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Sunday, November 27, 2016


I think the shock of this election has made us all a little bit crazy.  Jerry Freesia, whose comments on this blog I have cherished, says the following:

“Professor, what would be your response be to Bernie who said “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from....”?

Secondly, we no longer vote tickets and the notion of a "responsible" party may be long gone too. Also "open primaries" are suppose to be more democratic - an argument I have doubts about. Therefore, I think it may be muddying the waters to say in 2016, certainly at the national level, that the choice facing workers was between the Democrats and Republicans. Campaigns have become more and more the presentation and choice between two individuals - party programs, histories, and policies aside.”

My response to Bernie is that his statement is a cri de coeur, like my statement that I am ashamed to be an American.  But having said that, what did Bernie do?  He ran for, and damned near won, the nomination of President of the Democratic Party.  Suppose mirabile dictu he had won the nomination, and, as I think would have been very probable, he had gone on to win both the popular and the electoral vote.  Suppose further that after his inauguration [I cannot even write those words without tearing up] he had undertaken to see passed the very least controversial of his policy proposals, a fifteen dollar an hour Federal minimum wage.  That is merely a thirty year old minimum wage adjusted for inflation.  It has already won passage at the state level in a number of states. 

Well, with Paul Ryan as Speaker of the House, the proposal would not even be taken up in committee, let alone passed and sent to the Senate.  What then would it be necessary for working men and women to do?  The answer is obvious.  Elect as many progressive Democrats as possible to the House and Senate.  Enough means not this or that hero of the left, though I am all for that.  It means enough to give control of both houses back to the Democrats.

Would it be particularly politically smart for working class men and women to elect Republicans as a way of raising the minimum wage?  Excuse me?  I must be joking, right?

Now, we all know this, but we are angry and frustrated and sick and tired of working for years for policies that never get enacted into law because too many Americans, working class and other, either elect Republican state legislatures that gerrymander House districts or don’t bother to turn out for mid-term elections.  This is not rocket science, and you do not need a college education to understand it. God damn it, my grandfather did not have an elementary school education, but he understood all of this well enough to spend his life in the Socialist Party, and so did his comrades in the union he served as Recording Secretary who had even less education than he.

You want a political party that does not serve the interests of financiers and capitalists?  You want a political party that makes the economic interests of working class men and women central to its platform and its concerns?  You want a genuinely progressive party that, given the realities of American politics, can deliver?  So do I.  How can we get that?  The answer in today’s America is clear, and it is the only answer with even the slightest chance of success:  Vote for the most progressive Democratic Party candidate you can find, at every level from School Committee to President, and work your butt off getting him or her elected!

But for God’s sake, don’t vote for Republicans!  That is a mug’s game. 

Remember, I began this discussion reflecting on the fact that working class men and women are voting for and electing candidates who are deeply committed to screwing them.  It might make sense for me to vote Republican.  After all, I am one of the winners in this blood sport we call an economy.  But we need to confront and struggle with the fact that millions of men and women in this country who are quite intelligent enough and well educated enough to understand the simple facts of American politics are routinely voting against their own interests. 

And please, please, stop reminding me of the faults of the current Democratic Party.  I have been screaming about that at the top of my voice since before many of you were born.

Now, having worked myself into a total state, I am going to do a crossword puzzle and try to relax.


Chris said...

Bernie, like Trump, would have been an anti-establishment candidate who used a party to run for president though, not a 'Democratic party president'.

Jerry Fresia said...

At the risk of driving you off the edge, allow me to clarify: I do believe that voting for Democratic, particularly in a multi-trillion dollar economy, is far preferable to voting Republican; the differences are obvious and obviously better for those who are workers, women, and minorities of all stripes. My point was with the steady demise of what was has been called responsible parties, many voters (but not I) simply see the choice as between two individuals - akin to the claim that voters respond to the person with whom they would prefer to have a beer.

Unknown said...

