Sunday, November 29, 2020

Cruz Channels Lenin


Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Height, 1960. Tell them the Republicans are the "party of the working class". Via Wikipedia.

I've long found it fun to say that American conservatives are the most doctrinaire Marxist ideological faction, in the sense of believing in the reality of class struggle, except that they want the proletariat to lose the war and give way to the permanent dictatorship of the revolutionary bourgeoisie instead of the more conventional other way around.

But I always meant it as a joke line, insightful but not meant to be taken literally, until I saw this from Rafael Theodore Cruz channeling Vladimir Il'ich Lenin here:


I'm not just talking about the fact that it's false, which is pretty obvious, but mainly about the ideological construct it's built in—something you don't notice when using the ordinary cliché ("Republicans are the party of the rich") but jumps out when Cruz inverts it: this is genuine Marxist talk, and profoundly un-American, since we don't do politics by class ideology in this country, where all politics is traditionally really local, but by coalition assembly. Serious ideological parties don't make it in the US: we don't have successful Labor Parties or Christian Democrats or Libertarians or the like, but big tents full of small groups representing local interests. 

The only ideological party that ever did have a big national victory, the 1860 Republicans organized around stopping the extension of slavery (and promoting industrial development), had a truly local issue, not a class one, though covering the really large territory of people who didn't want enslavement to be going on in their communities, so that it was only able to capture two thirds of the country, since the country was already entirely regionally split, and ready for civil war. Within 20 years the ideology was over, in any case; the Republicans themselves had become the peculiar coalition between industrial capitalism and rural parochialism that it largely remains today, while the Democrats were turning into the crazy association of urban socialists and white Southern reactionaries that brought about the New Deal. 

If it's true that our party system has become more ideologized over the past 40 years, as white Southerners have moved to the Republicans and the old radicalisms of the Plains and the Great Lakes have faced outn of their depopulated regions (as their farm and factory jobs were taken by machines), it feels more on a philosophical basis than a class ideology one, a division between liberals who want democratic power shared more widely and conservatives who want it more restricted, with the fear that bad people (by which they too often mean nonwhite people) will abuse it. Actual workers, though, in the 19th-century sense, farmers working land owned by somebody else and factory hands, make up a very small part of the population now, and actual industrial capitalists an almost microscopic one, as the service economy brings the workers to all its sectors from finance through healthcare to food and beverage, and the concept of the "means of production" loses almost all its significance. 

For Cruz (that noted scourge of the elite from Princeton and Harvard and the United States Senate, supported in his gentlemanly hobby by a wife who toils as a managing director of the Goldman Sachs bank) to suggest that our politics is now a war between "the rich" and "the working class" is to adopt the most ridiculously simplistic version of Marx's idea of political ideology as a reflection of economic class; and piling on to the idiocy by assuming that nothing has changed in the US economy since Marx died in 1883. Adding to that the claim that the Republican party now represents the vanguard of the revolutionary proletariat in its struggle against evil capital is—let's just say even less serious.

Cruz is misstating an idea (already pretty suspect) from Benjamin Winegard, a young psychology professor at reactionary Hillsdale College with interests in race science (they're calling it "human biodiversity" at the moment) and the like, claiming that the Democratic party has been taken over not by "the rich" but by the "professional-managerial class", who is in turn picking up on a Wall Street Journal analysis by Aaron Zitner and Dante Chinni (which Winegard fails to link) looking at a "deepening white-collar/blue-collar split" in the nation's politics.

The WSJ analysis is based on an analysis of the 2020 vote in terms of the country's 3,143 counties and county equivalents, to make a kind of fancy equivalent of Trump's beloved 2016 electoral map showing he won practically all the dirt in the United States, but not showing that he won most of the votes. WSJ  shows by similar means that Biden won all the filthy lucre: just 17% of the nation's counties, it seems (at the time Mark Muro did the analysis for Brookings Institution, when a lot of final election results weren't yet in), but these 477 counties represent 70% of GDP to Trump's 2,497 counties representing 29% of the economy. 

But for one thing, the counties Biden won are also a lot bigger, in population terms. I can't find numbers on this, but Washington Post offered a tentative map for a pretty clear picture:

Biden won 91% of the 100 most populous counties in the country (ranging in population from 676,000 for Hudson County, NJ to over 10 million for Los Angeles County, CA), because that's where the people are, and it stands to reason that that's where the economy is too.

Biden won just 30% of the total counties with highest median household income, but WSJ and the Winegard tweet focus on the fact that he also won 57 of the 100 top examples. This isn't necessarily because he won the votes of all the rich people in these places. The breakdown of the exit polls suggests it definitely isn't.

The misunderstanding that pervades the work is the assumption that lots of money in the county, whether measured by GDP share, or median household income, or density of college degrees, represents money for the voters, which isn't the case. These numbers are just as likely to show inequality, or a relatively wide spread between the richest and poorest residents. For example Washington, D.C. is something like the 23rd wealthiest county-level jurisdiction in the US, with a 2020 median household income of $90,695, but for the 45% of the population who are African American the median household income is barely more than half of that, $46,061 while the 42% who are white earn $141,863. Guess which voters were more likely to vote for Biden.

Harris County, Texas, where Biden won 51% to 47%, is the third most populous county in the US,  with some 4.7 million people, but only 509th in median household income, at $47,329 for Hispanic/Latino families but $68,636 for those who aren't (who are overwhelmingly white). Again, who do you think put Biden over the top? So the whole theory behind the argument is really foolish, and based on the continuing inability to remember that black and brown people exist.

It may well be that the share of the "professional-managerial" class going to Democrats is increasing, because the peril into which Republicans' anti-intellectual furor is putting our country is getting pretty hard for educated people to ignore, no matter how they may feel about taxes. But the idea that "blue-collar" workers are Republicans is based on stereotypes formed in the days when many actually wore blue collars—that they're basically white and male—and they no longer apply, except for people like Ben Winegard and Rafael Theodore Cruz who really don't believe black and brown people exist in any significant sense. 

And so on. And there is a party that is owned by rich people—whatever miserable folk they manage to con into voting for them, Republicans are bought and paid for by the "conservative" rich who allow them to do what they like as long as they keep their taxes and regulation down and their profits up. To me if there's a revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat to speak of in the 2020 election it's definitely not a Republican one: I think it's the Black women organizers who chose Joe Biden as their preferred candidate and got him elected. It may not sound equally revolutionary to everybody, but watch this space.

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