Author Thomas Frank predicted the modern culture war, and he was right about Donald Trump, but don’t expect political leaders to pay attention to his new book about populism
Great article, except for one thing. If you honestly think the anti-lockdown movement is about "MAGA fanatics going maskless and dying of Covid-19 to own the libs" you need to get the hell out of your bubble. It's not about owning libs, it's about pushing back against the biggest top-down ordered upheaval in regular people's lives most of us have ever experienced: affecting most people far more than 9/11, the mortgage crisis, ISIS or the Iraq war. We were not just told to wear a mask at the grocery store and otherwise get on with our lives. Small businesses were forced to shut down and watch their money get vacuumed up by Amazon and the big box retailers. Schools, libraries, sports games, churches, all forcibly closed down. People have been told they are selfish murderers for wanting to visit friends, have been literally arrested for going out to walk their dog after testing positive, or arrested for breaking quarantine orders after traveling to another state regardless of whether they were infected. All this over a disease with a
.04% death rate and most of that in badly managed nursing homes... People have been told by their local government that singing in church is banned, then told by media asshats that they're really just mad because they're racists or worship wall street or are "dying" for a friggin haircut. Suicide rates have gone way up since lockdown started but yeah, let's pretend the anti-lock down protesters are just frivolously unconcerned about human life...and anyone who doesn't trust the corrupt Big Pharma apparatus that stands to make billions from mandated vaccines as opposed to hydroxychloroquine or herd immunity, is "anti science"... I have been to many Reopen America protests since this whole shit started. They attract mostly conservatives but also a good number of Bernie Dems like me, as well as Libertarians and people who don't much like any party. Biden wants a national mask mandate. From the point of view of most Americans wanting to have a normal life with school, church etc and not be under constant surveillance, Donald "kids in cages" Trump is actually the more pro-freedom candidate. Which is crazy, but that's where we are right now. A friend of mine is seriously considering just voting for Kanye West instead.
Interesting take. However, there is something to consider regarding the upcoming election. In 2016, it was easy for me to vote for Gary Johnson. I don't really like Republicans. All it took was a massive operation to take down a duly elected president and a state sanctioned Marxist revolution in the middle of a pandemic to piss me off.
I went from politically disinterested to borderline activist in less than a year. I'm not a part of that populist right wing demographic. But now, there is nothing that could stop me from casting my vote for Trump. I may be an exception or there could be many other voters who share my sentiments. If so, November could get interesting.
What's evident here is a piece like this is coalescing into a thesis about the state of affairs, what I would characterize as a classical Left wing critique of power structures that tries to transcend party lines in order to describe the objective political reality.
I think you're nailing it. Keep it up.
On a personal level I feel deep alienation and cynicism from cultural Left op eds from places like the NYT that drip with storytelling, narrative goo and aim to spurn calm attempts to interpret data. On the other hand, if I look at the Right wing press I have to read repetitive hand-winging about so-called cultural Marxism, and defense of laissez faire ideas I believe led to this mess in the first place.
So am I a fascist for getting exasperated when I open up a Kindle or an Amazon page and get bombarded with anti-racism nonsense, giant BLM lettering, and reminders of my privilege? Or am I a dumb liberal when I question the Republican project to banish Obamacare and give tax breaks to the wealthiest?
Answer - both! The real Resistance now is to escape the corporate sponsored categories and remain an outcast. And not end up smeared, depressed and obscured. Or just keep my mouth shut.
How long before it's just easier to leave the country and live abroad, Matt?
As an Ohioan who grew up in a working class family, this seems spot on. And the insight re: elites terrified of a working class movement was spot on. Anybody watching Woke Capital celebrate Juneteenth or Pride Month believing corporate America will be a partner in a progressive future is a fool. It is much easier for corporate America to self-flagellate once a year at a diversity and inclusion seminar, tweet a rainbow flag, and hire a few diverse candidates to populate the Human Resources Department, than say, raise wages, pay health insurance, provide pensions, etc. Corporate America is a master of illusion, and other progressive elites in media and universities are too busy smelling their own farts to care about the underclass.
I used to despise you, Matt, for exactly what you confess to here - contempt and condescension towards the "proles."
Now I can't get enough of your stuff. Honest, thoughtful, reflective, and willing to stand up to the media Gestapo of 24/7 hate Trump and panic porn. Thank you.
Trump (whom I did not vote for) is an oafish, cartoonish, buffoon - and he revels in being that way.
But he does not possess anywhere close to the level of contempt Democrats have for people like me and my family.
Not rich. Not racists. Not sexists. Not filled with hate and greed.
