Since the increasingly bizarre results of the 2016 election, I keep trying to understand how this came to be. I have sought books, magazines and newspaper articles which have helped to narrow the possibilities to a few popular theories. I’ve had conversations with people on various sides of the political game only to further emphasize the fact that most people are rigidly attached to their particular bias and seldom come up for air. Logic and facts, the tools of most discussions and debates have become like a sword of fog, worthlessly transparent.
The mainstream and liberal press have almost exclusively disseminated one favorite theory, that the Democrats have for too long ignored “the white working class”. For some time now I have also latched on to this as the most probable explanation. It made sense, was easy and I didn’t have to think much further. However, there are problems with blindly granting this idea dominant influence. You see, I live in a very upper middle class area of California and am not surrounded by “the white working class”, but I consistently run into an unbelievably large percentage of #45ers. So I have begun to wonder, what’s up here? They just don’t fit the mold.
The article below, from The Nation, by Jesse A. Myerson has proposed a different explanation for America’s recent tilt toward racism, fascism and of course #45. Myerson’s take, says that:
“scapegoating poor whites keeps the conversation away from fascism’s real base: the petite bourgeoisie. This is a piece of jargon used mostly by Marxists to denote small-property owners, whose nearest equivalents these days may be the ‘upper middle class’ or ‘small-business owners’. FiveThirtyEight reported last May that ‘the median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000,’ or roughly 130 percent of the national median. Trump’s real base, the actual backbone of fascism, isn’t poor and working-class voters, but middle-class and affluent whites. Often self-employed, possessed of a retirement account and a home as a nest egg, this is the stratum taken in by Horatio Alger stories. They can envision playing the market well enough to become the next Trump. They haven’t won ‘big-league,’ but they’ve won enough to be invested in the hierarchy they aspire to climb. If only America were made great again, they could become the haute bourgeoisie—the storied ‘1 percent’.”
Now this theory, better explains the many conversations I have had with what I would call, middle class California. With these people the dominant components of democracy are: 1) capitalism, 2) a strong military, 3) the right (but not duty) to vote and 4) a disregard, if not disdain for government participation in most social realms. This “middle-class base includes police and Border Patrol unions“, usually considered strong Democratic followers. To explain this Myerson goes further saying:
“In The Mass Psychology of Fascism, his look at the German economy and ideology in the five years preceding Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, Wilhelm Reich argued that this was largely because of the petite bourgeoisie’s dependence on the patriarchal family unit, which he called the ‘central reactionary germ cell’ of ‘the authoritarian state.’ As the ‘heads’ of their families, small-business-owning men often exploited their wives and children and enforced a patriarchal morality on them in the interest of protecting their somewhat vulnerable enterprises. This oriented the petite bourgeoisie structurally toward reactionary politics.”
With such authoritarian tendencies, racism is almost automatic. Myerson explains how “the petit-bourgeois American suburbs embody a sexist hierarchy, they exist in order to enforce a racist one … (where they) …flee to the new suburban residential developments, complete with racist exclusionary charters … redlining … (and eventually looking) … for the even greener pastures of exurbia. Everywhere they turn, their economic anxiety follows them.” This has been increasingly evident over the last 40+ years.
Returning to the theory of the poor working class, Myerson asks:
“where doworking-class people fit in? When I (Myerson) use the phrase ‘working class’ here, I mean ‘in and adjacent to poverty.’ The first thing to understand about the political participation of these folks is that, as Bernie Sanders noted during the Democratic primaries, ‘poor people don’t vote’-not only because of their alienation from politics, but also because of voter suppression, a lack of education and transportation, and all the other practical ills of poverty. The lower you go down the economic ladder in America, the less likely an eligible voter is to go to the polls.”
In spite of all of these theories as to “why” so many Americans have supported a racist, fascist like #45 and the entire GOP for that matter, the real question is can we find ways to get through to these people to choose solidarity over the myth of scaling the economic ladder. This is tough, as my attempts at conversation often frustratingly demonstrate. Here Myerson is nevertheless still positive:
“America’s original sin has … created an enormous hurdle to organizing black and white workers together. In order to do so, white workers must be convinced to give up one form of privilege—the one that’s offered by the myth of racial superiority—in order to struggle alongside black workers. Solidarity, as a result, has been a monumental challenge, and white racism has often won the day. American history nevertheless offers us a variety of examples of workers choosing solidarity, often due to the leadership and perseverance of black workers and thinkers.”
Myerson reminds us that:
athologizing the white working class as inherently bigoted serves two functions: It discourages working-class organizing across racial lines, and it provides white liberals with a convenient scapegoat who, being white, can’t charge racism. As Malcolm X cautioned, “If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
Read Myerson’s entire article for a much more complete feel for his theory, but here is a final quote:
the Movement for Black Lives’ platform provides a blueprint for the emancipation not only of black people but the working class at large. With an emphasis on divesting from law enforcement and incarceration and investing in guaranteed human rights to income, housing, health care, education, and a healthy environment, the agenda provides a broad umbrella that can accommodate the visions driving several of our recent period’s social movements: Labor, environmental, peace, and immigration groups, among many others, have already endorsed it.”To overcome fascism, we will have to stop fetishizing the middle class and start uniting the working class. To that end,