Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, seems to have some pretty nasty business in mind, judging from today's title, "The Pull of Racial Patronage",
Think of a Donald Trump voter, the kind that various studies have identified as his archetypal backer: a white man without a college education living in a region experiencing economic distress.1
Note the cautious phrasing; he doesn't say the voter is experiencing economic distress, which would be false, as we learned in quite a bit of detail from Jonathan Rothwell's important Gallup study, which showed that Trump voters may live in distressed regions, but are generally pretty well off themselves. They may not have college degrees, but they're not the guys you've been reading about who can't stay married or hold a job or get off pain pills; those guys don't vote at all, by and large, as you might have guessed. These guys, in contrast, are running their own businesses and settled down, and though they're a little stressed, they're far from the bottom of the local pecking order. The monsignor knows it, too, and he'll be getting to it presently, but it's not the picture he wants you to have in your head:
What do you see? A new “forgotten man,” ignored by elites in both parties, suffering through socioeconomic dislocations, and turning to Trump because he seems willing to put the working class first? Or a resentful white bigot, lashing back against the transformation of America by rallying around a candidate who promises to make America safe for racism once again?Like Joan Blondell's (and Etta Moten's, the one who did the actual singing, both her own and Blondell's lipsynch) proletarian hero in Gold Diggers of 1933, the man—a World War I vet or a Dust Bowl–ruined farmer—who used to love those girls, and who wouldn't? Before the Depression kicked the world out from under his purposeful feet and left him scoping the sidewalk for cigarette butts. Ross wants you to see the Trump voter with some of that glamorous New Deal pathos, either that or fucking Archie Bunker, you take your choice.
You’re allowed to answer “both, depending.” But where to lay the emphasis has divided liberals and conservatives against one another.Thanks, Obama. Now liberals and conservatives are divided against one another, I hope you're satisfied. Or is that supposed to be Trump's fault?
I'd like to pause to notice the little presupposition tucked in up there, that Trump "seems willing to put the working class first." In what sense? What exactly does he say that gives you that impression? Because I'm not hearing it. I hear him telling us that foreigners are bad because they're defeating us in one enterprise and another, and American elites are bad because they're stupid victims of the foreigners, people who just don't know how to cut deals. I never hear him being a populist in the normal sense of inviting workers to feel abused by bosses. I hear him being a nativist, inviting workers to feel abused by wicked Mexicans and Chinese. And I hear him telling everybody that he's the boss of all bosses, and the cutter of all deals, whose managerial genius will just make everything right. There's no role for workers in this story except to enjoy the Big Daddy's kindness when he brings us all the stuff the Bad People have stolen from us. He sees workers as children, exactly the way their petit-bourgeois employers do.
Correct me, you know, if I'm wrong. I'm aware that last fall Trump was complaining that "hedge fund managers" weren't paying their fair share of taxes, which I think is true, but I'm not seeing his current tax plan as "putting the working class first". (The Ivanka break for people with kids in day care will pay you zero unless you're taking home $50,000 a year, and won't actually pay for your day care unless you earn twice that, and you have to be able to pay up front, which means that us paycheck-to-paycheck folks can't even get started, just as I've never been able to get the deductions for transit or health expenses, because I can never put away the money on which it's predicated.)
Just tell me what Trump has ever offered the working class, as opposed to what he's offered to white people.
In fact what Ross meant to say up there is that Trump's advent has divided conservatives among themselves, and liberals among themselves, in a both-sides scenario, creating a division that is not at all between left and right but rather between those who have a problem with the Trump voters' racism, and those who don't.
Thus, if I'm reading this right, people like me who are upset by the racism in the Trump camp should regard ourselves as allied with conservatives who openly hate working class people (I'm guessing he means haunted elitists like David French and Kevin Williamson at National Review) and think those ill-educated whites support Trump because they are both stupid and wicked.
Whereas liberals who are not not so bothered with racism, whoever they are (somewhere between Jim Webb, who would probably take the bait, and Freddie DeBoer, who may be an idiot but is not that much of an idiot) would identify with these sophisticated chaps like Ross himself and his partner Reihan Salam, who have suggested Republicans should get behind a program that focuses on admitting skilled rather than unskilled immigrants, and doesn't cut taxes for anybody earning more than $250,000 a year, and leaves Social Security and the Medicare/Medicaid/Obamacare system more or less intact, which Ross calls
a populist shift in how the G.O.P. approaches issues like taxes or transfer programs have stressed the ways in which Reaganite Republicanism has failed the working class, while urging a conservative politics of solidarity that borrows at least something from the wreck of Trumpism.I am unable to identify any flotsam here salvaged from the wreck of the Trumperus at all. The Douthat-Salam program sounds a lot more to me like an assertion that Obama was great before he got famous, and standing athwart history yelling "Can we just go back to 2010?" I really don't see how it could be of any interest whatever to anybody, including Obama, as far as that goes, since to the rest of us there's more progress to be made. A "conservative politics of solidarity" means absolutely nothing, whether it includes beachcombing in the washed-up trumpery or not.
