What It Will Take to Create a Pluralistic Social Democracy

Derek Thompson does a great job of aligning the two sides of the post-election debate that has been going on among liberals about economic populism vs identity politics. He starts off by pointing out the fallacy of suggesting that Hillary Clinton ignored the concerns of white working class voters. She not only talked about jobs, but had proposals for how to create them. She didn’t simply pander to the fears of those who worked in the coal industry or the manufacturing sector, she had comprehensive plans about how to address their concerns. Therefore, Thomson warns:

The more frightening possibility for liberals is that Clinton didn’t lose because the white working class failed to hear her message, but precisely because they did hear it.

Trump’s white voters do support the mommy state, but only so long as it’s mothering them. Most of them don’t seem eager to change Medicare or Social Security, but they’re fine with repealing Obamacare and its more diverse pool of 20 million insured people. They’re happy for the government to pick winners and losers, so long as beleaguered coal and manufacturing companies are in the winner’s circle. Massive deficit-financed spending on infrastructure? Under Obama, that was dangerous government overreach, but under Trump, it’s a jobs plan by a guy they know won’t let Muslims and Mexicans cut in line to get work renovating highways and airports…

The long-term future of the U.S. involves rising diversity, rising inequality, and rising redistribution. The combination of these forces makes for an unstable and unpredictable system. Income stagnation and inequality encourage policies to redistribute wealth from a rich few to the anxious multitudes. But when that multitude includes minorities who are seen as benefiting disproportionately from those redistribution policies, the white majority can turn resentful.

I was reminded of this discussion between Laura Flanders and Tim Wise back in 2010.

On the heels of the Great Recession, a lot of working class white people gained personal experience with how inadequate our country’s social safety net actually is. Wise points to research showing that the primary reason support for those programs has declined in the U.S. over the last 40 years is because of the belief that they will be abused by black and brown people. He goes on to talk about the fact that the New Deal programs were embraced by Southern whites primarily because they excluded women and minorities (unlike the Great Society programs that came after the movements for civil and women’s rights).

At some point, if income inequality is to ever be meaningfully addressed, either white working class people will need put aside these racist notions and join with women and people of color to fight for what Thompson calls a “pluralistic social democracy,” or wait for a large enough majority of women and people of color to do it on their own.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.