Enoch Lambert says:

After writing the below, I'm not sure how it will come across. So I wanted to say that it is done in a spirit of constructive criticism with profound appreciation for the insights and candor of the posts that prompted it.

In response to the content of the two most recent posts and the invitation to confront the fact that so many "..are routinely voting against their own interests":

My initial reaction is to appeal to two principles: 1. Interpreting people as being obviously and continuously irrational probably won't illuminate much. 2. Significant failed predictions invite thorough reexamination of the theoretical underpinnings that gave rise to them. I think both call into question a purely Marxian construal of the situation.

The first principle suggests that it is NOT so obvious to so many that their economic situations are as described by the Marxian view of history and analysis of capitalism. Or, even for those to whom it is, that voting progressive Democrat really is the obvious response. So one thing to think here is that economics is messy and hard and that people who vote Republican have good faith disagreements with those who don't. Is the Marxian response to appeal to bewitchment via ideology? If so, that leads me to the next point.

There seems to be an assumption that people vote (or should vote?) only to optimally promote their economic interests. And perhaps the ideology move above would argue that alternative objectives in voting are distractions driven by ideological bewitchment. This is where the third failed prediction of the Marxian perspective makes a difference. There is ample evidence now that proto-religion/superstition, gender-based conflicting interests, and in-group/out-group dynamics have deep evolutionary roots that long precede economic classes and class struggle. And these affect people's extra-economic voting values as well as how they understand their economic interests (and how to promote them). I think this leads to two broad conclusions: that it doesn't take ruling class ideology to get people to vote other than solely for their economic interests in a capitalist society, and that Marxian enlightenment or ideological critique may have limited effect in convincing them to do so.

Tom Cathcart said...

I think "Unknown" is onto something important. We're not just rational, class-interest (or even individual-economic-interest) voters. Reportedly, the greatest determinant of election choice is "understands people like me." Not "helps" or "works for;" just "understands." In this election, that apparently included people who had in-group/out-group frustrations and were doubly frustrated by the fact that expressing their feelings marked them as "racist" or "redneck" or "homophobic" or some other form of barbarian. Never mind that that characterization fit some of them pretty well. The fact is that, rightly or wrongly, lots of people didn't feel included or affirmed by the dominant culture. And, then, along comes Trump, a promoter of professional wrestling and beauty pageants, who speaks the patois and also happens to be filthy rich, and he says, "I know how you feel. You're getting screwed by the smooth-talking political class in both parties. They try to screw me too, but I outsmart them." They know professional wrestling is fake, and they know that he probably isn't going to bring manufacturing jobs back or stem the flow of immigrants, but, by God, he makes them feel like he wants to and that they matter. "Unknown" calls it "proto-religion," and that's as good a word as any.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

Thomas Frank could not have written a book titled "What's the Matter With Harlem?". And the reason is that minorities have not failed to vote their economic interests. The point of the my comment quoted in Professor Wolff's last post was simply this: Go ahead and attribute black loyalty to the Democrat party to tribalistic affiliation (owing to the Democrats getting on board with the Civil Rights Movement). But do not dismiss the idea that tribalistic affiliations also play a role in white identification with the Republican party.

For those, like Chris, who want to say that this was simply an anti-establishment election, consider why it is that black and Hispanics overwhelmingly rejected T***p's anti-establishmentarian posturing.

Why is it that they, but not their white counterparts, were able to see T***p's message for the bill of goods it was? Why is it that they are clear-eyed in seeing that the proximate cause of economic inequality is, and has been for a very long time, the Republican party?

If whites in this country voted like blacks and Hispanics, then Hillary Clinton would represent the most rightward flank of our politics. Would that we lived in such a world!

