensuring the public good. This is how the American Dream was created, with rise of economic mobility and growth of the middle class promoted through immense government funding for public infrastructure and public programs, World War II vets benefiting most of all in a way that World War I vets never experienced, although life did improve for those of the Lost Generation who lived long enough.

Hoffer, having lived into the 1980s, was a beneficiary of this government funding and progressive economic policies, this political activism and labor organizing. His self-education and writing career was made possible from the high paying job and plenty of free time ensured by the labor union, having been a member of the most powerful leftist union at a time when unions were at their height of power. His retirement was supported through social security along with a union pension. Although he claimed to have wanted neither, he actively sought out filing his application for social security when he was around 40 years old and as a longshoreman he was an actively involved union member.

At an earlier point in his life when he was unemployed and homeless, a police officer directed him to a federal work camp. He spent a month there getting back on his feet. Observing his fellow tramps, his thinking was split between judgment and praise of these lowest of the low, but he had one moment of clarity in realizing that modern capitalism couldn’t do much for these impoverished men in stating that, “less than half the camp inmates (seventy normal, plus ten youths) were unemployed workers whose difficulties would be at an end once jobs were available. The rest (60 per cent) had handicaps in addition to unemployment.” But he didn’t seem to follow this line of thought to explore its implications for the larger society.

Also, he was proud of having made use of public libraries in his self-education, which is to say his supposed self-education was publicly funded. Besides, there are reasons to question the account he gave of his past, as no one has been able to confirm most of it. This is detailed by Thomas Bethell in his book, Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher. Hoffer could speak English, German, and Hebrew. Also, he was familiar with German textbooks on botany and Chemistry. He claims to have taught himself much of this while living in poverty on skid row in Los Angeles. Bethell concludes in one article, “That is hard to believe” (The Mystery of Eric Hoffer). More plausible is that he had received an education at some point and for unknown reasons wanted to keep this past a secret, one explanation being that he was an undocumented immigrant from Germany. As Aram Bakshiam explains, in “The Ultimate Self-Made Man“:

While we will probably never know the true details of his birth and childhood years—most of what he wrote about them was contradictory or unsubstantiated—he clearly was immigrant stock, and quite possibly an immigrant himself. Until his dying day, he spoke with a particular type of thick German accent: southern “Low German” characteristic of Bavaria and Austria, although he claimed that his father was a cabinet maker from Alsace-Lorraine who had settled in the Bronx. No records exist to that effect. His dramatic accounts of childhood blindness, benevolent nurses, and the early deaths of both parents are also unsubstantiated. Indeed, the first documentation of Hoffer himself is his application for a Social Security account, filed in Sacramento, California, on June 10, 1937, when he would have been 38 years old. His pre-California life is thus a matter of speculation, and it is possible—even likely—that he was born in Germany, received some primary and secondary education there, and emigrated to America on his own as a young man, “jumping ship” without papers and heading pretty quickly to the West Coast.

Despite his expressed anti-intellectualism and attacks on the more educated younger generation, the same year he wrote “Whose Country is America?” (1970) he also “endowed the Lili Fabilli and Eric Hoffer Laconic Essay Prize for students, faculty, and staff at the University of California, Berkeley” (Wikipedia). And that was at a time when Berkely was almost entirely funded by government, as compared to only 14% public funding today.

So, it’s not clear who were the intellectuals he was attacking. He had weird notions about intellectuals. This is made clear by reading his 1970 essay, Whose Country Is America? Having not read it previously, I gave it a perusal. I can see why Brenner decided to use it. The piece is still relevant, although for reasons Brenner doesn’t understand or for reasons Brenner would rather others not understand. The same confusion that Hoffer espouses remains common to this day among too many Americans. Still, it’s quite telling in the ways that Brenner misreads and falsely portrays Hoffer’s views. In the last half of Brenner’s article, he explains what he considers to be Hoffer’s accurate prediction:

It’s a warning that affluence condemns younger generations to political decline unless institutional checks and balances, combined with education for civic responsibility, are rigorously preserved.

That is a highly deceptive paraphrasing of the original argument. It is true that Hoffer targets affluence as problematic. But what a plutocratic apologist like Brenner won’t acknowledge is that Hoffer was aiming his sights on the plutocracy. In Brenner’s conclusion he quotes Hoffer as concluding that, “We must deflate the pretensions of self‐appointed elites. These elites will hate us no matter what we do, and it is legitimate for us to help dump them into the dust bin of history.” What is left out is that he is talking about the moneyed elite, not just the educated elite, Hoffer having intentionally conflated the two in his argument. The elite that is being referred to is the aspiring technocrats of inherited wealth who, in seeking global influence (specifically referring to foreign aid), “hanker for the trappings of the 20th century. They want steel mills, airlines, skyscrapers, etc.” It’s a vision of industrialized corporatism. Today we would see in this the agenda of neoliberal globalization and neocon imperialism, the kind of thing Brenner fully supports.

Brenner is a joke. There is no need to take his ideas seriously, even as his intentions are deadly serious. He isn’t making an honest argument. But Hoffer is more problematic for his argument is earnest in its honest attempt at persuasion, genuinely believing what he is expressing. Still, I want to be clear that the moral faults of Brenner shouldn’t be projected onto Hoffer. The latter hated the likes of the former. There is good reason to doubt there would have been any friendship or kindness between those two, if they had ever met. Now I want to take Hoffer on his own terms, considering where he was coming from in his views and exploring what he meant by ‘intellectuals’.

It’s not clear what were Hoffer’s ultimate political commitments. In his writings, there are many thoughts expressed, not all of them fully articulated or consistent. But I feel confident that, for all of his complaints about what some might call the liberal class or bourgeoisie, he was far from standard American conservatism. As someone who personally preferred lovemaking to marriage, he stated in no uncertain terms that, “Lovemaking is radical, while marriage is conservative.” And he was equally clear about religion: “Absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power.” He was no culture warrior seeking to defend religious morality and family values.

About ‘intellectuals’, it was simultaneously more narrow and more broad than how most Americans would use the word, at least in present usage. He wrote that, “In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Yet, speaking of himself a couple of year before his death, he referred to himself as learned: “I have written learnedly on the nature of creative milieus” (Last Notebook, September 25, 1981; quoted in Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher by Tom Bethell, p. 248). So, who exactly are the ‘learned’? It’s not entirely clear, since being learned apparently can be either a good or bad condition. Otherwise, we must assume that he was criticizing himself in his old age, implying that in having become learned he had found himself “beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” That latter interpretation is a real possibility. There is a note of nostalgia in some of his writing.

As he distinguishes being a learner and being learned, he doesn’t see all of intellect and intellectual activity as the sole proprietorship of the intelligentsia. Taken from an interview by Calvin Tomkins published in New Yorker, Penn Kemble offers this quote by Hoffer (On Eric Hoffer): “Every longshoreman thinks he could write a book if he tried—and it is true, he probably could… Every intellectual thinks that talent, that genius is a rare exception. Talent and genius have been wasted on an enormous scale throughout our history; this is all I know for sure.” This could be taken as humility. After all, he was a longshoreman who thought he could write a book if he tried and successfully did so. Still, it is an exaggeration. It is highly improbable that many longshoreman ever have such thoughts. As far as I can tell, most people in general have no aspiration to write a book, not even as a casual possibility.

Hoffer was just making a point, basically declaring the intelligentsia to be condescending. And no doubt this would accurately describe some of those in the intelligentsia, especially at a time when being an intellectual meant being part of a clearly defined and confined class. But these days, it sounds strange. Intellectuals are dime a dozen in the world right now, most of them not being part of the upper classes, much less a real or aspiring ruling elite. I live in a town where large proportion of the working class is ‘learned’, in that they have college degrees. When Hoffer was a young man, having a college degree meant a lot more than it means now.

It still seems strange. All of his writings were written fairly late in his life, his first book True Believer having been published in 1951 which was more than a half century after his birth in the late 19th century. His strident harping on intellectuals came in the following decades. The piece that Brenner quotes was written by Hoffer as an old man in his 70s. In those decades of his late life writing career, college education was becoming more common and far from being limited to the economically well off. He lived to see a large portion of several generations having moved from working class to middle class by going to college. Even though he acknowledged this new affluence as a key factor in what he perceived as fraying the moral fiber of society, he continued to think of higher education in purely class terms, as if most college students were still the children of the plutocracy. His observations and condemnations lagged behind changing realities.

Something just occurred to me. He is giving voice to the complaints that were made during his own childhood and young adulthood, although a slightly different context. Jackson Lears discusses this in Rebirth of a Nation, the relevant passage to be found in a post of mine from a few months ago (Juvenile Delinquents and Emasculated Males). As rural life came to an end and a new generation was being urbanized, there was a sudden fear about the loss of rites of passage that were supposedly provided by farming, fishing, and hunting. It was a fear of immaturity and emasculation, that boys wouldn’t grow up to be real men (nor girls real women). As Lears put it, “for many other observers, too many American youths—especially among the upper classes—had succumbed to the vices of commerce: the worship of Mammon, the love of ease.” This seems to be what Hoffer means when he speaks of ‘intellectuals’, the anxious transition toward deindustrialization having followed closely after the anxious transition toward post-rural industrialization. In “Whose Country is America?”, he writes:

In the past, breakdowns of value affected mainly the older segment of the population. This was true of the breakdown of the Graeco‐Roman civilization, of the crisis that gave birth to the Reformation, and of the periods of social disintegration that preceded the French, the Russian and the Nazi revolutions. That our present crisis particularly affects the young is due partly to the fact that widespread affluence is robbing a modem society of whatever it has left of puberty rites to routinize line attainment of manhood. Never before has the passage from boyhood to manhood been so difficult and explosive. Both the children of the well‐to‐do and of families on welfare are prevented from having a share in the world’s work and of proving their manhood by doing a man’s work and getting a man’s pay. Crime in the streets and insolence on the campus are sick forms of adolescent self‐assertion. The young account for an ever‐increasing percentage of crimes against persons and property. The peak years for crimes of violence are 18 to 20, followed by the 21 to 24 age group.

He talks about this as if it were a new phenomenon or else a new phase in an ongoing phenomenon. I wonder if was unaware that these exact same charges were made against his own generation. This shift had been going for centuries as urbanization progressed, but the same complaints were probably heard in the first city-states millennia ago. Certainly, there was rising crime rates centuries ago when, because of land enclosure, unemployed landless peasants crowded into cities. And there was a severe spike of youth violence in Hoffer’s own generation at the beginning of the 20th century, caused by rapid urbanization, mass immigration, and high rates of childhood lead toxicity. But overall violence and crime had been decreasing across history, as Steven Pinker pointed out with the Moral Flynn Effect. Nonetheless, I will give Hoffer credit for understanding that there is a larger historical context that needs to be considered, for a few paragraphs on he adds:

THE contemporary blurring of childhood is not unprecedented. During the Middle Ages, children were viewed and treated as miniature adults. Nothing in medieval dress distinguished the child from the adult. The moment children could walk and talk they entered the adult world, and took part in the world’s work. In subsequent centuries, the concept of childhood became more clearly defined. Yet even as late as 1835 schoolbooks in this country made no concession to childhood in vocabulary or sophistication. Child labor, so widely practiced in the first half of the 19th century, and which we find abhorrent, was not totally anomalous in a society that did not have a vivid view of childhood as a sheltered, privileged age.

To counteract an old man’s tend ency to snort at the self‐important young, I keep reminding myself that until the middle of the 19th century the young acted effectively as members of political parties, creators of business enterprises, advocates of new philosophical doctrines and leaders of armies. Most of the wars that figure in our history books were fought by teenagers. ‘There were 14‐year‐old lieutenants in Louis XIV’s armies. In one of his armies the oldest soldier was under 18. The middle aged came to the fore with the Industrial Revolution. The experience and capital necessary to make an industrialist required a long apprenticeship. One might say that from the middle of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century the world was run by and for the middle‐aged. The post industrial age seems to be groping its way back to an immemorial situation interrupted by the Industrial [Revolution?].

That is a thousand more times interesting than how Brenner filters the argument down into simplistic ideological rhetoric. It reminds me of a number of things. Daniel Everett observed that the Amazonian Piraha lack any extended childhood and adolescence with no stage of life involving tantrums or rebellion, just a straight and immediate transition into adulthood following toddlerhood. Research has found that, under stressful conditions, biological including neurocognitive development happens at a faster rate (related to this, Adam Smith argued for universal public education precisely for the reason that he predicted repetitive labor would stunt cognitive development, which is confirmed by this research showing stress-related premature development correlates to constrained development, meaning that earlier maturation comes at the cost of human potential). That is surely the case with the Piraha with the dangerous environment they live in and the corresponding high rate of child mortality, such conditions demanding early maturity which Everett noted in the greater physical ability of Piraha children. The same would have been true for childhood prior to modern public education and health concerns. For most children in the Western world until the GI Generation, they had to grow up fast often for the sake of survival. A kid who didn’t mature rapidly would have a low survival rate while working on a farm, in a mine, or in a factory. That was the reality for most children until child labor laws.

Hoffer doesn’t make it clear, but the issue of concern isn’t merely ‘intellectuals’. The comfortable intellectual class along with college students are symbolic in his mind of the growing affluence of society in general and so indicative of the worsening anxiety about what the changes mean. That said, his claim is absurd in arguing that the younger generations are acting out delayed adolescence in fighting for basic human rights. There is an element of truth that affluence makes social progress possible. The desperately poor and disenfranchised often have a harder time challenging entrenched power. The American colonists, for example, were able to successfully revolt partly because they were one of the most free and affluent populations in the world at that time. It takes immense resources (human, economic, and natural) to support such a collective action against centralized authority, even when it was as distant as was the seat of British imperial power. But it is pointless and unfair to complain about people who choose to seek betterment for themselves and their society when the opportunity arises. This is particularly the case for someone like Hoffer who took advantage of such a time of affluence, fought for by others, that allowed him to work shorter hours for greater pay in order to have the freedom to write and get published such intellectual arguments.

I find it hard to follow the line of his thought. He sees a modern industrial society as inevitably aligned with the middle class. But he doesn’t seem to mean the struggling and aspiring lower middle class of the upwardly mobile American Dream, many having been of the working class not long before. Maybe he is primarily speaking of the upper middle class professionals, the segment of the middle class that had been fairly stable for many generations at that point. Such stability is what is required for an intelligentsia to form, what he simply refers to as ‘intellectuals’. The argument, from what I can tell, is that affluence has made this upper middle class too stable and secure, and so utterly disconnected from the working class that they look down upon. There is some kind of loss of what originally motivated the middle class and fueled the Industrial Revolution, as a post-industrial age takes over and indeed in that 1970 piece he already saw America as becoming post-industrial, whatever that meant to him at that time.

It’s as Hoffer continues with his piece that he goes from being a crotchety old man to a mad visionary of fevered dreams. Listen to him here:

In this country, the coming of the postindustrial age may mean the loss of all that made America new—the only new thing in the world. America will no longer be the common man’s continent. The common people of Europe eloped with history to America and have lived in common‐law marriage with it, unhallowed by the incantations of “men of words.” But the elites are finally catching up with us. We can hear the swish of leather as saddles are heaved on our backs. The intellectuals and the young, booted and spurred, feel themselves born to ride

What the fuck! It’s an amusing image, but it’s plain nonsense. When did the common man control all of American society? When the Constitution was put into place, only a few percentage of Americans could vote, hold public office, or participate in any way. Most blacks were enslaved, Native Americans were still experiencing genocide, most women didn’t even have the most basic rights, and even the vast majority of white men were disenfranchised. This has always been a country of a ruling elite, even as some Americans were always seeking to escape to the frontier to get beyond their reach.

