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What the Trump Victory means about ‘Political Correctness’, ‘Anti-Political Correctness’ and the American Working Class

‘Political Correctness’ is a common bogey deployed by the Right in order to wedge the Left ; But here ‘Anti-Political-Correctness’ is the much bigger problem when viewed in perspective ; (As effectively argued by former Keating speech writer, Don Watson). At the same time the Left needs to ‘return to class’ ; and engage with opinions we don’t like. The ‘political pressure cooker’ alternative may blow up in our faces…

By Dr Tristan Ewins

In response to the surprise Trump victory in the US Presidential election I’ve written a couple of letters to Australian newspapers : though neither published yet. Before engaging in a broader examination of ‘political correctness’ and ‘anti-political correctness’ (which I thought I’d deal with in response to some negative commentary) – here are the letters in their original form.

First to ‘The Age’:

Hard as it may be to believe there’s a silver lining to the US Election result. Instead of being taken for granted one way or another, both Republicans and Democrats will now have to take account of the needs of the US working class. Bipartisan support for the neo-liberal interpretation of globalisation will need to be re-thought. In the mid-West and elsewhere the industrial working class and its sons and daughters have long suffered a deindustrialisation which robbed them of social and economic security and identity. The Right also increasingly uses narratives of ‘Left elites’ and ‘political correctness’ to drive a wedge against the progressive Left. An unambiguous return to class politics could sweep the rug from under that strategy. The old Left made the mistake of taking working class support for granted. Some in today’s US Democrats make the opposite mistake of ‘writing white male workers off’. What we need is a strategy to build a multi-faceted electoral bloc based on a politics of solidarity, mutual respect, and mutual liberation.

And also to the ‘Herald Sun’ ( a counter to Andrew Bolt):

Andrew Bolt calls the Trump election victory “a revolt against the Left’s arrogance” (10/11). But reality is more complex than this. A neo-liberal consensus – a particular INTERPRETATION of ‘globalisation’ – has prevailed around much of the world, facilitated by BOTH the parties of the Right and of the ostensible Centre-Left. Working class people who had lost their identity, as well as their economic and social security with the destruction of their jobs – gravitated towards a promise to restore America’s industrial base. Trump’s old school protectionism might not be the answer, but Nordic-style, targeted industry policy might serve better. Policies which promote high value-added manufacturing alongside Research and Development, and promotion of information and communications technology industrial development. Instead of taking their orientation for granted, the US Left needs to actively court the working class – including white males – with policies that offer the respect and security which could be key to building a broad electoral bloc, and rolling back Trump’s support base.

After I had posted one of these at Facebook I got the response from one reader:

“I see, so white males are the most important in all of this are they?”

I was surprised at this as I thought many on the Australian Left could see the problems with US politics ; that is – the lack of a clear class perspective; and hence the political alienation of a great many American workers. Great swathes of the American working class have been co-opted by Conservative interests who play ‘divide and conquer’. This is similar to the situation in Australia. For instance where certain media outlets play the working poor off against some of the most vulnerable welfare recipients.

That strategy is detestable ; but has proven quite effective.

The best response it to build solidarity – and promote the rights and interests of both those on benefits AND the working poor. More robust labour market regulation and social wage provision for the ‘working poor’ is a crucial strategy in response to those Conservative ‘wedge strategies’ in Australia.

In the US, however, the Democrats have allowed themselves to be wedged by propaganda which emphasizes themes of ‘political correctness’ , ‘Left cultural elites’ and so on. (also similar to Australia). What’s more, modern identity politics has paved the way for this strategy’s success. The class perspective was abandoned. There has been an emphasis on the privileges of white men – but where class just never comes into the picture. At its most vulgar and simplistic this is interpreted by some as suggesting there is something just ‘essentially bad’ with white male identity, sexuality and status.

Race and gender no doubt need to be seriously taken into account when constructing a critique of privilege and power in modern capitalist societies. They are a big part of the overall picture. We need greater equality in the labour market, the public sphere, sport, the home, and so on. We need a women’s movement which demands these – and more.

But as former Keating speech writer Don Watson effectively argued on QandA recently (I paraphrase) : ‘political correctness can be bad’ ; although ‘anti-political correctness is much worse!’.