In fact, public opinion surveys indicate that racial antipathies still run deep, and that T***p's success lay in his ability to exploit them. Medhi Hasan does a good job laying out the evidence in this video (beginning around the 14:15 mark):

These are uncomfortable truths, but what's the use denying them? Going beyond this election: I have often heard that the reason the U.S. never adopted a robust welfare state, a la the European social democracies, comes down to racial hegemony. Simply put, the poor and the rich in Scandinavia are white. I do not know if this hypothesis has been backed by empirical evidence, but it seems plausible as far overarching explanations go.

Jerry Fresia said...

check this out:

a short and interesting look/interviews with whites from the poorest county in WVA explaining why they
voted for T***p. Also, one can see "the sister" trying to "educate" her relatives and thus prevent them from
doing so - which highlights the need for teach-ins.

(Tom, I agree and also like the term "mis-voting.")

Unknown said...

Ed Barras

I think the reason why Thomas Frank couldn't have written What's the Matter with Harlem" is because African Americans have an issue that speaks to them as well as an economic issue--civil rights. Ditto for Hispanic Americans who also had the immigration issue.

Chris said...

I mean there is the elephant in the room... The green party probably fits their needs better of the aforementioned parties...

Jerry Fresia said...

Chris...perhaps, but it is a small elephant.

As you know, the only time a 3rd party achieved major party status was when the Whigs collapsed in
in the 1850s and the Republicans got a foothold; the Populist or People's party had something like
40% support in about 25 states but that was as far as they good go. Conclusion (for me): before
leftists put tons of energy into a 3rd party effort, it would behoove us to first subvert or dismantle
the two party system which means doing away with the Electoral College, single member districts,
and plurality elections. Chris Hedges slammed Bernie for competing as a Democrat but I think it
was the right move. Probably easier to takeover the Democratic party than it would be to dismantle
the two party system.

Tom Cathcart said...

We shouldn't discount the P. T. Barnum factor in this particular election. As someone or other once said, "People will eat manna for 40 years, even though it tastes like tofu, if they think you're trying to lead them out of the wilderness."

Unknown said...

Tom Cathcart

That is so true. Many a time, when seeing a Trump supporter interviewed on TV saying Trump would bring back the jobs etc etc., I was reminded of Barney Frank's replying with a question to a questioner: "On what planet do you spend most of your time?"

Hatch said...


I am from West Virginia and it isn't just McDowell County, Trump won the entire state. You have to realize that over 90% of WV is owned by out of state Corporations. McDowell County produced more high quality metallurgical coal (used for making steel) than any place on earth. Most of it is worked out, leaving only thin seams that are very expensive to mine. It is depressing as hell to go there and see all the ornate vacant homes and buildings. There is not even a single four lane road in the county or most of the surrounding counties.

I'm a 65 year old disabled mining engineer and I spent 34 years in the coal industry. The story is always the same. The companies (both coal and logging) rape the resources and contribute nothing except short term jobs. Things were better for the workers when the UMWA was strong but most mines are non-union now.

Trump won the state because he promised to bring back the coal industry. Some met coal mines are already reopening because the demand for steel is finally rising but it is very unlikely that very many steam coal mines (used for generating electricity) will reopen in WV because the cost of mining it is to high. Most of the steam coal coal will come from the Illinois or Wyoming because most coal burning power plants have installed scrubbers so they can burn the higher sulfur coal. You can't talk about climate change to most people in WV because the propaganda efforts of the coal industry have been pretty successful.

I currently divide my time between WV and NC because I can't sell my home in WV since the mining industry has collapsed.

Chris said...

I'm not proposing the viability of the third party (although there's serious self-fulfilling prophecies at work), I'm merely suggesting if the pattern of analysis is X votes for Y that supports X's interest the most, then the green party would be the best Y for various Xs we've discussed. Since that's not going on, voting seems to be something beyond the crude X Y analysis.

Chris said...

I cannot repeat this enough: the more we make fun of these people the WORSE things will get.

"I was reminded of Barney Frank's replying with a question to a questioner: "On what planet do you spend most of your time?""

