Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Party of People Who Don't Have Much Money

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hannibal.

Shorter Will Bunch ("A less-racist brand of Trump populism could bring a GOP dynasty unless Dems do something"):

Wait, I guess that was the shorter—some headline! Also if I looked more like Rafael Nadal I could be having a lot of trouble fighting the women off, but as long as I don't look even slightly like Rafael Nadal, I'm not allowing myself to worry too much about the prospect. 

I think Steve is completely right about Bunch's argument as far as that goes: a Trumpy candidate who's not appealing to racism and who offers a program that genuinely responds to working class needs isn't going to get anywhere with Trump's base and doesn't have a chance of getting the GOP nomination (a candidate who poses that way, like Josh Hawley of Missouri, making sure the voters know he's lying about the racism and the donors know he's lying about the populism, is a different matter, but I don't think that approach works in a national election either), so it's not a serious question. Voters—OK, maybe not all the voters, but certainly some indispensable proportion of them—voted for Trump because they were fine with the racism and donors funded him because they knew the populism was bogus. Bunch's imaginary founder of the new Republican dynasty isn't going to exist.

But I want to take some time to look at the wider premises Bunch starts with about the party that's already less racist and more genuinely responsive to working-class needs—

The Democratic Party’s long-term hopes for a 21st century majority has long hung on the notion that Republicans had become largely the party of white working-class men, and that this group’s slow demographic decline, as America became more and more diverse, would spell doom for the GOP. But what if Republicans became the nation’s blue-collar party, period — and broadened its appeal to millions of middle-class Hispanics and Blacks? The 2020 results not only showed the conservative party making inroads toward exactly that, but raised a giant question mark: Would a Trump-y candidate who’d actually delivered tangible things to the working class, and who wasn’t so racially offensive, have won the White House?

—and the reading of the exit polls on which they are based, which was bad enough when Democrats lost in 2016, but even worse this year when we won. Whether it's coming from the David Brooks right or the Will Bunch left, the idea of Republicans becoming the political representative of the American working class while Democrats devolve into a contemptuous but terminally myopic club of the elite needs to be sent back where it came from, which is 1968 I think (concocted by Spiro Agnew's speechwriter Bill Safire, and by Kevin Phillips, whose 1969 book was called The Emerging Republican Majority), even in the updated version from the 2013 "autopsy" where it figures out a way of picking up some non-white members, because it's exactly the opposite of what's been happening.

Namely, that the "nation's blue-collar party, period" is coming to be what it always was in the nation's cities, up until that invention of the "white working class" in Spiro Agnew's day, Democrats. Every party has socioeconomic elites and intellectual elites and so on, but that's not necessarily who makes it, and Democrats have been made, in the North since the late 19th century, by urban immigrants. Democrats have been refashioning themselves back there since 1980, into the party of people in cities who don't have much money, as arises when you look at the income portion of the exit polls, as was true in the demographics of Clinton's narrow loss in 2016 and became truer on 3 November:

New York Times: Biden has the solid majority backing of those with family incomes under $100,000, and huge majorities among those who don't think they're better off... 

Washington Post... than they were in 2016, when Clinton didn't quite have a majority either.

In 2016 Clinton won a convincing majority of voters with incomes under $50K, while Trump squeaked out a plurality of 49-46 among those at $50K to $100K and tied 47-47 with the wealthy; in 2020 Biden did satisfyingly better among the low-income group but hugely better among the middle-income group while Trump ran away with the rich. This would clearly jibe with the reported swing toward Biden of white men (7 percentage points) and no-college-degree (4 points) voters. So the only possible inference here is that it's a surge among white-no-college voters joining the minority-heavy Democrats of 2016 who put Biden over this top so convincingly, a solidifying of the working-class party.

Now, there's a huge caveat here, which is that there is and has been something seriously wrong with the Edison Research National Exit Poll in regard to racial categories in particular, and likely all over the place, and any argument formally based on the numbers is standing on pretty weak ground, whether the one Brooks and Bunch rely on or mine. Nevertheless I'm going to go on a bit, here, because the difference between my argument and Bunch's doesn't depend on these data.

First, as I've said, the idea of some kind of move on the part of Black and Latino voters toward Trump, inspired by his "populism", is nonsensical. It's possible that the Republicans may have tacked a tiny number of Black voters in 2020 onto the tiny number of 2016—turning 8%, say, into 10%—but it's not significant. It is a blip. It says nothing whatever about the African American community. And if better data turn up, they will bear me out. 

As to the Latino vote (or "Latine" as Bunch calls them, though he disapproves of "Latinx" as Steve pointed out, I suppose because he thinks that's not pretentious enough), seeing them as turning to Trump requires you to see Spanish speakers and their descendants in the US as some kind of coherent community; Cubans in Florida may have increased their support of Trump (inspired by publicity over the death of Fidel Castro in late 2016 and the continuing failure of Nicolás Maduro to govern Venezuela), as Puerto Ricans and Dominicans may have increased their support for Democrats in the northeast and Chicanos certainly did in California and Arizona—the well known exception among Chicanos in the Texas border counties is likely a consequence of the economy, stupid, and the dependence of those guys on jobs in the energy industry and the Customs and Border Patrol. Every particular Spanish-speaking community is doing something different, and those who have less money are going for Democrats.

Finally, the presence of a lot of white men without college degrees doesn't make the Republicans a working-class party of any kind. It makes it a party of old Boomers, coming from a time when a white man could do pretty well for himself without any tertiary training, many in skilled trades, no doubt, but also many in management jobs, sales, and owning small businesses, stores, restaurants, contracting outfits, repair shops and the like. Younger white men who don't do college aren't mostly going into the skilled trades (which is really a shame, and partly the fault of government for its long failure to provide training at the right price, which is paid apprenticeships) or getting good union factory jobs as these gradually turn into bad nonunion jobs, and to the extent the Boomers are being replaced at all in these places it's by nonwhite people; and the biggest new part of the working class is women working as technicians (with two-year degrees), low-level administrators, and in all kinds of services. Younger white men in these terrible situations, and I want to emphasize that I agree they're terrible, aren't mostly voting Republican: they mostly aren't voting at all, because they have no reason to think it's worth the trouble. Trump himself is obviously responsible for some major part of a white swing toward Democrats this year, if there was one (it's only visible in the presidential race, for one thing, not downballot), terrifying seniors with his casual attitude toward their lives in the Covid crisis and enraging patriots with his hatred of the military, but it's not impossible that some younger white men made part of the swell, whether with some new hope or sone other emotion.

The big thing that happened to the Democratic Party this year, though, is African American women taking over a big part of the political process, starting from the South Carolina primary, selecting the candidate with the best chance of winning, deciding where to place the leftness-rightness of the message, organizing the campaign, and doing extraordinary legwork at all levels—not merely voting but exercising effective power over the institution. They are the iconic representation of people who don't have much money through no fault of their own, and they are the ones who will define the class character of the party for now, and it's got to be working-class enough to satisfy any Philadelphia newspaper columnist who's afraid we might get too "elite" for his ideological tastes.

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