Erasing Economics and Economic Policy from Politics: The Race and Xenophobia Sideshow

By Lynn Parramore, Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for New Economic Thinking. Originally published at the Institute for NeW Economic Thinking website

Adolph Reed, who researches race and politics, warns that “identitarian” politics can conceal the structural inequities of capitalism.

Lynn Parramore: As the elections approach, media pundits seem focused on the idea that the country is facing a racist and xenophobic breakdown promoted by Trump and the GOP. The Democrats posit themselves as the answer to this threat. What do you make of this framing?

Adolph Reed: Immediately after Trump’s victory, I was particularly struck by the debate over how to interpret the victory. In my mind, this was always a debate over how to respond strategically and point towards the midterms and 2020.

The debate got condensed around the notion that Trump’s victory shows or has spurred a complete breakdown in the country around race and gender and homophobia and nativism. A lot of scholars have done intellectual work purporting to show that the white vote for Trump in 2016 was a reflection of status anxiety rather than economic anxiety. It boggles my mind that people think that it’s possible to separate the two in a neat way. But the big problem all along for those who wanted to push the white supremacist line is those 7-9 million people who voted for Obama and later for Sanders, then voted for Trump. How does racism explain that?

I had a very sharp and studious black undergraduate student wholly inside a race-first understanding of politics. When I mentioned the white people who had voted for Obama once if not twice who also voted for Trump, his response was, well, of course you can’t say that voting for Obama means that you’re not a racist. I said, yes, that’s true, but by the same token you can’t say that voting for Trump means you are a racist, right? Which they don’t want to accept.

LP: Thomas Ferguson, Ben Page, and their colleagues have just published a study for the Institute for New Economic Thinking revealing the intertwining social and economic factors that drove Trump voters in the Rust Belt, including those who switched from Obama to Trump. They find that long-term anguish over trends like globalization, imports, and slow growth were strong motivating factors that Trump was able to exploit by drumming up, for example, fear of immigrants. Yet many seem unwilling to confront this complexity. Why is that?

AR: My concern, and I’ve gotten more emphatic about it over time, is that if this argument is fundamentally an argument about the strategic direction that progressives and/or the Democratic Party should follow, then it’s really a debate about whether we try to mobilize around a politics that challenges the economic inequalities that are reproduced and intensified under capitalism, and especially neoliberal capitalism, or we pursue a response that accepts the logic of those inequalities and seeks to mobilize around a notion of fairness within that regime of fundamental inequality.

From that perspective, the notion that the fault line in left-of-center politics now is between people who take a class perspective and those who take an identity-based perspective miscasts the actual tension. The identity position is itself a class position. It’s just a position of a different class from the working class.

LP: An essay you wrote in the ‘90s criticized black public intellectuals who had become skilled, as you put it, at soothing white liberals in retreat from challenging economic unfairness by making them feel better about being on the side of “the black community” on matters of race. Are black pundits still doing this kind of soothing? I’m thinking of those who have tended to embrace neoliberal politics represented by figures like Hillary Clinton, who was offered as a presidential candidate in 2016.

AR: Yes, and what a sour offering that was. I think one difference between now and the time I wrote the essay is that the internet has democratized—and not in a good way—access to the racial voice or race spokesman profession.

I never liked the notion of public intellectual. After Russell Jacoby, an old friend of mine, wrote a book called The Last Intellectuals, people picked up this idea that black people who write commentary are somehow black public intellectuals. That’s really at bottom a racialist premise—the notion that any random black person who gets access to the public microphone has a kind of authenticity and that he or she expresses and speaks deeper truths.

To get more directly to the soothing function, yes, I think it’s even more perverse now. Take a figure like Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose message appeals to white liberals partly because of the moralism that lets you feel good about yourself in a particularly Protestant kind of way—in the sense of publicly performing one’s moral standing. But the real beauty of it is that since Coates’s message is that white supremacy is transhistorical, trancontextual, and always there, with whites committed to it ontologically, then the only thing you can hope for is repenting and individual atonement. Which is cheap and easy.

LP: How does that stance prevent us from challenging fundamental problems like economic inequality? How does it demobilize us?

AR: That’s maybe the most important question and that’s what we’ve seen play out since Trump’s election. Going back to the 2016 campaign, first we get the sort of Clintonites of whatever color who invent the bogus idea of the “Bernie Bro” [a pejorative label characterizing supporters of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders as white and male]. Since the election, the stakes have been getting raised perpetually, especially among the internet chattering class. At this point the charge operates like the telephone game [a game in which a word or phrase is whispered around a circle and alters in unexpected ways]. Any claim or proposal concerning durable patterns of economic inequality is now taken as being tantamount to making excuses for white supremacy.