What Hoffer probably had in mind was the sweet deal he had in one of the rare highly democratic labor unions in the country where workers had control over their own fates. As for most other Americans at the time, they had little control at all and neither did their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. In America, when the common man fought the elite, I can promise you the common man rarely won that fight. Legalized slavery through chain gangs, oppression in diverse forms, and political disenfranchisement continued well into the 20th century. Hoffer’s latter years were spent in one of those rare places and times in American history, far from being representative of what most Americans had experienced. And the freedom that Hoffer was given freely by his fellow union members was bought for with generations of their sweat, blood, and tears. It was a heavy price to pay for that small amount of freedom for a small part of the population and even that would be lost as unions came under attack near the end of his life. He took a lot for granted.

He continues:

The phenomenal increase of the student population is shaping the ‘attitudes and aspirations of the young. There are now more students in America than farmers. For the first time in America, there is a chance that alienated intellectuals, who see our way of life as an instrument of debasement and dehumanization, might shape a new generation in their own image. The young’s sympathy for the Negro and the poor goes hand in hand with an elitist conceit that pits them against the egalitarian masses. They will fight for the Negro and the poor, but they have no use for common folk who work and moonlight to take care of their own. They see a free‐wheeling democracy as a society stupefied by “the narcotic of mass culture.” They reserve their wrath for the institutions in which common people are most represented: unions, Congress, the police and the Army. Professor Edgar Z. Friedenberg thinks that “elitism is the great and distinctive contribution students are making to American society.” Democracy is for the dropouts; for the elite, an aristocratic brotherhood.

Holy fuck! What was this guy smoking? He seems to think being educated is a bad thing, the doom of America. Besides, it’s not like students killed all the farmers and feasted upon their blood. Many of those first generation of college students had been raised on farms. Their uneducated parents wanted them to get a college degree and do better. Considering that Hoffer comes off sounding like an alienated intellectual, his whole ranting jeremiad is rather misguided.

Even more unforgivable, he dismisses everyone who is not like him as being allowed membership into the “common folk”. Minorities aren’t common folk. The poor aren’t common folk. The young aren’t common folk. And anyone who aspires above the most basic manual labor isn’t common folk. I guess only older whites with little education but well paid unionized workers like Hoffer who hate mass culture are common folk. If so, these idealized common folk aren’t all that common. It’s disturbing to learn that all of the major institutions of American society (unions, Congress, the police and the Army, not to mention democracy itself) don’t represent minorities, the poor, the young, the educated, dropouts, the elite, or anyone else who doesn’t precisely share Hoffer’s demographic profile. I suppose I’m fine with excluding the aristocrats, but I don’r run into too many of them these days.

He preaches that, “For those who want to be left alone to realize their capacities and talents, this is an ideal country.” As he wrote those words, poor minorities were being ghettoized, working class white communities were falling into poverty and despair, an entire generation was once again being poisoned with lead toxicity, the police were being militarized to target the lower classes, his beloved unions were under attack, the government was destroying grassroots movements with oppressive COINTELPRO, a hopeless war in Vietnam was being fought and pointlessly killing so many in the process, several inspiring leaders had been assassinated, and one of the most corrupt leaders in US history was president. All he had to do was open his eyes and clean the wax out of his ears. His ideal society was in shambles.

He further lambasts the ‘intellectual’:

The trouble is, of course, that the alienated intellectual does not want to be left alone. He wants to be listened to and be taken seriously. He wants to influence affairs, have a hand in making history, and feel important. He is free to speak and write as he pleases, and can probably make himself heard and read more easily than one who would defend America. But he can neither sway elections nor shape policy. Even when his excellence as a writer, artist, scholar, scientist or educator is generally recognized and rewarded he does not feel himself part of the power structure. In no other country has there been so little liaison between men of words and the men of action who exercise power. The body of intellectuals in America has never been integrated with or congenial to the politicians and business men who make things happen. Indeed, the uniqueness of modem America derives in no small part from the fact that America has kept intellectuals away from power and paid little attention to their political [opinions].

The nineteen‐sixties have made it patent that much of the intellectual’s dissent is fueled by a hunger for power. The appearance of potent allies—militant blacks and students —has emboldened the intellectual to come out into the open. He still feels homeless in America, but the spectacle of proud authority, in cities and on campuses, always surrendering before threats of violence, is to him a clear indication that middle‐class society is about to fall apart, and he is all set to pick up the pieces.

There is no doubt that in our permissive society the intellectual has far more liberty than he can use; and the more his liberty and the less his capacity to make use of it, the louder his clamor for power—power to deprive other people of liberty.

Martin Luther King, jr was an alienated intellectual. There were many people who had sought higher education to improve themselves and to better their life circumstances. That has always been a core element to American society, the aspiration for something more. Hoffer is correct in a sense that such people aspiring didn’t merely want to be left alone. They wanted freedom and opportunity to act. They wanted to be treated as full citizens as part of a functioning democratic society. They wanted to participate in civic society and to feel like they belonged. They wanted to be able to give their children what they had not been given. I doubt even Hoffer merely wanted to be left alone. His unionized job gave him far more than that. Most other Americans simply wanted what Hoffer had and took for granted. Getting a college education hardly gave most people entry into the intellectual elite. Hoffer sounds resentful of the younger generations for being given opportunities of higher education he had maybe been denied when he was younger, even though such new opportunities were still rather limited. The generations following his own were hardly living the high life. Most Americans of all generations continued to have rather basic lives, their greatest achievements maybe involved owning a house and affording to take vacations, no different than what was available to Hoffer.

It is odd that he felt so threatened by ‘intellectuals’. To this day, most people with higher education don’t have much power in our society. It’s the plutocracy of politicians and businessmen who go to Ivy League colleges and dominate American society. Even the average college professor or teaching assistant is far from being part of the ruling elite, especially as universities become increasingly dependent on private funding from wealthy benefactors and corporate interests. Sure, intellectuals could express their dissent and lend their voice to protest movements, but the intellectuals of recent history ended up having less impact than the intellectuals from earlier in our country’s history, from the American Revolution to the Civil War. The only way intellectuals can gain power is to become part of the political class or get hired by a corporate think tank, as did Brenner. Obviously, Hoffer had no idea where the country was heading, from his limited vantage point from a half century ago.

A bit further on, his tirade goes into yet more strange territory:

AN interesting peculiarity of present‐day dissenting intellectuals is their lack of animus toward the rich. They are against the Government, the Congress, the Army and the police, and against corporations and unions, but hardly anything is being said or written against “the money changers in the temple,” “the economic royalists,” “the malefactors of great wealth” and “the maniacs wild for gold” who were the butt of vituperation in the past. Indeed, there is nowadays a certain rapport between the rich and the would‐be revolutionaries. The outlandish role the rich are playing in the affluent society is one of the surprises of our time. Though the logic of it seems now fairly evident, I doubt whether anyone had foreseen that affluence would radicalize the upper rich and the lowest poor and nudge them toward an alliance against those in the middle. What ever we have of revolution just now is financed [by?] the rich.

I didn’t know that present-day intellectuals lacked animus toward the rich. Apparently, there were quite a few intellectuals who weren’t told about this. Besides inspiring leaders like MLK, there were college-educated radicals such as Fred Hampton and academics such as Chomsky. There has been a long tradition of American intellectuals with less than friendly attitudes toward the problems of concentrated wealth and plutocracy. That has been a major driving force of a strain of American intellectuality over the centuries and directed at diverse guilty parties: British monied interests, Southern aristocrats, wealthy slaveholders, war profiteers, large landholders, those of inherited wealth, Robber Barons, etc. These intellectual critics of the rich have come from diverse backgrounds, from various degrees of education to various levels of socioeconomic class.

It’s extremely hard to figure out what Hoffer is going on about. Who are these “the money changers in the temple,” “the economic royalists,” “the malefactors of great wealth” and “the maniacs wild for gold”? If these plutocrats and moneyed interests aren’t in any aspect of government or business, then what are they doing and where did the wealth come from? He is being intellectually vague and evasive. The target of his ire appears to be an apparition of his imagination. What the heck is a revolution financed by the rich who aren’t involved in either the public sphere or the private economy? Is he suggesting that the Civil Rights movement, anti-war protests, Black Panthers, etc are all being secretly funded by a plutocratic conspiracy against the middling but uneducated common folk? And what is this radicalism that he speaks of? Is he not including the labor union he belonged to, one of the most radical in US history? Why is the radicalism that has benefited him personally not included in his criticisms?

More along these lines, he explains this radicalism:

Moreover, the radicalized rich have radical children. There is no generation gap here. The most violent cliques of the New Left are made up of the children of the rich. The Weathermen…have not a member with a workingman’s back ground. The behavior of the extremist young makes sense when seen as the behavior of spoiled brats used to instant fulfillment who expect the solutions to life’s problems to be there on demand. And just as in former days aristocratic sprigs horse whipped peasants, so at present the children of the rich are riding rough shod over community sensibilities. The rich parents applaud and subsidize their revolutionary children, and probably brag about them at dinner parties.

I don’t know of many in the New Left that came out of wealthy elite. There were many radicals and activist that came out of the middle class, including the lower middle class. That has always been true, partly because the middle class have more time and resources for political involvement. Still, it would be false to say that the working class weren’t involved as well. He seems aware of this when in this same piece he wrote that, “affluence would radicalize the upper rich and the lowest poor,” unless he is arguing that the working class and the working poor are two separate groups with the latter somehow being radically aligned with the plutocracy, which would be a kooky argument to make. I’m not sure how affluence radicalizes the lowest poor who lack affluence more than anyone else. There is absolutely no logical consistency and coherence to this meandering line of thought. His mind is all over the place.

Let me get at some specifics. Even where it’s clear what he means, it is far from justified. Take his claim that, “The Weathermen…have not a member with a workingman’s back ground.” That is patently false. I don’t know the background of all the members of the Weather Underground, but some of them were from the working class, such as Terry Robbins having been raised by a single father who was a factory worker and Naomi Jaffe having grown up on a small family farm. The New Left, like the Old Left, included many from the working class. As with MLK, the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton sought to organize the working class of all races and ethnicities in what was called the Rainbow Coalition. Hampton reached out to the working class white groups such as the Young Patriots, the kind of people who didn’t have the protection and representation of labor unions as did Hoffer. These working poor whites felt immense gratitude in being acknowledged and included by the Black Panthers, as they had been ignored and dismissed by mainstream society.

Like so many other respectable people at the time, Hoffer shows little understanding of these people and this is in spite of his once having had known poverty. His own words make clear the disconnection from the common folk that he projects onto supposedly wealthy intellectuals. In his comfortable older age made possible by the working class activism of his labor union, he forgot what it meant to be poor. He makes the odd assertion that, “It is remarkable that common people are aware of this fact. They know that at present money cannot cure crime, poverty, etc., whereas the social doctors go on prescribing an injection of so many billions for every social ailment.” Well, he must not have been talking to many common folk when he wrote those words in 1970. Yet he occasionally comes close to understanding, before flitting away back to his perch of middle class identity:

The diffusion of affluence has accelerated the absorption of the majority of workingmen into the middle class. The unemployable poor, left behind, feel isolated and ex posed, and it is becoming evident that a middle‐class society, which hugs the conviction that everyone can take care of himself, is singularly inept in helping those who cannot help themselves. If the rich cannot feel rich in an affluent society, the poor have never felt poorer.

What is left out is the large numbers of working poor. This population was the majority for most of American history. The middle class did briefly grow larger, but the working poor have never been small in number and they are returning to their predominance in our society. Hoffer doesn’t seem to realize the highly unusual and precarious nature of the temporary economic boom that made a large middle class possible after World War II. He acts like the working poor have disappeared from the world, based on an assumption that the only poor people remaining are those unable or unwilling to work. Yet most poor people continued to work what jobs they could find, although it is true that some turned to the black market for a source of income. Heck, when Hoffer was poor, he also turned to the black market of odd jobs. How did he come to lose this awareness of the lives of the working poor? Talk about disconnection of an extreme variety.

After imagining the working poor out of existence, he goes back to his routine of blaming the ‘intellectuals’:

I have yet to meet an intellectual who truly believes that common people can govern themselves and run things without outstanding leaders. In the longshore men’s union the intellectuals have a nervous breakdown anytime a common, barely literate longshoreman runs for office and gets elected.

He says this about the union he belonged to, the ILWU. What made it unique is that it broke free from another union that the workers perceived as corrupt. They formed the ILWU to be more democratic with little hierarchy to separate the union leaders from the union members, such as disallowing high salaries. Those supposed intellectuals had spent their lives making sacrifices and had participated in bloody strikes. These union leaders and activists were far less disconnected from the realities on the ground than apparently was Hoffer. And where does his moral high ground come from? He was an active member of the union, but he never sought a leadership position or to volunteer on behalf of his fellow workers. No one was keeping him from being more involved and having greater influence. Instead, he chose to spend the freedom that the union made possible to pursue his intellectual ambitions. That is as it should have been. The freedom given to him was a good thing. But maybe he should have shown more appreciation and gratitude.

Like his definition of an intellectual, his view on socioeconomic classes was a bit unusual. But the confusion is maybe more common than in a country like this. The class order has been constantly shifting for the entirety of American history. So, I’m not sure what to think of Hoffer’s ideas about class. Seven years earlier in 1963, he wrote another piece titled The Role of the Undesirables. He uses a similar class breakdown and yet his conclusion has a slightly different emphasis compared to his 1970 analysis.

In both cases, 1963 and 1970, he seems to conflate the working class with the middle class, portraying the extremes at the top and bottom as something else entirely. But in the 1963 piece, he refers to them as the best and the worst, which I guess portrays the amalgamated working-middle class as mediocre — stating that the “inert mass of a nation is in its middle section” and that, apparently in an inert state of impotence or apathy, “are worked upon and shaped by minorities at both extremes: the best and the worst.” He is uncertain about whether he should blame or praise the broad middle section of workers, even though he idealizes the work that he claims that only they do, the very work that supports and pays for all of society including the lifestyles of the presumably nonworking rich and poor. Yet as he argues in 1970, the affluence has made the middle class flabby and indolent. Does this mean the affluence has lifted them up into the lazy upper class? As for intellectuals, he never is clear about whether to entirely blame them on the upper class or to share some of the blame with the middle class. Where else are the increasing number of college students to come from other than the growing middle class?

In Hoffer’s vision of class order, specifically as it relates to the moral order, inertness is the rhetorical opposite of action. He often speaks of men of action. Like so much else in Hofferian thought, it’s not clear about the quality or value of such things. Businessmen and politicians are often portrayed as ultimate men of action, but also leaders of mass movements (True Believer, p. 115). On the other hand, the rich and intellectuals are defined as being men of leisure, no matter how much they may long for power over others. You’d think that this is praise of capitalist system where men of action dominate, but his take on capitalism is nuanced:

It is probably true that business corrupts everything it touches. It corrupts politics, sports, literature, art, labor unions and so on. But business also corrupts and undermines monolithic totalitarianism. Capitalism is at its liberating best in a noncapitalist environment.
(“Thoughts of Eric Hoffer, Including: ‘Absolute Faith Corrupts Absolutely,'” in The New York Times Magazine, 25 April 1971, p. 50)

Now that is a unique view of capitalism. There is an implied corollary conclusion: Capitalism is at its liberating worst in a capitalist environment. That is to say that capitalism only leads to freedom when it doesn’t dominate. So, one would think that the moment one is free capitalism should be quickly limited and powerfully regulated, lest it becomes a new force of corruption. Just because the businessman avoids the moral failing of leisure and laziness doesn’t mean that being a man of action necessarily leads to moral worth and excellence. Men of action are only made worthy in their capacity to build and contribute, even the most lowly men forced into action by circumstances. As a writer and an intellectual, Hoffer still sought his identity as a manual laborer, one who does productive work. Any other kind of action was suspect. So, the worker needed to distinguish himself from the intellectuals, including the intellectuals in union leadership, even when those intellectuals had worked their way up from mere laborers. And workers as men of action are in opposition to managers as men of action, when their action was merely to manage workers doing the real work. It’s an almost left-wing idealization of the worker minus any clear left-wing ideology.