We go to work, help others regardless of who they are, and want our kids to live in a safe world.
A parent of white sons wonders what the Dems have in store for them.
I think the left is in for another slap in the face in November.
They got the warning and decided to double-down on crazy.
This is wonderful, thank you. The level of condescension and classism from even rank and file “liberals” these days is off the charts, but good luck getting them to see it or even having a conversation. Every conversation devolves into name-calling thanks to the folks who spend hours with cable news and Twitter every day. Even fellow liberals who used to be perfectly capable of independent thought have been made simplistic assholes thanks to full immersion in the groupthink echo chamber. It’s depressing.
I was an organizer for unions and then some other lefty organizations for about 10 years. There are a few things I feel certain of. Liberals are supposed to be pursuing progress; there are a few things that are going to be absolutely necessary to making it happen. You’re going to need a large coalition of people with at least one common interest, no matter how many things they disagree on, because numbers are the only way to beat entrenched power and money. In order to achieve that, you’re going to have to talk to people where they are and add people who aren’t with you yet to your coalition.
These things have become impossible in the liberal, or even mainstream media sphere today. We used to bemoan the powerful/the right using race, or slight class differences, to divide people and keep them from fighting their common enemy. The right doesn’t need to do it anymore; we’ll do it for them. We’re intent on splitting our own tribe into many small tribes, and stressing how much they don’t have in common. (Perversely, well off white people are still the dominant voices speaking on behalf of “marginalized groups”). So much of what ails Americans today is true across class lines, but we will not address those things, and will call anyone who attempts it some word synonymous with “immoral”. And forget about talking to people where they are. The dominant tool of persuasion among liberals today is telling anyone who doesn’t already agree with me what an awful person they are. Even if it’s true (and I watch liberals miss the mark with this constantly) awful people still get tI vote. The liberals doing this end up dominating most conversational spaces, even though they’re a small group even among Democrats and, again, overwhelmingly well off white people.
Watching all these protesters doing almost nothing in the way of organizing to get specific policy changes, even in cities that really are dominated by Democrats, breaks my freaking heart. But it’s impossible to organize now, or to even do things like internally curb violence or property damage (to help!) are impossible. The mainstream press has a taboo on even speaking of such things, or on suggesting ways that the movement might get results.
Sorry to go on so, it’s a thing that I’m passionate about obviously. I don’t see any way to end this cycle. We have a culture that refuses to hear dissent, a pop culture that refuses to speak to anyone other than this type of liberal. Biden has stayed away from this nonsense, mostly. But the next Trump won’t be an incompetent moron. I think that people are going to keep using the ballot box to push back on the liberal cultural consensus, because it’s the only way they can. And most people who need help will continue getting nothing much at all.
Again, sorry for the lengthy comment
Dude, just say it. You know it’s the truth, and you know it’s time for it to be said straight laced and bare: in 2020, the Democratic Party is the party of the rich.
I’ll sum the issue up with these articles:
The rich want Chinese slaves. That’s it. Period, end of discussion. That takes out most of the educated labor force and most of the blue collar labor force. Whatever is left, gets taken out by imported immigration (legal and illegal).
It doesn’t matter how hostile China is, how much damage they inflict on the West (both economic and direct), or how totalitarian China behaves. The oligarchy wants obedient slaves and China has them.
On the issue of destroying labor, the Democrats have the Republicans beat hands down at this particular junction in history.
Let’s walk through this.
You are born with nothing in the middle of the country. You are told manufacturing is gone, and your only hope of success is going to college. So you get started. You major in STEM, which everyone says corresponds to a national shortage. You graduate. Contrary to public opinion, there is a ridiculous amount of competition. You have to compete with outsourced labor from China (slaves) and in-sourced labor from India (whose immigration status is contingent on keeping their job). You will be unemployable by the time you hit 40, unless you hit management. Who is the primary supporters of this regime? All the Democrats and half the Republicans. However, it’s the Democrats that use race and identity politics, which is infinitely more effective, than Rhino arguments on efficiency, etc. Also, unlike the left, there is enormous, real opposition of this scheme from the right.
Orite, so you don’t do Engineering. You major in the liberal arts and go to law school or business school. But you can’t go to any business school or law school because liberal elites think you are a piece of shit unless you go to elite schools. So you rack up 250k in loans and graduate from Columbia. You learned nothing at Columbia because liberal professors aren’t there to teach you, they are there to teach you “how to think,” and hey, they got to get paid some serious coin from Uncle Sam in the process (all guaranteed by the tax layers of course).
