A Modest Proposal For Republicans: Use The Word "Class"
Pivot from mindless populist rage to a thoughtful campaign to fight classism.
Read this first: Book Review: Fussell On Class
Dear Republican Party:
I hear you're having a post-Trump identity crisis. Your old platform of capitalism and liberty and whatever no longer excites people. Trump managed to excite people, but you don't know how to turn his personal appeal into a new platform. Most of what he said was offensive, blatantly false, or alienated more people than it won; absent his personal magic it seems like a losing combination. You seem to have picked up a few minority voters here and there, but you're not sure why, and you don't know how to build on this success.
I hate you and you hate me. But maybe I would hate you less if you didn't suck. Also, the more confused you are, the more you flail around sabotaging everything. All else being equal, I'd rather you have a coherent interesting message, and make Democrats shape up to compete with you.
So here's my recommendation: use the word "class". Pivot from mindless populist rage to a thoughtful campaign to fight classism.
Yeah, yeah, "class" sounds Marxist, class warfare and all that, you're supposed to be against that kind of thing, right? Wrong. Economic class warfare is Marxist, but here in the US class isn't a purely economic concept. Class is also about culture. You're already doing class warfare, you're just doing it blindly and confusedly. Instead, do it openly, while using the words "class" and “classism”.
Trump didn't win on a platform of capitalism and liberty and whatever. He won on a platform of being anti-establishment. But which establishment? Not rich people. Trump is rich, lots of his Cabinet picks were rich, practically the first thing he did was cut taxes on the rich. Some people thought that contradicted his anti-establishment message, but those people were wrong. Powerful people? Getting warmer, but Mike Pence is a powerful person and Trump wasn't against Mike Pence. Smart people? Now you're burning hot.
Trump stood against the upper class. He might define them as: people who live in nice apartments in Manhattan or SF or DC and laugh under their breath if anybody comes from Akron or Tampa. Who eat Thai food and Ethiopian food and anything fusion, think they would gain 200 lbs if they ever stepped in a McDonalds, and won't even speak the name Chick-Fil-A. Who usually go to Ivy League colleges, though Amherst or Berkeley is acceptable if absolutely necessary. Who conspicuously love Broadway (especially Hamilton), LGBT, education, "expertise", mass transit, and foreign anything. They conspicuously hate NASCAR, wrestling, football, "fast food", SUVs, FOX, guns, the South, evangelicals, and reality TV. Who would never get married before age 25 and have cutesy pins about how cats are better than children. Who get jobs in journalism, academia, government, consulting, or anything else with no time-card where you never have to use your hands. Who all have exactly the same political and aesthetic opinions on everything, and think the noblest and most important task imaginable is to gatekeep information in ways that force everyone else to share those opinions too.
(full disclosure: I fit like 2/3 of these descriptors)
Aren't I just describing well-off people? No. Teachers, social workers, grad students, and starving artists may be poor, but can still be upper-class. Pilots, plumbers, and lumber barons are well-off, but not upper-class. Donald Trump is a billionaire, but still recognizably not upper class. The upper class is a cultural phenomenon.
Aren't I just describing Democrats? No. The Democrats are a coalition of the upper class, various poor minorities, union labor, and lots of other groups. It's an easy mistake to make, because you Republicans absolutely loathe the upper class, and whenever you're talking about Democrats you focus on this group and how much you hate them. But you make the mistake of saying you hate Democrats, and then it looks like boring old partisanship. Or saying you hate the elites, and then it looks like boring old populism. Or saying you hate rootless cosmopolitans, and then it looks like boring old anti-Semitism. Or saying you hate the government, and then it looks like boring old libertarianism.
Instead, just use the words "class" and “classism”. Say "Hey, we Republicans want to be the party of the working class. We are concerned about the rising power of the upper class, and we are dedicated to stamping out classism."
It's the 21st century; having principles is out of style. Politics is motivated by tribal hatred. You tell your people that the other side hates them and wants to kill them; they need to fight back. The Democrats are great at this - cis white men hate you, they deny your right to exist, the cruelty is the point, resist or be destroyed. You Republicans have been caught flat-footed. You can’t openly defend cis white men; that would be transphobic racist sexist. And you can’t openly attack trans black women - that would be super transphobic racist sexist. Plus it wouldn’t work; there aren’t that many of them, and they’re not powerful enough to be scary.
Trump outmanuevered the Republican establishment by finding a front where he could go on the offensive. He de-emphasized the unfavorable terrain of race/sex/etc, and focused on class. He didn't use the word "class". But he captured the idea. He implicitly understood that there was some kind of difference between the average working-class voter and the sorts of people who set trends in the media, academia, government, et cetera. Whenever an upper-class institution tried to make him admit that they were the experts and he should bow to them, he spat in their faces instead. This was terrible; he spat in the faces of epidemiologists trying to tell him about an epidemic! But it sent his message loud and clear - just as South African populist Thabo Mbeki denied HIV/AIDS partly as a way of spitting in the face of the rich white countries who wanted him not to.
