GABlog Generative Anthropology in the Public Sphere

February 18, 2016

They Must Be Represented

Filed under: GA — adam @ 9:43 am

According to Marx, in his 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the peasants of France, even though they were the vast majority of the population, “cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.” The peasants were scattered, barely, if at all, literate, mired in prejudice (“rural idiocy”). It seems to me that we could say something similar about the white working class represented by Donald Trump (indeed, the fact that no one has thought of referring to Trump as a “Bonapartist” shows that we have become illiterate in Marx), albeit for some different reasons: the white working class is obviously quite literate and plugged-in, sensitive to the way they are represented in popular culture and thrown bones by politicians whose real interest is in more affluent or boutique constituencies. The problem with the white working class is that their resentments have no clear object, there is no clear way to remedy or defer them; and, at the same time, those resentments are not a particular threat to anyone either—no one needs to be afraid of the white working class. They are pretty well boxed in.

An article on the subject in National Review on the topic (Trump’s success has led the establishment conservatives to take a fresh look at this strange beast) suggests I should revise my estimate of the percentage of the population represented by the “wage earners” from my “Immigration (and then some other things)” post down to 40% from the 45% I had there. That just reinforces my point that, on any question where all the other classes are aligned against the wage earners (even if through indifference), the wage earners will be powerless to impose their preferences. This includes the more symbolic preferences, because the kind of straightforward, unapologetic patriotism and America-firstism that resonates with the working class requires an overwhelming cultural consensus to be sustained, and we simply don’t have that any more.

Most of those preferences are incoherent, anyway—how is any president, even in conjunction with a sympathetic or compliant congress, going to “bring manufacturing jobs back to America”? Any attempt to keep American companies in the US, or to encourage foreign companies to come here will get mired in even deeper layers of cronyism, incompetence and inefficiency (along with further infringements on the rights of small businesses and independent contractors) than is already considered intolerable by those in revolt against the “establishment.” Also, for decades it has been recognized that the line between American and foreign, when it comes to companies and consumer goods, has become irremediably blurred: is it more patriotic to buy a Toyota built in Tennessee or a Ford built in Mexico? Making America a more attractive site for manufacturing means eliminating unions, which, even in their currently shriveled state, are a source of pride and solidarity for millions of American workers. The idea of making more nationalistic trade deals is even more hopeless—I’m fairly certain that the unanticipated consequences will considerably outpace the intended ones. The logical conclusion, which I have seen drawn by one writer on the VDARE site, to the insistence on making preserving American jobs the nation’s primary imperative, is to resist automation altogether, a position I don’t yet find it necessary to refute. In other words, Trump’s promises and bluster in all these areas are pure BS.

But there are two issues where the working class resentments are directly actionable: immigration and Islam. The government certainly can eliminate illegal immigration, cut legal immigration, and forbid entry into the country by Muslims. Or to put it another way, if it can’t do these things, that is, if it is literally incapable of bringing manpower and technology to bear effectively on these purposes, there is absolutely no reason to believe it capable of doing anything else. But these are precisely the issues that place the working class most directly in confrontation with the salaried and investor classes, represented by powerful forces within both major parties. Moreover, the welfare class, while not particularly interested in immigration or Islam, is represented by the Democratic party, which is extremely interested in increasing the welfare class through immigration policies. (Polling regularly shows sizable majorities—65-70%—in favor of ending illegal and restricting legal immigration, which is why the amnesty bills regularly floated so hopefully by bipartisan blowhards are always dead in the water, but politicians sympathetic to or hoping to benefit from this majority probably assume—rightly, I think—that the numbers will go down dramatically once the actions needed to expel illegals are set in motion and exposed relentlessly by the national media. Maybe down to about 40% who have the stomach to see it through. There’s good reason to assume, then, that the expulsion of illegal aliens will be another quagmire, this time played out in our major cities throughout the country.)

But the white working class must continue to be represented, however boisterous, uncouth, vulgar and at times flailing, buffoonish and nasty that representation must be, and not only by Trump, because in the areas of immigration and Islam the vital interests of the working class coincide perfectly with the conditions of survival of the American nation. And this makes perfect sense if, indeed, the white, “Jacksonian,” working class is the core of the American nation. It’s also not surprising that these two issues bear the enormous weight of the central political questions of the day: nationalism vs. globalism and republic vs. empire; freedom vs. statism; the victimocracy vs. the normalization of firstness. Mark Steyn, who often follows these struggles through the prism of the question of free speech, which has been forced upon him over the past decade, has been observing recently how tenuous the default assumption in favor of free speech has become. He chronicles how, time and after time, the once uncontroversial claim that “we all have a right to our opinion” is met with hostility and incomprehension. It has come to seem more obvious that there are all kinds of things people shouldn’t be allowed to say. I think there is even a larger problem behind this capitulation to a regime of speech rules: the absence of credible role models. Parents, however good and caring, are increasingly unable to show children how to navigate a social and moral order that is foreign to them. Politicians, business leaders, sports stars, celebrities and once honored historical figures come virtually pre-debunked. It may be that the current craze for erasing symbols of an unacceptable past is both an attempt to make explicit this state of affairs and establish some set of rules, however bizarre, to replace it. Even apolitical young people seem desperate to have the rules under which they are expected to operate laid out explicitly, as the tacit understandings that once made a looser regime possible have been demolished. The white working class, its belligerence, the constant intrusion of a world of manual labor and intractable necessities and the implacable judgment of physical reality it represents, its unreconstructed gender roles, its untutored, spontaneous opinions regarding violence, still grounded in an older idea of “frontier justice,” its blinding, unbearable whiteness, all make it an irresistible depository of all those fears of a world that cannot be bent to a therapeutically approved homogeneity. Which also means it’s a container of all those differences we need to remember in order to continue thinking in such a world.

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