It’s kind of interesting to see this de facto alliance of Wall Street and corporate democrats and the nominally left identitarians who come together on premises like the one [Paul] Krugman started pushing, I think even before the [2016] election, concerning what some people are now calling “horizontal inequality.” [“Vertical inequality,” in contrast, focuses on overall income and wealth disparities].

The idea is that there is only inequality between groups, whatever that means, or between individuals. From that formulation it means that class and class inequality disappear from the equation. There’s no space in that dichotomy for considering structural dynamics that reproduce patterns of inequality among all people who have to work for a living.

LP: In the country’s history, people of different races or backgrounds have worked together to promote policies that give ordinary people a better life. In North Carolina, for example, there were powerful black and white coalitions in the great Fusion victories of the late 19thcentury, when Populists and Republicans joined forces against elites. People wanting economic reform came together despite racism. Are we missing opportunities like this by focusing on what divides us rather than the things most of us want, like good schools and affordable health care?

AR: A few years ago when Barbara Fields was president of the Southern Historical Association, I was asked to join a presidential panel and I talked about the populist insurgency story, of which the North Carolina populist Fusion victories are the high point. I pointed out that yes, there was as much racial prejudice as you can find but that was not the undoing of those movements. It was violence, fraud, murder, and intimidation. When the panel was over, a black woman came up from the audience and wanted to catechize me about the limits of populism. She mentioned the racism and white supremacy, and I said, yes, there was that but there was also violence, intimidation, and murder on a grand scale. Her response was, yes, well, that’s true, but it was really the racism. Well, what can you say to that? She couldn’t see that the larger objective was to eliminate the threat that the insurgency had posed to planter-merchant class rule.

LP: As somebody who has ties to the North and the South, how to you view efforts to redress the wrongs of the country’s racial history, such as the removal of Confederate monuments?

AR: I’m sort of half Southern in my upbringing. I did my first communion in Washington, D.C. on the day before the Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down. We were living in Pine Bluff, Arkansas in ’57 and were there at the time of the Little Rock Nine [when nine teens braved violent protests to attend school after the Browndecision]. Then I was in New Orleans for high school. Before that I’d had the experience of being a Northern kid first from New York and then from D.C. who would go into the South during the last decades of the Jim Crow era. I’d have to learn the rules and get explanations from adults as to what this was all about, how you were supposed to act and why. From the time that I was old enough to recognize what they actually were, I detested those monuments completely, and I was very happy to see them gone.

I made the point in an essaythat it’s beyond time for them to be gone, but among the reasons that they could be taken down is that the social order that they were meant to memorialize is also long since gone. They were never really about celebrating the Confederacy. If you look at when they were constructed, they were meant to memorialize the version of the solid South behind white supremacy that the planter-merchant class was imposing between the end of the 19thcentury and WWI as a direct response to the defeat of the populist insurgency.

LP: You’ve recently highlighted that this is a tricky time for historians and those who want to examine the past, like filmmakers. Well-intentioned people who want to confront the injustices of history may end up replacing one set of myths for another. You point out the distortion of history in films like “Selma” which offer uplifting narratives about black experiences but tend to leave out or alter meaningful facts, such as the ways in which blacks and whites have worked together. This is ostensibly done to avoid a “white savior” narrative but you indicate that it may serve to support other ideas that are also troubling.

AR: Exactly, and in ways that are completely compatible with neoliberalism as a style of contemporary governance. It boils down to the extent to which the notion that group disparities have come to exhaust the ways that people think and talk about inequality and injustice in America now.

It’s entirely possible to resolve disparities without challenging the fundamental structures that reproduce inequalities more broadly. As my friend Walter Benn Michaels and I have been saying for at least a decade, by the standard of disparity as the norm or the ideal of social justice, a society in which 1% of the population controls more than 90% of the resources would be just, so long as the 1% is made up non-whites, non-straight people, women, and so on in proportions that roughly match their representation in the general population.

It completely rationalizes neoliberalism. You see this in contemporary discussions about gentrification, for example. What ends up being called for is something like showing respect for the aboriginal habitus and practices and involving the community in the process. But what does it mean to involve the community in the process? It means opening up spaces for contractors, black and Latino in particular, in the gentrified areas who purport to represent the interests of the populations that are being displaced. But that has no impact on the logic of displacement. It just expands access to the trough, basically.

I’ve gotten close to some young people who are nonetheless old school type leftists in the revitalized Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and I’ve been struck to see that the identitarian tendency in DSA has been actively opposing participation in the Medicare for All campaign that the national organization adopted. The argument is that it’s bad because there are disparities that it doesn’t address. In the first place, that’s not as true as they think it might be, but there’s also the fact that they can’t or won’t see how a struggle for universal health care could be the most effective context for trying to struggle against structural disparities. It’s just mind-boggling.