Penn Kemble, in On Eric Hoffer, offers this quote:

To the eternal workingman management is substantially the same whether it is made up of profit seekers, idealists, technicians, or bureaucrats. The allegiance of the manager is to the tasks and the results. However noble his motives, he cannot help viewing the workers as a means to an end. He will always try to get the most out of them; and it matters not whether he does it for the sake of profit, for a holy cause, or for the sheer principle of efficiency. . . . Our sole protection lies in keeping the division between management and labor obvious and matter-of-fact. We want management to manage the best it can, and the workers to protect their interests the best they can. No social order will seem to us free if it makes it difficult for the worker to maintain a considerable degree of independence from management. The things which bolster this independence are not utopian. Effective labor unions free movement over a relatively large area, a savings account, a tradition of individual self-respect—these are some of them.

Management is to be kept in its place, serving its limited role and leaving workers alone. That describes how his labor union operated, as employment and specific work opportunities were directly controlled by the union, not management. He has the left-wing mistrust of management. And he goes so far as to see business as a corrupting force. Yet it is the intellectual who is most easily corrupted. In a 1967 interview by CBS’s Eric Sevareid, Hoffer explained:

First of all, I ought to tell you I have no grievance against the intellectual. All I know about the intellectuals is what I read in history and how I saw them perform. And I’m convinced that the intellectual, as a type, as a group, are more corrupted by power than any other human type. It’s disconcerting, Mr. Sevareid, to realize that businessmen, generals even, soldiers, men of action are not corrupted by power like intellectuals.

Here is how I make sense of this. Men of action have the power to corrupt. But it is men of leisure who are prone to corruption. I presume that is the fear of the middle class transitioning from a bourgeoisie working class to a bourgeoisie leisure class. And I presume that is why colleges are to be seen as potential sites of corruption, for that is where a new generation of wealthier intellectuals is born out of the middle class. Or something like that. As such, the only saving grace of society is the work of the working class, which he calls the middle class. This is why he argues for work being instated as a rite of passage for the young generation, to ensure they turned into proper adults, rather than lingering in extended adolescence. The proposal in question seems to be some kind of work program for social uplift, by keeping the middle class grounded in the working class out of which it emerged. Yet he acknowledges this situation was a creation of a middle class industrialized society and so the fate of a post-industrial society is far from hopeful.

I’m attempting to clarify what Hoffer himself never quite made clear. His thought had too many loose strands. Like his mysterious past, his criticisms of society and his moral vision maybe doesn’t quite add up. It feels like he is attempting some kind of balancing act with no specific point of balance. The poor and the rich don’t work. But the middle class that is the working class has become inert and is in danger of no longer producing men of action. These men of action are needed, even as they are inevitably corrupting. They are still better than the men of inaction who are simply corrupted. The problem is that action is motivated by work toward affluence, but that affluence undermines society. Everything is constantly under threat of becoming something else and so the whole precarious order breaks down. His intellectual philosophizing was formed out of and made possible by the radical activism of trade unionism, even as he denigrated both intellectuality and radicalism. Praise becomes criticism and criticism becomes praise. His thoughts go round and round without quite cohering into a whole.

All of this makes it easy to cherrypick quotes from Hoffer’s decades of writings and take his life experience out of context. His lack of clarity is a product of our confused society. And so it makes for useful fodder in justifying the muddled rhetoric about the social order, as long as one ignore the inconvenient parts of his thought. That is how such an odd thinker can end up being used by a think tank intellectual in a Wall Street Journal propaganda piece.

* * * *

The Right’s Working-Class Philosopher
by Peter Cole, Jacobin

He was a frequent guest on network television, often praising conservative politicians like then-California Governor Ronald Reagan. In his first and most influential book, The True Believer, Hoffer criticized mass movements of all stripes, especially communism, and lauded the government’s containment policy.

Yet Hoffer was a walking contradiction. Despite his rightist politics, Hoffer belonged not just to the country’s most powerful leftist union, the International Longshoremen’s & Warehousemen’s Union (ILWU), but its most militant local, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Local 10.

The central paradox of Hoffer’s life is even more striking because it was precisely the left-wing militancy of the ILWU that provided him the good fortune (yes, fortune) and time to write nearly a dozen books and hundreds of articles condemning radicalism, civil rights, and the social advances of the 1960s. […]

In a real sense, sailors and dockers were the world’s first proletarians, toiling under corporate-controlled shipping lines in the first global industry. And like some of the pirates of yesteryear, the ILWU had created a system that spread the wealth among all its members.

In addition to this largesse, Hoffer also benefited from the tremendous flexibility ILWU members had won. In essence, rank and filers could decide when — and if — they wanted to work on a particular day. He also had the advantage of location: While there were no guarantees of a ship to work, San Francisco had long been the largest and busiest port on the coast.

All Hoffer had to do to maintain his union membership was report to the hall a certain number of days each quarter, attend monthly meetings, and pay his union dues. Thus, the “longshore philosopher” could work three days a week, write the other days, and know that he would get dispatched when he showed up at the hall. Or, he could work six straight days and take a week off to think and write, as he often did. And if that didn’t provide him enough latitude, union members like Hoffer could decide that they wanted to work in another ILWU-controlled port.

It was into this union that Hoffer stumbled, making (for a writer) an incredibly soft landing. He then proceeded to lambast the politics of the Left that had made his life so rich in money, safety, and workplace power.

Hoffer deeply appreciated the working conditions created by his powerful union, calling them “millennial” on numerous occasions. Yet he refused to praise the union and its leftist leadership, including President Harry Bridges. Bridges and the ILWU membership were highly critical of US foreign policy, especially its military interventions in Asia.

As a result of their politics, hundreds — perhaps thousands — of ILWU members were investigated for “communist sympathies.” Bridges himself was likely the single most persecuted labor leader during the McCarthy era — both by the government and a rightward-shifting CIO, which expelled the ILWU in 1950. However, he survived due to the tremendous loyalty of ILWU members, most of whom were not communists but almost all of whom loved what Harry and the other “’34 men” had done to create such a great job for working people.

Even in his private journals, some of which later were published, Hoffer rarely credited the union, and never Bridges. Though the man wrote constantly and voluminously, he rarely wrote about the union that made the selfsame writing possible.

He occasionally commented in his journals on the work he did — unloading transistor radios for eight hours at Pier 34 or working with a Portuguese partner while talking about his family. But the “longshoremen philosopher” never seemed to reflect deeply on the ILWU nor his role in it. For a while he became interested in automation and its impacts on workers, but largely was sanguine, hopeful, and arguably naïve about the benefits of capitalism for ordinary people.

The man lived a rich life of the mind — reading on the job during breaks, taking half-day walks to ponder particular intellectual conundrums, journaling fastidiously, and writing for publications. However, he never changed his views that politicians like Nixon and, especially, Reagan (first as governor, later as president) were noble and his union leaders dupes, “true believers” of false idols who demonstrated their own lack of self-confidence by joining a mass movement. Based on the limited record, Hoffer never spoke at meetings, never ran for any union office, and never volunteered in the union to help his fellow workers.

Ironically, the best-known working-class American of the Cold War era was a conservative who was lucky enough to find a job represented by the most powerful leftist union in postwar America. As such, his life represents the cognitive dissonance of many working Americans today: profiting from — albeit less so than in the past — the great gains of the labor movement yet unwilling to become union advocates.

Right-Wing Politics of the Middle Class

I was looking back at data related to the past presidential election. The demographic of Trump voters is multifaceted. First, I’d point out the demographics of Republicans in general, specifically as compared to Democrats. In recent history, Republicans have done best with the middle class. They get disproportionate votes from those with average income, average education, average IQ, etc. It’s Democrats that typically draw more from the extremes and less from the middle, for whatever reason.

I’m not sure how much this dynamic changed this election. There were some typical Democratic voters who switched parties to vote for Trump. And some other voting patterns shifted at the edges. But I don’t get the sense that any of this was a major issue, at least in determining the election results. The deciding factor in the swing states often had more to do with who didn’t vote than who did. For example, in Wisconsin, Trump lost fewer votes compared to past Republican candidates than Clinton lost compared to past Democratic candidates. So, Trump won by losing less. But it was different in another key state, Florida, where Trump won strong support among certain minority groups that helped push him over the edge; specifically, Cuban-Americans and Haitian-Americans. So, there were many complications. But it’s not clear to me that this election demographically veered that far away from a typical election for Republicans.

Trump voters seemed to include many average Americans, although Trump voters were slightly above the national average on wealth. With incomes below $50,000, 52% for Clinton and 41% for Trump. With incomes more than $50,000, 49% for Trump and 47% for Clinton. A large part of Trump’s votes came from the income range of +50 to -100 thousand range, i.e., the middle class. The only income level bracket that Trump lost to Clinton was those who make $49,999 and under. Trump’s victory came from the combined force of the middle-to-upper classes. Trump did get strong support from those without a college degree (i.e., some college or less), but then again the vast majority of Americans lack a college degree. It’s easy to forget that even many in the middle class lack college degrees. Factory jobs and construction jobs often pay more than certain professional careers such as teachers and tax accountants. I’m sure a fair number low level managers and office workers lack college degrees.

Among white voters alone, though, Trump won more college-educated than did Clinton. The white middle class went to Trump, including white women with college degrees. Only 1 in 6 Trump voters were non-college-educated whites earning less than $50,000. Ignoring the racial breakdown, Trump overall won 52% of those with some college/associate degree, 45% of college graduates, and 37% with postgraduate study. That is a fairly broad swath. A basic point I’d make is that the majority of Trump voters without a college education work in white collar or middle skill jobs, representing the anxious and precarious lower middle class, but it has been argued that the sense of financial insecurity is more perceived than real. The working class, especially the poor, were far from being Trump’s strongest and most important support, despite their greater financial insecurity. Rather, the Trump voters who played the biggest role were those who fear downward economic mobility, whether or not one deems this fear rational (I tend to see it as being rational, considering a single accident or health condition could easily send into debt many in the lower middle class).

Also, keep in mind that Trump did surprisingly well among minorities, considering the rhetoric of his campaign: 29% of Asians voted for him, 29% of Hispanics, and 8% of blacks. Those aren’t small numbers, enough to have helped him win… or if you prefer, enough to cause Clinton to lose, as the percentages might have to do more with the decreased voting rate this election among particular minority populations. Trump did better among older minorities and rural minorities, at least that was true with Hispanics as I recall, which seems to indicate a similar economic pattern of those who are feeling less hopeful about the future, although I’d point out that most of Trump voters were urban and suburban. Trump specifically beat Clinton in the suburbs and also got more than a third of the votes in cities. But because of how our system is designed votes in low population rural states are worth more than votes in high population urban/suburban states, the reason Wisconsin turned out to be so important.

I would make some additional points. Poor people in general, white and non-white, vote at lower rates. The poorest are rarely ever a deciding factor in any national election. As for the working class more broadly, Trump had some of his strongest support from places like the Rust Belt in the urban Midwest, although it is fair to point out that Clinton lost some progressive strongholds in what once was the New Deal territory of the Upper South that had been loyal Democrats for a long time (in one county in Kentucky, having been won by Trump, the majority voted for a Republican for the first time since the Civil War). Even in the Rust Belt, it wasn’t that Trump gained white working class votes but that Clinton lost them. There was simply fewer people voting in places like that, preferring to vote for neither candidate, some combination of not voting at all and voting third party.

All in all, it’s hard to tell what the demographics indicate, as there is so much left out of the data such as there being more to economic class than mere household income. For example, income inequality isn’t the same as wealth inequality, as the latter has to do with savings and inheritance, most wealth in the US being inherited and not earned. The lower middle class has lower rates of savings and inherited wealth. As for the changes from past elections, it probably has more to do with the drop in the number of voters in key places, but that surely is caused by more than just economics and related factors. Anyway, I’d argue that it really was more about Clinton losing than Trump winning. That is my sense, but I could be wrong. I’m hoping that a detailed book-length analysis of demographics comes out in terms of recent politics and the population in general.

This was my rethinking over what happened. I’ve already written about this many other times, but I thought it might be useful to emphasize the role of the middle class in this election. It’s interesting that the middle class has received a lot less attention this past year, even though for a couple decades the middle class had become an obsession of media and politicians. I’ve often thought that much of what gets called the middle class is actually working class, something pointed out by Joe Bageant. One could make that argument for the lower middle class, in particular. In the past, middle class was more of a social attitude based on economic aspiration, during a time when upward mobility was common and the middle class growing.

My grandfather who was a factory worker probably never identified as middle class, but along with my grandmother working as a secretary they had a fairly high household income which allowed them to live a middle class lifestyle in many ways: owning a house, buying new cars, regular vacations, saving for retirement, sending his children to college, etc. Downward mobility, along with worsening mortality rates for whites, has changed demographic and voting patterns, along with how people identify themselves and how they are perceived by others. The upwardly mobile working class a half century ago was more hopeful and progressive than the present downwardly mobile lower middle class. I might add that my grandfather voted Democrat his whole life, but if he were around today he almost certainly would have voted for Trump and it wouldn’t have been for economic reasons — more that Trump is perceived as a straight talker and that he uses old school progressive rhetoric. His children, my mother and uncles, are all over the place in terms of life experience, economic class, social and political ideology, and voting tendencies.

Demographics shift greatly from one generation to the next, often even within families. That is magnified by the larger shifts in entire populations, as the politics of individuals is strongly shaped by what is going on in the world immediately around them. And obviously more is changing in the world than is remaining the same. The United States is a far different place than it was when my grandparents were born a hundred years ago.

By the way, if your concern about Trump voters relates to right-wing authoritarianism, there is a key point to keep in mind. Groups like the Klan and the Nazis drew their strongest support from the middle class. That shouldn’t be surprising, as it is the middle class that is the most politically engaged. One would predict almost any political movement will attract many from the middle class. Also, it’s not so easy to pin this down ideologically. What you should really fear is when the liberal middle class (AKA liberal class) submits to the authoritarian trends in society, as happened in the past. Never forget that the Klan and the Nazis were rather progressive in many ways. Hitler rebuilt infrastructure and promoted policies that helped many ordinary Germans. The Klan supported child labor laws, public education, etc.

Don’t blame the poor for everything, whether poor minorities or poor whites. In a country like the United States, the lower classes have very little political power, economic influence, and activist engagement.

* * *

Here is some of what I was looking at while writing this post. The following presents various data, analyses, and conclusions.

