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Another war in which there are no rules

As we have seen, and are continuing to see. As with all other wars, there is but one way it will end: with one side victorious, the other…not.

The Elite War on the American Middle Class—and How to End It
Being middle class in America used to mean something—something socially transformative, something even revolutionary. The American middle class represented a form of national social order never before seen on this earth—cultural domination not by the very rich and very educated, or the political domination either by tyrants or the mob, but by a mass of people, relatively well-to-do, who felt themselves fortunate in their circumstances. That was what made the American middle class different from the French or English bourgeoisie. Its members believed, and the country believed, that they were the nation’s backbone, its true governing class, and its moral compass.

Throughout most of the 20th century, the term “middle class” signaled membership in an optimistic and growing group, most of whom had risen within memory from physically laborious jobs in farming or on factory floors to offices and small businesses they ran themselves. The middle class had enjoyed long periods of prosperity and stability, and each generation of politicians, on the left and the right, had enthusiastically pandered to it because they were the American majority, and it was from the American majority you could build a political consensus and a political coalition.

What were the core convictions of the American middle class? It valued its freedom and autonomy, was proudly patriotic, involved itself in its local communities, and was churchgoing without being fanatical about it. Its position at the dead center of American life was reflected in mass culture in ways that were both positively reinforcing and widespread. If you turned on any radio program in the 1930s and 1940s or any network television show before the advent of the cable era, you would likely find some benign portrait of the middle-class American nuclear family staring back at you. Providing that kind of mirroring comfort made cultural and financial sense in a country where approximately 61 percent of adults lived in middle-class households.

As Max Weber said, “A class itself is not a community.” The middle class in the U.S. has always been as much an idea as it is a definable socioeconomic category. It has also served as an ideal, a goal to achieve for the working class, which sees in the rung above them on the social ladder wonderful and achievable things like home ownership, a safe neighborhood, and retirement comfortable enough to soothe an aching back garnered from decades of physical labor.

But both the idea and the ideal are under significant threat today, and not only from economic challenges such as inflation, stagnant wages, and higher housing costs. The common understanding of the middle class as the key moderating force in our culture and politics is also disappearing. We know this from the evolution of American mass entertainment. Popular culture has moved away from the values and interests of the middle as well. In Status and Culture, the critic W. David Marx describes how, in the mid-20th century, the middle class “enjoyed its own respectable taste world of Reader’s Digest, bowling clubs, and Lawrence Welk.” Those middle-class tastes and choices were mocked by the elitists of the time; the middle class was said to be living soulless conformist existences in “little boxes made of ticky-tacky,” as the folksinger Malvina Reynolds sang contemptuously in 1962. Efforts to shock the middle class out of its complacency came in the form of supposedly scandalous works like Peyton Place that presumed to show the dark truth behind the manicured lawns of Main Street USA.

Then came the 1960s and the elevation of transgressive behavior and mores. By now, there is almost no middle-class culture to mock. Today, Marx writes, “the twenty-first century economy has skewed media and consumption so decisively toward coastal elites as to be perceived among the lower middle class as a demeaning erasure.”

This erasure is significant because it speaks to thorny issues of status and dignity in a country with long-standing anxieties about class. The middle class found it could no longer rely upon or take pleasure in its creature comforts quite so readily, or find satisfaction in achieving a certain level of social standing. As Paul Fussell observed in his 1983 book, Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, “The special hazards attending the class situation in America, where movement appears so fluid and where the prizes seem available to anyone who’s lucky, are disappointment, and, following close on that, envy….The myth conveys the impression that you can readily earn your way upward, [so] disillusionment and bitterness are particularly strong when you find yourself trapped in a class system you’ve been half persuaded isn’t important.”

Rather than be catered to by the elites who seek to make their living off their tastes and wants, the middle class is more likely to hear the elite talk about it as a problem: Middle-class Americans are racist, they complain too much about how expensive everything has become, and they won’t get on board either with the left’s social-engineering schemes or the populist right’s rage-driven apocalypticism.

They are told that “no human is illegal” and that their concerns about an open border are evidence of their own bigotry. They see the poor and other designated “oppressed” receive sympathetic elite attention and government subsidies and programs, and services aimed at helping them. The elite champion the rights of criminals, illegal immigrants, and destructive Black Lives Matter activists who want to dismantle the police. They tell the rest of the country that they must call the homeless the “unhoused” and ignore any quality-of-life effects from that population’s drug use or instability. When the middle class complains, the elite often chide it for having fallen prey to “misinformation” or excessive “right-wing” media consumption.

The middle class is also frequently reminded that shoplifting is a victimless crime even as they see prices rise and goods placed behind locked cabinets—or, in many cases, entire stores shuttered after being scavenged for too long by thieves who go unpunished. In January, after coordinated groups of pro-Palestinian protesters shut down traffic to tunnels and bridges in Manhattan, disrupting the lives of millions of New Yorkers, the New York Post noted how many of the protesters were students at elite colleges such as Yale and Brown, whose activities were being lavishly funded by “the Ben & Jerry’s Foundation” as well as “a Rockefeller family foundation.”

By contrast, it is the middle class that sends its children off to the military to fight wars. The middle class is overrepresented in the ranks of the enlisted compared with upper- and lower-income groups. According to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, “Most members of the military come from middle-class neighborhoods. The middle three quintiles for household income were overrepresented among enlisted recruits, and the top and bottom quintiles were underrepresented.” They are effectively serving a country that lately has shown little tolerance for their way of life or their values.

Meanwhile, they watch politicians like President Biden transfer the student loan debt of higher-earning Americans to those in the working- and lower-middle class. A 2020 report from the Brookings Institution, using data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finance “confirm[s] that upper-income households account for a disproportionate share of student-loan debt—and an even larger share of monthly out-of-pocket student debt payments.”

No wonder they feel like suckers, betrayed and frustrated because things no longer seem to work the way they should. They are being played for suckers.

As are we all—everyone, that is, foolish and/or naive enough to still believe, as patriotic dupes, in the essential righteousness of a nation which in actuality bears little if any resemblance at all to the nation its Founding Fathers—whom its middle-class posterity still nonetheless justly admire and take great pride in—brought forth originally.

None of this has happened by accident, mind. The assault on and dismantling of the American middle-class and the nuclear family which is its backbone and practical foundation is Item One in the Marxist playbook, the crucial first step without which all else is pointless and futile. The author of this extended essay knows this, natch, albeit mentioning it in no more than cursory fashion. Which, actually, is understandable; she’s hunting much bigger quarry here, and makes a pretty thoroughgoing job of its pursuit.

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1 thought on “Another war in which there are no rules

  1. The author commits his own sin.

    “They tell the rest of the country that they must call the homeless the “unhoused” and ignore any quality-of-life effects from that population’s drug use or instability.”

    Actually, we used to call them “bums,” not “homeless.” And when we called them bums, we had a lot less of them and we weren’t shy about keeping them out of the good neighborhoods and cities.

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