The comments on this blog have become personal, and I blame myself for that, so I am going to stop. Instead, let me step back and try to achieve some perspective on the recent election. [Readers of my Autobiography may recall that my deeply personal engagement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, in the early 60’s, eventually led to such psychological stress that I retreated into theory, the first product of which was In Defense of Anarchism.]
Clinton lost the Electoral College. On the other hand, she won two million more votes than Trump. It seems obvious that had she done something differently – or indeed any one of a dozen things differently -- she would probably have won. After all, as it is, she would have been the winner in any other democratic election in the world.
But having lost, Clinton is no longer a factor in American politics, nor is her husband. So let us put the Clintons to one side. I for one will not be entirely sad to see them go.
It is being widely argued that the Democratic Party must move past what is called “identity politics” and instead embrace the interests and needs of “the Working Class.” I have written a good deal on this blog about the complex of issues raised by such claims, most recently just twelve days ago, and I am not going to repeat here the reasons why I think that so-called Liberation movements have sought the perfection, not the overthrow, of capitalism. But it is useful, I think, to remind ourselves of some well-known facts about the American economy and society, in the light of which we ought perhaps to adopt a more nuanced view of the appropriate stance for a truly progressive political movement.
The median income of all U. S. households is currently about $55,000 -56,000. Exit polling during the Republican primaries identified median income of Trump supporters as roughly $72,000, which would place the “typical” Trump supporter’s household in the top 40% of American households. The median household income of Democratic Primary supporters of Clinton and Sanders was pretty much the same, roughly $61,000, very close to the national median for all households.
In America, the median household income for White households is somewhat more than $71,000, for both Black and Hispanic households, somewhat more than $43,000. Thus if we use the phrase “working class American” to refer only to non-college educated Whites, we are in effect saying that Black and Hispanic families don’t “count” as part of the Working Class, which is a point of view with a long tradition in America and also is simply nonsense.
As is very well known, Blacks and Hispanics at every level of educational credentials earn less than Whites with comparable credentials. What is more, women of any race or ethnicity earn less, for a given level of educational credentials, than men of the same race or ethnicity with the same credentials.
It is also well known and has been widely commented upon that Trump did much better than Clinton with non-college educated White voters. Roughly 36% of all Americans 25 and older have a four year college degree, up from about 5% when I went to college in 1950. 41% of Whites have a college degree, 21% of Blacks, and 16% of Hispanics. Thus, the concentration on non-college educated whites in discussions of the election once again has tended to carry with it the unstated assumption that Blacks and Hispanics don’t count as anything but Black and Hispanic.
Now think for a moment about all of these figures. Clearly, Clinton was successful in drawing the votes of the working class, if you count as working class those Blacks and Hispanics who make less than the median household income and do not have college degrees. And any progressive movement going forward must concentrate on all of those who fit the description of “non-college educated working class.” But it must also focus, both as a matter of ideology and as a matter of practical politics, on all the ways in which American society imposes extra burdens on women and the non-white, over and above the burdens it imposes on all those, White and non-White, male and female, who are suffering because of the grotesque income inequality and even more grotesque wealth inequality in the American economy.
Foreswearing “identity politics” is a loser, if it means not talking about those extra burdens. And talking only about the extra burdens is a loser, if it ignores the ways in which non-College educated Whites have been losing out to college educated Whites in the last thirty years.
The big questions are these: Can attention to the legitimate economic complaints of non-college educated Whites be separated successfully from a pandering to the illegitimate and indefensible longing for White privilege that forms an undeniable element in Trump’s appeal? And, Can a successful coalition be formed of college educated and non-college educated men and women of all races and ethnicities? If the answer to both questions is yes, then we have a winning coalition that can make real progressive change. If the answer is no, then I, for one, am not willing to compromise with, turn a blind eye to, pander to, or pretend not to notice racist, sexist, and homophobic passions for the sake of electoral success.