A lot of people have ‘played psyche’ on the American electorate since they had the temerity to elect Donald Trump. If the vote for Trump did one thing, it got the attention of those in the media.
When they are not interviewing porn stars, some have taken their time to trek to the Rust Belt to ask the knuckleheads there why they voted for the former reality TV show guy with odd hair. Why did they do it? How could you do it? Answer: to get your attention.
And so we have the Atlantic, exploring the New American Aristocracy, saying ‘the class divide is already toxic, and is fast becoming unbridgeable.’ Not only that, but the liberal readers of the Atlantic are told that they are ‘part of the problem’.
This long read is a slightly more Leftish take on the problems laid out by Charles Murray in his seminal work Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.
I could take issue with a few of the things that Matthew Stewart says in the Atlantic but broadly he is right when he sets out the widening gap between the 9.9 per cent (the doctors, lawyers and financial advisors to the 0.1 per cent who can buy elections) and everyone else. They have the best education, they live in the best areas – the ‘super zips’ – they marry each other and stay married and then they pass all of this privilege on to their kids. Everything from childcare to the shorter commute time is in their favour.
The article has such zingers as: ‘The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. We are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy.’
The numbers are these: ‘The Institute for Policy Studies calculated that, setting aside money invested in “durable goods” such as furniture and a family car, the median black family had net wealth of $1,700 in 2013, and the median Latino family had $2,000, compared with $116,800 for the median white family. A 2015 study in Boston found that the wealth of the median white family there was $247,500, while the wealth of the median African American family was $8.’
Yup – eight dollars.
Stewart explains how his fellow 9.9 percenters concentrate in super zip codes and how they hoard ‘power and opportunity inside the walls of our own castles’. All this inequality generates resentment, and Trump was elected on a wave of resentment.
Stewart: ‘The 2016 presidential election marked a decisive moment in the history of resentment in the United States. In the person of Donald Trump, resentment entered the White House. It rode in on the back of an alliance between a tiny subset of super-wealthy 0.1 percenters (not all of them necessarily American) and a large number of 90 percenters who stand for pretty much everything the 9.9 per cent are not.’
So the Trumpers got your attention then. ‘The raging polarization of American political life is not the consequence of bad manners or a lack of mutual understanding. It is just the loud aftermath of escalating inequality . . .
‘But that is not to let the 9.9 per cent off the hook. We may not be the ones funding the race-baiting, but we are the ones hoarding the opportunities of daily life. We are the staff that runs the machine that funnels resources from the 90 per cent to the 0.1 per cent. We’ve been happy to take our cut of the spoils. We’ve looked on with smug disdain as our labours have brought forth a population prone to resentment and ripe for manipulation. We should be prepared to embrace the consequences.’
Stewart is in a panic – he talks about civil war. He feels this could end badly for everyone, imploring the reader: ‘We need to peel our eyes away from the mirror of our own success and think about what we can do in our everyday lives for the people who aren’t our neighbours. We should be fighting for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it. It probably does.’ So yes, those Trump voters have his attention. Is he listening, though? Is he really listening?
What amazes me about this long read is how little it asks about immigration. Stewart misses completely how infuriating it must be to be part of the 90 per cent watching the 9.9 per cent not only build their walls around their neighbourhoods but how this 9.9 per cent believe it is moral actively to import millions of immigrants to compete directly with their fellow Americans for jobs and resources. If that was you, how resentful would you be?
It was only 70 years ago that the grandfathers of the lawyers (the 9.9 percenters) fought in WWII alongside the grandfathers of the auto-workers (90 percenters). Their kids went to the same school, played baseball together and dated each other. The kids may have even gone on to marry each other, something that never happens now because of assortative mating.
Now the kids of the lawyer and auto-worker hardly ever meet, unless one is serving the other coffee. They live in separate neighbourhoods and go to separate schools.
Today the lawyer watches not only as the auto worker is put out of a job at his factory (the bosses were bailed out by the taxpayer – corporate welfare) but he is more than willing to advocate for more immigration so the auto-worker is undercut at his new job at the construction site.
That not only stokes resentment, it stokes a sense of betrayal. The 9.9 per cent like their cheap labour as much as the millionaire donors to the GOP, so they encourage mass immigration and hire the cheap gardener and nanny. The 9.9 percenters can send the kids to private schools, while their fellow Americans are stuck in the sinking public schools stretched with more and more immigrant children.
That Stewart leaves out the whole question of immigration in his analysis of inequality is telling. He remains blind to what his fellow Americans are trying to tell him – namely: enough. The 9.9 per cent have built their own walls, both literally and metaphorically. And now the 90 per cent want a giant wall of their own stretching right along the Mexican border. You can call it resentment, you can call it racist, but unless you are willing to house, feed and educate new immigrants in the neighbourhood and schools of the 9.9 per cent then dry your eyes and stop grandstanding on other people’s lives. It is not a good look.
The truth is that the 9.9 per cent sold out their fellow Americans for the price of a cheap nanny. That kind of betrayal cuts deep. It is that kind of betrayal that drives people to elect the reality star with odd hair because of a single issue – that he will build a wall as big as that around Mark Zuckerberg’s residence, a wall as gleaming as that around the Kennedy compound, and that he will put America First. This is a shorter version of saying what Stewart says: that it is time to fight ‘for opportunities for other people’s children as if the future of our own children depended on it’.
I hope it is not too late.