Salon has an interesting interview with Arthur Goldwag, author of the new book The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right. He argues that the racist and conspiracist approach of today’s right-wing nut jobs is “largely the same as it was 50 years ago.”
But what caught my attention was this question and answer because I think it goes a long way towards understanding recent attacks on public workers in Wisconsin.
Why is this resurgence of the “old hate” happening now?
We’re going through a historic shift in this country. We were on an incredible run of prosperity in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, thanks to the New Deal social compact, thanks to big unions, thanks to very strong regulation – thanks to all the things that Glenn Beck’s followers think are the most evil things in the world. Fairly unskilled, uneducated people were able to earn a good living, and send their children to college. And that’s changed. Income inequality is growing. If you look at American history, the bottom has dropped out of rural people’s lives every five years, but there used to also be a manufacturing class that made a decent living. There used to be a route for people that weren’t well educated to make a decent living. There isn’t anymore. There’s a lot of anxiety about our individual positions in our society, and our country’s position in the world. If you’re not educated to be able to understand it, and you’re trapped in a disadvantaged life, you might become really, really angry. (emphasis added)
I believe that this is, fundamentally, correct. His assessment of the level of anger and vitriol in the undereducated population is being exploited by the right wing of the GOP in ways that are, ultimately, detrimental to their own interests. Rather than expressing solidarity with public workers who, while not paid as well as private sector workers in general, certainly retained levels of benefits not seen in the private sector since the 1970s. And that was achieved, of course, through collective bargaining.
You want to see envy in action, here it is. If you think the 99% envy the wealth of the 1%, private sector workers, many of whom have ceded more benefits and more compensation to their employers demands, are most certainly envious of the benefits of their public sector brothers and sisters. You can hear it in their rhetoric. The rich capitalize on this envy through the omnipresent right wing media who stoke these fires of jealousy into action against working-class Americans. They’ve even convinced these “useful idiots” that “right to work” laws will benefit workers! As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said,
In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right to work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone…Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights. We do not intend to let them do this to us. We demand this fraud be stopped. Our weapon is our vote. (Martin Luther King, speaking about right-to-work laws in 1961)
Instead of standing in solidarity with the public sector and demanding the same benefits from their private sector employers, these cowards resort to jealous tantrums against “pampered” public sector workers. These class traitors demand that the benefits bargained by public sector workers be slashed to the same meager levels they suffer in the private sector. All the while, heaping opprobrium onto the very institution, the labor union, that could help raise them up.
Working class people tearing down working class people. The capitalists have certainly won.
Jay Gould’s dystopian worker’s paradise has certainly come to pass…
I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.