“They call my people the White Lower Middle Class these days. It is an ugly, ice-cold phrase, the result, I suppose, of the missionary zeal of those sociologists who still think you can place human beings on charts. It most certainly does not sound like a description of people on the edge of open, sustained and possibly violent revolt,” wrote the marvelous New York journalist, Pete Hamill in “The Revolt of the White Lower Middle Class” in New York magazine.
The White Lower Middle Class? Say that magic phrase at a cocktail party on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and monstrous images arise from the American demonology. Here comes the murderous rabble: fat, well-fed, bigoted, ignorant, an army of beer-soaked Irishmen, violence-loving Italians, hate-filled Poles. Lithuanians and Hungarians….Sometimes these brutes are referred to as ‘the ethnics’ or ‘the blue-collar types.’ But the bureaucratic, sociological phrase is White Lower Middle Class. Nobody calls it the Working Class anymore.
He wrote that on April 14, 1969. Yesterday. Little changes.
Transferred from NYC to the middle of the country half a century later, these people are referred to as Trump’s “deplorables.” They comes in baskets, as Hillary Clinton said. And even though they represent nearly half the voting public in the last two presidential elections – 70+ million Americans – their complaints are dismissed as the rantings of ignorant, conservative racists.
Name calling substitutes for understanding. This is not an accident.
Like Hamill, I am a NYC born and bred Irish-American – my working-class Bronx to Pete’s Brooklyn. We both attended the same Jesuit high school in different years. Unlike Hamill, known for his gritty street reporting, because I have been a college sociology professor, I could falsely be categorized as a northeastern liberal intellectual oozing with disdain for those who voted for Trump. This is false, because, like Hamill, I see it as my intellectual duty to understand what motivates these voters, just as I do with those who voted for Biden.
I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, nor did I vote for Joseph Biden, or Hillary Clinton in 2016. I am not one of those sociologists Hamill refers to; I use the term Working Class and am acutely aware of the social class nature of life in the USA, where the economic system of neo-liberal capitalism is constructed to try to convince working Americans that the system cares for them, and if they grow disgusted with its lies and inequities and rage against the machine by voting for anyone who seems to be with them (even a super-rich reality TV real estate magnate named Trump who is not with them), they are dumb-ass bigots whose concerns should be brushed off.
The truth is that both the Trump voters and the Biden voters have been taken for a ride. It is a game, a show, a movie, a spectacle. It hasn’t changed much since 1969; the rich have gotten richer and the poor, working, and middle classes have gotten poorer and more desperate. Those who have profited have embraced the fraud.
The Institute for Policy Studies has just released a new analysis showing that since the start of the Covid-19 “pandemic” in mid-March and the subsequent transfer upwards of $5 trillion to the wealthy and largest corporations through the Cares Act, approved 96-0 in the US Senate, 650 US billionaires have gained over a trillion dollars in eight months as the American people have suffered an economic catastrophe.
This shift upward of massive wealth under Trump is similar to Obama’s massive 2009 bailout of the banks on the backs of American workers. Both were justified through feats of legerdemain by both political parties, accomplices in the fleecing of regular people, many of whom continue to support the politicians that screw them while telling them they care.
If the Democrats and the Republicans are at war as is often claimed, it is only over who gets the larger part of the spoils. Trump and Biden work for the same bosses, those I call the Umbrella People (those who own and run the country through their intelligence/military/media operatives), who produce and direct the movie that keeps so many Americans on the edge of their seats in the hope that their chosen good guy wins in the end.
I am well aware that most people disagree with my analysis. It does seem as if I am wrong and that because the Democrats and their accomplices have spent years attempting to oust Trump through Russia-gate, impeachment, etc. that what seems true is true and Trump is simply a crazy aberration who somehow slipped through the net of establishment control to rule for four years.