LP: If politicians continue to focus on issues like race, xenophobia, and homophobia without delivering practical solutions to the economic problems working people face, from health care costs to the retirement crisis to student debt, could we end up continuing to move in the direction of fascism? I don’t use the word lightly.

AR: I don’t either. And I really agree with you. I was a kid in a basically red household in the McCarthy era. I have no illusions about what the right is capable of, what the bourgeoisie is capable of, and what the liberals are capable of. In the heyday of the New Left, when people were inclined to throw the fascist label around, I couldn’t get into it. But for the first time in my life, I think it’s not crazy to talk about it. You have to wonder if Obama, who never really offered us a thing in the way of a new politics except his race, after having done that twice, had set the stage for Trump and whatever else might be coming.

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  1. hemeantwell

    Thanks, Yves. For decades now Reed has set the standard for integrating class-based politics with anti-racism. I only wish Barbara Fields, whom he mentions, could get as much air time.

  2. Doug

    Thank you for posting this outstanding interview.

    Those who argue for identity-based tests of fairness (e.g. all categories of folks are proportionately represented in the 1%) fail to think through means and ends. They advocate the ends of such proportionality. They don’t get that broad measures to seriously reduce income and wealth inequality (that is, a class approach) are powerful means to the very end they wish for. If, e.g., the bottom 50% actually had half (heck, even 30 to 40%) of income and wealth, the proportionality of different groups in any socioeconomic tier would be much higher than it is today.

    There are other means as well. But the point is that identity-driven folks strip their own objective of it’s most useful tools for it’s own accomplishment.

  3. The Rev Kev

    In reading this, my mind was drawn back to an article that was in links recently about a Tea Party politician that ended up being sent to the slammer. He was outraged to learn that at the prison that he was at, the blacks and the whites were deliberately set against each other in order to make it easier for the guards to rule the prison.
    It is a bit like this in this article when you see people being unable to get past the black/white thing and realize that the real struggle is against the elite class that rules them all. I am willing to bet that if more than a few forgot the whole Trump-supporters-are-racists meme and saw the economic conditions that pushed them to vote the way that they did, then they would find common cause with people that others would write off as deplorable and therefore unsalvageable.

    1. Jim Thomson

      Howard Zinn, in ” A Peoples’ History of the United States” makes a similar argument about the origins of racism in southern colonial America. The plantation owners and slave owners promoted racism among the working class whites towards blacks to prevent them ( the working class blacks and whites) from making common cause against the aristocratic economic system that oppressed both whites and blacks who did not own property.
      The origin of militias was to organize lower class whites to protect the plantation owners from slave revolts.
      The entire book is an eye-opening story of class struggle throughout US history.

      1. JBird4049

        The origin of militias was to organize lower class whites to protect the plantation owners from slave revolts.

        The militias were the bulk of the military, if the not the military, for large periods of time for all of the British American Colonies for centuries. The colonists were in fairly isolated, often backwater, places for much of the time. Between the constant small scale warfare with the natives and the various threats from the French and Spanish military, there was a need for some form of local (semi) organized military. It was the British government’s understandable belief that the colonists should pay at least some of the expensive costs of the soldiers and forts that were put in place to protect them during and after the Seven Years War that was the starting step to the revolution; the origins of modern American policing especially in the South has its genesis in the Slave Patrols although there was some form of police from the start throughout the Colonies form the very beginning even if it was just a local sheriff. The constant theme of the police’s murderous brutality is a legacy of that. The Second Amendment is a result of both the colonists/revolutionarie’s loathing, even hatred, of a potentially dictatorial standing army of any size and the slave holders’ essential need to control the slaves and to a lesser degree the poor whites.

    2. jrs

      people gang up (in racial groups – maybe that’s just easiest though it seems to have systematic encouragement) in prison for protection I think. The protection is not purely from guards. There are riots in which one could get seriously injured (stabbed), one could get attacked otherwise etc.. Because basic physical safety of one’s person is not something they provide in prison, maybe quite deliberately so.

      “I am willing to bet that if more than a few forgot the whole Trump-supporters-are-racists meme and saw the economic conditions that pushed them to vote the way that they did, then they would find common cause with people that others would write off as deplorable and therefore unsalvageable.”