Consciously embracing the project of fighting classism would let future Republican politicians replicate Trump’s appeal without having to stoop to his tactics. It could tie together all the fractured constituencies of the Republican party.
It could appeal to the white working class. Everyone agreed these people were Trump's base, but the media insisted on emphasizing the "white", as in “WHITE!!! working class”. Your job is to get people thinking “white WORKING CLASS!!!” instead. You cannot ethically or pragmatically flatter these people's identity as whites, but you can very easily flatter their identity as the working class.
It could appeal to blacks and Hispanics. They’re mostly working-class, so they hate the elites as much as anyone else. So far the left has kept them voting Democrat by scaring them with stories about how racist the white working class is, and convincing them that only Democratic elites can keep them safe. Your job is to make the Marxist argument that this is the typical ruling class tactic of using racial animus to keep the working classes divided and powerless. If you do this right, you can get a bunch of minorities on your side without driving away any whites; mutual enemies are the duct tape of political coalitions. The pro-Trump shift among blacks and Hispanics in 2020 proves that minorities are willing to vote Republican once someone frames the conflict in class terms. And success stories like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Nikki Haley prove that white Republicans are friendly to minorities once they're convinced they share their values. All you need to do is drag both sides to the altar and tie the knot.
It could appeal to Republicans who are in it for the capitalism (including the rich donors). You would argue that capitalism is the system that lets people succeed regardless of class; even the most uncouth and uneducated person can strike it rich if they work hard and make good deals. The Democrats hate this; they prefer a system where powerful insiders get to play favorites, where success depends on who you know and not what you know, and where good jobs are locked behind gates of correct credentials from the right colleges. Every time Democrats attack Elon Musk for being rich, you can point out that Elon Musk was an immigrant who worked hard for his money, and you're the party representing people like that - whereas the Democrats are the party of people who got hired by McKinsey straight out of college to a job that pays a higher entry-level salary than most people get in their entire lives. Make your 50-year old working-class Iowa farmer constituent imagine whether he or his kids might ever invent a cool new kind of car, vs. whether they could ever get hired as McKinsey consultants.
It could appeal to poor people who just want to get jobs. Point out how DC Democrats passed a law saying all child care workers must have college degrees, and how this is just a blatant attempt to take jobs away from working-class people in order to give them to upper-class people instead. Tell them that this is class warfare, that their side is losing, but that if you are in power they will win.
It could appeal to small-government libertarians. Argue that the Democrats and the government are a jobs program for the upper class. All those Institutes For X and Public Service Campaigns For Y, all those regulations that require two hundred lawyers just to move a potted plant, all those laws that mean every company needs fifty compliance offers working full time just in order to not get sued, they're all a giant jobs program for college-educated people who refuse to work with their hands.
It could appeal to Asians, another up-for-grab minority demographic. Asians know they've done the hard work and gotten the test scores that ought to make them successful, but somehow success isn't coming. We all know why this is - they're being excluded by an academic establishment that believes "meritocracy" is a dirty word. Your job is to make the obvious point that Democrats have transformed college admissions from a search for talented students, into a scheme to perpetuate class advantage. If they wanted to accept talented students, they'd use some objective measure like test scores, and Asians would do great. Instead they focus on a deliberately-illegible stew of extracurriculars and sports and private school grades and "holistic factors" that all end up boiling down to class background (who do you think ends up getting the "right" extra-curriculars or "impressing" the interviewer?) You can position yourself as the party of meritocracy, and position meritocracy as the opposite of class favoritism, and your opponents will do all your work for you, tripping over themselves to insist on how anti-meritocratic they are.
It could appeal to intellectuals. Right now you're doing so badly among this demographic that you're going to have trouble staffing the next generation of think tanks. That's because you have a lot of anger but no theory. Intellectuals love theories. Your theory will be something something classism, details to be filled in later. Intellectuals love filling in details, especially details about -isms, and you can assure them that they'll be very busy
So here's my proposal for a Republican platform centered around fighting classism:
1. War On College: As it currently exists, college is a scheme for laundering and perpetuating class advantage. You need to make the case that bogus degree requirements (eg someone without a college degree can't be a sales manager at X big company, but somebody with any degree, even Art History or Literature, can) are blatantly classist. Your stretch goal should be to ban discrimination based on college degree status. Professions may continue to accept professional school degrees (eg hospitals can continue to require doctors have a medical school degree), and any company may test their employees' knowledge (eg mining companies can make their geologists pass a geology test) but the thing where you have to get into a good college, give them $100,000, flatter your professors a bit, and end up with a History degree before you can be a firefighter or whatever is illegal. If you can't actually make degree discrimination illegal, just make all government offices and companies that do business with the government ban degree discrimination.
