Class not race is the key to America’s drift leftward

Met with overwhelmingly with relief, President Obama’s victory in last week’s election may at first sight appear a flimsy thing: the electoral college may have been overwhelming, but the popular vote was narrow. Yet there is some genuine cause to be more optimistic for America: even The Spectator believes the US is heading leftward, ‘whoever the candidate might be’.

American friends I’ve made while fighting off Liam Fox’s Atlantic Bridge are also cautiously optimistic, heralding ‘an awakening electorate’ that mostly rejected ALEC inspired ballot propositions (so voting on issues not by personality or race). At the same time the US electorate was been generally favourable to union inspired legislation. With the American right so firmly on the back foot, we might reasonably hope that reinvigorating efforts to export their politics to the UK and elsewhere may be delayed somewhat.

That Spectator piece, along with many others, concentrates on the ethnic make-up of the US electorate and the demographic trends that mean Republicans have to reach out beyond angry white men to survive. These sorts of discussions always sound a little racist to British ears, but Americans seem fine with that. Nevertheless, I suspect that this approach is flawed: it is possible for a black person to be right wing and Latinos tend to be Catholic, which implies a liking for social conservatism. That is to say, Republicans may find it easier than everyone thinks to make headway in those communities.

As ever, I believe the key issue is not an elector’s race but their social and economic position, that is class (and ethnic minorities tend to be working class; a product of their immigrant history). The American dream is dying not because America is less white than it was, but because it is no longer the land of opportunity. The idea that anyone can make it if they work hard enough has always been something of a myth, but it is rendered totally false when people who are willing and able to work hard are denied the opportunity to prove themselves. Opportunities on the scale required to make the American Dream truly accessible may never arise in the future (they didn’t really exist in the past).

The lengthy recession and continued economic sluggishness have undermined the American dream and so Americans have begun to prioritise values more rooted in community — once they get used to free healthcare they’ll soon want more — and this is a much more sensible explanation of their choosing union sponsored legislation over that proposed by the corporatocracy.

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