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Bobos in Trumpland


For some no doubt masochistic reason I just read every word of David Brooks’s new Atlantic essay on class in America. Let’s put it this way: if you wanted to know if an essay could be more David Brooks the answer would be, “None. None more Brooks.”

I’m annoyed enough at the moment that the following summary is going to be a bit hyperbolic, but if you want to find out just how much you’re going to have to get out of the boat yourself (BTW the Spinal Tap and Apocalypse Now references in the first two sentences of this blog post apparently mean I’m part of the ruling class in America).

According to David Brooks, the following things are the case:

(1) The creative class attained its status and power through a merit-driven process, a crucial aspect of which was attendance at elite universities that were open to strivers of all classes and backgrounds.

(2) But now the creative class has pulled up that ladder, by making educational attainment something that’s harder to obtain without the benefit of various socio-economic privileges. Ironic!

In other words, back in the day Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Princeton were basically egalitarian institutions, but today they are increasingly dedicated to preserving class privilege.

(3) Race and gender are not categories that have any salience whatsoever to class analysis in the United States, and therefore it’s possible to write a 5,000 word essay on this topic without mentioning either thing once.

(4) Rich Republicans don’t feel rich because urban cosmopolitan geographically mobile — rootless you might even say — elites make fun of PBR and country music.

A representative quote, generated by Brooks’s musings on the cultural meaning of the various Trump regattas, in which people who own boats that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars perform aquatic parades of their political allegiances:

How could people with high-end powerboats possibly think of themselves as the downtrodden? The truth is, they are not totally crazy. The class structure of Western society has gotten scrambled over the past few decades. It used to be straightforward: You had the rich, who joined country clubs and voted Republican; the working class, who toiled in the factories and voted Democratic; and, in between, the mass suburban middle class. We had a clear idea of what class conflict, when it came, would look like—members of the working classes would align with progressive intellectuals to take on the capitalist elite.

The whole thing is like that.

OK, one bit of data and I’m out of here:

Percentage of people making less than $50,000 who voted for Biden and Trump respectively: 57% and 42%

Percentage of people making more than $100,000 who voted for Biden and Trump respectively: 43% and 54%

In sum, America is a land of contrasts, and Trump was the candidate of the resentful working class, if the resentful working class is a middle-aged white guy who went to a third-tier college and owns a power boat.

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