To those 146+ million people who voted for Biden and Trump this seems self-evident. But if that is so, why, despite their superficial differences – and Obama’s, Hillary Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s for that matter – have the super-rich gotten richer and richer over the decades and the war on terror continued as the military budget has increased each year and the armament industries and the Wall Street crooks continued to rake in the money at the expense of everyone else?
These are a few facts that can’t be disputed. There are many more. So what’s changed under Trump? We are talking about nuances, small changes. A clown with a big mouth versus traditional, “dignified” con men.
If you were writing this script as part of long-term planning and average people were getting disgusted from decades of being screwed and were sick of politicians and their lying ways, wouldn’t you stop the reruns and create a new show? Come on, this is Hollywood where creative showmen can dazzle our minds with plots so twisted that when you leave the theater you keep wondering what it was all about and arguing with your friends about the ending.
So create a throwback film where the good guy versus the bad guy was seemingly very clear, and while the system ground on, people would be at each other’s throats over the obvious differences, even while they were fabricated.
Variety is necessary. You wouldn’t want to repeat the film from 2008 when a well-spoken black man came into town out of nowhere to clean up the mess created by the poorly spoken white sheriff who loved war and then the black hero went on to wage war in seven countries while his fans sat contented in the audience loving the show and making believe they didn’t see what was happening on the screen even though their hero jailed whistle blowers and greatly expanded the surveillance state right in front of their eyes.
No, as the years passed, those two guys turned out to be buddies, and their wives hit it off, and a famous photograph appeared of the good guy’s wife hugging the bad guy, which was not a good thing for the script that has the Republicans warring against the Democrats.
A new story line was needed. How about an opéra bouffe, someone suggested, and the rest is history. Or pseudo-history. This is the real matrix. The most sophisticated mind control operation up to this point, with the coronavirus lockdown added to propel it to what the producers hope is a conclusion.
What more can I say?
Billy Joel said it: “JFK blown away.”
The Towers pulverized. David Ray Griffin told us the truth repetitively.
Minds of this generation destroyed, as Allen Ginsberg said in Howl: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”
It’s been many generations now. There has been a form of social madness growing over the decades and it is everywhere now. Look at people’s faces, if you can see them behind the masks; everywhere the strained and stressed looks, the scared rabbit eyes that you see on the wards of mental hospitals. The look that says: what the fuck has happened as they stare into a blank screen in a tumbling void, to paraphrase Don DeLillo from his new book Silence, where people speak gibberish once their digital world is mysteriously taken down and they wander in the dark. We are in the dark now, even though the lights and screens are still shining for the time being.
Let those who think I am wrong about Trump and Biden being players in the same show, consider this. If Trump is truly the opponent of the Deep State, the Swamp, the corrupt establishment, he will pardon Julian Assange, Chelsey Manning, and Edward Snowden who have been persecuted by these forces. He has nothing left to lose as he exits stage right.
The journalist Julian Assange has done more than anyone to expose the sick underbelly of the gangster state, its intelligence and military secrets, its illegal and immoral killings. That is why he has been hounded and locked away for so long. It’s a bipartisan persecution of an innocent man whose only “crime” has been to tell the truth that is allegedly the essence of a democratic society.
Chelsey Manning has also suffered tremendously for exposing the savagery of US military operations.
And Edward Snowden has been forced into Russian exile for telling us about the vast global surveillance systems run by the NSA and CIA to spy on the American people.
Three innocent truth-tellers at war with the Deep-State forces that Donald Trump says he opposes.
If he is what his supporters claim, he will pardon these courageous three. It’s all in his power. A simple, clear message as he goes out the door. If by the smallest chance he does pardon them, I will be very happy and publicly apologize. If he doesn’t, as I expect, please don’t say a word in his defense. My ears will be stuffed with wax. For he won’t, because, like Biden, he is controlled by the very forces that these truth-tellers have exposed.