The lack of tolerance for real engagement with more conservative social perspectives : indeed the tendency to supress debate for fear of being vilified or shamed – actually plays into the Right’s hands. It can create a ‘pressure cooker’ environment which can finally explode with the rise of a Trump-like character. And if people are already disengaged because no-one is speaking to their economic and social interests ; and because they are prejudged as ‘red-necks’ – that just facilitates the Conservative agenda. (not that Trump is ‘traditional Conservative’)

But sure – the monopoly mass media does the same thing – but in reverse. Mostly it fails to engage with progressive perspectives. Systemically excludes them on any significant scale. Often it facilitates that strategy of ‘divide and conquer’. It facilitates intolerance, fear, ‘downward envy’ and so on. Often it is intellectually dishonest.

Compared with so-called ‘political correctness’ the ‘anti-PC’ movement is so frightening as it could facilitate a full-on political and social Reaction : perhaps even fascism in some instances. There is a disposition to wind back past gains: social security and welfare ; affirmative action and women’s right to choose ; the welfare state and social wage. Civil and industrial liberties are mocked, belittled and trivialised.

Here I had chosen in one of my letters to mention white working class men specifically because of their strategic importance ; but also because they matter as human beings ; and should just not be ‘written off’. Karl Marx argued for the human liberation of ALL working people. Facilitating the fullest possible human development of all working people ; and the amelioration (and finally abolition) of alienating forms of human labour under conditions of material abundance. That is: Marx critiqued physically and/or mentally punishing labour with people treated people like ‘cogs in the machine’. Where labour was for subsistence ; and its fruits are taken by capitalists in the form of a surplus. So emphasising peoples’ class interests could be ‘the foot in the door’ – to gain peoples’ trust for a broader strategy of mutual solidarity ; and of building an unbeatable electoral bloc.

I like to think of the strategy I propose as one of ‘mutual liberation’. The aim, here, is not to write off or humiliate those demographics who are considered ‘problematic’. But rather to suggest that the liberation of each is interconnected with the liberation of all. This should involve a real conversation: about democracy, and about class, race, sexuality, liberal rights, education and civic activism, and gender.

In Australia right now it could be argued we’re wrapped up in veritable ‘cultural revolution’ with regard to gender and sexuality. Broadly this revolution is a good thing. But arguably sometimes ‘the Left’ gets it wrong. Privilege can be conceived of in a overly-simplistic way: not only neglecting social class , but also age, disability, body image and so on. What is more: real privilege is complex. If we are to employ an approach of ‘intersectionality’ (ie: the various forms of privilege and the ways in which they intersect) we need to use those more complex variations on that framework : which look to specific experiences. Not ONLY the large scale social relations of inequality and oppression ; but ALSO the highly individualised experiences. When we accept this we can see that we ought not judge any person until we fully understand their individual circumstances. Without accepting this we are left in the position of unnecessarily alienating some people: people who might otherwise be convinced if there was a strategy of respectful engagement.

But where the project of liberation is subverted into becoming a project of ‘turning the tables’ this also can fuel a political and social reaction. It can ‘blow up in our faces’ with exactly the opposite consequences to what we aspired towards.

So the Trump electoral result is a real wake-up call for the broad American Left. ‘Class’ has to return to the front and centre of progressive American politics. Promotion of working class interests is a good thing in itself ; but also ‘a foot in the door’ for a broader engagement on the project of mutual human liberation.

Active and targeted industry policy is a desirable strategy to engage with the needs and aspirations of the traditional industrial working class. To achieve full employment ; and the creation of secure, well paid jobs. The movement for a $15/hour minimum wage needs to be fully embraced – and even updated to account for inflation and a rising cost of living. Industrial rights and liberties are paramount. The neo-liberal interpretation of free trade and globalisation needs to be re-thought in a way which does not undermine popular sovereignty. While nonetheless encouraging nations to take advantage of each others’ specialisations and comparative advantages. And making the most of everyone’s ‘skill sets’ ; not leaving them on ‘the labour market scrapheap’. And the benefits of the social wage and welfare state need to be sold to layers of the working class which used to enjoy such benefits provided through the private sector.

