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Blue States and Blue Collars

Much has been made of the yawning chasm between left-leaning intellectuals of the modern clerisy and the “deplorable” lower strata of workaday Americans. The chasm is real, of course, and Exhibit A is the Trump phenomenon, which has been so proficiently aided and abetted by overweening Progressive arrogance. What is left to figure out is whether the political muddle in which we find ourselves portends real shifts in our political order.

If we truly were in a new era, we ought to have seen a significant change in tone and tenor on the part of the Left, and some genuine attempts to reinvent progressives as modern representatives of the salt-of-the-earth working poor. This mostly hasn’t happened—witness the Democratic complacency around an expected “blue wave” in the 2018 midterm election. On the other hand, as the 2016 popular vote tallies show, “out of touch” elites were not so very out of touch after all. The core ideologies of identitarian victimization, social welfare provision, and hyper-“nuanced” (read conciliatory) foreign policy resonated with slightly more than half the electorate. In short, the Left may be out touch with most of Main Street USA, but is deeply in touch with University Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard, and the rest of the cultural avant-garde.

To an extent, this is natural and perhaps inevitable. In character terms, America has shifted: There is a new working class now, for whom technical savvy and vigilant, tone-sensitive intercourse have replaced the traditional virtues of mechanical competence and grit. The Left has actively promoted this shift in the culture wars, sensibly following the evolution to its logical end—toward an electorate now thoroughly enchanted with nanny-state “protections” like guaranteed employment, universal healthcare, and free college tuition.

This is sad because it is workaday Americans who, despite the Left’s categorical dismissal, still make the country function. Coders and app developers get all the press, but it is still sweating men (and a few women) with nail guns that put roofs over our heads and plucky women (and a few men) with organized lesson plans who educate our children.

I was reminded recently of just how critical (and critically understated) actual working-class expertise is in our modern life. There, in Port William, Kansas, sat a stack of new railroad segments ready for installation; they were marked with elaborate spray-painted codes. What kind of immensely sophisticated background must it take to not only decipher the complex shorthand but to turn the pile into a functional segment of industrial infrastructure? Not to mention the blood blisters and the grime. And yet, if a millennial coder and a grizzled foreman were to pass one another at the gas station (one of the few places where the uber left and hoi polloi overlap), it seems unlikely the one in the worn work boots would get the nod of respect.

The irony is subtle but significant: The Left built itself on a foundation of intellectual labor, or at least intellectuals laboring on behalf of the working masses. Antonio Gramsci, E.P. Thompson, and Eric Hobsbawm couched their historical analyses in terms of working-class concerns, tying them to the socialist mystique of class revolution. This is echoed, albeit in strangely refracted form, by the “Democratic Socialism” of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Karl Marx (who just turned 200 years old, as Daniel J. Mahoney has pointed out to the readers of Law and Liberty) would probably be surprised to see the extent to which his ideology is embraced by today’s bourgeois “socialists” but rejected by the real laboring proletariat.

To their credit, the leftist intellectuals of yesteryear were at least passingly familiar with the difficulties experienced by the working poor. Thompson, for instance, taught adult evening classes to the underemployed at the University of Leeds. My sense is that modern progressive intellectuals are far more fluent in organic hummus recipes than in working-class daily reality.

Here’s a pop quiz taken from the front lines of modern working life that would likely stump our neo-Marxists of today:

Transportation: What is a four-way flat connector?

Tools: What’s the difference between a chop saw and a Sawzall?

Shopping: Where would you find the clothing line “No Boundaries”?

Hobbies: What is a “full choke” and how is different from a “modified choke”?

Style: Carhartts are traditionally what color, and why would they offer a flame-resistant line?

Granted, when we speak of “working class” Americans, they are not a unitary group. The experience of a logger in Montana, on the lowest quintile of the income scale, is different from that of a line cook at a big city restaurant in the Midwest also in the lowest income quintile. The Left, make no mistake, is aware of this and exploits the difference adroitly by pandering to the “minimum wage” impulse of unemployed or underemployed workers at the very bottom.

And to be fair, the “out of touch” critique might be equally leveled at conservative intellectuals as at the Elizabeth Warrens of the world. But right-wingers do not spend so much (or really any) time belittling today’s real working class. Moreover, they tend to promote economic freedom as a means of achieving social mobility instead of government “correctives” toward that end.

Thompson wrote of the “enormous condescension of posterity” toward the lowest paid members of society. The irony is how unlike him is today’s Left. Ostensibly representing the downtrodden against the vested interests of rogue capitalism, it has become much more attuned to identitarianism than to the fate of those who toil to earn their daily bread. If progressives would mitigate their enormous condescension—if they would begin to grapple with the Trump phenomenon—their focus ought to be on Middle America not microaggressions. If they want to understand the frustrated expressions of rejection by ordinary Americans who resent the smarmy elitism of urban leftists, they should leave their blue enclaves and seek to understand what it is to actually be blue-collar.  

But it seems, unfortunately, that they already have their portion of the electorate figured out. And the mid-terms are only months away . . .