You graduate Columbia law school or business school with no real skills and you go to work for McKinsey or Cravath. YAY!!!! You are rich under the current tax code, which was written in the 40s and 50s and assumed stable and humane employment. You make 190k a year working 100 hours a week for people who absolutely hate their lives. Half your money goes to taxes because, hey, you are rich, so that 190k becomes 85k. You have to live in NYC or San Fran or DC for those jobs, so you pay another 40k in rent (and that’s cheap). You are down to 45k. You have to pay your loans off (3k a month minimum if you want them gone in under a decade). You are left with 10k. You rich bastard! If you manage to survive working like that for a decade, you have a zero net worth you rich bastard and maybe you can have what an autoworker in 1965 had by the time you are 60. 99 percent burn out and have nothing.
Orite, so you don’t go to college, you get the message. You learn a trade. You learn a trade, but wait! An undocumented alien is willing to do your job for half the price and for cash compensation. This works for the undocumented alien because he or she can use the money to build a real life in his or her home country and he or she can have many expenses subsidized by the government because he or she isn’t declaring the cash as income. You aren’t down with this? You racist!
This is how social mobility ends.
Now are both parties complicit on the tax front? Absolutely. Is Joe Biden going to raise taxes on billionaires? Absolutely not. Is Donald Trump going to raise taxes on billionaires? Absolutely not. Is Joe Biden going to accelerate outsourcing and maybe even provide tax benefits for outsourcing? Absolutely. Is Joe Biden going to increase taxes on “rich” W-2 minions working 100 hours a week, up to their eyeballs in debt, and making 150-300k a year in the most expensive parts of the country where that income barely affords you 600sqft of living space? Absolutely. Is Donald Trump going to tax the minions like this or outsource like crazy? Absolutely not. Is he not going to do this because he’s a nice guy? No, he just knows the country is literally over (and his dynasty along with it) if we keep enriching a hostile foe at the country’s expense.
Are Rhinos just as disgusting as Democrats? Absolutely. The pandemic proves this. We just bailed out the banks, the rich, etc. in spectacular fashion, and these assholes are complaining about sending the serfs some sheckles to the serfs so they can avoid bankruptcy.
At the end of the day though, there is no future when the employer class can demand that the Western workforce be relegated to the status of concentration camp workers (that’s what’s going on in China). Rhinos tell me this is good for me because [fill in the blank bullshit trickle down economics theory], and I laugh at them, and everyone else laughs at them. Democrats tell me that if I don’t like this, I’m a racist and everyone doesn’t laugh at that...
So yeah, the Democrats might be in for a rude awakening in November or maybe not. But if Uncle Joe wins, this country deserves what it gets. Let him outsource the entire fucking country so his son can get kickbacks and have orgies. The country ultimately deserves what it deserves.
One final note, if you think we are divided now, just wait a few more months until someone, probably on the right, decides to fire bomb the last taboo: public sector employees. Rhinos tell me cops are underpaid. Democrats tells me teachers are underpaid. What I know is that George Floyd’s killer has a vested pension worth in excess of a million dollars. What I know is that the public sector in the blue cities is vastly overpaid to its private sector counterparts, and what I know is that since they are completely insulated from the economic consequences of this virus and outsourcing, both a consequence of unfettered globalization, they flat out don’t give a shit about the millions of small businessss fighting to survive. I also know that that’s why they have no problem enforcing these lockdown orders with such callous hubris. I also know that the billionaires don’t pay their salaries because they don’t pay taxes, but the private sector minions battling for survival are on the hook for pensions and benefits that dwarf what’s available in the private sector (because of the private sector).
The party is just getting started no matter who wins in November.
As a disaffected lefty I'm ashamed for being part of the crowd that said "How could they vote against their own self-interests?" Fuck identity politics!
I went to a protest over the weekend (in Kansas) which opened with a round of speakers. Everything was going like normal with speaker after speaker reciting wokeist cant. Then this guy from a local socialist group (yeah, I guess we have that) got up and made a speech through the lens of class. He was critical of identity politics (which had been on full display in all the speeches before his) for its divisiveness and the way in which it ends up doing to us exactly what elite propaganda does to us; it prevents us from seeing our common interests and banding together. He called for getting past that so we could get on to the business of starting a real revolution. This guy got, by far, the biggest pop of everyone when he was done, and this from a crowd of confirmed wokesters. I thought that was interesting, heartening, and maybe a little instructive. Maybe it shows that identitarianism, no matter how strong it's looking, is fading and enough people are starting to smell the bullshit in time to turn things around.