      In those for whom poverty caused them to vote for Trump. But some voted for Trump due to wealth. And whites overall have more wealth than blacks and so overall (not every individual) are the beneficiaries of unearned wealth and privilege and that too influences their view of the world (it causes them to side more with the status quo). Blacks are the most economically liberal group in America. The thing is can one really try simultaneously to understand even some of say the black experience in America and try hard to understand the Trump voter at the same time? Because if a minority perceives those who voted for Trump as a personal threat to them are they wrong? If they perceive Republican economic policies (and many have not changed under Trump such as cutting government) as a personal threat to them are they wrong? So some whites find it easier to sympathize with Trump voters, well they would wouldn’t they, as the problems of poor whites more directly relate to problems they can understand. But so what?

    3. Todde

      Lol. He went to a minimum security federal prison, or daycare as we call it.

      Ots tax cheats and drug dealers, not a lot of racial activity goes on there.

  4. Livius Drusus

    I am glad that Reed mentioned the quasi-religious nature of identity politics, especially in its liberal form. Michael Lind made a similar observation:

    As a lapsed Methodist myself, I think there is also a strong undercurrent of Protestantism in American identity politics, particularly where questions of how to promote social justice in a post-racist society are concerned. Brazil and the United States are both former slave societies, with large black populations that have been frozen out of wealth and economic opportunity. In the United States, much of the discussion about how to repair the damage done by slavery and white supremacy involves calls on whites to examine themselves and confess their moral flaws — a very Protestant approach, which assumes that the way to establish a good society is to ensure that everybody has the right moral attitude. It is my impression that the left in Brazil, lacking the Protestant puritan tradition, is concerned more with practical programs, like the bolsa familia — a cash grant to poor families — than with attitudinal reforms among the privileged.

    Many white liberals are mainline Protestants or former Protestants and I think they bring their religious sensibilities to their particular brand of liberalism. You can see it in the way that many liberals claim that we cannot have economic justice until we eliminate racist attitudes as when Hillary Clinton stated that breaking up the big banks won’t end racism. Of course, if we define racism as a sinful attitude it is almost impossible to know if we have eliminated it or if we can even eliminate it at all.

    Clinton and liberals like her make essentially the same argument that conservatives make when they say that we cannot have big economic reforms because the problem is really greed. Once you define the problem as one of sin then you can’t really do anything to legislate against it. Framing political problems as attitudinal is a useful way to protect powerful interests. How do you regulate attitudes? How do you break up a sinful mind? How can you even know if a person has racism on the brain but not economic anxiety? Can you even separate the two? Politicians need to take voters as they are and not insist that they justify themselves before voting for them.

    1. Sparkling

      As a former Catholic, this post is absolutely correct on every possible level. Salvation by works or salvation by faith alone?

    2. flora

      I thought this reference to the Protestant way of self-justification or absolving oneself without talking about class in the US is true but was perhaps the weakest point. The financial elites justify their position and excuse current inequalities and injustices visiting on the 99% by whatever is the current dominate culturally approved steps in whatever country. In the US – Protestant heritage; in India – not Protestant heritage; in Italy – Catholic heritage, etc. Well, of course they do. This isn’t surprising in the least. Each country’s elites excuse themselves in a way that prevents change by whatever excuses are culturally accepted.
      I think talking about the Protestant heritage in the US is a culturing interesting artifact of this time and this place, but runs the danger of creating another “identity” issue in place of class and financial issues if the wider world’s elite and similar self excuse by non-Protestant cultures aren’t included in the example. Think of all the ways the various religions have been and are used to justify economic inequality. Without the wider scope the religious/cultural point risks becoming reduced to another “identity” argument; whereas, his overall argument is that “identity” is a distraction from class and economic inequality issues. my 2 cents.

  5. Left in Wisconsin

    The key point is that it is all about shutting down/shouting over class-based analysis. It is negative identity politics – “anti-intersectionality.”

    1. J Sterling

      Yes. I’m convinced the reason for all the different flavors of privilege was to drown the original privilege–class privilege.

  6. Norb

    Chris Hedges has been warning about the rise of American Fascism for years, and his warnings are coming to fruition- and still, the general population fails to recognize the danger. The evils and violence that are the hallmarks of fascist rule are for other people, not Americans. The terms America and Freedom are so ingrained in the minds of citizens that the terms are synonymous. Reality is understood and interpreted through this distorted lens. People want and need to believe this falsehood and resist any messenger trying to enlighten them to a different interpretation of reality- the true view is just to painful to contemplate.

    The horrors of racism offer a nugget of truth that can misdirect any effort to bring about systemic change. Like the flow of water finding the path of least resistance, racist explanations for current social problems creates a channel of thought that is difficult to alter. This simple single mindedness prevents a more holistic and complicated interpretation to take hold in the public mind. It is the easy solution for all sides- the tragedy is that violence, in the end, sorts out the “winners”. The world becomes a place where competing cultures are constantly at each others throats.

