A Working-Class GOP?

From the beginning of his campaign in 2016 to these final months of his presidency in 2020, Donald Trump has appeared an aberration in American politics. Certainly in terms of presentation, his gruff, strong-man demeanor contrasted with the sterile professionalism of contemporary presidents. But to focus on Trump’s inflammatory language would be to miss the truly exceptional nature of his message. He hinted at a politics that seemed dead, buried under years of capitalist realism and identity politics; Donald Trump hinted at class. And although the president will be leaving the White House—and presumably politics as a whole—this January, the Republican party has learned from Trump and will refine his message into ideology, ultimately with the goal of becoming the party of America’s workers.

The Right’s critique of class has always been short of the mark; rather than focusing on systematic issues, more often than not you will find populist demagogues attacking so-called “elites” within state, media, and financial institutions. Although anti-elite populism is hardly particular to Trump, it worked during his 2016 campaign because he successfully presented himself as an outsider. Because Donald Trump had his own resources to draw on for campaign backing, as well as a career and reputation outside the Republican Party, he could deviate further from its constraints. He could make promises not in line with party policy, criticize Republican leaders, and ultimately distinguish himself as a representative of the common man, rising up to take on the establishment. 

And it seems the Republican Party is more than willing to adopt this strategy if it means victory; in an interview with Marco Rubio, the Florida senator and libertarian noted the party’s need to realign itself with the interests of the working class (The Hill 3). But how can this be accomplished in a party, which for four decades found itself fighting in the interest of financial institutions and the powerful. Trump’s former chief of staff and erstwhile executive of Breitbart Steve Bannon said it best, “We’ve got to find our AOCs” (The Guardian 1). The Republican Party needs young blood, a new generation of red tie-wearing flag lovers to give the party of big business a new face; a face that will grant it the same appeal that Trump had for working-class Americans. 

It’s early to say, but I think Republicans have already found a flagbearer for their new GOP. Josh Hawley is currently the youngest member of the U.S. Senate. He is articulate, an Ivy League grad, handsome, and has since his election been a staunch supporter of the Republican Party’s turn to the working class. Although very much rooted in conservative social values, Hawley has been compared to former president Barack Obama, not only in terms of origins and education, but also his willingness to veer from party orthodoxy and willingness to grapple with large corporations (Kansas City 6-7). 

For the left, and certainly those beleaguered by the absence of a true working class party in America, this might seem like something to celebrate. A senator unafraid to take on large tech firms, calling for a renewed interest in class whose youth and exuberance might give him that extra appeal that Bernie Sanders just couldn’t summon.

But like Trump, Hawley’s fight for the working class is not founded on a critique of America’s exploitation of its workers, but polemics against elites, immigrants, and the growing power of China. Hawley, and those similarly calling for a working class Republican Party are, in the same way as Trump, only interested in the outward image. For all his demands of a politics  for the working American, Hawley doesn’t support unions, which is kind of a prerequisite for putting power back into the hands of workers. He opposes a minimum wage increase, and joined the Republican push to overturn the Affordable Care Act (Missouri Dems 1). That Donald Trump, after taking his place in office, passed budget cuts for the country’s 1% and signed the same legislation you might find on the desk of any of the other candidates in the 2016 GOP primary tells the whole story: any Republican running on a platform of “working class conservatism” has no intent to express the interests of their lower class constituents through legislation. They will brand themselves differently, the words they cry out will sound angry, promise change, but you can rest assured their true goals lie with the elite they claim to scorn.

The problem is, the Democratic Party is far more recalcitrant to adopt a winning strategy. Too busy scrambling after a diminishing group of moderate Republicans than actually pursuing a new vision, new policy, or even a new face to hide the standard neoliberalism. If you’re a working-class voter, and for your entire life have been fed the same dogma over and over again and seen no amelioration of material circumstance, who are you more likely to vote for? the guy who says he’s going to do the exact same thing, or someone, anyone who promises change and seems half-earnest about it? Why do you think Obama performed so well? Or Trump in 2016?

But the Democrats have been rewarded with their complacency this November, and it’s doubtful that they will pursue a different course of action in 2024. Progressive candidates and young faces continue to be benched in favor of the old guard, and while there has been some progress (e.g. Jamaal Bowman triumphing over long-serving establishment Democrat Elliot Engel), it continues to be stymied by a party less concerned with winning than with maintaining the comfortable positions of its establishment.

If we can learn one thing from three years of chaos, and one of hell, it’s this: our system, no matter what sort of name you slap on it, is going to continuously fail 99% of the people it feeds on. We must be able to recognize a brownshirt in revolutionary garb; we must be willing to give something new to a world that’s starving on the old. If a working class party is ever to be truly formed in the United States, you must first have Americans identify as working class.This means unions, this means mutual aid, this means spending less time posting about disenfranchisement on Twitter, and more time forming bonds with one’s co-workers and community with the goal of reducing disenfranchisement. That’s really hard, and it is so much easier to spend 5 minutes picking a name on a voting machine from 2008 and complaining about the results afterwards. That’s why the people who are going to change this system are not going to be in Washington, are not going to be liberal arts kids who study Marx and talk about the working class. It will be those whose children are starving, who are being evicted, those who are dying, and will die if something does not change.

References:

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/timeline-trump-bannons-turbulent-relationship/story?id=52137016

“What the media misses is the amount of anger that’s out there. Trump didn’t create that,” Bannon said.” (par. 9)

https://thehill.com/homenews/news/525585-rubio-gop-must-rebrand-as-party-of-multiethnic-multiracial-working-class-voters

He has signaled he sees the GOP’s future as tied to the values of working-class voters, who have turned out in force for Trump. (par. 3)

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/dec/17/steve-bannon-working-class-republicans-labour

We’ve got to find our AOCs. (par. 1)

https://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article239391873.html

The Capitol Hill publication compared Hawley to another Midwesterner with an Ivy League pedigree who won the White House as a first-term senator: Barack Obama. (par. 6)

Hawley, 40, is not eager to embrace the comparison to a Democratic president. But as the youngest member of the Senate he has grabbed Washington’s attention by introducing more than 20 bills and resolutions during his first year in office and picking fights with some of the world’s largest companies. (par. 7)

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/08/republicans-economic-populist-josh-hawley

At a recent conservative conference in Washington DC, Josh Hawley, a Republican senator from Missouri, told attendees that an “economy driven by money changing on Wall Street ultimately benefits those who have the money to start with, and that economy will not support a great nation” (par. 8)

https://missouridemocrats.org/press-release/icymi-hawley-opposes-proposal-increase-minimum-wage/

Yesterday, Josh Hawley told St. Louis Public Radio that he opposes a ballot proposal to raise the minimum wage for Missouri workers (par. 1)