Tag Archives: political identity

It’s A Political Divide, Not A Class Conflict

You’ve got to give Republicans credit–they’ve been really good at framing disputes among the various Democratic Party factions in ways that are most likely to create negative stereotypes appealing to independent voters.

The term “identity politics,” for example, is a not-very-veiled negative reference to activists emphasizing the interests/concerns of their (usually marginalized) groups–African-Americans, women, LGBTQ folks.

Working class activists are frequently accused of waging “class warfare.”

For some reason, Evangelicals aren’t pursuing “identity politics,” and crony capitalists aren’t waging class warfare; they are usually referred to more politely–if at all– as “interest groups.” But I digress.

In a recent column for the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg pointed out that the multiple columns arguing that lockdowns pit an affluent professional class that can mostly work from home against a working class that must risk its health in order to put food on the table are badly mischaracterizing the situation.

Writing in The Post, Fareed Zakaria tried to make sense of the partisan split over coronavirus restrictions, describing a “class divide” with pro-lockdown experts on one side and those who work with their hands on the other. On Fox News, Steve Hilton decried a “37 percent work from home elite” punishing “real people” trying to earn a living. In a column titled “Scenes From the Class Struggle in Lockdown,” The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan wrote: “Here’s a generalization based on a lifetime of experience and observation. The working-class people who are pushing back have had harder lives than those now determining their fate.”

The data says this is horse manure.

One recent survey found that, overall, 74 percent of Americans agreed  that the “U.S. should keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed.” Among respondents who’d been laid off or furloughed, 79% agreed.

Other research has determined that economic status isn’t what drives American disagreement over Coronavirus policies. It is “identity politics,” true, but the identity involved is  political.

Donald Trump and his allies have polarized the response to the coronavirus, turning defiance of public health directives into a mark of right-wing identity. Because a significant chunk of Trump’s base is made up of whites without a college degree, there are naturally many such people among the lockdown protesters.

 As Goldberg notes, what seems like attractive “liberation” to many comfortable people chafing at confinement is experienced as compulsion by those returning to riskier jobs. In a number of states, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that re-opening (usually in defiance of advice from public health officials) is prompted by the governor’s desire to avoid emptying out the state’s unemployment reserves.  (If an employer reopens but a worker doesn’t feel safe returning and quits, the employee can no longer collect unemployment benefits).

Goldberg argues that it is actually the financial elites that are eager for everyone else to resume powering the economy.

“‘People Will Die. People Do Die.’ Wall Street Has Had Enough of the Lockdown,” was the headline on a recent Vanity Fair article. It cited a banker calling for “broad legal indemnification for employers against claims related to the virus” so that employees can’t sue if their workplace exposes them to illness. Here we see the real coronavirus class divide.

Bolstering Goldberg’s version of reality are reports that the presumably “working class” protestors clamoring (often with guns and Confederate flags) for an end to the lockdowns are actually far-right operatives, many not even from the states in which they are protesting, and that nearly half of the twitter accounts urging reopening are bots.

We still have “identity poliitics.” But in the age of Trump, our identities have become almost entirely political.