The same planet as you and I, and there's no sound reason to infer that they're idiots, or stupid, just because they vote differently.

Danny said...

I am not a believer in this idea of wondering why the poor vote 'against their own interests', or, the concern some have about poor white voters being duped into voting against their interest. Or, for some mysterious reason, the largely white, high school educated conservative base insists on voting against its own economic self-interest time and time again by voting Republican. Undoubtedly mind-boggling, if you consider yourself a liberal/progressive. The concept here is one of 'mistakenly voting', or of 'vote correctly', vs. 'poor whites are voting *incorrectly* for Republicans'. I'm sure the dots are connected very closely together if one's mind if those dots are 'Lower and middle class whites desperately need things like strong unions that protect their rights as workers' and such. They need affordable health care. I'm enjoying this, let's dial it out: They need fairer tax laws that don’t punish them and reward the rich even more than now. They need higher minimum wage hike. They need help to send their kids to college without graduating with a debt bigger than most home mortgages. They need their kids to have an opportunity to attend schools that offer opportunity to achieve the American dream and not our current school-to-prison pipeline model.


Now, I can follow the argument this far: The subject of why working and middle class whites vote for the GOP is a subject that fascinates me because it seems so counter-intuitive. And, When I meet someone wealthy that votes Republican it makes sense.

However, I trace another thought in this: 'I know what’s best'. And, that seems narcissistic and dismissive. Put it this way, I know what's best, and I tell workers that they couldn’t possibly know what’s best, that they should define themselves by the economic strata they inhabit. Once they’ve done that, they would vote for the correct (read: left of center) candidates.

I suggest an alternative take on the matter: poor whites take a disproportionate amount of blame. What if I notice that, shall we call them 'these elite pundits', are not poor whites. Are we simply sure what counts as empirical evidence on the rationality of voting behavior by poor whites?

Guy Tennenbaum said...

David, I don't deny that African Americans and Latinos in some part vote based on issues that aren't straightforwardly economic. My point is that we shouldn't deny that white people do the same. There is, I think, this chauvinistic tendency to attribute purely rational motives to the white working class while ascribing the voting behavior of minorities to identity-politics affiliation. Thus we're told that the reason T***p won is simply because the white working class was mad at Hillary for supporting for NAFTA, and anything having to do with the enormously toxic resentment industry built up by the right wing media over the past couple of decades, which T***p expertly commandeered for his benefit, is at best a minor issue, hardly worth discussing. In a way, perhaps, focusing on this election is unhelpful, since it was so utterly weird. Our problem is to figure out why so many poor and middle-class whites have *been* voting Republican. My contention is that it takes an act of willful blindness to think that race isn't a huge factor.

Chris, surely the rational thing to do is to vote for the most leftward candidate who has a chance of winning, not the one who most fully represents your interests. This then moves the entire political spectrum to the left. Didn't we see something like this in the post-New Deal era, when the Republican party wasn't a completely off the rails insurrectionist movement? And then again, in the opposing direction, in the post-Reagan era, when Democrats felt they had to "moderate" to win a presidential election?

Chris said...

" the rational thing to do is to vote for the most leftward candidate who has a chance of winning"

Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

"Self-fulfilling prophecy."

Ugh. Call us crazy, but some of us don't believe we can affect the decisions of 120 million voters, nor uproot a deeply entrenched party system, over night, even with all the activism we can personally muster. Crazy, right?

We did a tremendous job propping up Bernie, and we ended up with a candidate who proposed a slew of very good policies -- we even won a concession on TPP. It's too bad she won't be president and instead we'll be fighting a rearguard battle against fascism. But no, I'm sure you're right. People who voted for the Democrat were being totally irrational.

Chris said...

"People who voted for the Democrat were being totally irrational."
Hyperbolic strawman...

I can't catch a break

Chris said...

Did the kleptocracy post disappear for anyone else?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I took it off because I had improperly posted it without asking my son's permission. My bad.