Finally I should mention the fact that despite being slaughtered in the electoral college vote, Hillary Clinton won a clear majority of the popular vote. In this scenario the ‘industrial rust belt’ really was critical to the Trump ‘electoral college landslide’. That’s the sense in which we have ‘a silver lining’. That those displaced by a decades-long process of deindustrialisation must finally be taken seriously. That workers’ interests more broadly will be embraced as being of real strategic value. That the working class will no longer be practically ‘invisible’ in American politics.

The question of Trump’s ‘mandate’, however – and the ‘mandate’ of the Republicans more broadly – needs to be viewed in this context. Also it is cause to apply a critical eye to the US electoral system. It demands constitutional reform.

Finally: although Bernie Sanders will not likely re-emerge as a Presidential candidate in four years time, nonetheless the movement he helped create is far from exhausted. If anything it may gain momentum if Trump’s failure to deliver disillusions parts of his base. Economically Left: they are in a position to appeal to workers’ interests.

Hillary Clinton has not ‘shattered the glass ceiling’. And indeed while her victory would have been of great symbolic importance – it is actually POLICY and how it affects specific groups which matters most. Clinton will not likely return ‘for another shot’ in four years’ time. But also it really is only a matter of time before a woman ‘takes the top job’. Also she was the first woman candidate to run in a US Presidential election. And she won the popular vote. Regardless of her flaws: that will go down as history.

This article was originally published on alpsocialisteft.blogspot.com.

 

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  1. townsvilleblog

    By American Working Class do you actually mean The United States working class, because the first reference belongs to two continents whereas the second refers to one country in North America.

  2. Greg on stating the blithering obvious.

    “But also it really is only a matter of time before a woman ‘takes the top job’. Also she was the first woman candidate to run in a US Presidential election. And she won the popular vote. Regardless of her flaws: that will go down as history.”

    She loses and goes down in history…..but then if she won then that too would go down in history wouldn’t it?…. what a load of gobbledegook! “Dr” Ewin, anything that happens will go down in history so what is your point?

    …and yes it’s “really only a matter of time before a woman takes the top job” – sure, if we all wait long enough probability would near guarantee it!

    Sorry but I have little patience or respect for opinion pieces cloaked in higher level language but so obviously flawed with nauseous restatement of the all so bloody obvious.

  3. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    Ok – United States working class if you prefer ; I understand ‘American’ and even North American’ can be exclusive of other states in the Americas. ‘America’ has long been shorthand for ‘United States’. But I can see how some people might not like that on account of its exclusiveness. Hoping for some more discussion of the article. 🙂

  4. kerri

    It would appear the US working class have recognised the power of numbers but not the self beneficial application of that power.

  5. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    Greg ; well how about you engage with the arguments instead?

  6. Patricia Ogilvie

    Class politics has become unfashionable, much like public education, but as you say, political recognition of the serious social disadvantage caused by neocon economics is the only way to address these very real concerns. Both the US & OZ left need to constructively address these issues for any hope of an equitable future for all our citizens.

  7. Alp Soyogul

    Bourgeoisie has invented a class in it’s own image and called it the ‘middle class’ to divide and conquer the working class. Working class, in actual fact, is a lot bigger than factory workers and sales staff. This strategy has worked a treat until now where this imaginary middle class is in a clear and present danger of joining the ranks of that unruly working class (which they always were to begin with), and they don’t like it.

  8. Anthony Ryan

    “America” is used extensively, in place of “The United States of America.” Less cumbersome. Everyone knows which country is being referred to, given the context; and usually without.

    Ewen earned a doctorate and is entitled to use it as his honorific.
    It would be odd not to, as it is the custom to do so.

    Sometimes what is obvious to some is not to others. And sometimes what may be thought obvious, is not to anyone, but imagined so.
    Sometimes to state the bleeding obvious is a necessary sin.

    Why people are so angry is a puzzle.

    My only complaint with his article is the inclusion of grammatical errors.