But back to the working class “deplorables” that voted for Trump. They aren’t going anywhere. Their grievances remain. For decades, under Democratic and Republican administrations, their lives have been hollowed out, their livelihoods taken as corporate thieves have ravaged their towns and cities by closing down the factories where they worked and sending them overseas for greater profits. Small farmers have been “liquidated” for agribusiness.
As always, the coastal urbanites have considered rural people stupid, uncouth, and clownish, as the words clown, boor, and villain have all originally meant farmer or countryman or lower-class peasant. Such hidden etymological social class prejudices have a way of persisting over the years.
Towns and small businesses disappear, traditional values are ridiculed, drug addiction and suicide increase, the fabric of traditions crumble, etc. This list is long. The people who voted for Trump feel betrayed; feel like victims. Of course, as Pete Hamill wrote of the NYC white working class in 1969, there are racists among them, and with all racists, they have their reasons, but these reasons are poison and despicable. But overall, these Trump voters are, in Hamill’s words, “actually in revolt against taxes, joyless work, the double standards and short memories of professional politicians, hypocrisy and what he considers the debasement of the American dream.”
Any politician, he added, who leaves these people out of the political equation, does so at a very large risk. That risk has been growing over the decades.
Yet desperate people do desperate things, and for many Americans these are desperate times. Everywhere you look, there are long lines at food pantries and soup kitchens. The unemployment numbers are staggering. Homelessness. Suicides. Drug and alcohol addictions rising. Clear signs of social disintegration.
This is true not just in the United States but is happening around the world as neo-liberal economic policies are exacerbated by the widespread lockdowns that have given rise to massive protests worldwide, protests that the corporate press has failed to publicize since doing so would give the lie to their promotions of the lockdowns.
In England, the Mirror newspaper just printed the legendary Australian journalist John Pilger’s article about his 1975 interviews with impoverished English families with this lead:
John Pilger interviewed Irene Brunsden in Hackney, east London about only being able to feed her two-year-old a plate of cornflakes in 1975. Now he sees nervous women queueing at foodbanks with their children as it’s revealed 600,000 more kids are in poverty now than in 2012.
Vast numbers of people are suffering.
Many Trump voters no doubt know that Trump was never going to save them. But he said the right things, and desperation and disgust will grasp onto the slightest will-o’-the-wisp when disbelief in the whole rotten system is widespread.
Let’s not bullshit: everyone knows the game is rigged.
Trump is a liar.
Biden is a liar.
Great Britain’s Boris Johnson is a liar.
Fill in the names of the political charlatans.
The system is built on lies to keep the illusions brightening the screen of the great picture show, what Neil Gabler has rightly called “life the movie.”
Biden voters no doubt desperately hope that we can go back to some semblance of “normal,” even while knowing this is a losing game. Many of them try hard to conceal their true feelings, that their hatred for Trump and their love of living in times when imperialism is concealed as democracy is what they want. They don’t want to know.
Concealment of the atrocious underbelly of normal is their hope and desire, even while they too are being fleeced and secretly know that the “new normal” will be far from their restorative dreams. There are exceptions, of course, true believers who think Biden will significantly change things, but I would say they are a very small minority. Many Biden voters say they have voted for the “lesser of two evils,” an old, worn-out excuse that in a rigged system will perdure.
Little changes. The past lives on.
Next year’s Academy Awards will be interesting. A wit I know suggested that perhaps Trump and Biden will be nominees for the Best Actor in a Leading Role and they will tie for the Oscar. That will be the second time that has ever happened. The first was in 1932 when Fredric March and Wallace Beery shared the award. March starred in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Beery in the boxing film, The Champ.
Both winners will be announced as starring in the same film, confusing the audience until it’s named: The American Nightmare. Then raucous cheering will erupt from the jaded audience. Dr. Jekyll will embrace Mr. Hyde and the melded Champ will take a bow as he winks for the cameras.
Edward Curtin is a writer whose work has appeared widely. He teaches sociology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. His website is http://edwardcurtin.com/. He is the author of the new book Seeking Truth in A Country of Lies
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