    Falling in the racism/ identity politics trap offers the elite many avenues to leverage their power, not the least of which is that when all else fails, extreme violence can be resorted to. The left/progressives have become powerless because they fail to understand this use of ultimate force and have not prepared their followers to deal with it. Compromise has been the strategy for decades and as time has proven, only leads to more exploitation. Life becomes a personal choice between exploiting others, or being exploited. The whole system reeks of hypocrisy because the real class divisions are never discussed or understood for what they are. This seems to be a cyclical process, where the real leaders of revolutionary change are exterminated or compromised, then the dissatisfaction in the working classes is left to build until the next crisis point is reached.

    WWIII is already under way and the only thing left is to see if the imperialist ideology will survive or not. True class struggle should lead to world peace- not world domination. Fascists are those that seek war as a means of violent expansion and extermination to suit their own ends. Hope for humanity rests in the idea of a multipolar world- the end of imperialism.

    Agressive war is the problem, both on the small social scale and the larger stage between nations. The main question is if citizens will allow themselves to be swept up into the deceptions that make war possible, or defend themselves and whatever community they can form to ensure that mass destruction can be brought under control.

    The real crisis point for America will be brought about by the loss of foreign wars- which seem inevitable. The citizenry will be forced to accept a doubling down on the existing failures or will show the fortitude to accept failure and defeat and rebuild our country. Seeking a mythic greatness is not the answer- only a true and sober evaluation will suffice- it must be a broader accommodation that accepts responsibility for past wrongs but does not get caught up in narrow, petty solutions that racist recriminations are hallmark. What is needed is a framework for a truth and reconciliation process- but such a process is only possible by a free people, not a conquered one. It is only on this foundation that an American culture can survive.

    This will take a new enlightenment that seems questionable, at least in the heart of American Empire. It entails a reexamination of what freedom means and the will to dedicate oneself to building something worth defending with ones life. It has nothing to do with wanting to kill others or making others accept a particular view.

    It is finding ones place in the world, and defending it, and cultivating it. It is the opposite of conquest. It is the resistance to hostility. In a word, Peace.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I don’t disagree with many of your assertions and their warrants but I am growing disturbed by the many uses of the word ‘Fascism’. What does the word mean exactly beyond its pejorative uses? Searching the web I am only confused by the proliferation of meanings. I believe it’s time for some political or sociological analyst to cast off the words ‘fascism’ and ‘totalitarianism’ and further the work that Hannah Arendt started. We need a richer vocabulary and a deeper analysis of the political, social, philosophical, and human contents of the concepts of fascism and of totalitarianism. World War II was half-a-century ago. We have many more examples called fascism and totalitarianism to study and must study to further refine exactly what kinds of Evil we are discussing and hope to fight. What purpose is served sparring with the ghosts as new more virulent Evils proliferate.

      1. Norb

        You have brought up a very important point. The meaning of words and their common usage. But I have to disagree that “new more virulent Evils” require a new terminology. To my mind, that plays right into the hand of Evil. The first step in the advancement of evil is the debasement of language- the spreading of lies and obfuscating true meaning. George Orwell’s doublespeak.

        I don’t think its a matter of casting off the usage of words, or the creative search to coin new ones, but to reclaim words. Now the argument can be made that once a word is debased, it looses its descriptive force- its moral force- and that is what I take as your concern, however, words are used by people to communicate meaning, and this is where the easy abandonment of words to their true meaning becomes a danger for the common good. You cannot let someone hijack your language. A communities strength depends on its common use and understanding of language.

        Where to find that common meaning? Without the perspective of class struggle taken into account- to orientate the view- this search will be fruitless. Without a true grounding, words can mean anything. I believe, in America, this is where the citizenry is currently, in a state of disorientation that has been building for decades. This disorientation is caused by DoubleSpeak undermining common understanding that is brought about by class consciousness/ solidarity/ community. In a consumerist society, citizens take for granted that they are lied to constantly- words and images have no real meaning- or multiple meanings playing on the persons sensibilities at any given moment- all communication becomes fundamentally marketing and advertising BS.

        This sloppiness is then transferred into the political realm of social communication which then transforms the social dialog into a meaningless exercise because there is really no communication going on- only posturing and manipulation. Public figures have both private and public views. They are illegitimate public servants not because they withhold certain information, but because they hold contradictory positions expressed in each realm. They are liars and deceivers in the true sense of the word, and don’t deserve to be followed or believed- let alone given any elevated social standing or privilege.

        Your oppressor describes himself as your benefactor- or savior- and you believe them, only to realize later that you have been duped. Repeat the cycle down through the ages.