  9. Garth

    Thanks Tristan … I haven’t read all of your piece yet, and i’m not sure i’ll finish reading it tonight so my apologies if my following suggestion is deemed redundant by anything later in your article.
    Just a suggestion based on what is said in your first few paragraphs. If you want to have your opinion published in a MSM paper can I suggest sending it to The Guardian as a Comment-is-Free piece. I have no idea if they will publish it but my experience with Fairfax is that they have become extremely tight with what they publish from their readers (ironic since it the same readers that keep them going but they have such strict mod rules with the comments I can’t imagine unsolicited pieces of a longer nature are treated any better – but Geraldine Downer gets opinion pieces published…go figure !!). I don’t read (or bother commenting) on any publication from News.com.au.

  10. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    Thanks Garth – I may just try that re: The Guardian. Generally Fairfax will publish a letter of mine once every couple of months or so. Though I didn’t have any luck there for about four months once. I send them heaps, though. Publishing those letters on my blog makes it seem worthwhile to keep trying at least. At least they don’t entirely go to waste. Similar situation re: the Herald Sun. Its worth trying because the readership is just so large. Have written to The Australian a few times – but never really believed they would publish me. The Australian is very narrow ideologically these days – or at least that’s how it seems to me.

    The Age makes an effort to include conservative and Liberal viewpoints – which I don’t mind ; But some more radical (Left) viewpoints would be nice also. I’m a pluralist at heart at least in the sense I want people to have real choices. Of course I want Leftist views to prevail at the end of the day. 🙂 But it would be nice to be able to reach people (including political adversaries) on the need for an active democracy, and a politically literate democracy – based on meaningful pluralism, civic education etc.

  11. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    Also based on a participatory public sphere… With ‘physical public space’ but also ‘virtual public space’. On that front we have to consider the problem of the privatisation of public space as well.. That public space in this country – and more generally – is focused on consumption – and there is little scope or opportunity for civic activism, or other forms of community activity. Wrote an article about that once . Might do so again one day. Its still topical.

  12. Mike Ballard

    Lots of women have become part of the ruling class’s State apparatus. One only has to look to the UK to see that. It’s better that they express conservative politics though. The glass ceiling is irrelevant to me. Probably because I’m considered to be a white Anglo Saxon male. I’m privileged. I was a worker all my life until I retired on my measly pension. Now I’m a burden on society.

    Most people who haven’t lived in America herself don’t get how hollowed out it is. Drive through the country and tune into AM radio stations along the way. There are no liberal public voices. It’s like an empty office building in which a greedy landlord has placed yapping guard dogs who make a rukus all day and night. You see that landlord can’t get the price he wants to rent it, but the tax system is set to benefit him anyway even if he doesn’t get his pound of flesh. That”s America’s hollowed out center. More sophisticated Americans live on the coasts in urban centres. The rest wander an intellectual wasteland dominated by squawking AM radio shock jocks and dittoheads bobbing to and fro to the tune of getting the government out of our lives and leaving business to do its job of creating jobs as the flood of immigrants keep popping up doing jobs for low wages or buying motels in outlying areas along the Interstate highways or hiring their extended family members in the restaurant trade.

    Nevertheless, the majority of Americans who bother to vote, voted for a woman to be POTUS. And still we got Trump a man with shit for brains who now sits atop the executive committee of the ruling class. The totally commodified democracy has given us even more cheapness. The US Congress is now dominated by climate denialists and fundamentalist Christian crusaders out to get their grubby hands on every last dollar the stupid people who put them into office will give them. Shysters all, with a few exceptions, like maybe Sanders. Zombies in a house of madness running that empty office building full of barking guard dogs.

  13. mark

    The working class characterised australia.Once upon a time.mark

  14. Alan Baird

    Democrats DOGGEDLY persisted with Hillary and it induced (in me, at least) a dull, down-hearted unenthusiastic feeling of… er… lassitude. I suspect that precise emotion occurred in a large number of Democrat voters ‘cos they didn’t vote often or enough. Talking about Trump’s many peccadillos covered up a sad lack of plans about what she’d do about the 30 years blight on Mr & Mrs Average USA. It just didn’t cut the mustard. Jees, I can’t think of one, single parallel with Australia, because our Labor Party is totally made up of rough-handed toilers who’ve never had much immersion in political matters. There are NEVER occasions where Labor families keep popping up, generation after generation made of political apparatchiks mouthing the same old, decades old neo-liberal nostrums for the ‘economy of today’. Well, alright, hardly. However, Bob Hawke is OLD and NOTHING has moved in genuine Labor thinking since he was PM. Hillary was profoundly shocked. What did she miss or was she totally hearing what she wanted? Thomas Frank in the ‘Religion and Ethics Report’ recently pointed out that it was galling to see the Democrats lining up like bulls waiting to be slaughtered in the arena, each one enthusiastic for the fray, equipped with the same intellectual weapons, the same-old, lame-old story-line they’d saddled themselves with for thirty years. At least…

