Jacobin: The Politics of a Second Gilded Age

This is an excellent article.

It reflects my optimism about the suburban exodus and PMCs becoming Democrats. In our last podcast, I shared my excitement about where this is going with Richard Spencer.

I’ve been thinking along the same lines. There came a point when the parallels with the bitterness and emptiness of Gilded Age politics because so blindingly obvious that it became impossible to ignore. In the last two months, we have witnessed 1.) soaring support for wealth redistribution in the polls, 2.) Democrats flipping the Senate on the $2,000 stimulus checks issue and 3.) the “insurrection” panic and hysteria which flies in the face of the fact that nothing is really happening except that people on television are losing it even more than usual. We’re literally living in the Reconstruction South!

Jacobin:

“The most important election of our lifetime — until the next one — produced no fewer than three big, wet American winners. Amid plague, protest, and violence, three larger trends emerged to mark the landscape of twenty-first-century politics far more distinctly than any candidate or ideology.

In both a mathematical and a historical sense, America’s most notable winner was that heartwarming index of civic health, participation in the democratic process. More than two-thirds of eligible voters cast a ballot this fall, making 2020 the highest-turnout election since 1900. New coronavirus-related voting options may explain some of this surge, but not all of it, since participation also shot up in states that largely refused to expand ballot access. In other states, like Colorado, Maine, and Minnesota, turnout crested above the practically Scandinavian threshold of 75 percent. …

No figure embodies this truth so well as Biden, a nonentity who ran for office on the non-slogan “Build Back Better,” without a defining political goal beyond beating Trump — and rode that negative partisanship to win far more votes than any candidate in US history. Yet even this extraordinary victory only sharpened the boundary lines on our national political map, with the reds getting redder, the blues getting bluer, and Republicans losing the presidency but gaining seats in Congress. …

Mass participation, feverish partisanship, and class dealignment: we have seen an American electoral politics organized along these lines before. Notwithstanding the noisy debate over Trump and the threat of “fascism,” a concept imported from interwar Europe, this country’s own history furnishes a more useful precedent for our politics today. …

This was a formula for half a century of ruthless capitalist domination, racial oppression, and imperial expansion. Though America’s streets, docks, mines, and rail yards overflowed with protest — with more riots, uprisings, massacres, and police crackdowns than any other era in US history — remarkably little of this mass frustration left a deep imprint on the electoral system.

All the while, as if on a parallel track, partisan conflict between Republicans and Democrats raged hotter than ever, borrowing the emotional intensities of the Civil War era but without their ideological radicalism. Instead, the grievances of millions were channeled into passionate but sterile identity politics — where the fires of that enormous class rage fizzled into smoke. Does any of this sound familiar? …

A comparison between today’s politics and the battles of Gilded Age America lacks the moral urgency of the analogy to European fascism — and therefore is much less useful, in different ways, to progressive commentators along a broad ideological spectrum. (For liberals, the specter of fascism is a reliable tool to discipline wayward leftists; for the Left, it is an irresistible opportunity to scoff at liberal complacency in the face of apocalypse.) Unlike the struggle against Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini — a fight that fits the moral arc of a superhero movie — the grubby, confused politics of the late nineteenth century offer little promise of romantic inspiration or even wholesome, spine-tingling distress.

No doubt, this Gilded Age analogy shares the defects of all crude historical analogies. It underplays the substantive differences between today’s two parties. The Democrats, despite losing much of their working-class base, retain the entrenched support of organized labor. And the Republicans, while making feeble gestures toward populism, remain far more hostile toward the foundational democratic principle of majority rule. …

But thinking about late nineteenth-century US politics may be more politically instructive than the ubiquitous comparisons to fascism or the American Civil War. For all its sound and fury, the strife between today’s Republicans and Democrats does not represent an ideological conflict on the verge of armed revolutionary struggle. Even the most outrageous breaches of normal procedure only underline this point. When the pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol Building on January 6, it was apparently driven by no larger social vision than keeping its televised hero in the White House for four more years. Briefly gaining control of the House chamber, Trump’s champions sought not to take possession of the US government but to take selfies. …

Meanwhile, wealthy and well-educated Illinois Democrats backed Biden with far more enthusiasm than they mustered for Chicago’s own Barack Obama, but their support did not extend to the progressive tax. Here, it is worth distinguishing among three different kinds of upscale neighborhoods. In the very posh, very liberal 43rd Ward, home to Lincoln Park, voters turned Obama’s healthy 31-point lead in 2012 to a 64-point Biden landslide in 2020 — but they only supported the tax by 7 points. In the moderate, affluent North Shore suburbs of New Trier Township, including the $1.58 million house where Home Alone was filmed, Biden extended Obama’s margin from 10 to 46 points — but residents voted against the tax by 23 points. And in the traditionally Republican village of Barrington, where reality TV star Kristin Cavallari and NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins grew up, a 28-point Obama deficit turned into a 4-point Biden victory — but the tax was defeated by a whopping 40 points

The gap between Barrington and Lincoln Park suggests that not all rich Democratic districts are created equal. But the similar results across the wealthy Chicago burbs, from Northfield to Naperville — with Biden collecting from 30 to 70 points more than the income tax — also suggest that this is not a Democratic coalition willing to pay for public goods. …

In the very wealthy, ex-Republican LA beach suburbs of Rancho Palos Verdes and Manhattan Beach — where Biden ran 25 or more points better than Obama — the business property tax failed by over 20 points. Orange County as a whole, which turned blue for the first time in 2016, swung hard against Proposition 15. Even Katie Porter couldn’t help save California schools and governments: in her own very wealthy congressional district, voters rejected the property tax, 61 to 39 percent. ….