Election 2016: Exit Polls
Produced by Jon Huang, Samuel Jacoby, Michael Strickland, & K.K. Rebecca Lai
The New York Times

The myth of Donald Trump’s upper-class support
by Michael Brendan Dougherty
The Week

Stop Blaming Low-Income Voters for Donald Trump’s Victory
by Jeremy Slevin
TalkPoverty.org

The Myth of the Trump Supporter: They Are Not Predominantly White Working Class but Rather Anxiety-Ridden Middle Class
by Theo Anderson
Alternet

Trump and the Revolt of the White Middle Class
by Stephen Rose
Washington Monthly

Angry White, Rich, Educated Men? Trump Voters Are Smarter And Richer Than The Average American
by Tyler Durden
ZeroHedge

Trump supporters are not who the media told you they were
by Ben Cohen
American Thinker

High Homeownership Counties Were Twice as Likely to Vote for Trump
by Derek Miller
SmartAsset

Financial Insecurity and the Election of Donald Trump
by Diana Elliott & Emma Kalish
Urban Institute

The Myth of the Rust Belt Revolt
by Konstantin Kilibarda and Daria Roithmayr
Slate

Myths Debunked: Why Did White Evangelical Christians Vote for Trump?
by Myriam Renaud
The University of Chicago

About the Stereotype Busting High Median Incomes of Trump Voters
by Scot Nakagawa
Race Files

Class Divide and Communication Failure

There is a class divide that makes communication almost impossible.

If you are part of the population that is upwardly mobile and/or economically stable (mostly upper middle class and above), you aren’t feeling desperate and any political concerns are rarely immediate threats to your life, your family, or your community. Such people live in relative comfort, security, and privilege. They may not be super wealthy and still have problems like anyone else, but none of it is overwhelming most of the time.

It is far far different for the rest of the population, the downwardly mobile and economically precarious, struggling working class, the poor, and the unemployed. These people know in their personal experience that society is dysfunctional, that the economy is rigged, and that the government doesn’t represent them. They directly and personally feel what it means to mistrust and sometimes even fear one’s government, to know that they are on their own with little to save them if everything goes wrong.

These two classes live in separate worlds. The minority who are doing fairly well or, for some, doing great have absolutely no clue what is going on with majority of the population. It is a total disconnect. They don’t understand what it means to feel desperation, anger, outrage, and outright fear, verging on paranoia at times. In the middle-to-upper class defending the status quo, the lower classes unsurprisingly see them as part of the problem, even though the reality is most comfortable people are simply ignorant and only complicit to the degree that ignorance is willful, but mostly it is passive ignorance.

Most Americans no longer trust the government. Most Americans no longer think there is a functioning democracy. Yet the middle-to-upper classes are still acting as if nothing has fundamentally changed, just some reform needed, maybe an occasional signing of a petition or the joining in a march, but just keep on voting for the lesser evil. This is why Trump has been such a shock. Some of the comfortable people are suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable, a feeling that the lower classes have been feeling for a long time.

Will we finally get to a point where the class divide breaks down? Will the comfortable finally start paying attention, instead of remaining selfish assholes seeking to maintain the status quo? Will those on the bottom of society finally realize the average middle class professional is not the ultimate enemy and instead is simply a clueless ignoramus who, in reality, is no more represented by government than the poor? Will the American public, across all divides, finally see that the problems we face are shared concerns?

On Being a Bachelor

My dad told me that I live like a bachelor. I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that. But I suspect he really wasn’t talking about my marital status or rather lack thereof.

Partly my lifestyle is different because I’ve spent around three quarters of my life severely depressed along with some cognitive deficits (e.g., learning disability). That relates to my having dropped out of college and now have a working class job, even though I’m smart enough to do a higher-skilled job. In thinking about the bachelor lifestyle, my dad might have been talking more about class. I’m fairly sure that, if I were either a rich bachelor or a poverty-stricken bachelor, I’d be living a far different lifestyle than I do as a working class bachelor with a unionized government job. Other than my inhabiting a small apartment, the way I live is probably more similar to the average working class married couple than to bachelors as a general category.

My parents grew up in working class communities. They spent their early years in smaller houses that weren’t up to middle class standards, which is to say a bit cluttered and not pristinely clean. As my parents moved up into the world, they both sought to escape the world they grew up in. I’m not sure what it is, maybe a slight sense of shame of where they came from. I know my mom was embarrassed to bring childhood friends home because of the condition of her family’s house.

I, on the other hand, grew up middle class. My childhood house, because of my mother, was always perfectly clean. And some of the family houses from my younger years were fairly nice, such as our South Carolina home (built for a judge) which was a stately two-story brick structure with a large front porch, balcony, and walled garden. My parents have gone to great effort to become not just middle class but upper middle class, and they’ve succeeded.

For whatever reason, I haven’t exactly inherited this upward mobile aspiration of good living and class respectability, although my brothers are more middle class in their sensibilities. I dress working class and my living space would look working class, if not for the walls being covered in shelves of scholarly and literary books. I have no desire to act or appear middle class. Despite raising me middle class, my mom instilled in me a working class attitude about life and apparently I took it to heart.

Class is such a strange thing. As my dad’s comment implied, class is often spoken of indirectly. More than anything, class is an attitude. If it was important to me, I could dress middle class, act middle class, and maintain a house to a middle class standard. I’m not poor and I’m intimately familiar with what it means to be middle class (proper manners, how to set a formal table, etc). I just don’t care to try, maybe simply because of depression or whatever. I’m content being working class, as it’s a simpler and more comfortable way of living. For example, I like my Carhartt clothing because it’s practical and, on a basic level, I’m all about practical (as my mom raised me). I didn’t grow up on a farm or in a factory town. I’ve never gone hunting, much less owned a gun, and I’ve never driven a pickup truck. I just look like that kind of person.

Here is where the issue of marriage vs bachelorhood fits in. It used to be that marriage was most closely identified with working class. But that has changed. Marriage rates are now higher with the middle class or what is left of the middle class. As the economy has gotten harder, there have been fewer advantages for the working class to get married and more stress driving working class marriages apart.

In the past, it was common for a man to have a good farm, factory, railroad, or mining job. This might even have included job security and good benefits. This often paid well enough that his wife didn’t have to work, instead her staying at home taking care of the house and kids. It was the traditional American family and, for generations, it was standard for the working class. But hard economic times, along with more opportunities, caused an entire generation of working class women to look for employment to help offset costs.

The traditional family came to have less value, as people had less time to spend with family and were less economically dependent on one another. Being married has increasingly become a luxury of class privilege. For the working poor, it can be cheaper for an individual to live alone or easier to get on welfare, especially in poor communities where most potential spouses are unemployed. The incentive structure at the bottom of the economic ladder doesn’t encourage marriage, as it once did.

So, bachelorhood and bachelorettehood, along with single parenting, has become more common among the lower classes. It’s a survival strategy or simply a hard fact of life. If you’re poor with a job, you have little reason to marry a poor person without a job. And if you are a poor person without a job, there is little reason for someone with a job to marry you. As for two unemployed poor people, even if they weren’t feeling desperate and with no future prospects, marriage would have little meaning or purpose, not even offering comfort in sharing misery with another. In communities with low employment rates, marriage has become rather pointless.

Being a lower class single person has a similar stigma to being lower class single parent, just without the kids. If I were rich and someone said I had a bachelor lifestyle, they’d mean I was living in a large empty mansion or upscale penthouse, living the high life involving vacations and traveling the world, parties and dating beautiful women who presumedly wanted me for my money, not to mention a maid to clean my house. But if I were a severely poor unemployed bachelor, my lifestyle would likely involve at best living in a single bedroom eating Ramen noodles and at worst living under a bridge drinking myself to an early grave. As I’m not either of those extremes, that isn’t what my dad meant when he brought up my bachelor status. But the implication was that my lifestyle was closer to the latter than to the former.

My aspiration is to one day live under a bridge. And with the economy going as it is, my dream may eventually come true. Maybe I’ll meet a nice homeless lady to shack up with and keep me warm at night. Oh, to dream…

Size Matters

“If you owe the bank ten thousand dollars, the bank owns you; if you owe the bank a million dollars, you own the bank.”
~ attributed to various people

And other variations:

“If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy.”

“If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”

* * *

“a TEN-YEAR-OLD lad in Indianapolis who was arrested for picking up coal along the side of railroad tracks is now in jail. If the boy had known enough to steal the whole railroad he would be heralded as a Napoleon of finance.”
~ Mother Jones

And another version, also attributed to her:

“I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.”

Or related variants, often misattributed to Theodore Roosevelt:

“The illiterate robs a freight car; the educated thief steals the whole railroad.”

“An uneducated thief will steal a ride on a railroad train. An educated thief will steal the whole railroad system.”

“If a man steal a ride on a railroad, he is called a “hobo;” If he steal the whole railroad his name is emblazoned in history as a financier.”

“Steal a ride and you are a “hobo,” liable to be shot. Steal a whole railroad and you are a financier, eligible to the United States Senate.”

“if a man steals a ham from a freight car, he goes to jail; while if he steals the whole railroad, he goes to the United States senate.”

* * *

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
~ usually misattributed to Stalin

Along with numerous variations:

“The death of one man: that is a catastrophe. One hundred thousand deaths: that is a statistic!”

“If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.”

“One Murder made a Villain, Millions a Hero.”

“Kill one man, and you are a murderer. Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror. Kill them all, and you are a god.”

“If you shoot one person you are a murderer. If you kill a couple persons you are a gangster. If you are a crazy statesman and send millions to their deaths you are a hero.”

American Class Bigotry

“The system is still structured in such a way that one percent of the population owns 43 percent of the wealth, you end up with an embrace of gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, especially upper–middle class and above, but the gay poor, the lesbian poor, they’re still catching hell . . . It’s not just black. It’s white. It’s brown. It’s the structure of a system . . . it’s worse [than ever].”
~ Cornel West

American society is divided by class and, ideology and parties aside, united according to class. Class identity and class conflict are the defining features.

That is because the lives of Americans are determined by class more than anything else, more than even race. Poor whites and poor blacks have more in common than either has with wealthy whites and wealthy blacks. This is seen in the most basic aspects of lives. The poor are more likely to live next to, work with, attend school with, be friends with, or even marry a poor person of another race than they are to do any of those things with a wealthy person of the same race. The class social order creates entirely different realities that Americans live within.

Racial animosity among the poor is often a result of proximity, not distance. But even then race is rarely the most important issue in the average person’s life. Most people simply worry about daily concerns of life, of getting by and making ends meet. It’s primarily the more economically privileged who have greater ability to racially segregate themselves by living in suburbs, gated communities, and gentrified neighborhoods, by attending elite colleges and sending their kids to private schools.

It is the middle-to-upper classes, a minority of the population, that hold not just most of the wealth but also most of the power and influence along with the privileges, opportunities, and resources that go with it. They don’t tend to worry about their next pay check, medical bills, paying rent, factory closings, home foreclosures, etc. In their greater luxury, these people are free to concern themselves about political galas, partisan campaigning, fundraising events, party primaries, political activism, identity politics, and culture wars. The rest of the population is mostly too busy living their lives and too disenfranchised from the system to worry about what concerns the economically well off.

It’s only the political class, not the majority of Americans, that are divided or like to pretend to be divided. But when it comes to issues of real political power and social privilege, most Republicans and Democrats of the political class are equally neocons and neoliberals. The political rhetoric that is used to create a mood of melodrama and divisiveness is rather superficial and misleading. Most Americans agree about most issues. Most Americans are for BOTH gun rights AND gun regulations, for BOTH abortion rights AND abortion limits, etc. Yet the divide and conquer strategy is quite effective, if only in terms of a sleight-of-hand diversion. It’s easy to rile people up momentarily or simply to demoralize them with the media-propagated sense of conflict.

There is a cynicism in how the political and media elite use these kinds of issues. They create an image of public opinion that doesn’t match the reality of public opinion. The ruse would be shown for what it is, if more of the population were to vote or revolt. It works so effectively because each individual realizes that the media-portrayed reality doesn’t match their own positions and experiences, which makes them feel disconnected from others and alienated from mainstream society, never realizing that people like them are the majority. It’s a highly developed form of social control, since it’s much easier for an elite to rule if the majority doesn’t realize they’re a majority.

The elite have a superior and often condescending attitude toward the rest of society. This expresses itself in many ways, from smug paternalism to righteous judgment, from fear of the dirty masses to opportunistic manipulation. You find it in how politicians of both parties act and in how the media talks. Listen to what Charles Murray says about poor whites in Fishtown, how Thomas Sowell talks about redneck culture, J.D. Vance’s admonishments of hillbillies, Bill Cosby’s criticisms of inner city blacks, etc. And that is just from the political right. The liberal class is known for this as well, specifically among the Clinton New Democrats and the mainstream media that is aligned with them. Smug liberalism was particularly bad this past campaign season and the arrogance of the liberal media was breathtaking.

Speaking of an elite can be misleading, though. The class divide can be remarkably slim at times. With economic troubles increasing and economic mobility decreasing, it’s getting easier and easier for the  upper class to slip down to the middle class and the middle class middle class to slip down to the working class while the working class itself falls further behind. But class identity maintains itself long after such changes occur, because as the entire class spectrum shifts downward almost everyone maintains their relative position within the hierarchy. It’s easy to forget how many Americans are on the bottom of society and how little it takes to gain a bit of class privilege.

The perceived or self-identified elite isn’t always extremely distant, either economically or geographically. Most Americans are working class without a college education. So, simply getting a college education leading to even the most minimal of professional jobs makes one a class above most of the population. It doesn’t matter that the public school teacher or county naturalist may make less money than someone with a good factory job. Class is ultimately an identity and having a college education can give someone a sense of superiority, no matter how slight it can sometimes be in economic terms.

What the college education can give an individual is potentially a position of authority, as even the most lowly of professional jobs can offer. A public school teacher can speak with authority to parents and the county naturalist can speak with authority to small farmers, and in both cases they have government backing their authority, even if that authority has little real force of power. It’s still a greater social position within the social hierarchy and that comes with certain privileges that are easily seen by those further down the ladder of respectability.

This is even seen in some traditionally working class jobs. Someone I know recently got a college degree and was hired on with the city department of parks and recreation. The previous head of the department liked to hire people who grew up on farms as they have practical knowledge about machinery, tools, etc. But the new head of the department prefers to hire college grads who have professional training as naturalists and so have expertise in forestry management, prairie restoration, controlled burns, etc. So, the newly hired employees are treated with more respect in the department and likely they’ll be promoted more quickly and paid more than the older workers. Working class experience and abilities are becoming increasingly irrelevant and of less economic value, hence of less social value. This person, simply by going to college, is now in a better position than most Americans. That certainly creates conflict in society and in the workplace.

It isn’t just that someone goes to college. It’s also what makes that possible. This person was raised upper middle class by college-educated parents. They made sure he took college preparation classes in high school, always encouraged him to go to college, and were willing and able to pay part for his college education. Plus, they modeled certain behaviors for him and helped him in school when asked. Most Americans never get these kinds of advantages that are the norm for middle-to-upper class families. At the most basic level, this is a very real class privilege, even when it is far from being part of the ruling elite.

I know many liberals who didn’t spend most of their lives in big cities in coastal states. They have all resided more years in rural farm states than anywhere else, but that has included living in liberal places like this Iowan college town. This creates a different mentality from someone in the same state who grew up on a farm or in an industrial town and who never went to college or lived in a college town. There are many college graduates in this liberal college town with working class jobs, but it is nothing like being working class in most places in the country working at some crap job like McDonald’s or Walmart.

I see how this different mentality effects people. Many of the people I know are good liberals. None of them are wealthy, often only a generation from working class, and yet they tend to have a strong sense of class identity, not unusually looking down on the poor. One liberal I know has made fun of coworkers for missing teeth. And another refuses to let his daughter play with the poor white children in the neighborhood. They dismiss poor whites as methheads and talk about tweakers for Trump. This also includes some fear and judgment of poor minorities, perceived as moving in from Chicago. It’s a strong sense of those other people being somehow inferior and unworthy, sometimes simply condescension but not unusually mockery. It’s not that they would openly be cruel toward the poor, but the attitude of superiority has to leak out even if unconsciously and I’m sure others pick up on it.

