The S-word

True, the plight of the white working class has received insufficient attention. The reason, however, is not cultural elitism or “identity politics,” but the vilification of socialism. It is socialism that proposes government should serve the common interests of all working class people, not just the wealthy, and not just members of demographically identifiable groups. But socialist ideas have been forced to retreat from public discourse into academia, where they have been further sequestered from the mainstream disciplines of economics and political science into gender studies, cultural studies, comparative literature, and critical theory.

Without socialism as a viable choice, we are left with the superficial egalitarianism of Democrats or the white nationalism of Republicans. The Democratic party, in giving up socialism, cannot pursue the real substance of equality, power, and disguises this failure in the mere form of equality: token diversity. The Republican party, on the other hand, seizes the obvious opportunity and embraces white patriarchal culture, though that, too, is a token, disguising a commitment to the interests of concentrated wealth at the expense of all working classes, including the white working classes. (Democrats, too, are beholden to the dictates of corporate money, though preferring to get it from Hollywood and Silicon Valley rather than oil companies.)

This divide explains the election of Trump. Because white people do not learn how capitalism exploits them, too, they blame their problems on other groups: feminists, minorities, immigrants, gay people, liberals. Hence the promise that was Bernie, who explained to white people how they are really oppressed by government selling out to Big Pharma, Wall Street, the Koch Brothers, etc. Sanders has flaws, but those flaws derive from his primary strength: he is a white male who appeals to Trump’s core constituency — other white males. Sanders offers a non-academic version of socialism that white people have not listened to in a hundred years, when labor leader Eugene Debs ran for president.

That ended badly, with Debs imprisoned for opposing the draft into World War I, followed by decades of further repression during the Red Scares, McCarthyism, and the Cold War. It has taken 60 years for socialism to almost become a permissible viewpoint in mainstream discourse again. How long will it last? Considering the incursions on free speech, the witch hunts, the assassinations, the backings of coups, and other crimes that defenders of concentrated wealth have proven willing to perpetrate to stave off the threat of socialism, perhaps not long.

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