Right now the Democratic party is concentrating on stopping DonaldTrump. The main effort is to keep Trump from destroying health care, from destroying everything that once made America great and even from destroying American Democracy. And, at this point, this is at it should be.
However, the Democrats need to think about the next election, and the next and the next. In my opinion, the Democratic party is not going to elect any candidates, not to the presidency or to the senate or to the house or to any offices on the state level until they begin to address the real problem that is confronting America right now; and that problem is the decline of working class America.
The white working class isn’t just a few white guys in rust belt America who lost their jobs when America de-industrialized in the eighties and nineties. It is actually most of the middle class. It is 40% of the total vote. And actually, it is not all white; it is also all the Blacks and Hispanics and Asians who are working class Americans. It is actually the heart of America. (Depending on how you define such things.)
America is basically divided into the rich, the middle class and the poor. The rich are the upper 20 %, the poor are the lower 30% and the rest, the remaining 50 % are the middle class. Middle class family incomes begin at about $32,000 per year and end at about $132,000 per year. The median family income is $75,000. All of the white working class fit into the middle class, mostly as lower middle class. What typifies them most is that they work for a living and they don’t have a college education. They are not the poor as most people think, this is a whole different class. The working class are defined by a set of class beliefs, folkways and traditions that are not really understood by either the upper professional elites nor by the poor. They are often people who are proud of working hard, being moral and and having real down to earth values. Whole books have been written about working class values and how these values are not understood by other classes.
Many writers agree that the best of these books is The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class and Imagination by Michele Lamont. I like this book and it is very readable. Unfortunately you cannot buy it as a Kindle book though and it is relatively expensive, I paid $24.00for my copy. A more practical book on class is White Working Class: Overcoming class cluelessness in America by Joan C Williams. This is a great book. It certainly convinced me that I know nothing about the white working class. I highly recommend this book.
The working class was once a greatly respected, and even heroic part of America. The working class was once revered as The American Working Man, who was depicted in 1930’s murals on the walls of US Post Offices and other public buildings as a hero of our democratic society.
This is no longer the case. Since the 1970’s the American working class as part of the middle class has steadily been losing ground. For one thing, median incomes for the middle class have been stagnant since the 1970’s, when you correct for inflation. But at the same time expenses have been steadily rising, particularly major expenses like the cost of homes and apartment rent, child care expenses, university tuition expenses, medical expenses, and food and grocery expenses.
In addition, the middle class has been hit by all kinds of other double whammies in the working world. For instance, most working class jobs are no longer good jobs but are now low paying fast food jobs and retail jobs and other jobs in the service sector. And these jobs no longer offer much in the way of security; workers no longer work a steady guaranteed 40 hour weeks and they can no longer depend on a predictable work schedule. They work when their employers need them and don’t work in slack periods. Employees are now expected to accept schedules that vary from day to day and even hour to hour with no forewarning. They work a few hours here and a few there and are expected to come and go during the day and week when management sees a need for them. Almost all employees toward the lower end of the pay scale have become what are called “gig workers.” And since gig workers are considered part time and/or contract workers they are not eligible for insurance or any other benefits.
Another whammy gig worker’s get hit with is that since you never know when you are working or not, there is no way you can schedule going to school, taking special classes or even making doctor and dental or any other kinds of appointments. Nor is it possible to set up regular child care arrangements. There is little respect or even consideration in the world of gig workers. And there is zero job security in this world. Jobs not only get rescheduled overnight but they disappear just as regularly. Life long careers with one company are long-long-long gone.
A third whammy: The one thing that working class men and women need in order to get ahead, to earn a decent living, is a good education. But, college tuitions are now far more expensive than any working class person can afford. The only recourse is to borrow at high interest rates and hope to pay back loans by getting a good job after graduation. But there are few of those good jobs left even for college graduates. And this problem is exasperated by the new rash of for-profit colleges that encourage prospective students to apply for Federal education loans to finance their education. Unfortunately most class hours earned at these fly-by-night, poorly staffed schools are not accepted by accredited colleges or prospective employers. After two or three or four years many students at for-profit universities often owe over $100,000 with few hopes of getting a job or being able to transfer their hours to a real university. In short, they are screwed, and generally end up spending the rest of their lives trying to repay their enormous loans by working as waitresses or sales clerks or fast food fry cooks.
All of the good industrial jobs that the working class used to rely on are now gone forever. Industrial production in American is actually higher right now than it ever was, but employees have been replaced by automation and robotization. The good, high paying jobs in auto manufacturing, steel production, coal mining are gone for good in America. And things are only getting worse. Robotization is increasing every year. What is going to happen when when most cars and trucks and busses become self driving, which by all accounts is going to happen in the next ten years or sooner? Driving currently provides the largest single source of jobs for male, American, non-college workers. Clearly self driving vehicles are going to be another disaster for working class men.
