On how and why ‘class trumps gender’ in America

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Among the seemingly-endless washups of the recent presidential election in the US, Joan Williams has offered some good analysis of things, echoing what many others (including Bernie Sanders) have been saying not only about the States but also about other parts of the world. The entire piece is worth reading (not least because of the irony in the fact that it was published by the Harvard Business Review), but here’s a snippet to whet the appetite:

‘One little-known element of that [class culture] gap is that the white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich. Class migrants (white-collar professionals born to blue-collar families) report that “professional people were generally suspect” and that managers are college kids “who don’t know shit about how to do anything but are full of ideas about how I have to do my job,” said Alfred Lubrano in Limbo. Barbara Ehrenreich recalled in 1990 that her blue-collar dad “could not say the word doctor without the virtual prefix quack. Lawyers were shysters…and professors were without exception phonies.” Annette Lareau found tremendous resentment against teachers, who were perceived as condescending and unhelpful.

Michèle Lamont, in The Dignity of Working Men, also found resentment of professionals — but not of the rich. “[I] can’t knock anyone for succeeding,” a laborer told her. “There’s a lot of people out there who are wealthy and I’m sure they worked darned hard for every cent they have,” chimed in a receiving clerk. Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money. “The main thing is to be independent and give your own orders and not have to take them from anybody else,” a machine operator told Lamont. Owning one’s own business — that’s the goal. That’s another part of Trump’s appeal.

Hillary Clinton, by contrast, epitomizes the dorky arrogance and smugness of the professional elite. The dorkiness: the pantsuits. The arrogance: the email server. The smugness: the basket of deplorables. Worse, her mere presence rubs it in that even women from her class can treat working-class men with disrespect. Look at how she condescends to Trump as unfit to hold the office of the presidency and dismisses his supporters as racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic.

Trump’s blunt talk taps into another blue-collar value: straight talk. “Directness is a working-class norm,” notes Lubrano. As one blue-collar guy told him, “If you have a problem with me, come talk to me. If you have a way you want something done, come talk to me. I don’t like people who play these two-faced games.” Straight talk is seen as requiring manly courage, not being “a total wuss and a wimp,” an electronics technician told Lamont. Of course Trump appeals. Clinton’s clunky admission that she talks one way in public and another in private? Further proof she’s a two-faced phony.

Manly dignity is a big deal for working-class men, and they’re not feeling that they have it. Trump promises a world free of political correctness and a return to an earlier era, when men were men and women knew their place. It’s comfort food for high-school-educated guys who could have been my father-in-law if they’d been born 30 years earlier. Today they feel like losers — or did until they met Trump.

Manly dignity is a big deal for most men. So is breadwinner status: Many still measure masculinity by the size of a paycheck. White working-class men’s wages hit the skids in the 1970s and took another body blow during the Great Recession. Look, I wish manliness worked differently. But most men, like most women, seek to fulfill the ideals they’ve grown up with. For many blue-collar men, all they’re asking for is basic human dignity (male varietal). Trump promises to deliver it’.

– Joan C. Williams, ‘What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class’

[Image: Alternavox]

On the American presidency

Vote Mad (1)

Ah, 2007; the good ol’ days:

‘The current politics of popularity, and the reality show atmosphere that surrounds presidential elections, have not held the nation in good stead. We labor under the myth of our own goodness and believe that it doesn’t matter who runs the nation, since the balance of power between the branches of government, and a free activist press will protect us from our own bad choices. Recent history proves that we must pay more attention to the criteria by which individuals are selected, because twenty-first-century high stakes political strategies can neutralize even the best laid plans of the nation’s founders … The next President of the United States should be a twenty-first-century thinker and visionary, a woman or man whose sense of responsibility includes a personal and political identity that is deeply connected to the lives of others in the world. An American presidency is never confined to the political interests of the electing nation; this is an office that influences the world and accordingly requires a leadership model predicated on integrity and vision’.

– Barbara Holmes, ‘The Politics of Vision: Transforming the Presidency’, Political Theology 8, no. 4 (2007), 417, 418.

