In recent history, the United States has arguably never been so divided — but not in the way you might think. Yes, the country has been split by the culture wars, with their polarising focus on race and gender. But behind the scenes, another conflict has been brewing; shaped by the economics of class, it has created two Americas increasingly in conflict.
The First America is made up of the highly educated and affluent, who have already managed to recover their pandemic-depleted incomes. Its biggest winners, though, have been large tech firms — notably Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google — who together have added more than two and a half trillion dollars to their valuation since 2019, and last year enjoyed record breaking profits.
In contrast, the Second America, made up of the working and private-sector middle classes, has been devastated by the pandemic, with more than half of small businesses unlikely to fully recover. Meanwhile, the expanding serf class, many of whom were employed in small businesses, has become increasingly dependent on handouts from Washington and bloated state governments, so much so that it has made little sense for many to go back to work.
At stake, increasingly, is the future of America as an aspirational country. Traditionally, the growing gap between the rich and the other classes would be fodder for a Left-wing bonfire, but the progressive Left now gets much of its funding from the corporate elite, notably Silicon Valley and Wall Street. The oligarchy not only funded Biden’s campaign, but, particularly in the case of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, leant critical support to boost the November electoral turnout.
Taking on the oligarchy, therefore, has not been Biden’s priority, at least to date. Rather than focus on traditional working-class concerns, he has been swept up by the cultural memes of the HR departments, newsrooms and faculty lounges. The results have been all too predictable: draconian energy policies, the racialisation of education and support for public sector unions, the one arguably working-class bastion for the Democrats.
But in the long run, this may not constitute smart politics. The politically correct agenda of the progressive activists, at least according to a survey conducted by the non-partisan More in Common group, inspires the loyalty of barely 8% of the electorate. Another recent study found that 80% of all Americans, including large majorities of millennials and racial minorities, find the “politically correct” politics “dangerous”. And so Washington’s aggressively discriminatory policies — such as steering aid to farmers based on race — are unlikely to connect with most Americans, as are attempts to impose “anti-racist” programming in companies and schools, suggesting that to be white is equivalent to having disease. There’s also considerable scepticism about this approach among America’s minorities, whose priorities don’t concern compensation for past evils but a better life for their families.
Indeed, pushback against the progressive agenda has been growing among the two fastest growing minorities, Asians, and Hispanics. Asian communities may be feeling the sting of racial resentment, and were until recently tilting towards the Democrats, but last year they began shifting back to the centre-right, even in California. This stems in part from their opposition to race quotas, which work against this often over-achieving population. Asians are also over-represented among the ranks of homeowners and small businesses, which are less able to cope with progressive regulation and were in the crosshairs of the recent surge of urban violence.
Read the rest of this piece at Unherd.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.