Will This Prediction Come True?

BY HANK REICHMAN

In 1998 the late philosopher Richard Rorty published Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America.  While I was familiar with Rorty’s interesting brand of neo-pragmatism, with its debt to AAUP founding father John Dewey, I must have missed this book and have no recollection of its overall arguments or its reception.  But yesterday someone tweeted a picture of a few paragraphs from the book — taken out of whatever context in which they appeared, to be sure — that chillingly hit home in light of our present moment.  Here it is:

cw08rqquqaai7a1-jpg-largeHas “something cracked?”  And will the consequences be as Rorty predicted?  No one can yet say, of course, but I think there is a lesson here, especially in Rorty’s concluding sentence.  Of course, I would hasten to add that there are many, many African-American, Latino, immigrant and also poor white people without college educations who don’t share this resentment; indeed, they hungrily crave the education that some others may hold in contempt.  I remain highly skeptical of the simplistic notion that Trump’s election is best explained as the victory of the uneducated “working class.”  Still, food for thought.

5 thoughts on “Will This Prediction Come True?

  1. I don’t think Rorty is saying here that Trump’s election is explained as the “victory of the uneducated ‘working class,'” Rather, he’s saying that the underemployed and BADLY educated will find themselves with no allies that understand their economic situation, only financial and cultural elites who seem to despise them. Bernie’s economic message addressed this situation quite clearly and directly. It could have resonated across the class spectrum of the 99%. Thanks for posting this. It is indeed creepy.

    • I don’t think he’s saying that either, and I don’t think my posting suggested that. But I am skeptical of the simplistic notion that this is mainly about economic disadvantage. There’s an element of that in it, to be sure, but it’s not the whole or even the main thing. Preliminary figures show that the Trump percentage of the votes rises as one moves up the income ladder. This is probably not true everywhere and I would not be surprised if the racial divide widens as one goes down the income ladder. But that’s the point. This is about economic and social geography, xenophobia, and race. At least any analysis that does not take those factors into account in some manner is inaccurate.

  2. I think Rorty was right but we’re in error to think his analysis would only explain the votes of the class he’s talking about.

    The issues he sees motivating the working class can also motivate better-off persons. Nobody, for instance, likes having their manners dictated to them – and it feels as if that’s increased exponentially since 1998, especially with social media. It’s also become far easier to conceive of *every* job going away, not just the ones that can be offshored. In 1998, who expected that college teaching would become a predominately part-time, low wage occupation? Who expected that folks desperate enough to gig with Uber would see driverless cars appear almost immediately? It sometimes feels to me as if this country has taken a vow, in some inner circle, to simply do away with *all* jobs.

    Also, so often we on the left push those who aren’t being impacted by something to think of others, and to consider that what’s done to the vulnerable today might be done to them tomorrow. Yet then we look at voting patterns and say ‘Wow, why are these people who weren’t impacted voting that way?’ When people actually do that – either vote on behalf of others or look at trends and realize they could be next – it will make assumptions about what motivates different classes much more tenuous.

  3. OK, but I’m trying to understand what being against overpaid bond salesmen has to do with being against women and people of color. Shouldn’t we be articulating a case for economic and social progress for all, in a way that does not pit men against women or whites against people of color?

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