So, there is a real problem for the American working class, who are actually most of the American middle class, who are 40% of the American voters. And these folks are getting very, very angry. Their incomes have disappeared over the last forty years. They are losing their homes. Education is pretty much impossible. And they feel disrespected and ignored and left behind. Many of them are turning to drugs and/or killing themselves. Suicide rates are way up for both working class men and women .
The American working class is depressed, desperate and angry. They feel left behind, left out, disrespected, and dishonored. And they are the largest voting block in America. And this means big-time trouble. Whenever a large class of people finds itself in this situation they often begin finding both scapegoats to blame and unlikely hero’s to save them, think Nazi Germany during the depression.
This is a lot of the reason why Trump is now the American President. He successfully channeled the despair and anger of the white working class into racism and zenophobia and votes for himself. Many working class people know Trump will probably not be their savior or even helpful to their class. Many of them also hate the kind of bullying, coarse, vulgar, woman hating, destructive, immoral man that he is, but see no hope in any other politicians. He is the last hope for many in the working classes. Or for some, he is an illusion that they desperately want to believe in.
For a much more complete description of the plight of the American middle and working classes, read Elizabeth Warren’s latest book This Fight is our Fight. She explains all the above problems with the white working class in America much better than I have. And she tells the stories of a lot of people who have lived thru this dilemma in very graphic detail. It’s a great book with a lot of truth in a few easy to read words.
Robert Reich’s book Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few is another great book similar to Elizabeth Warren’s book. Reich’s column is also a great way of keeping up with what is happening in the political world of modern America. And what is happening there is not good, as almost everyone by now has realized.
In my opinion, events like the election of Donald Trump and the Republican takeover of both the Senate and the House are probably not going to go away quickly, like at the end of Trump’s first term. If the Democratic party cannot do something real, something genuinely good for the white working class, we are could keep on seeing more Trumps, and unfortunately these future Trumps may be much smarter and more clever than the Trump we have now. If you think we have troubles now, just wait a few more years. It seems to me that our current political problem is not temporary one. Nor is it just a quirky coincidence of social events resulting in a short time bad situation that will disappear in four years when we get rid of Trump. If we don’t get on top of the basic problem, the collapse of the middle class, it may be the beginning of the end for America.
I may be wrong of course, and I hope I am. But I’m not holding out much hope for the end of Trump or autocracy or plutocracy or even of the Republican Party in America.
So, what do Democrats need to do to win the vote of the American working/middle class? What do the Democrats need to do to win the presidency, as well as both federal and state legislators? My answer is both radical and I’m sure also simplistic and naive. But here it is anyway.
In the first place the Democrats need to come with a few decent and honest politicians who are willing to actually work for the American people.
Below is what seems to be to me one possible, tenable Democratic platform that might be at least a beginning. Let me start with a Presidential candidate. Let me describe a fictional presidential candidate that I think might have a chance to win and who might be able to begin a sane program of social renewal. All of these are comments are just the bare bones of an idea that skips over all the political realities that would be needed to put such a program in place. This article is not about realistic political mechanisms, that is something for someone much smarter complex than I am.
Here is what I think my fictional presidential candidate needs to do. He would need, first of all, to be completely honest about the current situation. The problem of jobs and loss of income and loss of social mobility is not going to be fixed immediately. He needs to be right up front about the fact that he is not going to be able to fix everything, or maybe even anything, immediately. He needs to tell the hurting middle class that he is not going to bring aid to them immediately, almost certainly not in his upcoming term. People need to know that this is going to be a long fight. They need to know to expect disappointment in the immediate future.
Then I think my fictional candidate needs to promise, and really mean it, that he will do his very best to begin forming a very progressive, people oriented kind of governance. Here is what the US desperately needs: We need to at least double the minimum wage so that workers can at least hope for a living wage as soon as possible. We need free college education at public universities for everyone. (We already have free primary and secondary education now, why not college as well? The University of California once offered high quality free education for everyone in California who wanted one, this is a very real goal.) We need Medicare for everyone; i.e. a single payer health system that automatically provides free medical care for anyone one who needs it. We need to immediately embark on a real, publicly funded project of infrastructure rebuilding in America. We need a plan for free preschool, and a new, improved plan for primary and secondary education in America. No child left behind is a total disaster that needs to be replaced with professional educators who are paid professional level salaries. We need free childcare to enable working class people to work. We need a free, workable plan for the care of retired Americans. And finally, we have to get the big money out of politics forever.