        DoubleSpeak and controlling the interpretation of History are the tools of exercising power. It allows this cycle to continue.

        Breaking this cycle will require an honesty and sense of empathy that directs action.

        Fighting evil directly is a loosing game. You more often than not become that which you fight against. Directly confronting evil requires a person to perform evil deeds. Perpetuation of War is the perfect example. It must be done indirectly by not performing evil actions or deeds. Your society takes on a defensive posture, not an aggressive one. Defense and preservation are the motivating principles.

        Speaking the truth, and working toward peace is the only way forward. A new language and modes of communication can build themselves up around those principles.

        Protecting oneself against evil seems to be the human condition. How evil is defined determines the class structure of any given society.

        So much energy is wasted on trying to convince evil people not to act maliciously, which will never happen. It is what makes them evil- it is who they are. And too much time is wasted listening to evil people trying to convince others that they are not evil- or their true intensions are beneficent- which is a lie.

        “Sparing with ghosts”, is a good way of describing the reclaiming of historical fact. Of belief in the study of history as a means to improve society and all of humankind thru reflection and reevaluation. The exact opposite desire of an elite class- hell bent on self preservation as their key motivating factor in life. If you never spar with ghosts, you have no reference to evaluate the person standing before you- which can prove deadly- as must be constantly relearned by generations of people exploited by the strong and powerful.

        The breaking point of any society is how much falsehood is tolerated- and in the West today- that is an awful lot.

  7. Summer

    “I’ve gotten close to some young people who are nonetheless old school type leftists in the revitalized Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and I’ve been struck to see that the identitarian tendency in DSA has been actively opposing participation in the Medicare for All campaign that the national organization adopted…”

    Check to see how their parents or other relatives made or make their money.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      This is quite the challenge. I know a large number of upper middle class young people who are amenable to the socialist message but don’t really get (or don’t get at all) what it means. (I’m convinced they make up a large portion of that percentage that identifies as socialist or has a positive image of socialism.) But it would be wrong to write them off.

      A related point that I make here from time to time: all these UMC kids have been inculcated with a hyper-competitive world view. We need a systemic re-education program to break them free.

      1. Louis Fyne

        as a complementary anecdote, i know of economically bottom 50% people who are devout anti-socialists, because they deal with “micro-triggers” of free-riders, cheaters, petty theft in their everyday life.

        To them, the academic/ivory tower/abstract idea of equality in class, equality in income is an idealistic pipe dream versus the dog-eat-dog reality of the world.

        1. Stratos

          Interesting that you mention “economically bottom 50% people who are devout anti-socialists, because they deal with “micro-triggers” of [low income?] free-riders, cheaters, petty theft in their everyday life.”

          I read a lot of their snarling against alleged low income “moochers” in the local media. What I find disturbing is their near total blindness to the for-profit businesses, millionaires and billionaires who raid public treasuries and other resources on a regular basis.

          Just recently, I read a news story about the local baseball franchise that got $135 million dollars (they asked for $180 million) and the local tourism industry complaining about their reduction in public subsidies because money had to be diverted to homeless services.

          No one seems to ever question why profitable, private businesses are on the dole. The fact that these private entities complain about reductions in handouts shows how entitled they feel to feed from the public trough. Moreover, they do so at a time of a locally declared “homeless emergency”.

          Yet, it is the middle class precariat that condemn those below them as ‘moochers and cheaters’, while ignoring the free-riders, cheaters and grand larceny above them.

          1. Norb

            There is no class consciousness. The working stiffs admire their owners so the only people left to blame for their difficult life conditions are the poor below them on the social hierarchy. Or they blame themselves, which is just as destructive. In the interim, they enjoy the camaraderie that sporting events provide, so give the owners a pass. Bread and Circuses.

            A capitalist critique is the only way to change this situation, but that would require learning Marxist arguments and discussing their validity.

            There is that, or Charity for the poor, which only aggravates the class conflict that plagues our society.

            The third way is actually building community that functions on a less abusive manner, which takes effort, time, and will power.

        2. Jeremy Grimm

          I homed in on your phrase “they deal with ‘micro-triggers’ of free-riders, cheaters, petty theft in their everyday life” and it landed on fertile [I claim!] ground in my imagination. I have often argued with my sister about this. She used to handle claims for welfare, and now found more hospitable areas of civil service employment. I am gratified that her attitudes seem to have changed over time. Many of the people she worked with in social services shared the common attitudes of disparagement toward their suppliants — and enjoyed the positions of power it offered them.

