As if politics in the US couldn’t get stranger …

Matt Taibbi writes about a development that illustrates the topsy-turvy nature of current US politics, and that is that Republicans see a future in which they become the champions of the working class, and that this idea is not as outlandish as one might initially think.

A horrifying article appeared in The New York Times last week, entitled “They Want Trump to Make the G.O.P. a Workers’ Party.”

In it, conservative intellectuals say they disavow Donald Trump, but also see in his rise a reason to shift their party’s focus.

The new Republicans would no longer be the party of “business and the privileged,” but the protector of a disenfranchised working class.

All of this soul-searching is happening now because the maniac Trump has hijacked a portion of the Republican base and is driving it off an electoral cliff.

Republican propaganda for decades pushed magical-thinking concepts like “trickle-down economics” that asked lower-income voters to accept present sacrifices for theoretical bigger payoffs down the road.

Until this year, Republican voters mostly bought it. But Trump was their way of telling their leaders they’re done waiting. They want their piece of the pie now, even if it means unleashing the Trumpinator to get it.

He says that the shift away from Democrats has been going on over the past few decades but the reasons have been wrongly diagnosed.

Basically, large numbers of working-class voters, particularly white working-class voters, long ago abandoned the Democratic Party in favor of the Republicans.

People have been conscious of the defection of working-class voters to the Republican Party for years, but this has always been dismissed as the consequence of skillfull propaganda. It’s the What’s the Matter With Kansas? creation story, i.e., that the white working class has been hoodwinked into going against its own economic interests thanks to cynical/backward appeals to race, religion and culture.

Taibbi argues that the Democratic embrace of globalism and ‘free’ trade’ was actually the cause of this shift of allegiances by the American working class that made the rise of the “unabashed nativist” Donald Trump possible.

If we’re going to be honest about what’s happened in the last 30 or 40 years, the new iteration of the Democratic Party has embraced hocus-pocus neoliberal theory that is not much different from trickle-down economics.

The Democratic Party leaders have been fervent believers in the globalization religion since the late Eighties, when the braintrust at the Democratic Leadership Council made a calculated decision to transform the party from one that depended largely on unions for financial and logistical support to one that embraced corporate objectives, in particular free trade.

However, even in the highly unlikely event that the Republicans manage to rebrand themselves as the party of the working class, the love affair will not last long since the Republicans are as much committed to pursuing the interests of the global elite as the Democrats.

The question is what the working class will do and where they will go when they realize that they have been orphaned by both parties. Taibbi is gloomy about the prospect, saying “And maybe the next strongman those voters pick to lead them out of the wilderness won’t be quite as huge an idiot, or as suicidal a campaigner, as Trump. Sooner or later, failing to deal with these questions is going to come back and bite all of us.”


  1. moarscienceplz says

    A big part of the problem is that older Americans look at the economy of the 1920s-50s as if it is the natural state of things. In fact, advances in machinery made previously unheard of gains in productivity while still requiring a large amount of unskilled or semi-skill human labor. So it was easy to get a job mindlessly pulling a lever or pushing a button all day and take home a paycheck comparable to what only highly skilled workers made in earlier times. That situation is long gone. Either your job is/will be taken over by a machine, or you do something that requires a scarce skill set, which usually requires lots of money or unusual intelligence to acquire. Maybe we will evolve to a world economy of talented hand-makers, where individual creativity is truly valued by everyone, but more likely we will continue buying the cheapest widgits we can find and there will be simply less and less demand for human labor than the market can supply.
    In that case, we will need to figure out some way to provide the necessities to lots of people who don’t work at a full-time job. Maybe give everyone free shares of stock each year. Conservatives’ heads will explode at this thought, but I think the alternative would be worldwide riots.

  2. jrkrideau says

    Maybe give everyone free shares of stock each year.
    Or as it is known in other places a Guaranteed Annual Income or GAI.

    It sounds like a good idea to me. Switzerland held a referendum on the issue last year which was defeated but just that it was on the ballot seems significant. I believe one or two cities in the Netherlands are experimenting with it and there has been some discussion about it in Canada who actually piloted such a scheme in the 60’s or 70’s.

    We are long past the days of full employment in the developed world and will be for the foreseeable future [1]

    Companies have made the deliberate decision to reduce staffing and either let consumers do the work themselves (self-serve gas stations did not exist when I was a boy) or substitute machines for personal service (bank teller are pretty much an endangered species at the time of writing).

    Another approach is to just reduce people’s working hours so there is more work available. There was an economist writing in the 1970’s (Juliet Schorr) who pointed out that people in the 20th Century USA worked more hours a year than your average “oppressed” medieval English peasant or journeyman worker.

    I am favour of any either of the above and any other that people can dream up.

    I am strongly in favour of the GAI as it has a lot of promise to improve social conditions (a parent, rather than working 3 jobs might be able to provide decent child care, etc) and from an economic equity point of view.

    I am Canadian and, while we have a considerably better social safety network and labour legislation, it is not “that” good and it is delivered by a bewildering mix of government and social agencies that can be a nightmare to navigate.

    Reducing all of this to one straight-forward GAI would reduce the misery of navigating a massively complicated system and make program delivery much simpler.

    I have the feeling that a GAI has strong potential to reduce crime also.

    [1] Baring an acceleration in global warming when all available bodies will be a) filling sandbags to keep the coastal cities (and most of Bangladesh) from drowning b) Fighting fires, & c) delivering disaster relief.

    BTW I finally tracked down Juliet Schorr at this link It has a very interesting discussion on medieval hours of work.

  3. lorn says

    Given that Trump has been previously quoted as saying that labor makes too much money and has made, saved, a considerable amount of money by simply not paying small contractors I assume this idea is more of a blast from left field during a brainstorming session.

  4. lanir says

    @jrkrideau #2: I think France is the usual example people use for a shorter work week. Full-time employment is I think 35 hours a week. There is also a LOT more paid time off in European countries than we have in the US so the differing work week isn’t even the whole story. In the US it’s more common to be considered lazy for not volunteering for overtime than to find a job that gives roughly equivalent paid time off.

  5. blf says

    lanir@5, Yes, here in France the working week is nominally 35 hours, and 4 weeks (20 days) vacation is typical. Whilst the rules are rather complex (this is France), extra time beyond the 35 hours must be compensated. At least for salaried employees, the usual compensation is additional time off, known as RTT (Réduction du Temps de Travail). And there can be a few additional days off for older workers (CA (not sure what that stands for)): Roughly 35–40 days off per year.
    Plus the public holidays, albeit there are not very many (and if the holiday falls on the weekend, there is not a weekday off instead).

    Despite all this time off, France’s productivity is often said to be higher than, say, Britian’s, which has relatively little (in comparison) time off, albeit more than in the USA.

    This isn’t the whole story by any means, just one part.

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