Joe Bageant was a journalist who wrote about how America misunderstood its white working class. He said in an inteview with the BBC in 2008 that white working class “rednecks” have political power, and were tending to conservative populism. Bageant’s comment on the financial crisis of 2008, Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball almost predicted the anger with elites triggered in the 2016 American elections by the Democratic candidate’s putting the white working class into the “basket of deplorables” who supported candidate Trump. His perspective and conclusions are “New Left”, and labor unionist – the working class has been oppressed by neoliberalism and neoconservativism.
Deer Hunting with Jesus is about the struggling, striving, suffering, white working class. It mentions gun culture, fundamentalism, alcohol, conservative talk radio, stock car racing, bass fishing, trailer parks, and country music. Deer Hunting with Jesus mainly about the consequences for working class Americansof the collapse of the detente between capital and labour in America . It prefaces George Packer’s The Unwinding as an account of the hollowing out of the economy. Bageant addesses the disappearance of jobs ith stories about real people. Bageant considered that much of the American working class has become hostile to “elites” who presume to teach, lead or influence working people. He identified some of the ideological and social influences, and struggles but struggles with history.
Bageant refers to the folk history foundation story of rednecks as the descendents Scotch-Irish immigrants. The common sense and widely accepted nationalist account of the history of working people, inequality and class in America history goes back to the bloodlines and culture of Scotch-Irish Americans and southern Poor Whites. This account endures was considered relevant by the author of Albion’s Seed and popularized in American Nations by Colin Woodard.
Migrants to America had to pay for passage – for 17th an 18th century immigrants from Britain, it meant joining a religious dissident group proposing settlement, or years of servitude and struggle. In America, settlers on the frontier occupied land and displaced the First Nations. This served English Imperial policy, until the settlers demand land and protection from the British Crown against hostile powers, including the First Nations. The American revolution was a revolution of American merchants and landowners against the institutions of colonial rule – a replacement of aritstocracy with oligarchy, in the guise of a democracy of hard-working strivers. The frontier culture favoured the strong and the brave – risk takers, prepared to resort to force to achieve worthy goals. This culture endures, but is not uniquely Scotch-Irish, British, Southern American, Appalachian, Western American or frontier. The history of people is a history of migration and struggle for shelter and subsistence.
Class, more than ethnic origins, is implicated. For instance, in the 1850’s the American Party proudly identified itself as the Know-Nothing party and engaged in violent protests that turned into riots. The history of class in divisions in America has been told in histories such as Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash, summarized in this Washington Post book review. I will have to read and consider that book.
Bageant argues that rednecks are an oppressed class that has so thoroughly absorbed American culture that it lacks class consciousness. Bageant’s view of the history of the working class seems to be based on popular histories – perhaps the Howard Zinn view of American history. Bageant seems to accept and adapt the Chomsky-Herman Manufactured Consent idea or the idea of a Polico-Media complex. Bageant accepts the idea that right-wing populism in America is exceptional. It may be unique and different, but right wing populism has appeared around the world.
Working persons want sufficient wages to live well, and to advance. Investors and manager want to extract labour from workers at the lowest cost, and to extract profits by selling the lowest quality goods and services and the highest profits that can be extracted. Working people are compelled to work with unpleasant co-workers and customers, and to take orders from bosses with arbitrary powers.
The working person must act from behind several literal veils of ignorance. Not surprizingly, life will appear chaotic and unfair. A person may suspect misinformation and systemic unfairness. The American redneck assumes that he knows what he needs to know, and has the capability and instincts to decide well and be successful and happy. The Dunning-Kruger effect is real, and exists as a consistent feature of thinking. Some people are consistently wrong – or just unlucky. The redneck is sure that someone is holding him back.
Redneck identity politics focusses on perpetuating the advantages, such as they are, of conservative white working people, against elites. Grievance at social “privilege” is at the root of identity politics. The word elite refers to political, social or economic advantage or “privilege In redneck identify politics it may be people who have “unfair” advantages, or anyone who does not know their place in society. Redneck populism is egalitarian in a levelling way. It is disrespectful both of “elites” and of persons who may be trying to gain advanages over members of the working class. It is also rudely sceptical. Elites may include corporations, investors, educated persons, managers and marketers. Competitors for economic opportunity may include immigrants, workers in other countries, minorities, women, or members of other ethnic or racial groups.
The resentment of unfair competition intersects with nationalism, racism and fascism. Notoriously, 20th century European fascist theorists rationalized the identification of enemies as central to patriotism:
“The specific distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy,”“The terrifying rehabilitation of Nazi scholar Carl Schmitt“, The New Statesmen America, April 10, 2019
For Schmitt, the friend/enemy antithesis was integral, even “existential,” to politics. It was existential in three senses: the enemy needed to be “existentially something different and alien”; opposing such an enemy was the essence of identity; and, in the implicit combat that followed, these enemies posed an existential threat. “The friend, enemy, and combat concepts receive their real meaning precisely because they refer to the real possibility of physical killing”.
Who should the working person trust – oligarchs, managers, marketers, academics, politicians, revolutionaries, gurus, influencers?