Thursday, November 5, 2020

Class Conflict

The election just held, with oddly mixed results still pending, has led me to ponder a shortcoming of our national political structure compared to, say, that of the British. There, as is typical in parliamentary systems, the head of state (think “figurehead”) and actual executive leader of government are two different people. In our system the elected President fulfills both roles.

The U.K.’s Queen symbolizes in her person and behavior, the Brits’ idealized vision of their nation. This frees up the leader of the parliamentary majority, currently Boris Johnson, to wheel and deal and be a bit of a buffoon at times without besmirching the nation’s self-image, which the monarch embodies. 

Our President is both our national icon and the executive head of government at the same time. Heading into the election Donald Trump had done a good job of being national executive. At least one view of the outcome is that, for many people, he did not embody their view of who we should aspire to be. He didn’t fulfill the figurehead role for those hung up on social class markers of ‘breeding’ and ‘superiority.’

For maybe half the nation, he either was “their kind of guy” or they didn’t care about appearances, about his show-off, boasting nature. For some serious fraction of the other half, the Karens and their beta males, these were issues, insurmountable ones it appears. 

Class issues have been a problem for populists in our nation before, Andrew Jackson stirred them too. Social class is the seriously divisive issue which Americans falsely claim doesn’t exist, while Brits obsess over it. For some portion of us, a flamboyant egotist who chases women and brags about his wealth just “isn’t our sort.” JFK did the same self-indulgent rich boy things, albeit quietly, and was loved.

The mantra we heard so often the last two years, till we were sick of it, was Trump’s appeal to those who had not finished college. If you don’t recognize this as the American way of describing a major marker of social class, without ever using the “C” word, you haven’t been paying attention.