Some of that class consciousness was probably inherited from the larger society, learned from the behavior of older generations and absorbed from the media. That still wouldn’t explain how it came to be expressed so strongly in those who one might think, as liberals, shouldn’t be prone to class bigotry. Maybe it’s because many people I know, as with many of our generation, haven’t done as economically well as the previous generation. This creates class anxiety which is clear in many people having economic worries. The one thing they’ve got going for them is a college education. It’s what they have to prove their worth in the world and they hold the class attitude of seeing the lower classes as ignorant. Many of these people are of the liberal class of professionals, even if only barely.

This isn’t limited to liberals, of course. It’s just that I’ve become more aware of it among liberals. And it somehow seems worse when I observe it in liberals, as it contradicts how liberals see themselves. Many conservatives see no shame in class bigotry, as it is part of the conservative worldview of meritocracy and Social Darwinism. But in liberals, it feels particularly hypocritical.

For liberals, this also mixes up with identity politics. I’ve heard Democrats try to dismiss Bernie Sanders supporters and Donald Trump supporters by invoking what, to the liberal mind, are supposed to be protected groups. It was assumed that minorities, women, and LGBTQ people all supported Hillary Clinton. This was total bullshit, but it’s how a certain kind of liberal sees the world. In reality, Sanders won the majority of young and the poor, including among minorities and women and probably the LGBTQ as well. Then some of these people apparently went over to vote for Trump, as impossible as that seems to the liberal class.

This is an example of class disconnection. Economics doesn’t seem all that important when one has no serious and immediate economic problems. If you are of the liberal class, even on the lower end, most of the minorities and gay people you know are going to also be of the liberal class. This creates a distorted view of demographic identities. If you are a poor minority woman, Clinton’s middle class white feminism means little to you. If you are a working class gay man who lost his job when the factory closed, your most pressing concern at the moment isn’t same sex marriage. Worrying about such things as transgender bathrooms is a class privilege.

For most lower class people, gender and sexuality issues are far down the list of priorities. Even among working class straight white males, they don’t particularly care about culture war issues. Democrats have been pushing social liberalism for decades and yet the majority of the white working class kept voting for them. It was economics, stupid. The white working class isn’t going to vote against their own interests. It’s just that this election they didn’t see a corporatist candidate like Clinton as being in their best interest, whether that meant they chose to vote for another candidate or not vote at all.

The response of the liberal class is a clueless class bigotry. And if they’re not careful, Democrats will become the new party of class bigots, protecting the interests of the shrinking middle class against the interests of the growing working class. That would be a sad fate for the once proud working class party. The working class would be abandoned, left to fend for themselves with no party that represents them. Then the class divide will be complete, as economic inequality becomes a vast chasm. And the further the divide grows, the worse conflict will become. We might see some real class war, of the kind not seen for generations.

Is the smug satisfaction of class bigotry worth the harm it causes? As the economy worsens, perceived class position won’t save anyone nor will a sense of superiority be much comfort. Instead of Americans turning on one another, it would be to everyone’s advantage to see their interests more in line with the lower class majority than with the wealthy ruling elite. Even the rich would be better off in a society with less wasteful divisiveness and greater benefit for all.

Data and More Data

Here is some data and analysis that caught my attention. It’s about demographics, class identity, social views, and party politics. One set of data is actually from the UK. It likely is similar to US data.

If I was feeling inspired, I’d look for some patterns across it all. But I’m not sure what to make of it. There is so much intriguing data I’ve come across lately. It makes me endlessly curious. It’s a lot of work sifting through it all looking for connections and patterns.

I figured I’d just throw it out there for now. Maybe later on I’ll have some commentary about it. But let me make one point while I’m thinking about it.

It particularly stands out that Clinton’s supporters are a bit more racist than Sanders’ supporters. It’s still not a majority, but the difference needs to be explained. It doesn’t make sense according to mainstream views.

Clinton is claimed to be the minority candidate, ignoring that Sanders won the majority of young non-whites. More importantly, Sanders has won the strongest support from the lower income demographic, including the infamous and supposedly racist white working class.

Yet “while Clinton’s supporters are less racist than Trump’s — no surprise — they are, on some measures, as racist (and in once instance, more racist) as supporters of Kasich and Cruz.” How does one make sense of that? Republicans are regularly stated as being racist.

Maybe Clinton’s having called certain people ‘superpredators’ wasn’t a mere gaffe. And maybe a significant number of her supporters agree with that assessment. But let’s be clear: This can’t be blamed on poor whites, a population that has no particular love for Clinton.

By the way, how did FDR’s party of the working class become the New Democrats, the party of the neoliberal professional class? On top of that, what does class mean these days, whether in terms of actual economics or social identity?

* * *

The Parties Invert
by Ronald Brownstein

In the history of modern polling dating back to 1952, no Democratic presidential candidate has ever carried most college-educated whites; even Lyndon Johnson fell slightly short during his 1964 landslide. (This analysis uses the American National Election Studies, a poll conducted immediately after the vote, for the elections from 1952 to 1976, and the exit polls conducted by a consortium of media organizations for the elections since.)

From 1952 through 1980, in fact, no Democratic nominee reached even 40 percent with college-educated whites, except Johnson. During that same period, no Democratic nominee failed to reach 40 percent of the vote with non-college whites, except George McGovern in 1972 and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Over these eight elections, every Democratic nominee except McGovern ran better, usually significantly better, among non-college-educated whites than among their college-educated peers. This was a world in which Democrats were the party of people who worked with their hands, and Republicans represented those who wore suits and worked behind desks.

But the period since 1984 has seen an accelerating reversal of that historic pattern. During his landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan in 1984, Walter Mondale ran slightly better among college-educated than non-college-educated whites. In the next three elections, Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton ran almost exactly as well with both groups.

Since then, every Democratic presidential nominee has run better with college-educated than working-class whites. From Al Gore in 2000 through Barack Obama in 2012, the share of the vote won by the past four Democratic nominees among college-educated whites has exceeded their performance among non-college-educated whites by four to seven percentage points.

Presidential Candidates and Voter Demographics

 

The demographic data is more important for this election than ever before, partly because of all the shifting demographics and hence ideological confusion. The mainstream media struggles in trying to fit the demographic data into some mainstream narrative or another that they’ve been repeating for decades. There is a fair amount of complexity in the data. Nothing breaks down along a single divide.

This is particularly true of the data on socioeconomic class. Most of the data is about income, and I haven’t seen any wealth data which is a major blind spot. Income alone doesn’t tell how well someone is doing economically, specifically in terms of savings vs debt. It also doesn’t show other data such as unemployment/underemployment, multiple job households, hours worked, wage/salary, pensions and other benefits, costs of living, buying power of the dollar, etc. Income alone doesn’t say how well or badly most people are doing.

Anyway, it’s hard to know the full support for some candidates and exactly where that support might come from, as many people don’t know they agree with a candidate until they’ve learned about the candidate. Sanders, for example, attracts the most Independents who have been the most excluded. The poorest are the least likely to be involved in primaries, the least likely to vote in elections, and probably the least likely to get represented in polling data. The minority and youth demographics have higher rates of economic problems and also are typically less politically engaged. But even if these demographics vote at higher than normal rates, it’s still unlikely that they’d vote for someone like Clinton.

Many typical non-voters might vote this year, depending on who is nominated. This could make things unpredictable. A hypothetical Clinton win would be more dependent on who didn’t vote than who did. The same is likely true for Trump as well. Sanders is the only candidate with a chance of winning the majority, instead of winning by default of making the majority lose all hope in democracy.

This is more than relevant at times like these. Most Americans no longer vote in most elections or even bother to register. When asked about their affiliation, most Americans claim Independent which is just to say they claim no affiliation with anything. For many, this means they feel no affiliation with the entire corrupt system and fake democracy. Whether or not they think in these terms, a larger and growing number of Americans perceive our country as a banana republic—a majority already sees the presidential nominating system as rigged and that the rich buy elections.

This is why protest votes shouldn’t be ignored. We are at a point where there is almost nothing left other than protest votes. Both major presumptive nominees, Trump and Clinton, are the most disliked and mistrusted candidates ever recorded in US campaign history (since data began to be kept in the 1980s). There is little hope left in the system and in the candidates it offers as choices, an endless lose-lose scenario between one evil and another.

Sanders supporters definitely shouldn’t be ignored, as he is the only popular candidate that the majority trusts. He represents the last remnants of faith in democracy. Once he is gone, there is nothing left but cynicism and realpolitik. But I wouldn’t dismiss out of hand any of the other voters and potential voters, no matter who they support.

Even minority, specifically older minority, supporters of Clinton are all too aware that the entirety of democracy is a sham and they are simply trying to hold back the worst evils that they and those before them have experienced. They know authoritarianism as a reality, not mere theory. It’s not that they don’t realize that Clinton is a dangerous, corrupt politician. But sometimes you need to hire a mean goon to fight off the other mean goons, or that is the hope, however desperately naive it is. It’s a protection racket and minorities understand all too well how it works.

As for Trump’s support, it is wider than generally assumed. The demographics that support him are about equally found across the lower, middle, and upper classes. Also, his supporters are about average in education as compared to the general population. These aren’t stupid poor whites. All that you can generalize about them is that they are mostly white and mostly conservative. So, they are standard Republican voters. Nothing particularly special. All that makes them stand out is that they are outraged, but even that isn’t a new phenomenon that started with Trump.

It’s not that the Republican demographics have changed recently, besides Republicans being an aging population. Moreso, it’s that the world around those demographics has changed. Even as the economy has grown in recent decades, the average real income for the majority has not just stagnated but decreased. Also, there has been a loss of job security, good benefits, pensions, etc; along with a shrinking middle class and lessening upward mobility.

It would be reasonable to assume that Trump’s supporters have felt these changes in their lives, as have so many other Americans. Many people characterize these people as the white working class, sometimes even portraying them as outright poor and ignorant, but that is inaccurate. They aren’t that unusual. In fact, they were once the heart of the middle class. Their status in society has been downgraded. They have become the new broad working class, the downwardly mobile and the trapped. They are outraged because they’ve lost hope that the world will get better for them and for their children and grandchildren, and they are likely correct in their assessment.

The more economically secure older demographic are those who had union jobs and are retired with generous pensions. Most of these people are with Clinton all the way. They don’t want anything to change because they are set for life. You see a divide in many small towns, such as where my dad grew up: Alexandria, Indiana. There used to be small factories in the town and larger automobile factories in the area, but most of them have shut down. The main income for the town is through the taxing of old factory workers with pensions. The young, however, are impoverished and have no hope for the future. The young generation has been abandoned. And those towns are going to be hurting when the old retired factory workers die and their pensions disappear. The rural young are largely looking to Sanders for obvious reasons.

Class politics has always been a major force in US society and politics. But it hasn’t always been clear, as it often takes different forms. In the past, it has often been divides of race and ethnicity, culture and religion, immigration and citizenship status (including status of free vs enslaved), and much else. Aspects of this are still true to varying degrees. There are also regional divides, along with rural/urban and inner-city/suburban divides.

A more interesting divide is generational. In the early-to-mid twentieth century, there was an aging population that was extremely poor. Many of the progressive and New Deal policies primarily helped the young, from Social Security to the GI Bill. The young did better than the generations before them.

That is different now. The young are doing worse than the generations before them, despite being more well educated and higher IQ. The economy has become much more harsh with higher rates of unemployment and underemployment, decades of stagnating and even dropping wages, low upward mobility with much threat of downward mobility, a shrinking and ever more precarious middle class, a half century of weakening unions with decreasing membership, and loss of job security and good benefits. It is massive crappiness that has been dumped on the  young most of all.

This kind of generational divide is an entirely new dynamic. There exists a wealthier, more financially secure older demographic often with pensions while there is also a poor youth demographic with an uncertain future. Such a demographic situation has never before existed in US history. The future of the young has been sold for the comfort of the old. Not too many generations ago, it was the older generations who were willing to make immense personal sacrifices to ensure their children and grandchildren would do better than they did. This present generation of older Americans, however, are much more selfish and greedy or else simply clueless and ignorant… or, to be generous, maybe they’re apathetic and cynical, just going along to get along.

It is unfair to treat the young now as if nothing has changed across the generations. It’s not just that the young now are temporarily poor. They are facing unemployment rates and decreasing wages that their grandparents’ generation never experienced when they were younger. Sanders supporters aren’t simply biding their time until the money starts rolling in. Employment with job security, good benefits, affordable healthcare, pensions, and high union membership are harder to find these days. This slow economic start will have a severe impact on the lifelong earnings of an entire generation.

Being an older and lower income is not the same as being younger and lower income. Older folks had cheap college and cheap housing. They were able to find good jobs right out of high school or right out of college. Their main earning years was during economic boom times. They were able to save more money and also they had generous pensions. Labor unions have made sure to protect older workers, even as they’ve too often sacrificed young workers.

It’s class conflict, but not of a variety that many in the mainstream understand. No matter how the MSM spins this, it shouldn’t be ignored. Class politics are live and well. It just so happens that at the moment class politics coincides with generational politics, at least to some extent.

This is also a racial divide. The young who support Sanders are the most diverse generation in US history. Sanders has won not just young whites but also young minorities across the board. I haven’t heard of a single minority group in which the majority of the young haven’t turned their hope to Sanders. Among young minorities, a minority-majority is already forming. This creates a different attitude than older minorities who have always known they were outnumbered and so they kept their expectations low.

I’d add that, by speaking of the ‘young’, this includes a large segment of the society. Sanders hasn’t just won the majority of those in their 20s. He has also won the majority of those in their 30s. He probably wins as well those in their low 40s and certainly he breaks about even in the 40+ demographic. This includes a large segment of the workforce and the entirety of young families, including many parents that are reaching the point of sending their own kids off to college. Generalizing all of Sanders’ supporters as young is misleading. Still, the point is that these aren’t old people who began their adulthood during the booming economy and strong welfare state of the mid-20th century.

The national median age is 36 years old. So, Sanders’ supporters are at the demographic center of the national population. In a short period of time, these people will become a great force in society, as the younger generation is larger than even the Boomers.

Older Americans, especially those of lower income, realize they aren’t the future. The young, despite all the problems, are surprisingly optimistic. Also, the young haven’t turned on the old. When asked, the young don’t think they will personally benefit from social security and yet they want to maintain social security benefits. The young aren’t simply saying, screw the old people that effed everything up! There is a generational divide, but that isn’t the main concern. Most people of all ages realize the economy sucks all around, that it isn’t just their group suffering. Still, maybe it is harder for older people to deal with these kinds of drastic changes, as they remember better times.

We forget that a few decades ago, most people thought of as middle class lacked college education. It used to be easy to work one’s way up from an entry level job to more specialized work or even management. This is because on-the-job training and education used to be made widely available. Back in the day, all that it took to be middle class was basic intelligence and motivation. Almost anyone who wanted to work could find work. And almost anyone who wanted to work their way up could do so. Being middle class was simply defined by upward mobility. It was an economic status, a lifestyle, and a social identity. For several generations, it was the defining characteristic of the American Dream.

Trump supporters, being a slightly older demographic, remember what the economy was like a few decades ago. They are old enough to remember a different world, a time of immense opportunity when they were growing up and entering the workforce. Working hard and bettering oneself was a point of self-respect and pride. The loss of that social identity has hit many Americans hard.