          I think the turning point came when my sister did the math and saw that the direct costs for placing a homeless person or family into appallingly substandard ‘housing’ in her area ran in the area of $90K per year. Someone … not one of the “free-riders, cheaters, [or villains of] petty theft in their everyday life” was clearly benefiting. I am very lazy but I might try to find out who and advertise their ‘excellence’ in helping the poor.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        A “re-education” program? That usage resurrects some very most unhappy recollections from the past. Couldn’t you coin a more happy phrase? Our young are not entirely without the ability to learn without what is called a “re-education” program.

      3. Jeremy Grimm

        The comments in this post are all over the map. I’ll focus on the comments regarding statues commemorating Confederate heroes.

        I recall the way the issue of Confederate statues created a schism in the NC commentarient. I still believe in retaining ‘art’ in whatever form it takes … since there is so little art in our lives. BUT I also believe that rather than tear down the Confederate statues of Confederate ‘heroes’ it were far better to add a plaque comemorating just what sorts of heroism these ‘heroes’ performed for this country. That too serves Art.

        Tearing the statues down only serves forgetting something which should never be forgotten.

        This was intended as a separate comment … to stand alone. I believe Art should not forget … but should remember the horrors of our past … lest we not forget.

        1. ChiGal in Carolina

          Hence the importance of the memorial to lynching opened last year in Birmingham by the great Bryan Stevenson.

          We need to excavate and preserve our Auschwitzes; a plaque on a statue glorifying a Confederate general doesn’t quite do it.

  8. Darius

    It occurred to me that centrists demonize the left as unelectable based entirely on tokens of identity. Long haired hippies. The other. It works because the political debate in America is structured entirely around identity politics. Nancy Pelosi is a San Francisco liberal so of course white people in Mississippi will never vote for the Democrats. Someone like Bernie Sanders has a message that will appeal to them but he is presented as to the left of even Pelosi or alternately a traitor to the liberal identity siding with racists and sexists. Actually, all of these oppressions are rooted in working class oppression. But that is inconsistent with the framing of ascriptive identity.

  9. Susan the other

    This was a great post. Didn’t know about Adolph Reed. He gets straight to the point – we have only 2 options. Either change neoliberal capitalism structurally or modify its structure to achieve equality. Identity politics is a distraction. There will always be differences between us and so what? As long as society itself is equitable. As far as the fear of fascism goes, I think maybe fascism is in the goal of fascism. If it is oppressive then its bad. If it is in the service of democracy and equality the its… good. If our bloated corporatism could see its clear, using AR’s option #2, to adjusting their turbo neoliberal capitalism, then fine. More power to them. It isn’t racism preventing them from doing this – it is the system. It is structural. Unfortunately we face far greater dangers, existential dangers, today than in 1940. We not only have an overpopulated planet of human inequality, but also environmental inequality. Big mess. And neither capitalism nor socialism has the answer – because the answer is eclectic. We need all hands on deck and every practical measure we can conjure. And FWIW I’d like to compare our present delusions to all the others – denial. The statue of Robert E. Lee, imo, is beautiful in its conveyance of defeat with deep regret. The acceptance is visible and powerful. What will the postmortem statue of neoliberalism look like?

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      Do you really want ‘equality’ however you might define it? We are not born equal. Each of us is different and I believe each of us is therefore very special. [I suppose I echo the retort of the French regarding the equality of the sexes: “Vive la Difference!”.] I believe we should celebrate our inequalities — while we maintain vigilance in maintaining the equal chance to try and succeed or fail. The problem isn’t inequality but the extreme inequalities in life and sustenance our society has built — here and more abroad. I don’t mind being beaten in a fair race. An unfair race lightens my laurels when I win. But our societies run an unfair competition and the laurels far too heavily grace the brows of those who win. And worse still, ‘inequality’ — the word I’ll use for the completely disproportionate rewards to the winners … to the undeserving in-excellent ‘winners’ … is not a matter solved by a quest for ‘equality’. The race for laurels has no meaning when the winners are chosen before the race and the ‘laurels’ cost the welfare and sustenance for the losers and their unrelated kin who never ran in the race. And ‘laurels’ were once but honors and there is too far little honor in this world.

      1. workingclasshero

        Nothing denotes a naive idealistic “progressive” than the demand for near absolute equality in terms of money and status in their future society.all or nothing i guess.

        1. Jeremy Grimm

          I have read and appreciated many comments by ‘Susan the other’. I would not ever characterize her comments as those of a naive idealistic “progressive” demanding absolute equality … I should and must apologize if that is how you read my comment. I intended to suggest equality is not something truly desirable in-itself. But re-reading her comment I find much greater depth than I commented to —

          ‘Susan the other’ notes: “The statue of Robert E. Lee, imo, is beautiful in its conveyance of defeat with deep regret.” In answer to her question: “What will the postmortem statue of neoliberalism look like?” I very much doubt that the post mortem statue of Neoliberalism will show regret for anything save that all the profits were not accrued before those holding the reins, the Elite of Neoliberalism, might gracefully die … without care for any children they may have had.

