April 17, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Are Dead People the Cost of GOP Politics?
The petty bourgeoisie will never recognize Trump's betrayal.
I hope it’s clear by now that Donald Trump won the last election by riding a wave of grievance and rage on the part of the petty bourgeoisie, not the white working class. The real white working class, the one that does not enjoy the power and privilege of press representation, shares with the lower-middle class a lack of a college education. Other than a few other cultural similarities, however, that’s pretty much all they share.
That would be clear if it weren’t for their white supremacy.
Unlike the real white working class, the petty bourgeoisie resents earning as much or more than college educated types while also feeling inferior, dispossessed and weak. The real white working class, meanwhile, earns less and usually votes Democratic, because Democratic policies really do serve their political and economic interests.
Sam Francis understood well the resentments of the petty bourgeoisie. The white supremacist advisor to Pat Buchanan’s campaigns is an Ur-source of Trumpism.
He insisted that the cosmopolitan elite threatened the traditional values cherished by most Americans: “morality and religion, family, nation, local community, and at times racial integrity and identity”. These were sacred principles for members of a new “post-bourgeois proletariat” drawn from the working class and the lower ranks of the middle class. Lacking the skills prized by technocrats, but not far enough down the social ladder to win the attention of reformers, these white voters considered themselves victims of a coalition between the top and bottom against the middle.
Francis didn’t live to see Trump’s victory. (He died in 2005; Pat Buchanan’s campaign was a model for Trump’s 2016 campaign.) And from what I can tell from Timothy Shenk’s now-classic piece (quoted above), Francis was just terrible. But it’s worth asking if he was right. Francis said the petty bourgeoisie needed a champion, a man to fight against “the managerial elite” (think: “globalists,” bankers, Jews, etc.) as well as hordes of minorities and immigrants trying to take away what is rightfully theirs. Four years into this presidency, did Donald Trump make Sam Francis’ dream come true?
On the contrary.
The petty bourgeoisie seeks refuge in the Republican Party from their feelings of inferiority, dispossession and weakness compared to college educated Americans more adept at living, working and thriving in the 21st century. But refuge is not to be found. Instead, they find the illusion of refuge, a fabricated solace bent on exploiting votes for the sake of enriching the very same “managerial elites” they despise. This would be abundantly clear to the petty bourgeoisie if it weren’t for their white supremacy.
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No where is that betrayal more evident, I think, than in the president’s push to “reopen” the economy before the worst is over in a pandemic that has killed, as of this writing, nearly 38,000 Americans in five weeks. The president and his media confederates are trying to convince the petty bourgeoisie that harm to the economy, as a result of a pandemic that has vaporized 16 million jobs, is worse than harm to human beings. They are trying to convince them that a few million deaths is a small price to pay for avoiding an economic depression that will surely tank Trump’s presidency.
In a very real sense, the president and the Republicans are like the managers of Carnival’s Grand Princess, and the petty bourgeoisie are the ocean liner’s captive passengers. According to Businessweek, company executives knew the ship was lousy with coronavirus. They knew Carnival would face wrongful death lawsuits. Yet they decided to let passengers party on as usual. About 1,500 have gotten COVID-19 since early March, and dozens have died. Dead people seem to be a cost of doing business.
The ‘reopening’ plan is a textbook example of this president being all bark, no bite, and categorically weak.
The president needs Americans to go back to work in order to jumpstart a depressed economy threatening his reelection. Governors privileging human lives over business output won’t play along, of course, but governors privileging Republican power will. Just as Carnival executives kept the party going knowing that passengers would die, some governors will return to normal life in the hope that doing so will gin up the economy in time for Election Day, after which workers can die at their convenience. It won’t matter by then. Dead people seem to be the cost of doing presidential politics.
Will the petty bourgeoisie recognize the president’s betrayal? On the contrary.
The president spent the past two weeks talking up the need to “reopen” America, even declaring the total authority to overrule state governors in pursuit of that goal. Then last night, the White House issued the plan. It was anti-climactic. After weeks of table-pounding on Trump’s part, the plan ceded almost all authority to governors. It was a textbook example of this president being all bark, no bite, and categorically weak.
The petty bourgeoisie will love it. They are weak. Trump is weak. But they will never admit either. It’s their bond. The refuge they seek in the president and the Republican Party might be illusory, but it is part of their identity. This president doesn’t just (appear to) represent their interests. He represents who they are. The hair, the makeup and the gilded Greek columns are fake, but fake doesn’t matter. It’s worth dying for.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.