13 June 2018

Thomas Frank on the Democratic Party, Their Credibility Trap, and the Beleaguered Middle Class

“In its quest for prosperity, the Party of the People declared itself wholeheartedly in favor of a social theory that forthrightly exalted the rich—the all-powerful creative class.

To the liberal class, every big economic problem is really an education problem, a failure by the losers to learn the right skills and get the credentials everyone knows you’ll need in the society of the future.

Professional-class liberals aren't really alarmed by oversized rewards for society's winners; on the contrary, this seems natural to them -- because they are society's winners. The liberalism of professionals just does not extend to matters of inequality; this is the area where soft hearts abruptly turn hard.

Of course Republicans do it too. The culture wars unfold in precisely the same way as the liberal virtue-quest: they are an exciting ersatz politics that seem to be really important but at the conclusion of which voters discover they've got little to show for it all besides more free-trade agreements, more bank deregulation, and a different prison spree.”

Thomas Frank

"What is most important for democracy is not that great fortunes should not exist, but that great fortunes should not remain in the same hands. In that way there are rich men, but they do not form a class."

Alexis de Tocqueville

"People of privilege will always risk their complete destruction rather than surrender any material part of their advantage.  Intellectual myopia, often called stupidity, is no doubt a reason.  But the privileged also feel that their privileges, however egregious they may seem to others, are a solemn, basic, God-given right.  The sensitivity of the poor to injustice is a trivial thing compared with that of the rich."

John Kenneth Galbraith

The examples of the credibility trap are apparent, especially in the Democratic Party because their own contradictions are so glaring.  It is harder to see in the Republicans because their hypocrisy in serving the wealthy faithfully in economic matters while duping the public with inflammatory cultural issues is almost a trademark.

But as Frank relates, the middle class is being badly abused and neglected by both professional political parties.  And this is unfortunate, because it is a strong and stable middle class that provides a large social organization its coherence and durability.

I do not see meaningful reform coming until the status quo in American party politics is repudiated and renewed again with a more democratic focus on people.

The powerful, those who built and have been fabulously rewarded by the current system, will oppose any threat to their exorbitant privilege, which they see as perfectly equitable and justified and fully well-deserved, with all the wiles and power moves that they can deploy, even against their own.

When one has all that a normal person could possibly need and even want, those who continue on playing for blood, who are generally 'afflicted'  in some manner— for those personalities it becomes all about the game, and winning for its own sake, and power.  And there will never be enough people and things to fill their emptiness.

This growing dichotomy, this gulf between appearance and reality, between policy and outcomes, will not only strain the social fabric, but historically is the kind of human dynamic that can light a fire in hearts and minds, despite increasingly desperate attempts to discredit, suppress, and then extinguish it.

And there are too often consequences that no rational person would wish happen.  And yet they do, and with some striking, almost cyclical, regularity.  Such is the weakness of human nature, and the wonderful power of self-delusion.