An absolute tour de force of truth. Thank you, Matt. So pleased to be a subscriber.
Thank you for more insightful writing. Our leaders (government) are failing the American people. As a middle class family, we struggle with high taxes, bums and junkies in our neighborhoods and the decline of our ever more expensive education and healthcare system. My family feels politically homeless. Laws are enforced inconsistently. We are socially liberal, churchgoing and volunteer in our community. We abhor Trump's rhetoric but hate the Dems continuous condescension that we are somehow racist and/or selfish for loving our imperfect country and wanting out-of-control government spending to be reigned in. We are actually trying to preserve a worthwhile country for the future.
"Urban liberal condescension" is a great motivator for voters to turn their backs against logic. WHY don't Democrats realize that Peter Strzok in his knuckleheaded texts displaying such disdain for the working class exposed a level of contempt at high levels of government that continues to scald them today?
And they never stop. The Covid 'narrative' is one that is an exquisite divider. Watching John Lewis' funeral was an exercise in watching everyone do everything that we proles are not allowed to do, while the Elite ignore what all can see and say nothing about the obvious double, or triple, standard. I am a NYC resident, teaching in a NY public high school, and I can see what Mr. Taibbi is talking about with laser-like clarity. Everything written above is only getting more severe. Ever try explaining to a 15yr old black girl why she wasn't allowed to bury her older brother 6 weeks ago, but pols packed into a church are ok? If your answer to that question is lots of word salad, you're missing the point.
It always amazes me to hear journalists refer to the New York Times as if its influence on the body politic is overwhelming, when, in fact, virtually nobody in the USA reads it. The Times' influence outside a myopic elite is almost zero, and now that they have embraced Nicole Hannah-Jones's hatred for white people and US history as official editorial policy, their continued irrelevance and decline is assured.
My sister and her husband fall into this coastal, liberal elite. Both are in an absolute freakout over Trump and have the nastiest POV of people NOT from the Northeast or CA or a major city.
Both think black people should be arming themselves.
Neither one of them has EVER lived outside the wealthy little bubble they reside in.
I on the other hand spent 6 yrs in the military and I have lived all over the country. Then, my work has taken me to a lot of other places like Iowa and New Mexico and Texas.
I am absolutely stunned by the difference between my sisters perceptions and the realities that I have experienced.
This squares with what I get when I discuss issues with my conservative friends in my own age group. We've had the political choice between Republican or Democrat framed as a religious one where we have to justify it at a moral level and the media is all too willing to play both sides of the game to alleviate this moral quandary and give us the needed justifications either via outright lies or more subtle messaging. It works, we've become content to deride and demean each other over meaningless trivialities and to stop talking about the things we really care about.
When I talk to a conservative outside of the talking points pushed by the media we start to find common ground pretty quickly on a variety of issues.
1. No one should go hungry in this country.
2. No one should be homeless in this country.
3. We need to care for the mentally ill and disabled.
4. No one should have to work until they die with no hope of retirement benefits.
5. Everyone should be able to get affordable healthcare.
6. No one should have to live in a polluted environment.
These are issues that everyone can generally agree on, the only thing we can't seem to agree on is who is responsible and how to fix them. The fear instilled in the public about these issues and their solutions is palpable. People fear for their own livelihood, because we live so precariously. Even before the pandemic one serious illness or the loss of a key job in an area with few of them and you can go from living a nice middle class lifestyle to being homeless in the span of a few months.
The responsibility for these issues lies with those that have the fiscal and political power to change them. The politicians and corporations that keep the status quo in play and keep the fear alive.
Bernie Sanders was vilified by the media on both sides and yet when I talk to 2016 Trump voters many of them saw Bernie as a legitimate choice over Trump in this election and certainly over Biden. By the time the primary was decided (though crazily I've not even gotten to vote in my state) Bernie had been labeled a racist, a sexist, a rich elitist and a tool of the gun lobby and that's just on the liberal side.
Then the pandemic occurred and proved that everything he had been saying, for decades over and over again, was correct.
Yet here we sit with the unenviable choice of two aged incompetents peddling whatever bullshit they think people want to hear. One of them doubling down on his natural ability for passing the blame to whoever is within reach and the other scooping up large swaths of Bernie's playbook in a replay of Mr Hope and Change himself with the same end game of keeping the status quo in place.
I understand the nihilism of those willing to vote for Trump and burn the country to ground just to spite the Democrats for their hubris in playing the same fucked up game all over again, but I get the feeling that those people aren't going hungry right now or alternatively, to avoid going hungry, going to work every day wondering if they are going to catch Covid-19 and die.