Countless working-class Americans of all races and ethnicities, who work hard and play by the rules, are fed up with the extreme partisanship that permeates the country, and with meaningless acts of violence, including the storming of the capitol. These people are the forgotten tribe in America.
In general, working class people are those with a high school diploma but less than a four-year college degree who live in households with annual incomes roughly between $30,000 and $70,000 for two adults and one child. They are somewhere between the poor and the middle class.
Americans by some measures are more deeply divided politically and culturally than ever before. We live in a period of competing moral certitudes, of people who are sure they are right and prepared to engage in violence to make their point.
For the last many years, political correctness; cancel culture; social justice; multiculturalism; the all-pervasive claim to victimhood; judging people on their ethnicity, gender and race rather than the merits of their work; and the politicization of just about everything has generated more heat and fumes than light. For all their rosy rhetoric on the subject, the ruling elites have less experience with ethnic and racial diversity than the working class.
These factors, and probably dozens of others, are contributing to the breakdown in the American genius for reaching compromises that meet the real social and economic needs of the working class.
Both the extreme right and the extreme left are corroded by ideology. Extremists on the right label their counterparts on the left socialists, and the left calls the right fascists. Each faction takes the law into their own hands while politicians see which way the wind is blowing and refuse to intervene. The growing divisions help explain why the nation’s political center is shrinking.
At the same time, the media, both traditional and social media, have accelerated the fragmentation of cultural and political identities. Conservative and liberal TV networks only highlight information that confirms their audiences’ biases, creating ideological echo chambers.
The worst of the fallout from this polarization will be felt by the forgotten tribe. These issues have done little to help them make ends meet and keep their families safe from COVID. Is it any wonder when they walk past a statue of that schnorrer Thomas Jefferson they don’t experience any trauma? Working people, after all, have to work.
America’s working class doesn’t have the luxury of engaging in ideological pursuits; they have to take care of their families, paying for groceries, medical bills, making mortgage or rent payments. The pampered and self-consciously fortunate regard the working class as “deplorables,” half of whom believe Elvis is still alive. Their understanding is the comic book version of diversity. They live in white neighborhoods, send their kids to private schools, and summer in the Hamptons.
These ruling elites don’t have to live with the unintended consequences of their decisions. The working class are the ones who have to work. As long as they do, it hardly matters what color their skin is or what accent they have. All the while, the economic system directs food, shelter, energy away from those who need it most and toward those who need it least.
The causes of the forgotten tribe’s problems have been well documented: The rate and speed of technological changes, growing monopoly power and concentration, and globalization. Is it any wonder why the working class is losing hope in a better future (get real, they are not Bill Clinton)? They are an endangered species, living paycheck to paycheck.
Despite copious amounts of cash provided to families and unemployed workers, COVID-19 rescue plans don’t provide long-term solutions for making work pay, giving the working class the education and skills needed to get better work, and to strengthen families and communities to support work. These omissions only exacerbate the fraying cohesion of America’s society and political fabric.