Maisano Replies to Karp on “Class Dealignment”
Great analysis, very clarifying
Jacobin couldn't publish this piece because it has intellectual merit and isn't a boring polemic simplistically repeating "democrats don't talk about 'class' enough" for the ten thousandth time. I read Karp's two pieces as well. Frustrating to read because doing polemics to defend a stale point instead of moving the conversation along. Hard to get through because that point is boring and belongs in the initial draft of analysis after Trump's 2016 win. I say this as a person who used to be obsessed with Jacobin.
Tell me about maintenance, roads, bridges, infrastructure, home repair and upkeep, sanitation, and the people who scrub your office floor. The country is falling apart, physically as well as intellectually. There's a lot of dirty work needs to be done. A lot of green to be made in the green new deal. And tech is people pulling cable, installing and repairing hardware: skilled physical labor isn't white collar unless you're repairing an animal.
"In other words, however you slice it, the essential trade-off comes down to the same constituencies Chuck Schumer called out in his famous dictum: 'For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia.'”
It amused me no end that Karp has "Brooklyn" in his twitter handle, eliding the fact that it's a marker of gentrification, the end of blue collar borough, just as "Jacobin" is. Nostalgic suburbanites cosplaying 18th century revolutionaries. Cut off any heads yet? "Jacobin" and the absurdly named "Brooklyn Institute", founded by immigrant South Asians with nostalgia for the Jewish NY Intellectuals. Add Phong Bui of The Brooklyn Rail". The Partisan Review crowd who were born working class and moved to Manhattan. But now it's Manhattanites moving out. And that's what you're called. "Do you think the Manhattanites will take over? I hope not. I like the diversity." That's a quote from 20 years ago in Queens. The Dimes Square crew are honest at least. Underpaid novice priests are not the working class. The working class has contempt for the downwardly mobile middle class. They're returning the contempt directed at them their entire lives. And now college students have to take "adulting classes" to learn how to live on their own. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/12/09/how-to-be-an-adult
Johnny Goes to College
---We head back to the dorm. Double-parking, we step out of the car, and Johnny hugs and kisses his dad, then embraces me in a strong, strapping-young-man hug, burying his head in my neck; this is the exact position we found ourselves in while I walked the floors with him in my arms during his colicky phase, and as he did then, he is crying into my neck.
This shocks me. I haven’t seen him cry like this since I told him that his father and I were separating. I had imagined I might say, “Ta ta for now,” Tigger’s optimistic sign-off, but I can manage only, “I love you, sweet baby.” Reeling back to the car after he walks into his new life, I turn to my ex and say, “That was a lot harder than I thought it would be.” I plant my forehead on the steering wheel. I sob.---
The biggest joke in that story is that the "Dad" is Paul Westerberg.
This was a great essay Chris, and I’ve really enjoyed your back and forth with Karp. I think you both make good points, and your exchange speaks to the challenges of finding a narrative. A few thoughts I had:
Somewhat contra the Abou-Chadi paper, Chris Johnson’s Open vs. Closed makes the case that most voters sort into coalitions based on cultural values, and then adopt that coalition’s economic values. So a software engineer who supports LGBTQ rights may support higher taxes on themselves because it fits with their values and coalition. An evangelical Home Depot worker may support cutting social programs they can use, because it fits with their values and coalition. I won’t post all their supporting evidence here, but I found it pretty compelling. It doesn’t mean economic preferences don’t play an issue, but that culture is currently the driving force of politics.
The “Bernie wager” was that we can flip that, and make politics primarily about economic issues, so that people join a coalition based on their class position and adopt the social views of that coalition. A majority of ‘16 Democratic primary voters in West Virginia voted for a socialist had been at the vanguard of the movement for LGBTQ rights because they agreed with his economics. Karp and Vox’s Zack Beauchamp had a great exchange in 2020 about whether the left needs to make this flip, or if we can convince relatively wealthy people who vote primarily on left cultural issues to support social democracy. I thought Karp made a pretty good case that many wealthy cultural liberals will defect once serious redistribution is on the table.
“Bernie would have won” was a rallying cry that Bernie had better policy and was more electable. But the left has had a hard time recreating Bernie’s unique crossover appeal. There aren’t many on the left saying if the Dems replaced Biden with AOC she’d win more states. I think that’s fine if we mainly run in districted races, but we will constantly face the argument that embracing our policies empower the GOP. I still think we should muscle our way into the Dem coalition whether they like it or not, but it’s going to be an awkward fit, and our electeds will face tremendous pressure to moderate.
The 2 Dem Senate candidates who outperformed the most in ‘22 were Fetterman and Ryan. I’d say both were economic populists, more than socialists, although there is some overlap on minimum wage and unions. Both candidates’ top issue was bringing manufacturing back to America. This is an issue I think the left can embrace more - the book Trade Wars and Class Wars makes the case that trade policy has created a scenario where America exports financial products and tech IP, and imports manufactured goods, and that this trade has been great for American capitalists and a disaster for American workers.
I think there’s a trope that cultural issues are frivolous distractions such as whether to list pronouns, or how many minorities are nominated for Oscars. But I think it’s pretty telling the 2 issues Fetterman broke with the progressive consensus on were fracking and immigration. These are significant issues of political economy, but they don’t break neatly into rich vs. poor or workers vs. bosses. So I think we have to take seriously addressing the concerns GOP-voting workers have on these issues.
One point you hint at in your piece but I think could state more explicitly is that Democrats win people who currently work for a living by a pretty decent margin, and Bernie likely won people who currently work for a living in the primary. Retirees are right-wing. I feel like retirees are undertheorized, and they often have different economic interests than wage earners.
I think your strongest arguments are the Lee County analysis and your analysis on the class composition of unionizing workers. Socialists aren’t currently capable of winning electoral majorities outside of certain districts, but if we can get 11% of the working-age population to unionize we’ve doubled union density. Up to today, DSA has been more effective at winning legislative elections than union elections, but we have to figure out how we can better deploy our volunteers to support the labor movement.