Many of these people were taught from a young age that failure isn’t an excuse. It was assumed that an individual was only limited by their own ability, potential, and work ethic. This belief in meritocracy never fully matched reality, but even so it was a belief so many took seriously. This is hard for older Americans to take, as they can’t easily go back to school to start a new career. Besides, who would want to hire these aging workers when there are so many young people who are equally or better qualified? In many cases, there is no place for these older folk and so little hope. Their present state of economic uncertainty or even downward mobility is a point of shame. With shame, comes outrage and scapegoating. People are looking for something or someone to blame for why life has become so hard and hopeless. Yeah, they’d like America to be great again.

Attacking Trump’s supporters isn’t helpful. They didn’t cause these problems. Most of them probably don’t even understand what has happened. They are pissed off and they have good reason. All Americans have good reason to be outraged at this system of corruption and this status quo of failure. Besides the few who feel secure and comfortable, this is an unhappy situation.

This creates endless conflict. At this point, many Americans simply want to be heard and to have their problems acknowledged. They want someone to tell them that they matter. But more than anything, they want change. Real change.

* * *

Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects

A Sense of Urgency

Facebook discussion from a post by Corey Robin

* * *

With More Americans Going Far Left (And Right), an Anti-Corporate Agenda Takes Shape
by David Korten

A recently released study by four leading economists of voting in U.S. congressional races uncovered an important pattern. According to a New York Times report on the study, “Areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.” Job losses, especially to China, the authors noted, lead voters to strongly favor either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

One Last Kick at the Liberal Dog
by Joe Bageant

What are the Democrats offering working class folks? Do they dare say: “Your health care is non-existent so we’re gonna fix it by completely socializing all health care, period. Fuck the upper middle class medical racketeers.” Do they stand up and say, “We are going to completely stop the outsourcing of American jobs?” Or that those goddamned fraud elections are over and will never happen again? Are they out there door to door educating the people, connecting the dots for them? Hell no. Instead they field, as one of my readers put it, “…cheerleaders for exactly the kind of global corporate suck down that is leaving the working class shattered and more vulnerable every day. In the wake of the Kerry disaster, who is now the front-runner for 2008? Hillary.”

Holy mother of hip hop Jesus, give me strength! Could they possibly have found a more chilly and unappealing wonk bitch in the eyes of working people? Look, she may have tried to fix health care at one time. But trying ain’t doing. She will get points for it but just because the hack party machinery can get her elected in New York does not mean the rest of the country is going to let her off so easily.

Facts That Challenge the Narrative About Angry Working Class Voters
by Nancy LeTourneau

Bernie Sanders Has Strength Among White Men Pinched By The Economy
by Tamara Keith

Rural West Virginia is anything but Clinton country
by Michael Finnegan

Why Young Latinos in Rural California Support Sanders
by Olivia Rodriguez

In California’s predominantly Spanish-speaking Eastern Coachella Valley, younger Latinos are responding to presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, challenging the narrative that his appeal does not extend beyond white voters. “A lot of youth in the Eastern Coachella Valley see college as not affordable, a shattered dream. Because of his emphasis on college affordability, Sanders can be that spark for us to regain confidence and make a bigger difference.”

Sanders Wins Idaho, Sweeping Rural Crotchety, Gun-owning Men Who Admire Denmark’s Economic Policy
by Cafe

Sanders steamrolled Clinton in Idaho, dominating the key demographic of rural, white, crotchety, gun-owning males who admire Denmark’s policies on maternity leave. Sanders also won Utah, whose Mormon voters made clear his Jewish faith was not a problem, since he can easily be baptized after he’s dead.

Clinton’s weakness against Trump? Appalachian and rural voters
by Anthony Hennen

Clinton has done well among African-American voters, but her margins have fallen dramatic in Appalachia compared to 2008.

“That mountainous stretch handed Clinton some of her most staggering reversals: In Ohio’s Galia [sic] County, along the West Virginia border, Clinton’s share of the vote fell by 30 percentage points; by 33 in North Carolina’s Graham County, abutting Tennessee,” Bloomberg noted.

Many of her county wins in Appalachia Ohio were narrow over Bernie Sanders, her biggest win coming in Mahoning County, where Youngstown is located, with 59 percent of the vote. In a general election against Donald Trump, she’ll struggle to win all but a handful of Appalachian counties if voting patterns don’t shift.

Nor is her problem relegated to Appalachia. She struggles among white voters in rural areas in general. When Bloomberg examined rural county vote results compared with the 2008 Democratic primary, Clinton saw her vote share fall by more than 20 percent in more than two dozen counties across rural Ohio, North Carolina, and Missouri.

In Rural Iowa, Some Voters Call Themselves ‘Socialist,’ Support Sanders
by William Gallo

But is Iowa really full of left-wing voters who see themselves as democratic socialists? Some evidence to support such a claim is found in a Des Moines Register poll this month, in which 43 percent of Democrats who plan to participate in Monday’s Iowa caucuses identified themselves as “socialist.” That’s more than the 38 percent of respondents who called themselves “capitalist.”

The poll may help explain why the fiercely liberal Sanders is popular across Iowa, despite the state’s reputation for having traditional, conservative Midwestern values. […]

If the success of the Sanders campaign does mean left-wing politics are becoming more mainstream, then that wave could start in Iowa, with voters like Bob Mortensen, the Elk Horn resident, who is caucusing for Sanders on Monday night.

Would he have have told the Register pollster that he identifies as a socialist?

“Yeah, I suppose I would, because I understand what the true meaning of that label is,” he said. “I am a Christian. I am a socialist. And part of the reason I am a socialist, by the true definition of that word, is because I am a Christian.”

Important Wins for Trump — and a Surprising Loss for Clinton
by Perry Bacon Jr.

And in the rest of Michigan, particularly its more rural areas, Sanders carried more than 60 percent of the vote in many counties.

Rural Vote, Which Clinton Won In 2008, Cinches Victory For Sanders In Mich.
by Bill Bishop and Tim Marema

Hillary Clinton lost to Senator Bernie Sanders in Michigan’s small towns and rural counties and as a result lost the state to her Vermont opponent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.

Clinton was expected to win Michigan easily, and she did roll up a nearly 11,000 vote advantage in the state’s urban areas. But Sanders beat Clinton by 22,000 votes in the state’s small cities (those between 10,000 and 50,000 people), and he won by nearly 8,000 votes in Michigan’s rural counties. Sanders won Michigan — a state all the polls said he would lose — by just over 19,000 votes. […]

The most surprising result of Tuesday’s primaries was Sanders’ win in Michigan. For Clinton, the results were a dramatic switch from 2008. In the primary eight years ago, Clinton’s share of the rural and small town vote was 10 percentage points higher than her vote in the cities. This year, Clinton’s share of the vote dropped by 8 points as the vote moved from the cities to the countryside.

In 2008, Clinton was in a close contest with then Senator Barack Obama and, for a time, North Carolina Senator John Edwards. Early in the primary season, a pattern developed in the vote: Obama would win the cities, but as the vote moved outside the major metropolitan areas, Clinton would gain.

The Clinton campaign in 2008 took note and began concentrating on rural areas and small towns. In 2008, Clinton was the choice of rural and white working class voters. […]

In Michigan, Sanders narrowed the gap with Clinton among African-American voters — he won 30 percent of the African-American vote in Michigan — and then rolled up large majorities in rural areas.

The Clintons Have Lost the Working Class
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells

Why can’t Hillary Clinton’s campaign get going? By most conventional measures, she had a pretty good week in New Hampshire: a commanding performance in Thursday night’s debate, an emotive one in Wednesday night’s televised town hall. But the scale of her loss to Bernie Sanders was striking, and its shape was revealing. Clinton lost among young voters by nearly 6–1, and among independents by 3–1. Most arrestingly, Sanders won voters with an income of less than fifty thousand dollars by 2–1. There’s a lot of talk about Clinton’s campaign repeating the chaos and errors of 2008, but that year she had the white working-class vote. Clinton’s candidacy looks narrower than ever, more confined to those whose experience of life approximates her own. Last night, in New Hampshire, the rare demographic group she won was those with incomes of more than two hundred thousand dollars a year. For now, at least, Clinton has become the wine-track candidate.

A dying breed: middle class Americans drive success for Trump
by Martin Barillas

In contrast, in 1999, the average middle class income was $77,898. In 2014 it was $72,919, a difference of $4,979. It was in the key battleground states where both Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders have done well, such as Indiana, Michigan, and West Virginia, where the biggest drop in middle class occurred.

Sanders, Trump and the US working class
by Megan Trudell

For example, the contrast between the top down Clinton campaign and Sanders’s grassroots organisation is striking. One important indicator of this is the way that union members have voted. Despite having the endorsement of only a handful of national unions compared with Clinton, “In a stark illustration of his argument that revolutionary political change can only come from below, a growing number of local union chapters are choosing to ignore their national leadership and back Sanders on the ground instead”.7

In every major union that has let its members decide on who the union endorses, Sanders has won. In every union where the leadership has decided, the endorsement has gone to Clinton. This speaks volumes about the divide between the Democratic elite and the party’s supporters.

First Corbyn, now Sanders: how young voters’ despair is fuelling movements on the left
by Owen Jones

Yet it is surely economic insecurity that drives today’s young radicalism. A poll last year found that nearly half of so-called “millennial” Americans – those aged 18 to 35 – believed that they faced a “dimmer future than their parents”. Forty million Americans are now saddled with student debt, helping to suppress their living standards and leaving them with less disposable income for, say, a mortgage or a car. Home ownership across the Atlantic – the linchpin of the “American dream” – is now at its lowest level for nearly half a century. The economic recovery is an abstraction for many young Americans, all too often driven into insecure and low-paid occupations with little prospect of rising wages or a standard of living they believe they deserve.

What Bernie Supporters Want
by Shawn Gude & Matt Karp

Of course, when coupled with the social-democratic remedies Sanders pushes, this is just old-fashioned class politics — the idiom of any viable left project. […]

74 percent of Sanders supporters (compared to 56 percent of Clinton supporters) reported that “the difference in incomes between rich people and poor people” has grown “much larger” in the last twenty years. Sanders supporters placed income inequality among their most important political issues twice as often as Clinton supporters. […]

But if abstract policy preferences aren’t so important after all, perhaps we should take another look at those inequality numbers. What if they actually show the growth of a deeper allegiance — a compound of social identity and symbolic attachment that we might even dare call “class consciousness”?

Burying the White Working Class
by Connor Kilpatrick

Here in the middle of all this were the voters of West Virginia — one of the poorest and whitest states in the country, a place that repeatedly elected a former Klansman to the Senate — asserting their material interests. In the ongoing Clinton coronation, they were about as welcome as a case of black lung.

But it isn’t just the Sanders campaign zombie that liberal pundits are desperately trying to stamp out. It’s the white working class itself.

With Clinton’s nomination a lock, liberals have become even more furious and dismissive of white workers. Commenting on Sanders’s West Virginia victory, they were quick to point out that a felon running against Obama in the same state in 2012 got nearly half as many votes. They crowed about how some of both Bernie and Clinton’s voters said Trump was their real number one choice, and much was made of how Sanders overwhelmingly won voters who want “less liberal” policies than Obama’s.

Conveniently lost in the noise is the fact that Sanders won an even bigger share of voters who want “more liberal” ones.

The media takeaway was clear: somehow, someway, West Virginia’s vote for a Jewish socialist Brooklyn native was a vote for racism. “I don’t want to say it,” said Chris Matthews on election night “but West Virginian voters are, you know — conservative on social issues — but there’s another word for that. . .”

The Bernie Coalition
by Matt Karp

The young liberals who flocked to Obama in 2008, in other words, were economically both comfortable and confident. All signs so far suggest that Bernie Sanders’s Iowa and New Hampshire youth revolt is of a very different character. […]

Why does this matter? One striking difference between Sanders and Obama, as Jedediah Purdy has noted, is that the Sanders campaign is about the platform, not the candidate. Another striking difference is that Sanders has forged connections to lower-income New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats that eluded Obama and every other progressive primary challenger in recent history.

Sanders has done it by offering a substantial rather than rhetorical “progressive” vision. His call to break up the big banks, install a $15 minimum wage, and provide single-payer health care for all — however mild as “democratic socialism” goes — represents an aggressive economic populism exiled from the national Democratic Party for decades. Certainly Sanders’s program far exceeds the universally timid and deficit-focused reforms on offer from Bradley, Dean, and Obama.

Sanders may well have won intense backing from the professional and technical workers that John Judis described at a campaign rally last fall, and that Michael Harrington long hoped might embrace democratic socialism. But the polls suggest that Sanders’s program has also proven immensely appealing to a younger but less affluent and more traditional Democratic white working class: not just hybrid owners, but truck drivers, too.

Bernie Sanders Is Making Surprising Gains With Less Affluent Whites
Nate Cohn

In a compilation of New York Times/CBS News surveys since November, Mr. Sanders leads Mrs. Clinton, 47 percent to 39 percent, among white voters who make less than $50,000. If anything, these figures may understate Mr. Sanders’s strength; he has gained in state, national and New York Times/CBS News surveys over the period.

In the 2008 Democratic primaries, Mr. Obama lost white voters making less than $50,000 by a wide margin to Mrs. Clinton (60 to 33 percent), according to exit poll data. A similar story holds for white voters without a college degree.

Other national surveys consistently show Mrs. Clinton faring no better among less affluent voters than more affluent voters — a telling sign of Mr. Sanders’s strength among less affluent white voters, given his well-established weakness among nonwhite voters, who represent a disproportionate share of less affluent Democrats.

The same appears to be true in the early states.

In Iowa, polls suggest a tight race among less affluent whites, ranging from a Quinnipiac survey showing Mr. Sanders ahead by 21 points among voters making less than $50,000 to an NBC/Marist poll that gave Mrs. Clinton a narrow lead of 52 to 45. CNN and Fox News data suggested a modest Sanders edge.

In New Hampshire, Mr. Sanders leads among voters making less than $50,000 in every recent poll — and usually by a lot. That margin in the most recent NBC/Marist result is 68 to 30. Back in 2008, Mrs. Clinton defeated Mr. Obama by 15 percentage points among voters making less than $50,000 a year, according to the exit polls.

But on the flip side in the early states, Mr. Sanders seems to fare worse than Mrs. Clinton among more affluent white voters — who tend to turn out in far greater numbers than lower-income whites. Fewer surveys offer results for voters making over $100,000 a year — but those that do suggest surprising strength for Mrs. Clinton.

The Quinnipiac survey showed Mrs. Clinton leading Mr. Sanders, 58-37, among voters making more than $100,000 in Iowa — a group that gave her a paltry 19 percent of the vote in 2008. Similarly, a recent Boston Herald poll in New Hampshire that showed Mrs. Clinton down by 16 points over all nonetheless gave her a 13-point edge among voters making more than $100,000.

What Pundits Keep Getting Wrong About Donald Trump and the Working Class
by Jamelle Bouie

Tally the numbers and you’ll find that Trump’s appeal falls well outside the large plurality (if not majority) of working-class Americans who are either people of color (young or otherwise), or liberal to moderate whites. And you see this in polls of Trump’s favorability. In terms of popularity with blacks, Hispanics, women, and young people, the real estate mogul’s polling is somewhere in the Marianas Trench.