  15. guest

    I have some problems with your writing here, Dr Ewins. It seems to me that you have tried to say too much in a small space. I tend to agree with Greg on stating the blithering obvious @3.50 pm. The writing is rather too dense and abstract for ordinary readers. You seem to be writing for an intellectual readership which is in tune with your language and thoughts.

    An example: “I like to think of the strategy I propose as one of ‘mutual liberation’. The aim, here, is not to write off or humiliate those demographics who are considered ‘problematic’. But rather to suggest that the liberation of each is interconnected with the liberation of all. This should involve a real conversation about democracy and about class, race, sexuality, liberal rights, education and civil activism, and gender.”

    Oh, is that all it takes?

    Miranda Devine said something similar, but more briefly and simply, in The Daily Telegraph: “Trumpism is not passing fad. Ignore the ‘forgotten men and women’ at your peril.”

    Now I do not follow Devine’s jaundiced ideology and I deplore her writing style, but she does know her target readership (however much it is dwindling – and with good reason).

    It is as if the Murdoch scribblers continuously beat the same drum, no matter what. They have their own slogans and battle cries which they put into their computers and then they press the Random Print button and all these ‘exclusive’ stories come out like mixed fruit pies, all with the same ingredients but outwardly appearing different.

    So we get:”Political correctness, identity politics, cultural Marxism, victim feminism, all kryptonite to the soul of Western civilisation, are under threat”, she writes.

    And she sums it all up in this: “All hail Trump! Rescuer of Western civilisation.”

    She has no clue. Trump has just become President elect and already he has ‘rescued’ Western civilisation. She fails to see that Western civilisation is the instigator of modern globalisation which is the root cause of the collapse of industry in the “rust belt” of the USA. And one of the perpetrators is the billionaire Trump himself.

    So dumbed-down is the US electorate that they believe this business man, bankrupt numerous times, can take his business model and run the USA as a business and be the hero of the working class, solver of all problems across the world.

    This is the kind of rubbish the Murdoch press offers. We cannot afford to allow this ideology to take over. We must be clear, precise and telling in our replies – in our rebuttal of the ideology which is the real cause of the US disillusionment.

    We can see it in Oz, the relentless attacks on unions, to destroy their voice, and in the neglect of Oz industry and its workers.

  16. Alan Baird

    Yeah, the Tele sure stands up for the workers, as long as their knuckles drag on the ground and they listen to 2GB. They object to every crumb thrown to the lower paid and will whine interminably about anything that denies the wealthy easy access to more of everything. Why are they so compelling for the masses? Like a moth to the flame…

  17. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    “Guest” ; I don’t see how you can equate what I was arguing with Miranda Devine’s comment ; They are like chalk and cheese. Sometimes, also, an ‘academic’ approach isn’t necessarily just about ‘needlessly intellectualising’ something ; Sometimes the language actually brings concepts to the table which can’t easily be simplified as much as some would like. Though yes at times you have to pitch to ‘Mr and Ms Average’. I tend to think most people here could understand what I was getting at.

    We also have to be careful that anti-intellectualism and over-simplification don’t result in a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ re: shallow populism and adherence to truisms when it comes to some important issues. ( like public debt versus private debt etc) A problem we’ve had in Labor for a long time is that we just give up in the face of ‘truisms’ on issues like debt and deficit etc ; that we take it as a given we cannot refute those – because the arguments are too complex ; and fly in the face of the prevailing ‘common sense’. The arguments need to be packaged in different ways ; pitched in different ways to different demographics. Sometimes you’re pitching to the ‘opinion makers’, who in turn pitch to ‘Mr and Ms Average’. Other times you have a more direct approach.

