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Vote Tallies and Class Struggle

With the United States stumbling toward a new post- pre-modernity, a state of unknowing where technocratic pedantry guided by an unrepentant id defines the realm of social truth, a remnant of the past is re-asserted through the division of social analysis into realms of alleged expertise. Economists address the economy, environmental scientists address the environment, political scientists address the political and historians address the historical.

Less certain is the state of political economy that once united these to define the realm of social concern. In the domain of history the pitch of the sun, the smell of the grass, the feel of the breeze and the ties through remembrance to how these were, aren’t tales of land wars and presidents and anti-trust legislation, but neither are they nothing. And in fact, this embeddedness is political in the sense of grounding the social-discursive in ways that aren’t fungible.

Graph: the question of why CEO compensation soared relative to everyone else’s around the time Bill Clinton was first elected president can be reduced to a single word: financialization. Through complicit Boards of Directors, corporate executives granted themselves stock options in the midst of manufactured stock market booms. Of note is that CEOs barely suffered in the Great Recession as others did. Source: EPI.

Where I currently live the local underclass, about 70% of the population, ‘beneficiaries’ of three decades of de-industrialization, hate the Amish farmers that farm the surrounding fields. Their (the Amish) rejection of modernity is seen as privilege by those on the outside peering in. Dubious fantasies about how hauling off junked cars and foregoing chemical fertilizers ‘ruin the land’ illustrate an insistence that is all but invisible from the inside.

Through the larger thesis of embeddedness, a political subject like authoritarianism intersects with the experience of one in eight Americans drinking themselves to death to beg the question of to which authority these people are answering? While all lives ebb and flow, and in the sense put forward by the existential philosophers the abyss is our friend, life spent in a drink or opioid haze is abrogation of the abyss in favor of being never-present.

In the northeast U.S. any trip outside of the plutocrat and professional class ghettoes finds that around half of the citizens have few of their teeth, no health care, little education, no jobs, no prospects, few interests and drink and drugs have a grip on their lives. The political-right claims the problem is low morality and a cultural predisposition toward wallowing while the self-involved left claims the problem is also low morality— racism, hatred, intolerance, and the fascist right.

Graph: ‘Economic populism’ is emotive blather for declining economic circumstances about which most people should be righteously pissed. Furthermore, wages apply only to those people who haven’t exited the labor ‘market’ because there are no paying jobs. And while circumstances have improved recently, regularly recurring booms and busts should give even determined leftists pause before declaring a new golden age for workers. Source: EPI.

Back nearer to home, Barack Obama and the national Democrats are ‘the left.’ Eight years of hearing so with nary a peep from a more enthusiastic left cemented the notion. ‘Socialism’ is when the Federal government bails out Wall Street. And excessive government regulation is when the local code enforcement asshole (whose brother-in-law is an electrician) tells you that you must spend $30,000 to rewire your house when your total net income for the last three years was $20,000.

A parallel to the oft heard saw that George Orwell’s 1984 is being used as a blueprint when it was intended as a cautionary tale; in the West in 2017 Marx wrote the plan while Descartes tweets the gloss. Assume for a moment that 100% of America’s vast and growing underclass holds views that would be considered abhorrent at any meeting of Goldman Sachs’ Board of Directors or the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee). Here the modern left would apparently consult its moral compass and let it rot.

With history as a guide, when the powers-that-be and nominally sentient political analysts develop a singular analysis, something isn’t being considered. Like cattle with ontological clutter, any unified turning of the heads is evidence that the likely story is well out of view. Through trade agreements and the deregulation of Wall Street neoliberal Democrats ran the economies of the West through a series of financial bubbles and then into the proverbial ditch. This paper goes through details to conclude that there has been no economic recovery from the Great Recession for most people.

Graph: This is complicated, with two lines and all. The green line representing the incomes earned by the bottom 50% of income earners has been falling quite dramatically for thirty five years now. Conversely, the orange line representing the incomes of the very rich has been rising even more dramatically for just as long. And while the tendency of the left is apparently to blame the neighbors, the story of class struggle was explained long ago in a place far away by a man named Karl Marx. Source: equitablegrowth.org.

The left-like hypothesis, courtesy of skilled (at being cynical) cynics in the Democrat party, of ‘White Backlash’ implies an upswell of angry voters whereas the actual percentage of White voters was pretty close to that of 2008. Blacks stayed home in 2016 (link above). Furthermore, basic social logic has it that Barack Obama was / is a neoliberal piece of shit who saved Wall Street and left everyone else to rot. This same social logic has it that Hillary Clinton was / is a lying neoliberal piece of shit who would have done the same if given the chance.

The related left-like hypothesis has it that racist, suburban, greed-o-crats, a/k/a the same voters that national Democrats have courted since Bill Clinton was micro-sampling breakfast cereal and diaper preferences, went for the vileness of Donald Trump’s rant. Where in this analysis are the eight years of news stories about how the Great Recession disproportionately impacted the suburbs? Foreclosures, job losses, unpayable debts and downward mobility that Barack Obama exacerbated with scam mortgage ‘forgiveness’ programs are well known outside of academic circles.

Graph: Misunderestimation (hey, I didn’t vote for him) of the income and wealth skew in the U.S. has the working class, broadly defined, at each other’s throats over crumbs while the rich are walking away with the whole pie. While there is no disputing that the suburban bourgeois are on average much richer than the poor, this has more to do with the American poor being so poor than the bourgeois being rich. Wealth and incomes are concentrated at the very top— in the top 1% and 0.1%, very far away from your asshole neighbor with the new car. Source: inequality.org; Emmanuel Saez.

A quaint notion of wealth distribution that defines the family down the street that just bought a new car as the ruling class appears to have overtaken left analysis. The suburbanite White nationalists on display at Charlottesville are a few hundred million dollars each shy of being ruling class. Furthermore, there isn’t a plausible argument to be made as to how jackass thirty-somethings with heil Hitler haircuts engineered three hundred years of racist institutional outcomes.

By way of backing into a thesis, one of the more profound problems that French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the preeminent theoretician of philosophical post-modernism, encountered was to concede that Marx’s materialism (post-Heidegger) was inadequate without recreating some version of Cartesian idealism. Applying this thought, with so much social wealth in its pockets, the ruling class isn’t confusing opinions with material conditions.

After a half century of capitalist resurgence and serial crises, are left thinkers actually contending that moral sentiments— racism, sexism and homophobia, are cause rather than effect? The developed West just experienced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and it occurred in the midst of the wholesale destruction of the U.S. manufacturing economy and a move to a ‘gig’ economy that doesn’t pay a living wage or benefits. A more perfect formula for social dissolution has rarely been conceived.

Furthermore, what would resolution of the racist worldview look like without resolving institutional racism? Changing minds without changing material conditions would leave the class structure that benefits from racism intact. The idiocy of this proposition was well understood before Bill (and Hillary) Clinton loved Black people so much that they threw a few hundred thousand of them into prison.

Replacing class analysis with vote tallies grants primacy to the existing order. And focusing on social divisions rather than class solidarity is a gift to the ruling class. Racism is a problem, but economic democracy is the only plausible solution. The path forward for the left is to leave the Democrat party behind. Otherwise Democrats are the left to most Americans.

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Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

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