Leunig on Aussies, fighting, President Obama, and being kicked up the foxhole

Fight

Marilynne Robinson, Religion in Contemporary America

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Here, until 2 January 2014, is this year’s Theos Annual Lecture delivered on 28 November at One Birdcage Walk, Westminster. The speaker is Marilynne Robinson, and the title of her lecture is ‘Religion in Contemporary America’.

John Pilger and ‘The War You Don’t See’

John Pilger‘s film The War You Don’t See is, above all else, a call to responsible journalism, especially by those ‘journalists’ who have en masse lost their nerve, or who have temporarily (one hopes) mislaid the purpose of their craft. (Of course, Pilger himself has attracted no shortage of detractors over the years who would accuse him of irresponsible journalism. The onus on proof is clearly on the side of the detractors. And then there are those who find themselves in broad agreement with Pilger’s interpretation of things but struggle with a style that is perceived to be arrogant or hyped. I have some sympathy with these critics, although I’ve tried to never let his style get in the way of the content. This interview with the queen of ego herself, Kim Hill, is a case in point.)

There’s challenge here too, it seems to me, for those of us charged with the responsibility of rightly dividing the word of truth, especially for those who have lost our nerve to boldly address the powers or to do the demanding work it takes to simply tell the truth rather than spout the party line.

Anyway, for those who are yet to see the film, I thought I’d commend and post it for viewing here:

Pilger’s latest film (currently in production) is called Utopia and is due out at the end of the year. I look forward to seeing it.

The United Stasi of America – championing a new level of efficiency

Stasi

‘No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks’. – The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 12.

‘After the Wall fell the German media called East Germany “the most perfected surveillance state of all time”. At the end, the Stasi had 97,000 employees – more than enough to oversee a country of seventeen million people. But it also had over 173,000 informers among the population. In Hitler’s Third Reich it is estimated that there was one Gestapo agent for every 2,000 citizens, and in Stalin’s USSR there was one KGB agent for every 5,830 people. In the GDR, there was one Stasi officer or informant for every sixty-three people. If part-time informers [many of whom were ‘pastors’] are included, some estimates have the ratio as high as one informer for every 6.5 citizens’. – Anna Funder, Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall, p. 57.

Having recently finished reading Funder’s wonderful book, it has been near impossible to not observe some very disturbing parallels with what is unfolding about PRISM. Today, we face a situation where something towards 39% of the world’s population (or something in the order of 2.5 billion people) – which is the number of the world’s internet users – can be spied on by a single person/agency. Just as terrifying is the fact that he who has informed ‘the people’ about this situation is labeled a ‘traitor’, though to what exactly is not too clear.

The shareholders will, no doubt, rejoice at news of such unprecedented levels of efficiency and technological sophistication, and in the assurances that their ‘interests’ are being maintained at all costs. Most important, though, is that Edward Snowden’s girlfriend is doing ok. Ah, all’s well with the world Empire!

Tonight, I will go to bed with Václav Havel and Dietrich Bonhoeffer; they help me at such times. And in the morning, I will (God willing) awake into a world that belongs to One upon whose word I will meditate, and to whom I shall direct my gaze and the burdens of the world and of things closer to my own soul. Ah, He is risen. All is indeed well with the world! Optimism? No. An opiate? No one who has ever really prayed has ever thought so, and I trust them. Patience and hope? Yes. And so joy.

Yanks and Kiwis

In his recent book Fairness and Freedom: A History of Two Open Societies – New Zealand and the United States – which I’m yet to read (a fact which doesn’t always give me reason to pause from offering comment) – David Hackett Fischer observes that whereas public discourse and public policy in America is dominated by the rhetoric of freedom and liberty, here in New Zealand the same are organised around the principles of fairness and social justice. Throwing Australia into this mix would make a fascinating study and, I think, challenge some of Fischer’s conclusions. Still, Fischer’s sounds like an attractive thesis (nicely summarised in this article), and I look forward to checking out the book. (Just as good, however, might be reading a review of the book by American ex-pat Kim Fabricius.)