The 2020 election was a different story. Biden’s Detroit margin over Trump shrunk to 221,000 votes, a reduction that far outpaced the city’s population decline in the same years. In Bay County, Biden lost by 12 points, a 27-point swing to the GOP; in Menominee, he lost by 30, a whopping 40-point reversal. And yet, even in the context of a much tighter Michigan race — with a winning margin that shrank from 16 to 3 points — Biden nevertheless managed to make gains in the richest parts of the state. In prosperous, ancestrally Republican Kent County, home to Grand Rapids, the Democratic vote in 2020 outpaced Obama and FDR alike. In the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills — the single richest municipality in Michigan — Biden and Harris ran 17 points ahead of Obama and Biden in ’08 (and 15 points ahead of the ’12 ticket). …”

Read the whole thing.

Neoliberal unification has happened. The people who have ran both parties for the last 50 years are increasingly consolidated in one party.

Isn’t it obvious that populist reunification is needed? If the Populist Left were to bolt from Neoliberal Joe and the Democrats like the other two groups that came into the GOP in 2016, “Trumpism” could be transformed into something more like Bryanism or Longism.

The 2016 and 2020 elections have more than a passing resemblance to the 1896 and 1900 elections – the way that the political establishment felt threatened and went all out to crush Donald Trump, the highest turnout since the 1900 election, the shift from conservatism to populism, Trump’s defeat of the Republican establishment and enduring popularity, a backdrop of immiseration, etc.

Note: Maybe we have reached rock bottom though? The country began to turn the corner in the 1900s. Hopefully, things will get better as the Baby Boomers exit the stage.

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8 Comments

  1. “Hopefully, things will get better as the Baby Boomers exit the stage.”

    Oh really ?

    I want to see who is going to do the geophysical work, move a drilling platform in 9 days. Keep the infrastructure functional.

    I’ve seen enough of affirmative action and the soy twinks, to foresee the future.
    Texas is your future, hope you enjoy -2° without heat and all that goes with it, bridge collapse, shortages, 911 “watcha you want, man, i dunno where dat beez” etc.

  2. Re: “Texas is your future”:

    “Once the shutdowns began, all the inequities and injustices of American capitalism in 2021 were spotlighted. Working class and minority Texans live in substandard housing, without insulation against unexpected cold and without adequate heating capacity. Residents of Houston, the fourth largest US city, could see the lights still on in the city’s downtown corporate headquarters while they were freezing in the dark. Poor people on ventilators and those dependent on feeding tubes had nowhere to go but hospital emergency rooms. Few can match the Texas ruling elite and its political servants for blatant class prejudice. The mayor of Colorado City, a small town in west Texas (…) declared. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!” He continued with a tirade against “socialist government,” adding that the “strong will survive and the weak will [perish].” This is not just the opinion of a backwoods reactionary. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who just concluded a four-year term in Washington as Trump’s secretary of energy, declared Wednesday, “Texans would be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” This millionaire ignoramus is more than willing to fight to the last freezing child to keep Texas utilities unregulated. Texas Governor Greg Abbott found time amidst the crisis to appear on the Sean Hannity program on Fox News and blame the crisis on solar and wind energy, although he admitted that these account for only 10 percent of the state’s output” https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/02/18/pers-f18.html – and Texas senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz disappeared to Cancun.

    • Much to my point, the super wealthy and the super poor, just like any other banana republic, but without bananas.

      Without boomers/WHITES, america will be another turdworld cesspool.

    • In our quasi-socialist country (the U.S.), in which the mishmash of regulation, welfare, and entitlement programs is complicated by racial adulteration and uncontrolled entry (immigration) of foreigners, a suggestion that the decisions of these Texan energy suppliers are profit-driven manifestations of “capitalism” is bad faith, which is what I would expect from the World Socialist Web Site or any other commie entity. One needn’t know all the details, one needn’t be able to peel back all the complicating layers of quasi-socialist law and policy, to recognize that nothing is straightforward about the decision-making that has led to the present problem in Texas. One merely has to be honest, which it is impossible for a commie to be.

      • Capitalism always fails wherever it is allowed to run free. Except it does not fail to makes a privileged few extremely rich, and wage “successful” imperialist wars, both hot and cold.

        Re: “quasi-socialist country (the U.S.) ” :

        The U.S. is the quintessentially capitalist country, the very opposite and the worst enemy of ethno-national socialism/communism. All of the “mishmash” regulations, “welfare” and “entitlements” you complain of are really designed to protect and prosper the elites, NOT for the benefit of the thoroughly ethnically mixed and divided, de-moralized and atomized vast majority of the population of the U.S. It is time to abandon the failed system and make an entirely new world.

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