Welcome to the eleventh edition of The Bloom Briefing: Notes from the Resistance. This week, I address how to approach the white working class, the concept of busyness as a virtue, political divides on the left and right, and our illogical commitment to holding party-line political views.
How to Approach the White Working Class:
In New York Magazine, Frank Rich chronicled many of the attitudes from both the left and the right about how to treat the white working class voters who propelled Trump to victory in the election. He cleverly juxtaposes calls for empathy from the left with outright disdain and condescension from right-leaning elites.
Consider this quote from Kevin Williamson in the National Review: “The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible.” Why, Rich wonders, should progressives extend a courtesy to these voters that their representatives and spokespeople won’t extend themselves?
“Perhaps it’s a smarter idea to just let the GOP own these intractable voters. Liberals looking for a way to empathize with conservatives should endorse the core conservative belief in the importance of personal responsibility. Let Trump’s white working-class base take responsibility for its own votes — or in some cases failure to vote — and live with the election’s consequences. If, as polls tell us, many voters who vilify Obamacare haven’t yet figured out that it’s another name for the Affordable Care Act that’s benefiting them — or if they do know and still want the Trump alternative — then let them reap the consequences for voting against their own interests… Besides, if National Review says that their towns deserve to die, who are Democrats to stand in the way of Trump voters who used their ballots to commit assisted suicide?”
Calls from the left often encourage its members to “get out of their bubble,” but Rich has chronicled various attempts at doing so, and he can’t find one that resulted in the leftist persuading white working class voters to be more compassionate, to have a more sympathetic view of government, or to drop a racial animus that most of these bubble-breakers have avoided talking entirely.
“Getting out of one’s bubble can’t be a one-way proposition. It won’t make any difference if MSNBC viewers hear from the right while Fox News viewers remain locked in their echo chamber. Nor will it matter if hipsters — or Democratic politicians — migrate from the Bay Area and Brooklyn to Louisiana and Iowa to listen to white working-class voters if those voters don’t listen back. There’s zero evidence that they will.”
This isn’t simply a matter of urbanites developing empathy towards voters who voted for inhumane deportations, racial profiling, the defunding of healthcare, and the dismantling of the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 10th amendments. All the empathy of the Dalai Lama and Dr. King put together wouldn’t be enough to persuade these voters to throw their lot in with Muslims and Jews, Blacks and Hispanics, Gays and Lesbians, and the many other offspring of “other people’s babies” as Representative Steve King called everyone who isn’t WASPy or Catholic.
The left is often keen on making sure everyone is treated as having agency. The left wants to make sure that the role of slaves in tearing down slavery is not lost; it wants to make sure that it’s not just Lyndon Johnson, but the entire Civil Rights Movement that gets credit for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act; it wants to make sure that social progress is attributed all the way down the hierarchy to each and every person who contributed to its realization. There is no reason why the left should adopt an alternative perspective when it comes to forestalling social progress.
Voters who voted for Trump voted for the things they voted for. They weren’t duped. They still, by and large, think Trump’s doing a good job. It’s time to treat them as the agents they are. If they don’t want the government’s help, we don’t need to spend our small amounts of political capital fighting for them. Let’s fight for the people who share our multicultural, pluralistic, government-as-protector-from-tyranny view of the world: the people of color, queer community, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, women, and all those others who will be targeted by this administration simply for being different. If we help some low-income Trump supporters in the process, that's fine, but it shouldn't be a goal.
Busyness is Not a Virtue:
There's been a flurry of articles detailing the obsession with busyness as a sign of status in the yuppie, milieu of major American cities. As Joe Pinsker described the obsession with busyness in the Atlantic:
“In a curious reversal, the aspirational objects here are not some luxury goods—a nice watch or car, which are now mass-produced and more widely available than they used to be—but workers themselves, who by bragging about how busy they are can signal just how much the labor market values them and their skills.”
The majority of the Atlantic piece is the transcript of an interview Joe Pinsker conducted with Silvia Belleza, the lead author of a recent study about busyness in different cultures. The interview is littered with curious, amusing, and illuminating anecdotes about people’s attitudes to work in different parts of the world. For example, Belleza found that the same vignette that made Americans think that someone was poor and had had a serious life circumstance problem, made Italians think that the person was wealthy. She also noted how policies or customs (paid holidays; when stores are open; etc.) have a massive impact on how people approach work.
Then this week, the New Yorker published an article on the same subject by Jia Tolentino, which begins with a story that appeared on the Lyft corporate blog about a driver continuing to pick up riders while she was going into labor. The same story was reported at Gizmodo (where you can read the entire blog post from Lyft). As Bryan Menegus wrote at Gizmodo, “that Lyft, for some reason, thought this would reflect kindly on them is perhaps the most horrifying part.” The only thing he got wrong there is the ‘perhaps.’
Tolentino then moves on to chronicle an ad campaign by Fiverr, a service-request board that matches people who want help with a task with people who offer to complete the task. I encourage you to read this article if only for the truly dystopian way in which Fiverr has twisted the logic of the American Dream to laud sleep-deprivation, encourage coitus interruptus to make a buck, and complete enough $5 tasks to beat “the trust-fund kids,” because, yeah, that’s definitely going to happen for below minimum wage.
As Tolentino writes,
“At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system.
“Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.”
Standing up to the punishments of late capitalism. The, “I’ll take your punishment standing up, and please, sir, may I have some more,” described here is supposed (if we buy into the trendy mainstream narrative) to conjure an image like that of the protester standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square. This is what our narratives about hard work, self-reliance, etc. are designed to make us believe, that when we diligently pursue work at the expense of the rest of our lives, we will be rewarded.