All of these goals would be a tremendous improvement for almost all Americans and all would result in a very large resurgence of real jobs.
However, this also clearly looks like impossible pie in the sky in our current America. And this plan is clearly a political impossibility in the very near future; this is a longtime plan. But we desperately need to state the real goals for what this country really needs. And, if you think about it, this isn’t a totally impossible plan. Some of the things on my dream list are actually available, right now in many first world countries. Medicare for all, free college education, regularly upgraded infrastructure, free care of the elderly, and excellent pre-schools are available in many advanced European countries. Only in America do these things seem like impossible dreams.
And then there is the fact that there isn’t much of an alternative. Why advocate for halfway plans that don’t work well and which won’t convince the working class that the Democratic party is serious. ObamaCare was a great advance over no health care at all. And it was a great start. And in the practical world or real world politics we do need to settle for non-perfect solutions that are better than nothing.
However, look at what’s happening right now: ObamaCare may go down the tubes with an administration that, even if it cannot directly repeal it, may just let it wither away into oblivion by not fixing it when it needs fixing. Why not try for the real thing, single payer medical care, i.e. Medicare for all? This is what everyone in the middle class really needs. We may fail and fail and fail to get it passed but at least we would have tried. And at least the working class will know that we are trying. At least the Democratic party would be seen as advocating and fighting for something real that all middle class Americans need. It will help make the Democrats into the party of the people, not the party of the elite rich.
And, most importantly, my fictional presidential candidate needs to point out very clearly why these plans are not getting turned into reality, and who the enemies of this plan really are. He needs to point out as clearly as possible that the Republican party is the party of the rich. It needs to be stated again and again that the people who will fight tooth and nail to keep this social dream from happening are the super rich and the not quite so rich, probably most of the top 20%. The progressive plan I am advocating for, is not going to be cheap and someone is going to have to pay for it. And that someone is going to have to be the richest 20% in America, and more likely the richest 10%, 1% and .1%. These people are clearly not going to like this and they are surely going to use their paid Republican soldiers for fight for what they see as their right to keep almost all of the money in America for themselves.
If the Democratic party is going to win any more elections federally or locally, they are going to have to become, and also be widely known as, the party of the people and they going to have to go to war against the party of the rich. And they are going to have to find a way to make these labels real and to make them stick.
To say it again, the Republicans have to be branded as the party the rich and the Democrats have to be branded as the party of the people.
The time of pretending to be the friend of the working class is over. Trump tried this, and I think, I hope, that this pretense of befriending the middle class will come to an end at some point. The working class are not stupid. They sometimes have trouble separating the fake news from the real news. But when you get right down to it, we all have this problem. All humans have huge problems in seeing anything objectively. But the working class knows when life is getting better and when it is getting worse. They are soon going to realize that Trump isn’t making life better for them. And, hopefully, given time, they will know the real thing when they see it and they will fight for it.
Bottom line, what needs to happen is that the Democrats need to become the real party of the people and let the working class know this.
The Democrat who seems to me to be the best candidate for the next President, at least at this point, is Elizabeth Warren. I think she is one of the few Democrats who really understands what is happening to the white working class / middle class and who really wants to work for their benefit. Again, I urge you to read her latest book This Fight is our Fight. She explains all the above problems of the white working class in America much better than I have. This is a simple, straight-forward book that I think all well-meaning people in America ought to read.
Below are some other books that are central to what seems to me to be the most important thing happening in America right now: The decline of the white working class, the Republican attempt to channel their resulting anger and despair into votes for themselves, and the need for the Democratic party to redefine itself as the Party of the People.
Other books on white working class in America
Linked to kindle books in Amazon
White Working Class: Overcoming class cluelessness in America by Joan C Williams
This Fight is our Fight: The battle to save America’s middle class, by Elizabeth Warren
Stangers in Their Own Land: Anger and mourning on the American right by Arlie Russell Hochschild
What is Populism by Jan-Werner Muller
The Great Convergence, by Richard Baldwin
The Great Divide: Unequal societies and what we can do about them, by Joseph E. Stiglitz
Global Inequality, A new approach for the age of globalization, by Branko Milanovic
The Retreat of Western Liberalism by Edward Luce
Glass House: the 1% economy and the shattering of the all-American town, by Brian Alexander.
White Rage: The unspoken Truth of our Racial Divide, by Carol Anderson
White Trash: the 400 year untold history of class in America, by Nancy Isenberg
What’s Wrong with the Democrats: If the party cares about winning, it needs to learn how to appeal to the white working class. An article in the July/August edition of the Atlantic Magazine.