The New Working Class

Gabriel Winant in Dissent:

1498578945AronoffpplB4pollutersNYSNA666When I teach history classes, I often give students assignments that ask them to—as we say in the profession—“historicize” themselves. At a superficial level, it’s easy to absorb this fundamental insight of historical scholarship: that an individual’s ideology doesn’t come from inside them, but is an effect of time and place. But it’s much easier to understand how this was true of some stranger in the distant past than to accept it about yourself—that you’re a product of the social processes of your time, and your ideas are not crystals of pure rationality, but the residue of these processes.

Much of the indictment of mainstream journalists and politicians on the center-left boils down to this problem. The leaders of the Democratic Party and their loyalists seem to hear themselves as the sole voice of reason in an insane moment. They don’t grasp that they’re speaking a particular and provincial language—the institutional formalism and propriety of the professional middle class of the late twentieth century—and even less why that language enjoys less resonance now than in its 1990s heyday. The latest defeat—that of Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special election—illustrates this dynamic starkly: Democrats are sniffing for suburban votes where they can’t get a majority, while ignoring the people who might actually want to vote for them. The party appears committed to offering substantively vacuous defenses of formalism to an electorate whose dire needs have destroyed lingering faith in our residual institutional norms. Ossoff, who ran on a promise not to send impulsive tweets and studiously avoided actual policy discussions, embodies the problem: reasonability offered as the rationale for the Democrat, but no actual reasons. Conceding the election, the losing candidate delivered his speech in an imitation-Obama style. The principle of neoliberal governance—democratic politics as mere theater, markets as the real governors—became literal here: the Democrats banked their hopes on someone pretending to be a politician on the TV.

More here. [Thanks to Corey Robin.]