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Upside-down politics: A Republican for the working man, a Democrat for the elite?

Posted 9/6/16

Karl Marx didn’t get it all wrong.

I know that might sound shocking coming from a conservative writer, but the father of communism wasn’t completely off the mark when it came to human anthropology.

“The modern bourgeois society that …

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Upside-down politics: A Republican for the working man, a Democrat for the elite?

Posted

Karl Marx didn’t get it all wrong.

I know that might sound shocking coming from a conservative writer, but the father of communism wasn’t completely off the mark when it came to human anthropology.

“The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones,” he wrote in the opening to the Communist Manifesto.

America’s unique form of liberal democracy created a society less refined and more enterprising than Europe. But it failed to put the hierarchies of old to rest. The knights and feudal lords of medieval times were merely replaced by industry leaders, and the serfs and slaves became the working class. The arrangements were now voluntary, but the authority remained.

Just as the Industrial Revolution altered our social structure, this election cycle has sparked a realignment of class interests. The battle for the White House between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is a normal partisan affair. 

But it also represents so much more — namely, a struggle between uncultured wage-earners and cosmopolitan elites. 

It’s both a dollar and cents struggle and a fight over national vision. 

As Ross Douthat remarked recently in The New York Times, “From now on the great political battles will be fought between nationalists and internationalists, nativists and globalists.”

The American political dynamic wasn’t always like this. As the sociologist Charles Murray points out, the divide between classes used to be different. “Yes, America had rich people and poor people, but that didn’t mean that the rich were better than anyone else,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in February. Although they were separated by tax brackets, Americans still had a shared sense of common purpose and identity.

The explosion of non-European immigration following the 1960s altered the country’s demographics, threatening America’s large WASP population. The importation of cheap labor and the efficiencies engineered by globalism enriched the corporate class, while leaving low-skilled workers with fewer options to earn a buck.

So attitudes shifted. The elites, with fuller wallets thanks to improved production standards, detached itself from the people screwed over by the flattening globe. They preached inclusion and compassion while moving into gated communities, secure high-rises, and exclusive condominiums. The unlucky — whom sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild calls the “anxious middle” — were stuck in their old neighborhoods, left to deal with immigrants who had little incentive to assimilate.

When Donald Trump stepped onto the scene and announced his candidacy by promising to stunt illegal immigration (and saying a few unpleasantries about Mexicans), it was music to the ears of the angry and the dispossessed. Just like that, the wealthy real-estate developer transformed himself into the working-man’s candidate, and the enemy of corporate America.

With a striking blend of patriotism and populism, Trump has upended the GOP’s triad coalition of free-marketers, defense hawks and traditionalists. His “America-first” foreign policy is at odds with the neoconservative wing. 

His protectionist tendencies are repellent to economic libertarians. And his prurient lifestyle turns off social conservatives.

In alienating much of the conventional GOP base, Trump has brought massive numbers of non-college educated whites into his fold. Polls show the mogul leading Clinton by double-digits among those without college degrees. For the first time in four decades, Democrats can no longer count on the working-class voters.

Clinton, on the other hand, is making inroads with moneyed Republican constituencies. Her openness to using military strength has garnered her the support of many Republican foreign policy advisers, including Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense under President George W. Bush. Hedge funds have pumped nearly $50 million into the Clinton campaign and various pro-Clinton super PACs. GOP Rep. Richard Hanna of New York is voting Clinton, as is Meg Whitman, a former GOP Senate candidate and CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

More revealing is that Clinton actually leads Trump among the college educated by big margins — a first for a Democrat. Clinton is the candidate of Davos and Goldman Sachs, a paramour of Wall Street, a darling of D.C. bureaucrats, a fetching choice to the well-educated, and a wannabe prefect of the fiction called “the global community.” 

Trump is a rough-and-tumble, outer borough-raised reality TV-star with a love of luxury and country. His provincial positions have made him a traitor to his own class.

The political realignment we’re undergoing is so unusual, a fiction writer would struggle to think it up. A billionaire businessman has become the tribune of poor, white nationalists. The party of Tammany Hall is now led by a woman who hobnobs with the upper crust of American life.

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” Marx observed. In America, the struggle goes on, with each side led by a new champion.

November’s results won’t change this new dispensation.

James E. Miller, a native of Middletown, works as a digital marketer in Northern Virginia.