Right wing uses divisive language to retain power
In reading conservative writing about Occupy Wall Street and the movement it spawned, the phrase “class warfare,” as to be expected, comes up often. This term is a favorite invective of the American right, which is strange, considering how little the right likes to talk about class in other contexts. What I find most interesting, of course, is that to the American right, class warfare seems to be a one-way street.
It is not class warfare, apparently, when conservative writers and politicos demonize public workers. According to the Bureau of Labor, only about 12 percent of the U.S. population is unionized. Yet, to hear Gov. Chris Christie or any number of Republican presidential wannabes put it, the big bad unions are responsible for our current unstable economic footing. But, in America, demonizing the working-class people and public sector employees is somehow not class warfare.
Also fair game is funding for education, especially higher education. Never mind silly concerns like social mobility or, for that matter, a social contract. If you want an education, go out and work for it, just like the baby boomers did. Just don’t think about the fact that educational funding was much more effective in our parents’ and grandparents’ time, the cost of living was lower, or that tuition was affordable or even free in some states. When we fight for affordable education, we Millennials are just being “entitled” or even “whiny.”
Ditto whenever anyone defends a program that helps working people or the ranks of our nation’s growing unemployed. Want a return to Clintonian tax rates? You must be jealous of the success of the wealthy. Posit that an economy that allows the top 1 percent to grab a majority of the country’s wealth is a fundamentally unhealthy one? You must be a socialist. Concerned that the poor disproportionately make up our grotesquely high prison population? Not only are you a class warrior, but you are soft on crime.
And so on and so on, ad nauseam. This is not to say that a class war — if you want to use that term — does not exist. But I assure you union workers, Wall Street occupiers, students or anyone else with the ideas of economic justice at heart did not fire the first shots of the class war. If anything, the problem our economy faces is not that those pesky lefty politicos are engaging in “class war,” but that workers have had so few allies in these fights, and those allies have been such reluctant milquetoasts.
Of course, I do not blame right-wingers for using this kind of divisive language. For decades, the Republican Party, conservative pundits and other reactionary figures have owed much of their success to keeping the working class from thinking critically about class. This has been accomplished by a number of tactics — by relying on a kind of internalized classism working-class people often exhibit, by race-baiting white workers and by successfully scaring the Democratic Party into sounding too much like a pack of “socialists.” What scares them is not that a “class war” is beginning, but rather that we’re finally fighting back.
John Connelly is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in history and political science with a minor in social justice. He is vice president of the Rutgers University Student Assembly and an organizer for the Rutgers United Student Coalition.