Explaining You Know Who

Some phenomena cry out for explanations. I bet you can think of one such phenomenon right now. Here are a few attempts to explain it.

Chris Hedges is one of those overwrought leftists who see no significant difference between most Democratic and Republican politicians. That’s why he names Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as prime villains in “The Revenge of the Lower Classes and the Rise of American Fascism” (where “fascism” refers to what You Know Who is selling):

College-educated elites, on behalf of corporations, carried out the savage neoliberal assault on the working poor. Now they are being made to pay. Their duplicity—embodied in politicians such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—succeeded for decades. These elites, many from East Coast Ivy League schools, spoke the language of values—civility, inclusivity, a condemnation of overt racism and bigotry, a concern for the middle class—while thrusting a knife into the back of the underclass for their corporate masters. This game has ended.

There are tens of millions of Americans, especially lower-class whites, rightfully enraged at what has been done to them, their families and their communities. They have risen up to reject the neoliberal policies and political correctness imposed on them by college-educated elites from both political parties: Lower-class whites are embracing an American fascism.

Hedges is hoping for the day when the “underclass” unites and takes its revenge, but notice how his language changes by the end of his second paragraph. First, it’s “especially lower-class whites” who have risen up. Then it’s simply “lower-class whites” who are embracing you know who.

For a moment, however, consider whether non-white members of the lower class would identify the Clintons or Obama as their principal opponents among the ruling class. Has it been the Democratic Party that’s stood in the way of universal healthcare, a higher minimum wage, immigration reform and more government spending on infrastructure and education?

Hedges moves on to considering the roots of fascism in general:

In fascism the politically disempowered and disengaged, ignored and reviled by the establishment, discover a voice and a sense of empowerment. 

Yet we’re unlikely to see masses of disempowered and disengaged non-white Americans supporting right-wing politicians like you know who. Some registered Democrats do, however. In “Some of < … >’s Strongest Supporters Are Registered Democrats. Here’s Why“, Sean McElwee and Jason McDaniel cite various surveys, concluding that there’s a simple explanation for < … >’s success: economic insecurity tends to increase racial resentment among white voters, even relatively moderate white voters.

In previous articles, McElwee and McDaniel offered data to show that racial resentment, not economic insecurity, is strongly correlated with support for the Tea Party and opposition to governmental programs (like the Affordable Care Act) that aim to reduce economic inequality. They conclude that: 

… progressives should be wary of arguments that recessions or financial crises lead to opportunities for progressive policymaking. Rather, they foster exactly the sort of divisiveness that strengthens right-wing movements, at least for whites. For all the talk of “the working class” supporting [< …>], few pundits have noted that the working class is increasingly diverse. The idea that economic peril alone creates [-< … >’s] support is belied by the fact that working-class people of color aren’t flocking to [< …>]. The reason so many liberal and moderate whites are flocking toward [< …>] is simple: racism.

Finally, “The Rise of American Authoritarianism“, by Amanda Taub, is a long but helpful article that explains the popularity of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named in terms of his appeal to the authoritarians among us. Her article summarizes the work of political scientists who have identified an “authoritarian personality”:

Authoritarians are thought to express much deeper fears than the rest of the electorate, to seek the imposition of order where they perceive dangerous change, and to desire a strong leader who will defeat those fears with force. They would thus seek a candidate who promised these things. And the extreme nature of authoritarians’ fears, and of their desire to challenge threats with force, would lead them toward a candidate whose temperament was totally unlike anything we usually see in American politics — and whose policies went far beyond the acceptable norms….

Authoritarians prioritize social order and hierarchies, which bring a sense of control to a chaotic world. Challenges to that order — diversity, influx of outsiders, breakdown of the old order — are experienced as personally threatening because they risk upending the status quo order they equate with basic security.

… Those changes have been happening for a long time, but in recent years they have become more visible and harder to ignore. And they are coinciding with economic trends that have squeezed working-class white people.

Hence, it shouldn’t be a great surprise that so many white Americans with authoritarian leanings have responded to a pseudo-politician who promises to make America “great” (for them) again. What’s most surprising is that they’re responding so positively to such a ridiculous figure. It’s hard to believe that so many people think this character could deliver on his promises. If nothing else, recent history shows how difficult it is for our government to accomplish anything, let alone the deportation of millions of citizens or the construction of another Great Wall of China by the Mexican government. But if you’re longing for a dictator, a blowhard who plays a dictator on TV may be good enough for the time being.

Taub’s article concludes with some thoughts on the future of American politics. She believes we may already have a three-party system: Democrats on the left, the Republican establishment on the right and authoritarian Republicans on the far right. In the long run, however, she thinks the Republican establishment may move even further to the right, leading to a party “that is even more hard-line on immigration and on policing, that is more outspoken about fearing Muslims and other minority groups, but also takes a softer line on traditional party economic issues like tax cuts”.

Of course, some observers, as noted above, think there is no difference worth mentioning between the Democratic and Republican establishments today. I disagree, but it’s certainly possible that a Republican Party that moves further right will mean that more moderate Republicans (like the ones threatening to support Clinton if what’s his name is nominated) will move to the Democratic Party, bringing their money with them. That could lead to the creation of a different three-party system, featuring fed-up progressives or democratic socialists on the left, a centrist Democratic Republican party in the middle and angry Tea Party authoritarians on the right. It could even lead to a more representative four-party system. Or a people’s party vs. a capitalist’s party.

Fantasizing about the future of American politics can be a lot of fun, since the present state of our politics is so damn depressing.