WILL ELITES RESOLVE THE PROBLEMS OF THE WHITE MIDDLE CLASS?
CAN YOU SAY “CLASS STRUGGLE” AND NOT BE A MARXIST?
Conservatives don’t like to talk about “class struggles”, especially religious conservatives because that phrase was at the center of Marxism, and that “ism” is accompanied by atheism and communism. Furthermore, most totalitarian regimes (that have fought against America with its free market capitalism and advocacy of liberty and representative government) were Marxist. Thus, Marxism is deservedly a bad word. Likewise, if you mention the phrase “social justice” in conservative circles (which is the company I most often keep), then everyone listening in assumes you must be a “community organizer” or a bleeding-heart liberal.
But these are peculiar times. As we move into the 2016 election, the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders to dominate the political headlines and mobilize a massive new “populism” is, in effect, a prime example of class struggle. In our case, it has nothing to do with atheism or communism – that talk would never pop up in the conversation. And the type of social justice that occupies the minds of the masses nowadays contemplates why the middle class in America has been disenfranchised. We don’t use the phrase “class struggle” to characterize our condition. But if we pause to think about it, we are indeed victims of social injustice inflicted on us by the political leaders of our government and by profit-seeking corporate CEOs who outsource jobs to the Orient, Mexico, South America, and other places where labor is a fraction of what it is in the U.S. Furthermore, the problem can’t be blamed on only Republicans or Democrats. Leaders of both parties have conspired to create greater wealth for the rich, a safety net for the lower classes dominated by minorities (and even illegal immigrants), while leaving the middle-aged, “average white guy” middle class behind.
It’s the predominantly white middle class voters who have been suffering declining pay and job loss for the past two decades. This disaffected group (which encompasses millions of Americans) has finally awoken, mounting a substantive challenge against elite upper class politicians and their supporting “infrastructure” of academics, corporate chieftains, and media moguls. The once “silent majority” (made famous by Richard Nixon in the 1970s), have become vocal activists in an unprecedented way. Not since the 1930s and the “New Deal” have so many members of the white majority opted to get involved in political action and express their opinion. Over the past half-year, they have especially made their presence felt in the Presidential Primaries. And the shock waves from their clamor are far from dying down anytime soon.
This class struggle against the “establishment” is led by the predominantly white working class of America now characterized by underemployment. Waving the banner of globalism, massive illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico and the impact of “free trade” initiatives such as the decades old North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) and the newly proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), have destroyed millions of middle class jobs (often wrongly categorized as “low skill” just because they aren’t “information based”). It is estimated that China’s rapid growth (fostered by American corporation moving jobs offshore) has cost the middle class between 2 and 2.5 million jobs alone. And that’s just China.
It is, however, not only government policy. It involves Corporations seeking cheaper labor which have decimated the core of the U.S. labor force and all but eliminated old-fashioned American manufacturing capacity. The result has been devastating to the mainstay of Americana – the middle class. Unemployment rates for those in the 40-60 age range have jumped dramatically, wages have declined, home foreclosures have become commonplace, crime rates have jumped, suicide rates have climbed, and a general sense of hopelessness has settled across an enormous segment of Americans. Training programs to move the “less skilled” into “higher skilled” jobs have mostly been a smoke screen affecting very few of the disenfranchised. Combined with a prejudice against those growing old (versus hiring the young), make times really tough for most fifty-somethings that actually have college degrees, great resumes, loads of experience, but aren’t preferred hires for various reasons (Yes Virginia, age discrimination does exist and with the closing of almost 300 Walmart stores, “greeters” are less in demand than ever!)
WHAT DOES THE 2016 ELECTION HAVE TO DO WITH THE MIDDLE CLASS?
In an article published in Foreign Affairs (the periodical of the Council on Foreign Relations, the “CFR” – I make it a point to read and study the opposition!), well-known political and economic scientist Francis Fukuyama, analyzes what the 2016 presidential election really means in the political turbulence of our day.
His article, “American Political Decay or Renewal”,  features strong swipes at Donald Trump even while he admits that “Trumpism” (as I call it), and “Feelin’ the Bern” (the tagline promoted by the Bernie Sanders’ campaign) are giant sails that have captured the strong winds of social discontent. (Fukuyama, is a Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Director of FSI’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University. Many of my readers will recognize him as a commentator on the issue of transhumanism and the changes afoot in modern society).
