How educated liberals alienate working people

Here’s a little thought experiment: What would happen if, by a snap of the fingers, white racism in America were to disappear?

It might be that the black and Latino working class would be voting for Trump, too. Then we Democrats would have no chance in 2020.

We often tell ourselves: “Oh, we lost the white working class because of race.”  But maybe the truth is something closer to this: “It’s only because of race that we have any part of the working class turning out for us at all.”

This is the beginning of an article by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan in The New Republic. His point is that that leaders of the Democratic Party and also the Washington press corps are college graduates who have little or nothing to do with mere high school graduates, even though they are the majority of Americans.

The liberal solution to economic inequality in the USA is college education for everybody.  In other words, the message of the liberal elite is: Imitate us.

This is insulting and is felt as an insult, Geoghegan said.  It also tells the majority of Americans over 30 that they are doomed.

And even if college education were universal, it wouldn’t end poverty, raise wages or cure economic inequality.  It would simply be a higher bar you have to reach in order to have any kind of economic future at all.

Geoghegan said that’s why the most astute thing that Donald Trump ever said was, “I love the uneducated.”

It wasn’t always this way.  I am old enough to remember a time when a majority of Senators and Congresspeople, not to mention President Harry Truman, had no education beyond high school.

 I was one of only two college graduates employed by the first newspaper I worked for, in 1959.  The other was the city editor, who had a degree in chemistry.

That era was certainly no utopia, but politicians lived in the same neighborhoods as their constituents and journalists lived in the same neighborhoods as their readers.

Not that education, or liberal education, is useless.  It is just that it is not a solution to problems caused by concentration and abuse of economic and political power.

By the way, exit polls showed that Donald Trump got 8 percent of the African-American vote and 29 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016.


Educated Fools: Why Democrats still misunderstand the politics of social class by Thomas Geoghegan for The New Republic.

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6 Responses to “How educated liberals alienate working people”

  1. whungerford Says:

    The idea that poorly educated white males voted for DJT because they resent better educated voters is false in my opinion. They voted as they did because they were fooled by empty promises and persuasive propaganda which exploited real concerns.


    • philebersole Says:

      You’re right, of course. Donald Trump made empty promises and used persuasive propaganda that exploited real concerns, and he won.

      But the vote he got was roughly the same percentage of the vote that Romney and McCain got. The reason for his victory was the falloff of the Democratic vote in 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

      Democrats lost support among all constituent groups, including women and minorities. I think the main reason is that Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s administrations did so little, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign promised so little, for wage-earners.

      Trump did not win because he was popular. He won because of the increasing number of American voters who distrust both parties.

      In Michigan in 2016, there were about 60,000 voters who voted the straight Democratic ticket except for not voting for any candidate for President. That was less than Trump’s margin of victory in Michigan.

      Two of the enduring memes of the 2010s were Obama’s remark about struggling workers clinging to their religion and their guns and Hillary Clinton’s remark how half of Trump’s supporters belonged in a basket of deplorables.

      It’s true that Fox News and the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine made sure these remarks would never be forgotten. But they were accurate, in and of themselves. What made them so offensive?

      It is that Obama and Clinton were both speaking to groups of rich donors and spoke of wage-earners as “those people”—the people who are different from us who need to be explained.


    • philebersole Says:

      Here’s an example of a self-defined liberal’s contempt for working people.


  2. Says:

    Tell me what “liberal” group is recommending college education for all? I hear from numerous sources that you need more than a high school diploma.Most liberals I know do not recommend college for all. Maybe my subset of liberals are different that the liberal subset this writer listens to. What I get from this review is that the working class will vote against it’s interests. And that there are no liberals in the working class.


    • philebersole Says:

      For the past 30 years and more, high school students have been told that, unless they graduate from college, they are doomed because they live in a Knowledge Economy and will otherwise be useless.

      Some of the proponents of this view were Robert Reich in The Work of Nations and Marc Tucker in Thinking for a Living.

      Many did try to go and fail, and wind up with a crushing burden of student debt that often lasts throughout their lives.

      Now the Silicon Valley elite is spreading a new message. That is that large numbers, maybe a majority, of wage-earners are useless in a high-tech economy, and there is nothing to be done with them except to give them a subsistence income and Internet connections, and let them spend their lives staring at screens.

      One proponent of this view is Tyler Cowen in Average Is Over. Another is Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

      You and i and the people in our circle don’t necessarily think this, but we’re not the opinion leaders and decision-makers.

      Bernie Sanders, bless his heart, has proposed making higher education free or affordable to everyone. Other candidates also have proposed plans to subsidize college education or help pay down student debt.

      I think this would be a good thing. When I was young, state colleges did provide free or affordable education to all who could do college work.

      But increasing the number of college degrees will do little or nothing to reduce poverty, raise wages or prevent the further growth of economic inequality.

      It is not a substitute for stronger labor unions, breakup of corporate monopolies and repeal of the past 30 years of upper-income tax breaks.


  3. Heineman, Robert A Says:

    Phil, A very good piece. Thanks, Bob H.


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