Reader Discussion

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on August 09, 2018 at 10:24:56 am

Oh, let us not be too hard on these geniuses of the Left.

After all, it is true that those Carhatt wearing types (count me among them as they are actually a great value, extremely durable) are unable to understand how we can have medicare for all based upon the monies we will save on funeral expenses. The brillian Alexandria Occasio-Cortez explains below:

https://hotair.com/archives/2018/08/09/ocasio-cortez-think-funeral-expenses-well-save-medicare/

And this is what we have raised!

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gabe
on August 09, 2018 at 15:48:42 pm

"And this is what we have raised!"

Hatched and wrought, not raised.

And she majored in economics!
Must be no Econ I and II and no Samuelson at BU.

Has economics been deconstructed or just made into an extension of identity politics?

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Pukka Luftmensch
on August 10, 2018 at 00:44:09 am

Hi kids! Jonnie Killjoy here. We interrupt this right-wing echo chamber for a word from our sponsor: FACTS.

[A]s the 2016 popular vote tallies show, “out of touch” elites were not so very out of touch after all. The core ideologies of identitarian victimization, social welfare provision, and hyper-“nuanced” (read conciliatory) foreign policy resonated with slightly more than half the electorate. In short, the Left may be out touch with most of Main Street USA, but is deeply in touch with University Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard, and the rest of the cultural avant-garde.

In an almost fact-free essay, Schwennesen somehow let one fact slip in: more voters in 2016 picked Clinton than Trump. Thus, Schwennesen must attempt some fancy footwork to try to save his thesis about the elitist, out-of-touch left, and their failure to understand those in the working class.

But alas for Schwennesen, his bold efforts to expunge facts from his essay does not expunge facts from the web. Thus anyone is free to Google and learn that Clinton won the $0 - $30K vote, and the $30 - $50K vote.

There are certainly demographic groups that favored Trump, but Schwennesen seems to have no interest in identifying them.

Coders and app developers get all the press, but it is still sweating men (and a few women) with nail guns that put roofs over our heads and plucky women (and a few men) with organized lesson plans who educate our children.

Indeed they do. But do leftists overlook all those construction workers? Perhaps. Then again, perhaps Schwennesen overlooks that roughly 40% of construction workers identify as Asian, Black, and/or Hispanic, which complicates the analysis.

Likewise, perhaps liberals have overlooked those plucky women (and more than a few men) making lesson plans—but that didn't stop teachers from overwhelmingly favoring Clinton.

So remember, kids, when discussing demographic groups, you need FACTS. Ask for them by name!

We now return you to Schwennesen’s “Adventures in Stereotype”—a program unencumbered by evidence, already in progress….

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nobody.really
on August 10, 2018 at 08:49:32 am

YAY!!!!!
nobody's back.

"Hey Kids, what day is it? Today is the day that is full of surprises,
the Mickey Mouse statistics prove anything day."

"Today is a day that is filled with surprises, the nobody knows what's gonna happen day!"

And Kids, did you notice? Did you notice during his musical introduction that nodody.really rode in on a magic carpet, dressed as the Sorcerer's Apprentice?

nobody to fear really.

And I thought Heath Ledger had died.

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Pukka Luftmensch
on August 10, 2018 at 09:51:56 am

Of course Clinton won the "$0 - 30K vote". Not hard when you promise them more goodies.
As for the $30-50K vote, they too expected some goodies.

Now as for construction workers identifying with "victim-ology", perhaps you should try wearing some Carhartt tee-shirts and actually talk with folks who work in these trades. You may be surprised to find, "Surprise, Surprise" their attachment to Clinton and the Dems has very little to do with "victim-ology", rather it has more to do with the Dems century long effort to convince the working people of this country that the GOP is AGAINST the poor.
And this I know from over 50 years of exposure talking WITH (not TO) tradespeople. Indeed, many of the same people you seek to claim for your peculiar version of political alliances, harbor what we may call rather atavistic attitudes towards racial and ethnic minorities.
I would also add, and this is something that ought to be plain to anyone who has ever picked up a hammer (by the correct end) or visited / observed construction sites, particularly residential building sites, that Hispanic immigrants have displaced native workers in a majority of trades, i.e. framing, foundations (not as much yet) roofing, sheetrock, painting and landscaping. They have undercut the wage structures of these trades. It is thus no surprise that many of these underpaid tradespeople would also for the Democrat propaganda that the GOP is against the poor and wants to throw them out of the country.

So take your book garnered statistics and place them in the Port-a-Potties that usually line the oerimeters of these construction sites.

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gabe
on August 10, 2018 at 09:58:13 am

oops - that should be "perimeters of these construction sites."

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gabe
on August 10, 2018 at 10:13:16 am

Just what the Doctor ordered for nobody:

https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/new-york-times-wants-to-taxonomize-everyone-in-congress/

Wherein we see how nobody's statistics affliction compares favorably with all those sill-ass baseball statistics and are about as informative.

