September 18th, 2008
An ultimatum to the US left
DAN GLAZEBROOK reads Joe Bageant’s proposition that the exploited working poor of the US heartlands are much more progressive than they’re given credit for.
Joe Bageant grew up the son of a trucker in what he calls “redneck America.” Winchester, Virginia to be precise.
After years working as a journalist in the north, Bageant returns to his roots in an attempt to reacquaint what passes for the left in the US with their supposed constituency - the poor working class of the US heartlands.
The very fact that this is even necessary already helps to answer the central question that Bageant’s book sets out to resolve. Namely, why is it that the class whose lives are so consistently trampled by the Republican government - through enforced insecurity, piss-poor wages and as cannon fodder - seem to support that very party so consistently?
Tellingly, Bageant reveals in his introduction how bizarre he finds it that he is paid to speak publicly about the lives of the US working class. “It is as if your people were some sort of exotic, as if you were from Yemen or something,” he quotes a New York editor as telling him. To the liberal left, the working class, it seems, are indeed a foreign country.
His answer to the conundrum of working class support for the Republicans is roughly as follows.
The brutality of working every waking hour, permanently two paychecks from eviction, saps your humanity and drives a dog-eat-dog conception of the world into your brain.
Add to that the fact that most Virginian workers’ sole experience of Democrats and liberals comes in the form of rich doctors, lawyers and estate agents intent on capitalising on their every misfortune and one can understand the resentment.
In other words, oddly enough, Bageant’s thesis is that it is precisely class warfare and a perverted form of class consciousness that drives working people into the hands of the Republicans. They simply have a gut reaction against middle-class parasites with whom they identify the Democrats and, by extension, the entire left.
Along the way is an extremely prescient chapter on the then still-to-unfold “subprime mortgage crisis” and what it means for folks like Bageant’s relative Tommy, whose 79,000-dollar trailer home will cost him more than 260,000 dollars by the time that it is paid off, although its true value is already falling from the minute that he walks out of the estate agent’s door.
There is also a spirited defence of gun ownership and a damning indictment of the “gun-control left.” “It’s all about middle-class liberal feel-good masturbation and celebrity-identity franchise building through causes,” he says, before reminding us that “the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed not to control guns but to control blacks.”
There are excellent chapters on the growth of Christian fundamentalism and the influence of the Ulster Scots on US culture, all told through an absorbing combination of bittersweet anecdotes, hard facts and vitriolic passion.
Bageant’s solution is pretty simple. “Show me a political party willing to train and put real working-class people on these streets door to door, which is what it will take to mobilise the votes of the working screwed, and I will show you one that can begin to kick a hole in that wall between Capitol Hill and the people that it is supposed to be serving.”
In other words, working-class support for the Republicans is essentially an ultimatum to the left. Engage with us - or fuck off.Gary Corseri serves as a Senior Arts & Culture Editor with Cyrano’s Journal. His articles, poems and stories have appeared in more than 200 journals online and in print around the world, including The Village Voice, The New York Times, Dissident Voice, Pravda, and others.