    But I don’t think “mutual liberation” is impossible for people to understand. And if talking about liberal rights, democracy etc is ‘too deep’ what are we left with?

  18. Athena

    Thank you, Tristan and I agree with you. I doubt that many of the regular contributors here are expecting that Trump will keep his promises. The question is, when will his voters work out they have been played and what will be their reaction? The door may now be opened to someone even worse.

  19. Greg - don't shoot the messenger

    As I attempted to state in my first post concerning the writing style in this post, there is a heap to be said for adoption of the KISS principle instead of indulging in a pissing contest on academic eloquence.

    It’s not that I am not tertiary qualified – I am, but that shouldn’t matter, the rule drilled into me for most writing & press releases (unless for a select scientific readership) was to always write to a near newspaper level so all can revel in the gems you seek to impart.

    Tristan, I note you stand on your digs in your responses to Guest, but if you cannot express any concept in RELATIVELY simple terms, interspersed with filler commentary that says nothing but the blithering obvious, then perhaps you have no role in explaining anything.

    I don’t believe that I alone want to spend time deciphering meaning because you have chosen not to communicate simply and clearly. This comes across simply as intellectual snobbery &, rightly or wrongly, a need by the writer to identify with only a select group of similarly minded people.

    In similar vein, the number of posts in AIMN nauseously repeating predictions for what Trump might or might not do is similarly wearing. Is this another competition as to see how many ways the same thing can be restated?

    I say lets”cross our bridges when we come to them”. Repetitious pontification on likely outcome is akin to a detailed commentary of a two up game…but probably less interesting.

  20. Rod

    There is a lot of talk about how Donald won but what about if he doesn’t deliver on the whole ” Let’s make America great again “.
    So what if he doesn’t deliver?
    In Australia that was defused by Abbott being thrown from power. So forever and a day the leadership spill will be seen by the hard right as that lost moment.
    But what of the USA?
    Will it be driven hard?
    Will it be a violent expression of frustration?
    We could be on the precipate of a political revolution.
    I love your writings Tristan.

  21. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    Greg you’re just attacking my style without saying anything about the content. In any case if you want really dense prose try reading German philosophers like Hegel. (which I found really tough going ; and had to admit to myself I wasn’t really up to it yet) Compared to the heights of academia I think my writing is reasonably accessible. Anyway – diverting attention to questions of style avoids the point that sometimes you can’t get published for political reasons….

  22. Rossleigh

    Gee, Greg, what does “pontification” mean?

  23. guest

    Dr Ewins,

    i was contrasting your approach and the Murdoch echo-chamber. But I am with Greg; the abstractions are difficult. Look at the abstractions you tack onto your quasi-definition of ‘mutual liberation’.

  24. Athena

    “But I don’t think “mutual liberation” is impossible for people to understand. And if talking about liberal rights, democracy etc is ‘too deep’ what are we left with?”

    @ Tristan

    Reality tv.

  25. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    Guest ; language is full of abstractions. “society” is an abstraction ; “democracy” is even an abstraction in some ways. If we want to get to what is concrete then we need to talk about specific institutions, processes, constitutional rights etc. That does mean you stop talking about democracy and society though. It doesn’t mean you stop using those words. Generally we can’t avoid abstractions. Going into detail providing the literal specifics on every concept would probably be harder to read than using the abstractions that inevitably pop up here and there in every day language. Anyway – again I’d much prefer if people wanted to talk about the content of the article and not just the style.

  26. Greg..sigh...more on writing style

    FMD, Tristan, you simply don’t get do you?

    What you might prefer readers to do is rather superfluous when you choose to continually write in a style that blocks or demeans content & convenient understanding thereof. Even your last comment to guest is so heavily & unnecessarily worded as to be an effort to easily understand.

    Your last comment to me says it all – couldn’t understand your closing sentence no matter how I tried!

    We obviously exist on two quite separate planets, so I’d rather not try to further suggest a revision of writing style might pay dividends & leave you to find out for yourself.

    For Rossleigh …”pontification?”..touche mate! LOL

  27. Tristan Vaughan Ewins

    sorry typo in my last post – should read “that does NOT mean you stop talking about democracy and society though” ; hope that didn’t cause any confusion.

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