But this is not the image we should see. The busy-bee is not a paragon of virtue, standing up to the punishments of late capitalism, but rather someone who has succumbed to its oppression. There is little resistance to the hegemony of the gig economy, the decline of unionized workforces, and the dwindling opportunities for those without a college degree. #TheResistance remains predominantly a liberal resistance, committed to making sure everyone has the same opportunities to participate in a slightly-less-brutal late capitalist economy.
The Left’s Fracture
This is an excellent entry-point to understanding the fundamental split among the anti-Trump crowd.
The liberal (by which I mean traditional liberal) left believes that we should be working towards leveling the playing field so that everyone has the same opportunities. This means, largely, removing some obvious systemic barriers to success, like unequal funding for public schools, or racial profiling, or the gender pay gap. What this doesn’t involve is altering the floor of the ceiling of outcomes.
Raising floors and lowering ceilings is only really talked about on the far left. The far left (which really, in most of the rest of the world would just be the left) believes that leveling the playing field isn’t enough. Giving everyone equal access is an illusion because as much as you can provide additional funding, ameliorate systemic sexism and racism, and eliminate barriers to good education and good jobs, there are still going to be wildly unequal outcomes.
Unequal outcomes are fine – the far left isn’t advocating communism (for the most part) – but the far left says that the floor for the “losers” in the meritocratic system should be higher and the ceiling for the “winners” should be lower. Now you might be thinking that you feel more like a member of the liberal left, and wasn’t it the liberal left that supported Obamacare, which essentially raises the floor for everyone? Yes. Absolutely. But Obamacare is virtually the only major piece of national legislation that raised the floor for low-income Americans in the last 50 years. The previous administration to do so was Lyndon Johnson’s (Medicare and Medicaid).
The challenge for the liberal left, which is largely the camp into which Democratic politicians fall, will be how much to pursue policies that appeal to the far left but may alienate moderate voters. Will Democrats pursue things like reparations for slavery, a universal basic income, single-payer healthcare, minimum thresholds for compulsory time off, and other standard Euro-left policies?
Not pursuing such policies runs the risk of fracturing the entire party. As much as the Resistance may be a predominantly liberal resistance (as I called it a few paragraphs ago), it has awoken and brought together folks from the far left and the liberal left. They’re now communing regularly at protests, and my suspicion is that this will gradually begin to pull members of the liberal left further to the left.
We saw exactly this phenomenon on the other side of the aisle when the highly-motivated activists of the right launched their rebellion against run-of-the-mill Republicans when the party was totally out of power at a national level in 2008.
The Right’s Break over Healthcare
If what I’ve just described on the left is a fracture, the right may have just succumbed to a full break. The tensions simmering beneath the surface during campaign season erupted this week, as Paul Ryan and Donald Trump spectacularly failed to get a “healthcare reform” bill out of the House.
Harry Enten and Julia Azari assessed two divides in the Republican Party in an article out today at Fivethirtyeight. They argued that the first divide is one of ideology – how conservative a representative is – while the second is one of establishmentarianism – how committed to the party a representative is.
The fact that the defeat of the healthcare bill came from both moderate and ultra-conservative members of the Republican Party was well-documented in the press. What’s more interesting is the role that the anti-establishment leanings of Republicans played. 20 of the 23 ultra-conservatives who were against the bill are also considered anti-establishment, and as the article points out, “Ryan and other legislative leaders have few means of punishing defectors or rewarding party loyalty. Members of Congress can raise their own money and communicate directly with constituents.”
Parties rely on party loyalty to remain together, and there’s very little of that right now in the Republican Party. Enten and Azari even speculate whether the House Freedom Caucus will begin to operate loosely as its own political entity now that Republicans are in power. The fight over the healthcare bill showed that they are strong enough united to block any Republican legislation that they feel demonstrates insufficient ideological purity. Whether or not they can retain enough members, though, could be a problem, as Ted Poe announced he is leaving the House Freedom Caucus because of the vote.
Right now, the establishment and moderate wings of the Democratic Party are aligned, which raises the real prospect of a wave of anti-establishment further-left politicians getting elected in the next few years unless the currently out-of-power Democrats in Congress manage to display a sufficient level of commitment to further-left causes.
Tomi Lahren and Our Quest for Party Purity:
Tomi Lahren, the fast-talking, conservative pundit who made a name for herself by publishing video screeds against Obama on Facebook went on the television program The View this week and set the Washington media-politics echo-chamber aflutter with some “provocative” comments about abortion.
What was so provocative, you ask? Well, it turns out this raging-right Republican pundit is pro-choice. Her comments, for the record, are as follows: “You know what? I’m for limited government, so stay out of my guns, and you can stay out of my body as well” For this breach of adherence to contemporary conservative ideology in favor of logical consistency, Lahren was suspended from The Blaze, Glenn Beck’s new TV platform where she has her own show.
This, I should not have to tell you, is absurd. It is only because we live in a two-party system that we feel that one’s views on gun rights, abortion, environmentalism, tax policy, and drug policy should have anything to do with each other. There's not some hidden intellectual consistency here. The left wants more government for guns, environmentalism, and taxes and less for abortion and drugs. The right wants the opposite. We should be approaching these issues individually and making determinations about what is right based on our own analysis rather than by what the people we agree with on two or three issues say about it.
NB: No, you shouldn’t be paying more attention to Tomi Lahren. I don't think she's particularly smart or particularly thoughtful. I simply used her as an example to illustrate our country’s (and this isn’t exclusive to the right) insistence that we hold the party line on a whole series of unrelated issues.
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