The truth is that it’s inaccurate to talk about Trump’s “working-class appeal.” What Trump has, instead, is a message tailored to a conservative portion of white workers. These voters aren’t the struggling whites of Appalachia or the old Rust Belt, in part because those workers don’t vote, and there’s no evidence Trump has turned them out. Instead, Trump is winning those whites with middle-class incomes. Given his strength in unionized areas like the Northeast, some are blue collar and culturally working class. But many others are not. Many others are what we would simply call Republicans.

The easiest way to guess if someone supports Trump? Ask if Obama is a Muslim.
by Philip Klinkner

You can ask just one simple question to find out whether someone likes Donald Trump more than Hillary Clinton: Is Barack Obama a Muslim? If they are white and the answer is yes, 89 percent of the time that person will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton.

That’s more accurate than asking people if it’s harder to move up the income ladder than it was for their parents (54 percent), whether they oppose trade deals (66 percent), or if they think the economy is worse now than last year (81 percent). It’s even more accurate than asking them if they are Republican (87 percent).

Those results come from the 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) pilot survey. My analysis indicates that economic status and attitudes do little to explain support for Donald Trump.

These results might be rather surprising since most political commentators have sought to root Trump’s appeal in the economic anxieties of working-class whites.

Death predicts whether people vote for Donald Trump
by Jeff Guo

It seems that Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest. […] In every state except Massachusetts, the counties with high rates of white mortality were the same counties that turned out to vote for Trump.

We’re focusing on middle-aged whites because the data show that something has gone terribly wrong with their lives. In a study last year, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton pointed out that mortality rates for this group have actually been increasing since the ’90s.

That fact becomes more alarming when you look at the context. Over the past decade, Hispanic people have been dying at a slower rate; black people have been dying at a slower rate; white people in other countries have been dying at a slower rate. […]

Economic struggles have likely contributed as well. Case and Deaton also found that the increase in the death rate has been driven by people with less education. For those without a college degree, the economy in recent decades has been increasingly miserable. This may explain why some have turned to self-destructive behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

The people I’ve been describing — this distressed, dying demographic slice of America — are similar to the people who tend to vote for Trump, according to phone and exit polls. Trump supporters are mostly white; skew older; and are less likely to have college degrees than other Republicans. […]

It’s true that life was once better in many parts of America. In the late ’90s, not only was the death rate for middle-aged whites lower, but median wages for non-college workers were higher. Since then, globalization sucked away many more manufacturing jobs, and the Great Recession gave an extra kick to places that were already in decline.

Misrepresenting the White Working Class: What the Narrating Class Gets Wrong
by Jack Metzgar

Rather, for the most part class-prejudiced assumptions are based on professional middle-class ignorance and misunderstanding.

Take the assumed popularity of Trump among the white working class, for example. There appears to be supporting evidence for that. According to Brookings, for example, in a national survey 55% of “Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support Trump are white working-class Americans.” But this does not mean what Brookings thinks it means. Among all adult whites, nearly 70% do not have bachelor’s degrees (the definition of “working class” used here). This means that at 55%, the white working-class is under-represented among Trump supporters. Conversely, unless Trump is getting much more minority support than reported, his supporters are disproportionally college-educated whites. They make up 30% of the white population, but they are at least 40% of Trump voters in the Brookings survey.

There are two reasons for this kind of error, this one by a highly respected D.C. think tank. One is simple ignorance of class demographics. The bachelor’s/no bachelor’s binary is widely used to separate whites into two broad classes, but many analysts and reporters have no idea of the relative sizes of these two groups in the overall population. They routinely assume that most white people must be college-educated professionals like themselves and the people among whom they live and work.

The other reason for this kind of error is based solely on the assumption that white people who have graduated from college are less racist, less anti-immigrant, less anti-feminist, less homophobic, and generally more tolerant of diversity than people who have not. As a college professor, I very much hope this assumption is valid, but I could find no solid evidence that it is. At least in political commentary, the question is never asked, and you have to wonder why not.

The desperate middle-class voters who made Trump the GOP nominee
by Mark Gimein

Polls have shown that Trump does better with lower earning, less educated voters. And indeed, Trump’s backers are less well off than, say, those who voted for John Kasich. But as Silver shows, less well off than other Republican primary voters is still fairly well off. With some careful statistical work, Silver shows that the family income of the typical Trump voter is $72,000.

That’s not wealthy, but it’s clearly a middle-class income, especially in the parts of the country where Trump gathers his most devoted support. The voters who made Trump happen aren’t, by and large, those who have been chewed up and spit out by the death of factory jobs. They are people who thought they’d met the requirements for success in the contemporary economy, and still find themselves losing ground. […]

For much of the primary season, Trump was dismissed as the candidate of the deeply disaffected and uneducated. As the campaign season went on, that became less and less supportable. In many states from Super Tuesday onwards, Trump won handily among GOP voters with college degrees. Blue collar workers may have made up Trump’s most devoted supporters, but it took a lot of $70,000-a-year professionals to get him to Cleveland.

There’s one thing that the conventional wisdom on Trump got right: Trump’s appeal is certainly strongest for those who feel like their expectations have been disappointed, their hopes circumscribed, and their financial state made precarious—people who feel shame that they don’t have the money to retire or to support their families. The hard part to get your head around is how much of the middle class that turns out to be.

The Mythology Of Trump’s ‘Working Class’ Support
by Nate Silver

Trump voters’ median income exceeded the overall statewide median in all 23 states, sometimes narrowly (as in New Hampshire or Missouri) but sometimes substantially. In Florida, for instance, the median household income for Trump voters was about $70,000, compared with $48,000 for the state as a whole. The differences are usually larger in states with substantial non-white populations, as black and Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and tend to have lower incomes. […]

Many of the differences reflect that Republican voters are wealthier overall than Democratic ones, and also that wealthier Americans are more likely to turn out to vote, especially in the primaries. However, while Republican turnout has considerably increased overall from four years ago, there’s no sign of a particularly heavy turnout among “working-class” or lower-income Republicans. On average in states where exit polls were conducted both this year and in the Republican campaign four years ago, 29 percent of GOP voters have had household incomes below $50,000 this year, compared with 31 percent in 2012. […]

Both Democratic candidates do better than the Republicans in this category, however. Only 12 percent of Trump voters have incomes below $30,000; when you also consider that Clinton has more votes than Trump overall, that means about twice as many low-income voters have cast a ballot for Clinton than for Trump so far this year.

Class in America is a complicated concept, and it may be that Trump supporters see themselves as having been left behind in other respects. Since almost all of Trump’s voters so far in the primaries have been non-Hispanic whites, we can ask whether they make lower incomes than other white Americans, for instance. The answer is “no.” The median household income for non-Hispanic whites is about $62,000,4 still a fair bit lower than the $72,000 median for Trump voters.

Likewise, although about 44 percent of Trump supporters have college degrees, according to exit polls — lower than the 50 percent for Cruz supporters or 64 percent for Kasich supporters — that’s still higher than the 33 percent of non-Hispanic white adults, or the 29 percent of American adults overall, who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

This is not to say that Trump voters are happy about the condition of the economy. Substantial majorities of Republicans in every state so far have said they’re “very worried” about the condition of the U.S. economy, according to exit polls, and these voters have been more likely to vote for Trump. But that anxiety doesn’t necessarily reflect their personal economic circumstances, which for many Trump voters, at least in a relative sense, are reasonably good.

Bernie Sanders, not Donald Trump, is winning over the ‘white working class’
by Charles Davis

Writing for In These Times, author Jack Metzgar notes that the basis for this assumed white working-class support for Trump is his popularity among Republican voters who lack a college degree, who have indeed preferred him to the other Republicans in the race. “Among all adult whites,” however, “nearly 70 percent do not have bachelor’s degrees,” the definition of working class used by pundits. One recent survey found that 55 percent of this group support Trump, meaning “the white working-class is under-represented among Trump supporters,” Metzgar observes, which means “his supporters are disproportionately college-educated whites.”

This becomes clear when one takes a step back from the tiny weird world of the U.S. right and looks at the electorate as a whole. In a general election, polls Sanders would not only beat Trump but destroy him: Reuters currently has him up by nearly 10 per cent overall, and that with far less media coverage. Among white voters in particular, Sanders’ margin of victory in the most recent poll does drop to just under 5 per cent — but among white voters who make less than US$25,000 a year, his margin of victory actually grows to 15 per cent. Among unemployed white voters, that number rises to 16 per cent. Practically no one who isn’t white is voting for Donald Trump.

Commentators are right, then, to believe the Trump phenomenon is a white people problem — it’s just the data shows it’s not working-class whites who are the heart of this problem.

Donald Trump is rising because the US middle class has crashed
by Matt Phillips

Trump supporters—who pushed him to victory in key Republican nominating contests in Mississippi and Michigan on Tuesday—are disproportionately older whites without college diplomas.

Today, these folks are usually referred to as “working-class.” But at the heart of Trump’s appeal is the uncomfortable fact that they used to be something else. These people used to be America’s middle class. […]

Basically, this confirms what many people know from experience: These types of households are clinging to middle class status by a thread. […]

Income inequality began to grow again in the early 1980s, and has since returned to the relatively high levels seen in the years before the Great Depression.

Why? Well, for many reasons. But the key is wages.

Incomes at the upper echelons of the American earnings distribution have surged in recent years, while incomes for the vast majority have stagnated. Data from US economist Robert Gordon’s recent book The Rise and Fall of American Growth actually show that real incomes have slightly decreased between 1972 and 2013 for the bottom 90% of US workers. […]

So, it should come as no surprise that this chunk of the electorate would be drawn to Trump’s anti-trade, anti-China, anti-immigration rhetoric. Of course, Trump’s appeal is as much about style as it is about policies. And that style—vindictive, crude, authoritarian—is perhaps the biggest reason to be concerned by both the rise of Trump and the decline of the middle class.

“There’s plenty of literature linking a broad, healthy middle class with political stability and moderation in government. So it’s worth noting too that, on the Democratic side, liberal firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders also won a surprise victory in the Michigan primary on Tuesday, over the more centrist Hillary Clinton. Growing numbers of Americans are veering toward extremism, and the rise of Trump is just a another sign of the fall of the US middle class. And it’s something worth worrying about.

Why Trump’s appeal is wider than you might think
by Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu

Contrary to these statements, however, lower-income and less-educated people aren’t the only voters backing Trump. Trump supporters—even the white ones—are rich and poor alike. They are law school grads and high school dropouts. Trump is leading the pack in every corner of the GOP, not just the working class.

In terms of income among Trump supporters, you’ll find roughly equal numbers of high-income, middle-income and low-income voters. According to data from a national NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking Poll conducted online from March 7 through March 13, the share of Trump supporters who make more than $100,000 per year is almost exactly the same as the share of Trump supporters who make less than $50,000 (and that’s true even when you just look at white Trump supporters). Trump gets just as much of his support from the richest Americans as he does from the poorest.

In terms of education, it’s true that there are lots of people without college degrees backing Trump. But that’s because in the GOP—and in the U.S. in general—there are lots of people without college degrees period. According to the Census Bureau, among Americans 18 and over, about 71 percent don’t have college degrees. According to the tracking poll, among Trump supporters, about 74 percent don’t have college degrees, and that’s also true for the subset of white Trump supporters.

Trump’s fan base is not substantially less educated than the country as a whole.

The Donald’s Trump Card Isn’t an Ace
by John Stoehr

In other words, virtually everyone who voted for a Republican in Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont and Virginia reported earning more than $50,000 a year. These are Trump voters. Even if they never went to college, they earn more than the average wage, which was $44,569.20 in 2014, according to the Social Security Administration.

Granted, that’s not a lot of money. But earning more than the national average individual income would appear to strain any credible definition of working class. Plus, half of those who pay payroll taxes – about 79 million people – earned less than $29,000 in 2014. Those aren’t Trump voters. Remember, virtually every GOP voter in 18 states said they earned more.

Higher income among even “poorly educated” individuals, as Trump might say, isn’t surprising in East Coast states like Connecticut, where the cost of living is relatively high. But the problems facing the often-told narrative of Trump’s support among white working-class voters don’t end there.

Even in Rust Belt states, where he’s said to have an advantage with Reagan Democrats, Trump didn’t perform as well as you might think. In Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio, for instance, support among such voters never rose above 30 percent. He split that bloc with his rivals.

That Trump performed more or less on par with his rivals in Rust Belt states suggests that his supporters were already firmly conservative or already primed to choose any Republican, populist or otherwise, according to Andrew Levison, author of “The White Working Class Today” and analyst for “The Democratic Strategist,” a journal of public opinion and strategy. Indeed, Levison observed in a March white paper, Trump performed best not with Midwestern Reagan Democrats but with white working-class Southerners. This, he argued, isn’t due to Trump’s “right-wing version of economic populism” but “the racial and xenophobic elements of his platform.”

So the media narrative of Trump’s support among white working-class voters belabored by global economic forces is problematic for two reasons. One, many of his supporters are earning above-average incomes. Two, many voted for Trump for reasons having nothing to do with globalization.

From Slump to Trump
by Christopher Phelps

In a majority of the GOP primaries and caucuses to date (fifteen of twenty-seven) — including such northern states as Maryland, Illinois, and Massachusetts as well as southern states such as South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee — Trump swept to victory in every single income tranche, from lesser-paid to wealthy.

In Connecticut, for example, he won 59 percent of those making $50,000-100,000, 55 percent of those making $100,000-200,000, and 52 percent of those making more than $200,000. (No data is reported for that state on those making below $50,000.)

In New York, he actually gained in strength as the wealth scale moved upwards. There he took 52 percent of the votes of those making less than $30,000 and $30,000-50,000, but 62 percent in the $50,000-100,000 band and 63 percent of those making more than $100,000.

Poor and working-class voters make up only about a third of the GOP electorate, measured by an income below $50,000. (Again, a crude gauge: most graduate students make less, some unionized steelworkers more. But median household income is about $52,000, so in the aggregate an income below $50,000 does help approximate the working class. Full-time minimum-wage employees, the lowest rung of the working population, make $15,000.)

Upper-income citizens are far more likely to vote and therefore comprise an outsized portion of the electorate, particularly the GOP electorate, compared to their proportion in society. Again consider New York, where the 28 percent of GOP voters whose income is under $50,000 went for Trump by 52 percent. By contrast, those who make more than $50,000, a group that voted for him by 63 percent, made up 72 percent of the electorate. That’s huuuge.

In short, Trump’s plurality or majority among upper-middle and wealthy voters, because it carries more weight, has propelled his rise more than his popularity with those in the lower tax brackets where his popularity, speaking generally, is greater.

As for level of education, in 70 percent (nineteen of twenty-seven) of the GOP primaries and caucuses college-educated voters preferred Trump by either a plurality or majority. This again included such northern states as Illinois and Michigan as well as southern ones such as Georgia and Virginia.

Voter surveys measure college education in the following categories: none, some, a completed degree, or post-graduate studies. Notably, Trump did better or the same among those with some than among those with none in Indiana, Maryland, and Missouri, and virtually the same in others, such as West Virginia. In Vermont and Mississippi, he actually did better among college graduates than those with merely some college.

The data demonstrate, in other words, that if Trump is the preferred candidate of the GOP working class he has also been the preferred candidate of the GOP’s upper-middle-class, college-educated, and even wealthy constituents.

The only group that Trump consistently does not fare very well among is those with post-graduate education. For as long as the primaries were competitive they split their vote across the remaining field (Kasich, Cruz, Christie, Bush, and company).

What does it mean that Trump has done well among middle-income and higher-income voters but not the most-educated? This suggests that his real base of support is small-business owners, supervisory and middle-management employees, franchisees, landlords, real estate agents, propertied farmers, and so on: those who are not at the executive pinnacle of corporate America (who largely have MBAs and other similar degrees) and those who are not credentialed professionals (doctors, lawyers, and the like), but the much wider swath of those people whose livelihood is derived from independent business activity or middle-band positions in the corporate hierarchy.