Stop the thing where high schools refuse to let people graduate until they promise to go to college. End draft deferment for people who go to college - hopefully there won't be a draft, but do it anyway, as a sign that studying at college isn't any more important than the many other jobs people do that don't confer draft exemptions. Make universities no longer tax-exempt - why should institutions serving primarily rich people, providing them with regattas and musical theater, and raking in billions of dollars a year, not have to pay taxes? Make the bill that does this very clearly earmark the extra tax money for things that help working-class people, like infrastructure or vocational schools or whatever.
2. War On Experts: Argue that you love and support legitimate experts, but that the Democrats have invented and propped up a fake concept of expertise as a way of making sure upper-class people who can game admissions to top colleges control the discourse. Your solution will be prediction markets. Yes, really. Repeal all bans on prediction markets and give tax breaks for participating in them, until they have the same kind of liquidity as the S&P500. You'll get a decentralized, populist, credentialism-free, market-based alternative to expertise. When the prediction markets outperform 75% of experts, fire them and say this proves you were right all along that government-sponsored expertise was just a jobs program for the upper-class. The remaining 25% of experts are cool and you will definitely listen to them very closely about whatever they have to say.
I’m serious about this one. What’s the alternative solution? Republicans are stuck distrusting experts, both because of ideological precommitments and because they’re understandably afraid experts will smuggle pro-Democrat bias into their judgments. But if they don't trust experts, then sometimes they do incredibly dumb things and refuse to listen to the people who can set them right. Prediction markets - an un-biasable, decentralized form of aggregating expert and non-expert opinion correctly - are the only solution I can imagine working.
3. War On The Upper-Class Media: This is your new term for "mainstream media". Being against the "mainstream media" sounds kind of conspiratorial. Instead, you’re against the upper-class media, which gains its status by systematically excluding lower-class voices, and which exists mostly as a tool of the upper classes to mock and humiliate the lower class. You are not against journalism, you're not against being well-informed, you're against a system that exists to marginalize people like you. Tell the upper-class media that if they want your respect, they need to stop class discrimination.
67% of US families watch the Super Bowl - what percent of New York Times editors and reporters do? 20% of Americans go to religious services weekly - how many of those work for the New York Times? How come 96% of political donations from journalists go to Democrats? Your job is to take a page from the Democratic playbook and insist there is no reason any of this could be true except systemic classism, that any other explanation is offensive, and it's the upper-class media's moral duty to do something about this immediately. Until they do so you are absolutely justified in ignoring them and trusting less bigoted and exclusionary sources (I hear Substack is pretty good!)
Insist that working-class people have the right to communicate with each other without interference from upper-class gatekeepers. Make sure people know every single fact about @Jack and what a completely ridiculous person he is, and point out that somehow this is the guy who decides what you're allowed to communicate with your Twitter friends. Every time tech companies censor social media, even if they're censoring left-wing views, call their CEOs in for long and annoying Congressional hearings where you use the words "Silicon Valley elites" a lot.
4. War On Wokeness. But now it's because wokeness is a made-up mystery religion that college-educated people invented so they could feel superior to you. Why are they so sure that "some of my best friends are black" doesn't make you any less racist? Because the whole point is that the only way not to be racist is to master an inscrutable and constantly-changing collection of fashionable shibboleths and opinions which are secretly class norms. The whole point is to make sure the working-class white guy whose best friends are black and who marries a black woman and has beautiful black children feels immeasurably inferior to the college-educated white guy who knows that saying "colored people" is horrendously offensive but saying "people of color" is the only way to dismantle white supremacy. You should make it clear that this is total balderdash, you could not be less interested in it, and you will continue befriending colored people of color regardless.
If anybody asks you for your theory of racism, it should be that a lot of modern racism is a subform of classism, where people naturally assume minorities are lower class. When a cop targets a black person for a “random” stop-and-frisk, that’s racist. But it’s also coming from same thought process the cop uses to target an unkempt heavily-tattooed white guy in the bad part of town, instead of a well-groomed suit-wearing white guy in the business district. The cop is classist, and using race as a marker of low class. This is bad, but the surest way to counteract it would be to dismantle the class system entirely - not to offer increasingly more amazing positions to the tiny handful of minorities who are able to perform upper-class really well and get the appropriate college credentials.
You're fighting wars on all these things anyway. But now you can fight them while using the word "class". You can have a specific target in mind: eliminating “classism”. And since you know your enemy, you can have an actual plan for victory, instead of just shouting louder and louder about how angry you are.
Probably this will be a cynical political ploy. But there's also the possibility that you genuinely open up opportunities for working-class people. Or make weird political alliances you wouldn't have made otherwise that decrease polarization. Or at least make US politics slightly less embarrassing than it is right now.
There's a theory that the US party system realigns every 50-or-so years. Last time, in 1965, it switched from the Democrats being the party of the South and the Republicans being the party for blacks, to vice versa. If the theory's right, we're in the middle of an equally big switch. Wouldn't it be great if the Republicans became the racially diverse party of the working class? You can make it happen!