  10. freedomny

    Thanks for this post. I am really surprised these days by black “liberal” media folks who insist that racism be addressed before inequality/class issues. They are almost vehement in their discussions about this. Are they protecting neoliberalism because it benefits them….???

    1. JBird4049

      My previous admittedly overlong reply has yet to show. Darn.

      But this question is an important one.

      Yes, they do very much.

      One of the reasons the Civil Rights struggle died was the co-option of the Black elites, especially of the Civil Rights Movement, by the American elites. After Martin Luther King’s assassination, his Poor People’s Campaign slowly died. A quiet quid pro quo was offered. Ignore all the various social, economic, political and legal wrongs done to all Americans, and yes blacks in particular, and just focusing on black identity and social “equality” or at least the illusion of campaigning for it, and in you will be given a guaranteed, albeit constrained, place at the money trough. Thus the Black Misleadership Class was born.

      All the great movements in past hundred plus years have had their inclusivity removed. Suffragism/Feminism, the Union Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, even the Environmental Movement all had strong cross cultural, class, and racial membership and concerns. Every single of these movements had the usually white upper class strip out everyone else and focusing only on very narrow concerns. Aside from the Civil Rights Movement, black participation was removed, sometimes forcefully. They all dropped any focus on poor people of any race.

      A lot of money, time, and effort by the powerful went into doing this. Often just by financially supporting the appropriate leaders which gave them the ability to push aside the less financially secure ones.

  11. Jeremy Grimm

    Reading this post in its entirety I feel the author must become more direct in critique. Old jargon of class or race or a “struggle against structural disparities” should be replaced by the languages of such assertions as: “…the larger objective was to eliminate the threat that the insurgency had posed to planter-merchant class rule” or “It just expands access to the trough, basically”. Why mince words when there are such horrors as are poised against the common humanity of all?

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        Your comment is too brief and too enigmatic. If by Adolf you mean Adolf H. — he is dead. New potentially more dangerous creatures roam the Earth these days … beware.

        1. tegnost

          Adolph Reed is a power unto himself

          I consider currently one of our great intellectuals in that he understands and can use language to make his case in a layman not necessarily friendly but accessible .

          and as a southern born white male I think maybe I should watch Glory… I remember a ’67 show and tell when a black classmate had a civil war sword come up in their sugar cane field, and when I and a friend found a (disinterred…yuck) civil war grave just out in the woods in north florida. People seem to have forgotten that times were chaotic in our country’s checkered past… I was in massive race riots and massive anti war protests as a child of the ’60s, but since I was in the single digits at the time no one payed me any mind…as a for instance my dad somehow got the counselors apartment in a dorm at florida state in 68′ and I remember people in the the dorms throwing eggs at the protesters. It was nuts.

  12. Tomonthebeach

    Ferguson’s INET paper got me thinking about what triggers racism in us. As a kid, ethnic pejoratives were usually a reaction to some injury. “You stupid Wap, you just scratched my car. That dirty Mick tripped me when I wasn’t looking.” I tend to agree with the premise that bailing out Wall Street and letting Main Street lose out offers a powerful trigger for a racist reaction. People might have been softening on their lifelong covert racism when they succumbed to Obama’s charm. But when you lose your job, then your house, and wind up earning a third of what you did before the GR, that is the sort of thing that triggers pejorative/racist reactions. That [N-word] SOB is just like them other Jew-boy globalists who are sending our jobs to Chinamen and whatnot. Screw him and all the damned Democrat libtards. Then, when a MAGA-hatted Trump echoes those sentiments over a PA system, the ghost of Goebbels is beaming.

  13. JerseyUp

    Fascism is staging a return but that’s because the ruling classes, the billionaires and others behind the scenes, are backing it. One has to look outside north America to see this same phenomenon happening in Europe with far right parties making large inroads and gains. Brazil is another example of this same phenomenon. How is this possible? Quite simply by appealing to the victims of neoliberalism while blaming immigrants and other easy scapegoatsfor the the current circumstances.

    That’s what made those 9 million switch from Obama to trump. They’ve been given an easy target with the media very complicit in spreading such propaganda.

    Identity politics has also been useful as a tool to funnel angst and anger over plummeting economic fortunes into neo fascism.

    The us vs them, the relentless demonization of immigrants and minorities and other countries (Russia, china, iran),, the further militarization of the country, the sabers rattling and military threats, the tearing up of the post ww2 order and the descent into open trade wars…these are highly related but also the precursors to bigger troubles.

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