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Everywhere you turned in the aftermath of the 2020 election, someone was arguing a hard line on cultural issues as an explanation for the outcome. The point was made by different commentators of at least outwardly different political persuasions, with different code words and different bogeys—feminists, socialists, wokeness. However they might have varied, these arguments all circled the same thesis: The members of the working class—by which is always meant the white working class and very often, incoherently but significantly, the white middle class, too—have fled the Democratic Party because of its abandonment of the firm materiality of class politics for the soft superfluities of culture and identity.
On this week’s episode of the Mother Jones Podcast, we revisit our essay by MoJo enterprise editor, Tommy Craggs, who argues that political analysts are now in the fifth decade of making some version of this claim—despite its two contradictory premises. The first is that these cultural issues are so powerful as to dislodge certain workers from their “natural” class affinities: One glimpse of the specter of wokeness and they go running into the arms of the party of the bosses and plutocrats who hate them. The second is that these cultural issues are so flimsy and evanescent as to vanish at the mention of “meat-and-potatoes issues.”
But which is it? Are cultural issues a set of powerful currents that buffet people around the political spectrum? Or are they a collection of irrelevancies and distractions with no real substance or meaning, lightly worn and easily dismissed?
These questions never seem to get answered. This stasis is what Tommy describes as the politics of stalemate, something his essay wants you to shake off. You can read Tommy’s original story here. This episode is part of our Summer series, produced in collaboration with Audm.