Wait a minute, maybe nobody is a minor league sports broadcaster.

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gabe
on August 10, 2018 at 11:04:56 am

“Darvish this season has given up only three hits to left-handed batters with runners at the corners after the fifth inning at home.”

That, Joe Buck, is not a stat. That’s just a multivariate regression from hell.

That's genius! Who is this Liam Warner guy?

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nobody.really
on August 10, 2018 at 11:18:13 am

Gabe and nobody, the Odd Couple of intellectual dispute.

Did your wives for reasons of domestic tranquility kick you out of your separate houses into the argumentative domain of a shared website?

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Pukka Luftmensch
on August 10, 2018 at 12:49:26 pm

Gabe, I’m not sure you’ve quite got the point, so let me be plainer:

Schwennesen complains that “leftists” wrongfully engage in the politics of “identitarian victimization.” He disparages these voters—“University Avenue, Hollywood Boulevard, and the rest of the cultural avant-garde”—while praising “Main Street USA.”

Query: Why? What does “Main Street USA” refer to? What makes these voters praiseworthy? And what makes all those other voters damnable?

Well, Schwennesen suggests these other voters are “elitist.” Yet he can’t deny that they represent the majority of voters, a fact that is difficult to reconcile with elitism.

Well, he suggests that “Main Street USA” voters are working-class, and therefore praiseworthy. Yet this claim is hard to reconcile with the data showing that people with earnings in the “working class” range actually favor Clinton. And within the professions Schwennesen cites, I note that teachers are famously Democratic, and construction workers are growing more so by the day due to demographics.

So apparently there exists SOME class of voters which are more praiseworthy than those “identitarian victimization” Democratic voters—but even after 1000+ words, Schwennesen can’t bring himself to say precisely WHO these praiseworthy voters are, or what makes them uniquely praiseworthy. Why not?

Gabe got close to the mark when observing that many people in the construction industry, but not Hispanic immigrants, “harbor what we may call rather atavistic attitudes towards racial and ethnic minorities.”

In short, here’s Schwennesen message: WHITE PEOPLE ARE PRAISEWORTHY. And they’re praiseworthy because they’re WHITE PEOPLE. But of course, to say that out reveals that Schwennesen’s entire message is based on the politics of “identitarian victimization” that Schwennesen claims to criticize.

For my part, I strive not to be a pig, declaring that some animals are more equal than others. I think White people are great; heck, some of my best friends are White people. I value the perspectives of “Main Street USA”—and also “University Avenue,””Hollywood Boulevard,” “the rest of the cultural avant-garde,” etc.

To conclude: If Schwennesen wants to engage in identity politics, he’s hardly the only one. Why hide it?

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nobody.really
on August 10, 2018 at 13:28:17 pm

Well:

"...the Odd Couple of intellectual dispute."

He must be the *tidy* one with all his nitpicking! - Ha!

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gabe
on August 10, 2018 at 13:29:48 pm

Hello nobody,

I appreciate your spirited responses! Really I do. And frankly, all the jabs from the "right-wing echo chamber" do not reflect well on "our" cause...

But just a point of clarification about your "fact-free" critique: My choice of words, "...resonated with slightly more than half the electorate" was *exactly* highlighting the fact that Clinton won the popular vote. I'm mystified why a) you would miss that, and b) you would then choose to use your overlooking my highlighted point in order to highlight that I've overlooked a fact... Or something like that.

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Paul Schwennesen
on August 10, 2018 at 13:33:26 pm

"If Schwennesen wants to engage in identity politics, he’s hardly the only one. Why hide it?"

Yep, why hide it!

And I also do get tired of folks whining about "identity" -both pro and con.
Bastardizing Nike: Just do [something]!

Try educating folks as to what you think IS proper.

Now let me go throw one of my sweaty Carhartt tee-shirts on the laundry room floor. Hope Felix does not get too upset.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A58OtN9h918

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gabe
on August 10, 2018 at 13:49:05 pm

He must be the *tidy* one with all his nitpicking! – Ha!

Cut me some slack! I've learned how to eat bananas without a fork and knife. (I can now do it with chopsticks.)

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nobody.really
on August 10, 2018 at 14:24:29 pm

It is what he does. He is Felix, after all and the rest of us are consigned to the role of Oscar.
Nobody does make an *oscar* worthy performance of it, however!

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gabe
on August 10, 2018 at 15:27:07 pm

"It is what he does" is an apt description of the crank or wanting behavior of EVERY crazy uncle or deficient conversant, many of whom are probably also entertaining.

"Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.’"

But as for the rest of us, not so much. Why countenance with charity for the sake of their satisafction those who offend with indifference while seeking to please with humor?

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Pukka Luftmensch
on August 10, 2018 at 17:25:13 pm

Gawd, Felix:

" I’ve learned how to eat bananas without a fork and knife"

You must have strong teeth. Isn't it difficult biting through that thick yellow peel?

Me, I just pull a knife out of my Carhartt overalls.

Your friend and roommate,
Oscar!

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gabe

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.