Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's The Stupid, Stupid

It's the economy, stupid
(Often quoted sign posted in the office of Bill Clinton's presidential campaign manager, James Carville)

When the roof starts leaking you don't blame a Muslim, or a homophobic talk show host. You just curse and call a roofer.

With the way our political system is set up, and the way the media portrays the world, there aren't enough avenues to express what it is that bothers us, to express what really needs expressing. That's the lesson, I think, of an article by Rick Perlstein that's being posted around the internet that talks about how democratic socialist/populist Bernie Sanders is getting some respect from some working class conservatives who've heard what's he's saying.

When people get anxious there are fundamental causes: economic insecurity and threats to our sense of who we are are the most fundamental. Our "sense of who we are" is what we usually think of as our "identity" and when our identity is under attack we feel threatened. But those kinds of things aren't talked about, at least not directly, by politicians and the media, and identity politics doesn't identify them. Politicians and journalists have insecurities of their own and don't want to reveal that, because we as a society are that way, too. We're guarded about such things. We don't want to give other people any ammunition to use against us, and our sense of self requires that we project an image as someone who has our act together. We are left with inadequate ways of expressing our discontent that aren't up to the task, and lead us off into solutions that don't address the problems.

My older brother, a true blue liberal Democrat, has a small army of Facebook friends who post things about the outrageous things conservatives say. Whenever an article appears that uses data from studies conducted by sociologists to suggest that working class Republicans are uninformed and even unintelligent they post it and leave self congratulatory "I told you so" comments. My younger brother, a true dittohead conservative tea bagger Republican, posts racist and Islamophobic things on his Facebook page, and the two brothers don't interact at all on Facebook.

I've suggested to the liberal Democratic faction that posting such things is counterproductive but I have a hard time explaining why. I really don't have the language myself to explain why. You can make the case that economic issues are what unite us all -- all of us who work for paychecks and aren't the inherently rich, which is how I define the working class -- but not the case for why everyone doesn't realize that, or why it's such fun to feel superior to other people, to look down on them, which bolsters our sense of who we are, i.e., someone who is more tolerant, or simply, someone who is not them.

Working class conservatives, and people in general, express their anxieties in the only ways they know how. Often that's by blaming immigrants and other kinds of people, or liberals or conservatives or socialists or people who vote for people we don't like because they don't know what we know. But if we can find ways to identify what's causing our anxieties instead of focusing on how we express them, we'll end up a lot better off.

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