And then he generously suggests a program for the de-racialized liberals, which he would of course disagree with but in a less disturbed and uncomfortable way, in the form of a more traditionally Marxist approach:
as an outsider who prefers the old left’s class politics to the pseudo-cosmopolitanism of elite liberalism today.Say, thanks, Ross, I'm sure you've got my best interests at heart.
|The rootless cosmopolitan as pictured in Krokodil, 1949, during Stalin's last anti-Semitic campaign, via Wikipedia.|
To Douthat, American liberalism has always been a program of "racial patronage", like the management of Chicago under Mayor Richard J. Daley but for only one race at a time.
The New Deal, in this picture, was the moment of patronage for white people; as you know, at the insistence of conservative Southern Democrats social security and unemployment benefits were denied to certain occupation classes—maids, railway porters—that were overwhelmingly filled by black people, and the Monsignor affects to see that (desperately misinterpreting Ira Katznelson) as a liberal whim—"Let's give all the free stuff to white folks this decade". Then in the 1970s was the turn of black people, and subsequently the patronage shifted to immigrants, or as he puts it
groups with weaker claims to redress than the descendants of American slaves, even as mass immigration expanded the potential pool of beneficiaries. Eventually, we ended up with a liberalism that favors permanent preferences for minority groups, permanently large immigration flows — plus welfare programs that recent immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to use.Note the cleverly deceptive formulation to make it look as if immigrants cost taxpayers a lot of money, though it's well known that they return a good deal more to the system in terms of taxes paid and jobs created than they initially take out. And the deliberate confusion between "redressive" benefits, the affirmative action programs originally devised to help compensate for the particular evil of slavery, and simple responses to human need, such as unemployment insurance, social security, and welfare and food assistance, which haven't been racially targeted at all since that unfortunate compromise with the Southern Democrats but just become more and more universal (a little over than 30% of TANF beneficiaries are white, and over 40% of SNAP recipients).
This combination is (mostly) rooted in idealism. But it still amounts to a system of ethnic patronage, which white Americans who are neither well-off nor poor enough to be on Medicaid see as particularly biased against them.Hahahaha, Ross. And for everybody else, if you're a white American and you suffer from this problem chances are you have a Republican governor and/or state legislature who wouldn't let you have the Medicaid expansion mandated in the Affordable Care Act and gutted in the 2012 decision of Republican Justice John Roberts in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.
This constituency, the gainfully employed but insecure lower middle class, is the Trumpian core. By embracing white identity politics, they’re being bigoted but also, in their own eyes, imitative: Trump’s protectionist argle-bargle boils down to a desire to once again have policies that specifically benefit lower-middle-class whites — welfare for legacy industries and affirmative action for white men.
Once again, those people don't exist, and you have to assume that the Monsignor is perfectly aware of this, given the link (to the Washington Post's report on the Gallup study linked above), where we read:
those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared with people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed....
Something is afflicting the places where Trump's supporters live, but Trump's supporters do not exhibit more severe economic distress than do those who view him unfavorably. Perhaps, Rothwell suggests, Trump's supporters are concerned less about themselves than about how the community's children are faring. Whatever it is, competition from migrant labor or the decline of factory work appear to be inadequate explanations.They may be worried about their kids, but the kids themselves, who are truly economically insecure, are overwhelmingly anti-Trump, and opposed to racism. There's a connection there.
The most telling bit of the Gallup study to me was the findings on relative ethnic diversity:
Rothwell finds that people who live in places with many Hispanic residents or places close to the Mexican border, tend not to favor Trump — relative to otherwise similar Americans and to otherwise similar white Republicans.
Among those who are similar in terms of income, education and other factors, those who view Trump favorably are more likely to be found in white enclaves — racially isolated Zip codes where the amount of diversity is lower than in surrounding areas.Trump supporters are prejudiced against minority members, as Rothwell notes, because they don't know any. Because that's the definition of what prejudice is. (Their children are at least listening to hip hop.)
The whole thing is just so twisted. Ross is chewing liberals out for following an imaginary system of "racial patronage", and the way he wants us to make up for it is by listening to the special pleading of a racial group, even though the evidence he cites demonstrates that they don't actually need any special treatment. Every step in his argument is based on a lie, too. The column is so densely bad, and dishonest, that it's hard to believe. Unlike Brooks, you can't say Douthat doesn't work hard, but what's he working for?
If you want white people in the US to have more access to Medicaid, vote Democratic, especially at the state level, and don't forget to vote. If you want white people to have better access to higher education, and better jobs, in the old Rust Belt states and Appalachia and even the Deep South, I'd look at the Democratic platform on those things. If you want those things for white people at the expense of other people, though, if you want to make immigration even more difficult than it already is (to say nothing of how it was in my grandfather's day, when of course it was only for white people), if you want to take stuff away from black and Latino and Asian and Native people, that's not how we want to do it. They should have more stuff too! That's really the whole story, and everything Ross says about it is wrong.