Fukuyama’s article has many interesting points to make and admits that the elites have missed the boat in diagnosing the dynamics shaping American discontent. He also points out that the elites (political and corporate) and have been utter failures in enacting effective offsets to the free trade and open border policies that have wreaked havoc on middle class labor. Says Fukuyama:
“In fact, however, the turbulent campaign has shown that American democracy is in some ways in better working order than expected. Whatever one might think of their choices, voters have flocked to the polls in state after state and wrested control of the political narrative from organized interest groups and oligarchs… The real story of this election is that after several decades, American democracy is finally responding to the rise of inequality and the economic stagnation experienced by most of the population. Social class is now back at the heart of American politics, trumping other cleavages—race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, geography—that had dominated discussion in recent elections.” [Emphasis added]
And later, Fukuyama surmises: “In recent years, it has become ever harder to deny that incomes have been stagnating for most U.S. citizens even as elites have done better than ever, generating rising inequality throughout American society.”
IS TRUMP THE ENEMY OF “RISING TIDES” OR THE CHANGE AGENT SOCIETY NEEDS?
Fukuyama’s lament in his article, and it surfaces repeatedly, is that it centers on the danger that Donald Trump will win the Presidency promising to right the ship. In contrast, he raises but few concerns about Hillary Clinton although he admits, as we will see, that “establishment” leaders like Clinton are the main reason we are in this mess. He recognizes that Bernie Sanders has fought a good fight and captured the imagination of the Millennials in this election (in my opinion somewhat like Ron Paul did four years ago – the young idealists who recognize malarkey for what it is and yearn for a country that corresponds to the American ideal they were taught in elementary school).
However, his strongest castigations of Trump assure us that, from his perspective, any hope in Donald Trump is sorely misplaced:
- “The once proud Republican Party lost control of its nominating process to Donald Trump’s hostile takeover and is riven [fragmented] with deep internal contradictions.”
- “The nostrums [snake oil remedies] being hawked [promoted] by the populist crusaders are nearly entirely unhelpful, and if embraced, they would stifle growth, exacerbate malaise, and make the situation worse rather than better.”
- “Trump may have fastened onto something real in American society, but he is a singularly inappropriate instrument for taking advantage of the reform moment that this electoral upheaval represents.”
- “Trump’s policy pronouncements are confused and contradictory, coming as they do from a narcissistic media manipulator with no clear underlying ideology.”
- “The country does need strong leadership, but by an institutional reformer who can make government truly effective, not by a personalistic demagogue who is willing to flout established rules.”
Consequently, Trump is not “the great white (man’s) hope”. But his prescription for righting the ship still advocates that the elite are the ones to take the lead to fix the problem. “So now that the elites have been shocked out of their smug complacency [have they Francis?], the time has come for them to devise more workable solutions to the problems they can no longer deny or ignore.” In other words, Fukuyama asserts that the elite are still the key to fix the problems they created. (Of course, his article is speaking to the elite, so more power to him. But I maintain his advocacy for the elite is misplaced.)
But are the “rich and famous” (or at least the rich and highly educated) likely to make changes needed to revitalize the republic? Can we expect the well-heeled to tackle the tough problems of rebuilding the middle class dominated by white, “forty and fifty somethings”? Can the leadership come from politicians still caught up in business as usual? Are those who have built their fortunes and career “in public service” the change agents to make things right? Or does the system have to be shocked out of its complacency and “business as usual” mentality? Can the nation afford four, let alone, eight more years of the political establishment pushing us toward globalism, virtual open borders, disregard for national security (immigration without vetting), corporate lobbyists gaming the system to maximize large corporate opportunities while truly damaging free markets for smaller and middle-size players?
[Sidebar: Readers should understand my call is not for socialism nor anarchy, it is for free markets where entrepreneurs can thrive and innovate, where large corporations aren’t able to bully competitors that lack their size and scale, and for government politicians to face term limits of 12 years or less; so public service, not career building, becomes the order of the day].
Does Fukuyama admit that “class struggle” in America offers any promise for a better future? Yes, he does offer are a few insights which recognize that Trump and Sanders signal positive change.
- “But the common theme that has made [Trump] attractive to so many Republican primary voters is one that he shares to some extent with Sanders: an economic nationalist agenda designed to protect and restore the jobs of American workers.” [Emphasis mine]
- “This is why the unexpected emergence of Trump and Sanders may signal a big opportunity. For all his faults, Trump has broken with the Republican orthodoxy that has prevailed since Ronald Reagan, a low-tax, small-safety-net orthodoxy that benefits corporations much more than their workers. [“Reaganomics” isn’t the solution today]. Sanders similarly has mobilized the backlash from the left [mainly labor unions] that has been so conspicuously missing since 2008.”
And Fukuyama graciously asserts unequivocally, that BOTH parties share equally in missing the boat:
- “Republicans pushed for the dismantling of the Depression-era system of bank regulation that laid the groundwork for the subprime meltdown and the resulting financial crisis of 2008.” [Emphasis mine]
- “The [Democratic] party has won recent elections by mobilizing a coalition of population segments: women, African Americans, young urbanites, gays, and environmentalists. The one group it has completely lost touch with is the same white working class that was the bedrock of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition.” [Emphasis mine]
- “However, neither political party took the retooling agenda seriously, as the centerpiece of a necessary adjustment process, nor did they invest in social programs designed to cushion the working class as it tried to adjust. And so white workers, like African Americans in earlier decades, were on their own.” [Emphasis mine]
BUT CAN THE ESTABLISHMENT FIX THE SYSTEM?