This corresponds, of course, to the classic scenario in which the petty bourgeois — the middle class whose ownership of small parcels of property does not protect them from vulnerability in the business cycle and the need to exact self-exploitation — experience worry and insecurity following a financial crisis and economic slump, making them receptive to right-wing authoritarian solutions and scapegoating of ethnic-racial minorities.

Bubba Isn’t Who You Think
by Paul Krugman

In fact, if you look at voting behavior, low-income whites in the South are not very different from low-income whites in the rest of the country. You can see this both in Larry Bartels’s “What’s the matter with What’s the Matter With Kansas?” (pdf), Figure 3, and in a comprehensive study of red state-blue state differences by Gelman et al (pdf). It’s relatively high-income Southern whites who are very, very Republican. Can I get away with saying that rich white trash are the problem? Probably not.

What this reflects, in turn, is the odd fact that income levels seem to matter much more for voting in the South. Contrary to what you may have read, the old-fashioned notion that rich people vote Republican, while poorer people vote Democratic, is as true as ever – in fact, more true than it was a generation ago. But in rich states like New Jersey or Connecticut, the relationship is weak; even the very well off tend to be only slightly more Republican than working-class voters. In the poorer South, however, the relationship is very strong indeed.

This is why it’s true both that rich voters tend to be Republican, and that rich states tend to be Democratic.

Class Breakdown of the Campaigns

Has anyone noticed the interesting breakdown of whites for each candidate?

Clinton is winning the relatively wealthier, well educated whites who are content with the status quo and who are centrists fearing any challenges from the left or right. They just don’t want to rock the boat and so they passively float along hoping that somehow they’ll float to safety or at least not sink, as they poke their finger in the hole in the bottom of the boat. There are drowning people in the water all around them and they keep pushing them away. It’s better to save some people than to end up all drowning, they say to each other hoping to comfort themselves.

Trump has more upper working class to lower middle class whites. They are mostly middle aged, about average in wealth and education. They aren’t the worse off Americans. Rather, they are those who might be one or two bad breaks from losing their homes, falling into poverty, etc. These are the people clinging to the sides of the boat and won’t let go, threatening to overturn it. They think they deserve to be in the boat, but they aren’t about to try to save the lives of those struggling further away from the boat: poor whites, single mothers, the homeless, minorities, immigrants, etc.

On the other hand, Sanders has won the support of low income Americans. This includes poor whites and rural whites, the very people who many assume are solid Republicans. It is true that many of these low income people are more socially conservative than average, even more religious. This relates to the youth vote, as the young have been hit the hardest by the economy and the young religious are mostly on the political left. These are those aforementioned people who know they have no chance of getting close to the boat, much less getting aboard it. So, they are trying to cobble debris together to make a large raft for everyone treading water.

It maybe should be unsurprising that Clinton and Trump are liked and trusted by so few. Just as maybe it should be unsurprising that Sanders is liked and trusted by so many.

By the way, I’d love to see an economic class breakdown, either by income or wealth, for other demographics, such as race. He has won the youth vote, including young men and young women. It’s not just young whites, but also the majority of young minorities, blacks and Hispanics.

As has been shown, Sanders has the support of low income Americans. This is a demographic that is disproportionately minority. As such, I suspect the support for Sanders from low income Americans isn’t just white people. I haven’t seen the economic class breakdown for the minority vote, but I bet Sanders has won poor minorities.

It relates to the youth vote. The young have been hit the hardest by economic problems with high rates of unemployment and underemployment, along with college debt in the hope that a degree would make it more likely for them to get a job. The young are among the first to do worse than their parents at the same age.

Economic problems have hit young minorities hardest of all. But poor rural whites have also been hit hard. In both cases, the War On Drugs, school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration has harmed an entire generation and ravaged entire communities.

Here is the challenge for Sanders and for American democracy in general.
 
He has the strongest support among the young and the low income. He has a majority of young men and young women, young whites and young minorities. This is probably true for the low income demographic as well, in that he probably has large numbers from the poorest minorities, especially considering there is much crossover between those who are young and those who are poor.
 
These demographics also are the least likely to vote. Young minorities, for examples, are the most likely to have lost voting rights because of being ex-cons. Young minorities are more likely to be poor than older minorities, and it’s in poor minorities where it is hardest to vote because of few polling locations and long lines. This is true for poor whites who also tend to vote at lower rates. Consider the low income rural demographic that Sanders has won at least in some states, a demographic that often doesn’t have polling stations that are close.
 
It’s because these people have been purposely disenfranchised and demoralized by the political system that they support Sanders. They are frustrated and tired with the status quo. They are feeling so outraged that they will likely vote at higher rates than ever before, no matter how few polling stations there, no matter how far away they are, and no matter how long the lines are. A candidate has finally given them hope, something many of them haven’t felt in a long time, maybe their entire lives.
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What Kentucky Results Show About Clinton-Sanders Battle
by Dante Chinni

Rural, white counties have been a fairly reliable cache of votes for Mr. Sanders. You can see the same pattern in New York (where Mr. Sanders lost) and Michigan (where he won). The problem for him is it takes a lot of small, rural counties to equal the votes from one big, urban county. Case in point: He won more than twice as many counties in Kentucky and still lost the state.

The Graduating Class of 2016 By the Numbers
by Steven R. Watros and Cordelia F. Mendez

The picture in the general public is much different, with a recent CBS News/New York Times poll showing that 41 percent of registered voters prefer Trump in a matchup against Clinton, while 47 percent support the former Secretary of State.

But among certain populations of Harvard seniors, support for Trump runs stronger. Varsity athletes and members of traditionally male final clubs, for example, were more likely to report supporting Trump. And his supporters reported prioritizing different issues in the presidential election than those who support Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

While some news outlets have reported that Harvard students overwhelmingly support Bernie Sanders—and that Hillary Clinton supporters are met with backlash—data from a survey of the senior class suggests that those claims are largely false, at least among the Class of 2016: More than twice as many seniors surveyed said they prefer Clinton, and her supporters were more steadfast in their support, reporting in larger numbers that they would consider voting for a third-party candidate should their preferred candidate not prevail.

Inequality Divides, Privilege Disconnects

Privilege is a tough subject. For most people, there are always plenty of others who are both more privileged and less privileged. Still, nuance and complexity isn’t how we tend to think about such things. It depends, as always, on what we focus upon and what we ignore—this typically being shaped by unconscious biases.

We don’t objectively compare ourselves to the larger social reality. And we don’t base our perceptions on intricate demographic data and comprehensive surveys. What we usually do is create a sense of our place in the world through personal anecdotes and vague media-filtered experience, through narrative frames and political rhetoric. This causes us to compare ourselves to the distorted and often fictionalized narratives portrayed in MSM news reporting and Hollywood movies—not to mention the influence of now near endless political campaigning and the subtle class war rhetoric that is drilled into our psyches. Besides that, it is human nature to focus on and, when possible, aspire toward what is above us. Even the wealthy will look with envy at the even wealthier. This is exaggerated in a high inequality society, where the gap between the rich and super-rich is as vast as the gap between the upper classes and all the rest, and such gaps continue to grow ever more vast. Only those near the bottom might bother to spend much time looking down upon those below them in the social pecking order, whether the differences are real (class) or perceived (race).

I’ve pointed out how this plays out for liberals—the privilege of the liberal class, the bias and benefits inherent to greater wealth and status, opportunities and resources. The liberal demographic is among the most economically well off and well educated. And, related to this, the wealthier of any demographic (race, ideology, etc) the more liberal people tend to be, often both in terms of social liberalism and classical liberal economics. It’s not only about those who self-identify as liberals. A similar pattern is found among libertarians and other right-wingers, from objectivists to anarcho-capitalists. It’s true of the Republican political elite and activists, the conservative pundits and think tank intellectuals, the business managerial class and inherited old wealth. But it’s also true of most people on the far political left: Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, feminists, etc. Even the typical minority activist and politician is going to be far above average in wealth and education. To hold and defend any particular ideology or identity politics largely depends on a privileged status in society. It takes a lot of time, energy, and resources to commit to such activities—especially if one makes a career out of it. The poor, whether working or unemployed, whether white or minority, don’t have this kind of luxury.

There is an odd dynamic here. The middle-to-upper class are more ‘liberal’ in many ways, including for those on the political right. Those far down the economic scale are less concerned about defending liberalism in any of its forms, whether leftist standard liberalism or right-wing classical liberalism. In Western countries, even radical left-wingers who often are critical of ‘liberalism’ are more culturally liberal than the poor. On the other hand, the lower classes (i.e., the majority of the population) are more liberal/leftist in concrete ways than the political elite that claims to represent them—supporting: higher taxation of the rich and corporations, stronger social safety net, more effective regulations, less wars of aggression and military adventurism, etc. The supposed conservatism of the lower class majority is primarily symbolic, not necessarily based on specific political principles and policies. But it could be seen as genuinely conservative in the lower class’ demand for more emphasis on social capital and culture of trust, family and community—the very things that are undermined by upper class politics and economics, especially neoliberalism. Anyway, it’s a class divide more than an ideological divide, as the differences between partisan/ideological elites is negligible in terms of practical politics and actual results.

The main thing, anyway, is that there are these fundamental divides in our society. They lead to endless disconnections and conflicts. Our thoughts are distorted and our vision narrowed, causing endless confusion and misunderstanding. This is why privilege is so hard to see and understand. We rarely ever get the sense of the full context of our lives. This has worsened because of the segregation of not just ghettos, housing projects, and rural isolation but also of suburbs, walled communities, and gentrified neighborhoods. Physical distance leads to psychological distance.

Obviously, it’s not just about the hypocrisy of self-identified liberals living comfortable lives, even though their example is egregious based on the politics they outwardly support. This is a collective failure, not just of the dominant liberal order of post-Enlightenment society, or rather at this point we are all liberals complicit in this failure, even those who spend their lives complaining about liberalism and blaming liberals. Hypocritical liberals simply make explicit what is implicit to the world we live in. Even poor Westerners are part of the problems involved in a long history of imperialism, colonialism, genocide, slavery, exploitation, etc. Living in the West, we are all legacy beneficiaries of immense crimes against humanity in the past but also continuing into the present. This is particularly true of a country like the US, for being a subject of an empire has its advantages even for the poorest of subjects, not that it’s all that great of a fate even though there are worst fates.

As a liberal, much of my focus has been on other liberals. But I want to clarify this. There is a reason I identify as a liberal. It’s because of, not in spite of, my criticisms. According to my most utopian ideals and futuristic visions, I could identify as a left-libertarian, anarcho-syndicalist, democratic-socialist, etc. I could grab hold of some ideology as a way of distancing myself from liberalism. I don’t want to do that. Instead, I want to emphasize that I’m complicit in all that goes on in this society. I don’t want to merely stand back from it all or worse still pretend I’m above it all. That is what irritates me about many left-wingers. It’s true that left-wing politics has little overt power in the world today, certainly not in the United States. But I think it’s a cop-out for left-wingers to play intellectual games with detached righteousness, lost in their highfalutin abstruse historical and economic analyses, as if they aren’t stuck down in the sewers covered with shit like the rest of us.

Joe Bageant was a Marxist and considered himself far left of the far left, but he never forgot his roots in poor white Appalachia. He complained about liberalism and yet at times admitted he was a liberal of sorts—worse still, an educated liberal and an old hippie at that. He was trying to make his voice heard from within the belly of the beast, not observing the beast’s behavior as if a zoologist studying from afar. From the opposite end of the class spectrum, there was someone like Theodore Roosevelt. His class solidarity apparently was a bit lacking, as he didn’t espouse an ideology for the wealthy and business interests. He took socialists seriously, in that he argued they made some valid points. Unlike many mainstream partisans today reacting to the supporters of Sanders and Trump, TR didn’t just dismiss the perceived radicals as loud-mouthed rabble-rousers and malcontents. He argued that many socialists were simply social reformers, not utopian ideologues, and that the issues they brought up should be taken seriously—it being better to allow genuine reform if it prevents violent revolution. Both Bageant and Roosevelt were making the simple point that we should listen to those making complaints and try to understand where they are coming from—i.e., don’t shoot the messenger.

Here is what has been on my mind, a specific demographic that is some combination of middle-to-upper class, well educated, professional, and mostly white. Out of this demographic comes the politicians and activists, community organizers and social workers, intellectuals and academics, writers and artists, musicians and actors, journalists and reporters, etc. Despite being a minority of the population, they have greater power to be heard and influence than all of the rest of the population combined. They are, of course, more economically secure and comfortable than most of the population, along with greater opportunity for economic mobility. They particularly dominate the political and media spheres and so they determine the terms of public debate and controlling the framing of issues and narratives. These are the people who are most invested in the system and likewise benefit the most from the system, but they aren’t the people who experience the greatest harm from and costs of the system.

These are the privileged. These are the people who have the most insulated lives. They either don’t see or don’t understand many of the divides in our society. Certainly, they have little experience of those who live on the other side of those divides. They argue among themselves within a narrow frame of interests and ideas. Even the supposed radicals among them are safely contained within the dominant paradigm. Yet fissures are beginning to form in their walled reality. And the voices from outside are beginning to be heard. This disturbs their comfortable lives and puts them in an irritable mood. They realize their position in the social order is being threatened.

Even so, I don’t get the sense that most of these middle-to-upper class gentlefolk realize how bad it’s gotten for the majority of the population. Some do get it, but many more don’t. When I hear the criticisms of the supporters of Sanders and Trump, it becomes obvious that these critics are oblivious to the point of utter cluelessness. It’s not just economic problems getting worse: increasing poverty among the disadvantaged and growing inequality across society, higher rates of unemployment and underemployment (permanent unemployment no longer even being measured), the falling behind other developed countries in economic mobility along with the size and wealth of the middle class, stagnating or falling real wages and buying power, etc. It’s also a worsening of rates of mental health issues, suicide and other mortality causes, delayed marriage and divorce—and the destruction of all that held the social fabric together: deteriorating tight-knit farming communities and factory towns based on strong local economies, loss of high membership rates in labor unions and civic organizations, undermining of culture of trust and civic participation, weakening of democratic process and representation, disempowerment and disenfranchisement and demoralization of the lower classes, economic segregation and isolation, underfunding of schools and libraries and infrastructure and public services, and so much else.

This isn’t directly impacting most of the people the comfortable middle-to-upper classes. They usually don’t even see it’s impact on others, except occasional reports about it in the news media and occasional portrayals of it in the entertainment media. But even then, no real sense of what it means for those suffering and struggling. When they dismiss demands for reform from those below them, what they don’t understand is that these aren’t unreasonable requests. Those at the bottom of society don’t have the luxury to wait for slowly implemented moderate reforms. The system is broken. For the worst off, this at times can be a life or death situation. Some people are barely hanging on, at the end of their rope. As the economy worsens and the divides widen, desperation gets pushed to the breaking point with the inevitable result of soaring rates of mental health issues and suicides. Push it far enough and you will see even far worse consequences for all of society. The presently comfortable might find themselves increasingly uncomfortable, if they continue to ignore the victims of these oppressive problems. It’s not wise, much less moral and compassionate, to dismiss the pleas of the desperate.

* * *

The Unimagined: Capitalism and Crappiness

The Desperate Acting Desperately

Trends in Depression and Suicide Rates

From Bad to Worse: Trends Across Generations

Republicans: Party of Despair

Rate And Duration of Despair