Fukuyama admits that finding a way to right the ship is not easy given the nature of the political mechanisms in place today. Combined with the greed which more often than not plagues the officers and Board members of large Corporations driven to maximize profits for “shareholder value”, “doing what’s right” becomes an ethic whose realization is best likened to an endangered species. “The intellectual challenge is to see whether it is possible to back away from globalization without cratering both the national and the global economy, with the goal of trading a little aggregate national income [reducing the benefits to the rich] for greater domestic income equality [that the predominantly white middle class would enjoy].”
Fukuyama provides some helpful suggestions as places to begin:
- “Perhaps one place to start is to figure out a way to persuade U.S. multinationals, which currently are sitting on more than $2 trillion in cash outside the United States, to bring their money home for domestic investment. U.S. corporate tax rates are among the highest in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; reducing them sharply while eliminating the myriad tax subsidies and exemptions that corporations have negotiated for themselves is a policy that could find support in both parties.”
- “Another initiative would be a massive campaign to rebuild American infrastructure. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it would take $3.6 trillion to adequately upgrade the country’s infrastructure by 2020.”
Fukuyama also contends that we could also learn something from the Germans who found ways to protect the “supply chain” in their country composed of smaller to middle-sized businesses, from being destroyed by outsourcing to other countries by “connecting its fabled Mittelstand, that is, its small and medium-size businesses, to its large employers.”
“But attempts to accomplish either goal would bump into the more routine dysfunctions of the American political system, where “vetocracy” [the use of government to block rather than catalyze change] prevents either tax reform or infrastructure investment. The American system makes it too easy for well-organized interest groups to block legislation and to “capture” new initiatives for their own purposes.”
In other words, Lobbyists are, by and large, the curse of the Republic. [This is my opinion—I believe Fukuyama would be less condemning]. Combining the ugly albatross of “corporate influence” with the never-ending requirement for financial contributions in fund raising efforts (which takes most members of Congress 50% of their time in office), it becomes very hard for politicians to do what’s right… they can only do what’s essential to keep the Lobbyists’ organizations contributing to their perpetual campaign since they have to raise baskets full of money to remain in office.
So, are the elite likely to do what must be done to revitalize the middle class in America? Is an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton the most likely leader to fix the broken system? Fukuyama isn’t about to disparage Hillary, but he is willing to admit that we can’t necessarily count on the elites that comprise the incumbent leaders of our political and corporate machine. And here he becomes a bit inconsistent. As he says, “There is of course no reason why democratic voters should always choose wisely, particularly in an age when globalization makes policy choices so complex. But elites don’t always choose correctly either, and their dismissal of the popular choice [read: what’s good for the middle class] often masks the nakedness of their own positions [read: it makes their unbridled self-interest all the more obvious!]
It is primarily for these reasons, that Americans need to consider electing one of the most obnoxious egotists of our times, one who is as prone to uttering utter nonsense as was George W. Bush, and one who comes across more than half the time as a racist and misogynist. I’m the first to admit his knowledge of foreign policy today stands little better than Sarah Palin’s when she ran for Vice-President. His character is certainly nothing like Francis of Assisi. And he is most famous as a “reality show host” who yells “You’re fired!” But Americans are going to need to consider the alternative. Obama failed to deliver on “Change we can believe in”… But Hillary promises us “No change at all; of that we can rest assured.”
Despite what Fukuyama says – that Trump has no ideology – he actually does. His ideology stands out as as anti-establishment, anti-globalist, anti-free trade, and protection of the homeland built upon secure borders where Americans, not immigrants, are our first concern. This may not be a well-articulated ideology a political scientist like Fukuyama would appreciate. But the “platform” is easy for the average American to appreciate.
Just as he has done to this point, Trump could do far better than the experts think. But it all depends upon whether the discontent of the mostly white middle class is so intense that a large majority of this contingent has completely given up on the progressive thinking of liberals and corporatism of the conservatives, that they simply won’t stand for four more years of what has led us into this domestic mess and emptied their checking account. Our decision boils down to this. Which leader (and which team that he or she must build around them) will do the best job fixing the situation for the majority of the middle class? That is the choice before us in 2016.
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It’s cheap not because its crummy. It’s cheap because I want everyone to read it!
I hope you will and share the news with everyone that needs to consider who they are voting for and why.
NOTES Francis Fukuyama, “American Political Decay or Renewal?” Foreign Affairs (Council of Foreign Relations), July / August Issue, 2016.