Episode 147: The GOP’s ‘Rightwing Populism’ Rebrand (Part I) — How Billionaire-Backed Charlatans Pick Off Disillusioned Lefties
Citations Needed | November 3, 2021 | Transcript
Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.
Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.
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Nima: “It’s not about right vs. left, but the people vs. the elites,” “Wall Street and the media are leaching off hard working Americans like you and me who play by the rules.” “Our elite have sold us out to China.” American media consumers are routinely fed a particular, and often confusing brand of so-called “rightwing populism,” nominally taking on “elites”, “the media,” and “bankers” and standing up for the every man but with a suspicious mix of xenophobia, self-help audience flattery, anti-Semitic dog whistles, and a semantics cup-and-ball game about how exactly, the speaker defines “elite” or “the media.”
Adam: With the rise and eventual presidency of Donald J. Trump there’s been no shortage of pontificating and reporting about the appeal of so-called “right-wing populism” but one aspect worth dissecting is the way in which wealthy Republican-funded media deliberately seeks to win over confused, independent, and sometimes lefty media consumers, with a clever mix of faux class warfare, vague appeals to post-partisanship and piggybacking off legitimate discontent with the Democratic party to sow nihilism and suppress voter turnout.
Nima: From President Andrew Jackson and Alabama Governor George Wallace to today’s billionaire-backed charlatans like Tucker Carlson, Saagar Enjeti, JD Vance and Josh Hawley, there is a longstanding effort to take the working man and insist the author of his suffering isn’t a class of people marked by a concentration of great wealth and power, but a deliberately ill-defined so-called “elite” of snot-nosed, overeducated liberals, immigrants, Jews, secularists, women, and academics out to undermine their culture and way of life.
Adam: On this two-part episode, we’ll focus on the many ways that so-called “right-wing populism” operates to confuse and distract, to pick off independents, liberals and even sometimes leftists, exploiting the real failures of the Democratic Party, and uses fake class war to muddy the waters of real class war.
Nima: Later on this show, we’ll be joined by Daniel Martinez HoSang, Associate Professor of Ethnicity, Race and Migration, and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity, which he co-wrote with Joseph Lowndes. His most recent book is A Wider Type of Freedom: How Struggles for Racial Justice Liberate Everyone, published this past September 2021, by University of California Press.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Part of what we’re talking about is how this charge of dependence and parasitism has been expanded to much much larger sets of people. It has its origins, absolutely, in attacks on immigrants, attacks on other folks of color, but it really has enlargened in economy that’s so insecure and precarious.
Adam: So today and next week we’ll be going over what we view as being the most essential tropes or schemes or ways in which the right-wing picks off independent, liberal and leftists by muddying the waters and repackaging what is really just played out Republican politics into something new and sexy and ostensibly organic and independent. Generally speaking, I think it’s fair to say, Nima, nobody wants to feel like they’re doing the bidding of the Fortune 500 companies and, you know, environmental polluters and pharmaceutical companies. It’s sort of not fun. Nobody wants to be like a Marco Rubio intern, right? Unless you’re like a total weirdo who went to Georgetown.
Adam: The great scam of American politics is, and has been for a very long time, how do you make an overdog seem like the underdog, and how do you make privileged people, or relatively privileged people, feel like they’re victims? And this is kind of the whole game, and so one thing we’re fascinated by on the show, that we’ve touched on but never done an episode on, which is why I’m excited to do a detailed kind of two-parter on this, is the ways in which well-funded media apparatuses exploit and use the language of class and even sometimes, specifically Marxism, and have used that historically, to suppress voter turnout, confuse and even win converts over to what is basically just that which helps the US Chamber of Commerce, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the other kind of conservative or right-wing institutions in this country, and so to do that we’re gonna break it down into six tropes. We’re going to discuss three today and three next week in great detail.
The first one we’re going to start off with is the co-option of the language of class conflict, kind of quasi-Marxist co-option of language around the quote-unquote “elites,” the quote-unquote “ruling class,” the quote-unquote “media,” and quote-unquote “Wall Street.” The supposed right-wing populists, who by their own sort of language phrasing, oppose the elite, oppose the media, oppose even Wall Street or banking, who oppose Big Tech.
Nima: They’re just speaking truth to power, man.
Adam: Yeah, the big centers of power they take on nominally are very powerful, but in reality, when you get to sort of who they’re actually talking about, and more importantly, who actually funds them, there’s a very bizarre definition of who the elite are. I want to begin by sort of doing a snapshot of a contemporary example.
Nima: Close your eyes and venture into this kind of media landscape with us.
Adam: Which really kind of distills the bullshit of faux-class warfare. There was a Hudson Institute panel with Michael Lind, who’s a Fellow at the New America Foundation, Republican Ohio Senate candidate — although then I think he was sort of just flirting with running but he hadn’t quite run — J.D. Vance of Hillbilly Elegy, who we’ll talk about quite a bit on this episode, and Saager Enjeti of the Hudson Institute is a Media Fellow at the Hudson Institute, which is another way of saying he gets paid by the Hudson Institute. They put on a panel called, “The New Class Warfare: Live Taping of The Realignment with Michael Lind and J.D. Vance,” which was a live taping of his podcast through the Hudson Institute, that Saager Enjeti hosts along with Marshall Kosloff, called “The Realignment,” the realignment is a sort of term they use to say, post-neoliberal, post-Clinton, in the years of Trump there’s a realignment. Now, presumably that realignment will result in a majority of Republican rule, which, of course, is the goal, and we’re not going to obviously play the whole panel for you because it’s long and tedious and Michael Lind and J.D. Vance and Saager Enjeti broadly agree that the real class war is not the rich versus the poor, it is cultural, three parentheses … elites, versus the people, the average people. Michael Lind makes the point and J.D. Vance nods along and he makes a sort of similar separate point during this panel that the guy who works as a plumber and the boss who owns the plumbing company have more in common than the worker of the plumbing company and an inner city, you know, retail worker, right? Who is black, or whatever, right? Or worst of all, a PMC, a professional management class, someone who’s technically a worker, but is educated, even if that worker is a barista at Starbucks, they are still in their worldview because they have some kind of cultural capital, they are part of this very nebulous elite. Now, what’s interesting about this is the Hudson Institute, I’m watching this and Hudson Institute is a well established Republican think-tank. It is funded by the Scaife family, who will come up more than once in this episode, the Koch brothers, who of course as well, the Walton Family Foundation, pharma, the pharmaceutical lobby, Schwab Charitable Fund, Exxon Mobil. It is headed by John P. Walters, a harsh drug warrior and former director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under George W. Bush and other high paid Hudson officials include former Chief of Staff for Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby.
Nima: Men of the people, all of them.
Adam: Yeah, the Hudson Institute is the quintessential Republican old money think tank funded by old money, big right-wing donors, and here you have a panel with J.D. Vance, who was then and is still, according to their website, may not be any more, is a Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which was the primary author other than PNAC of the war in Iraq, that’s where most of the neoconservatives rested, it too is funded by a who’s who of right-wing donors and corporate interests. We’ve done various segments on the American Enterprise Institute, it was actually shut down by Harry Truman in the late ’40s, because it was caught being a lobbying front for the railroad industry, it has always been a corporate lobbying front group, whose fellow J.D. Vance, who, of course, worked closely with and is, in many ways, a protege of Charles Murray, the sort of famous race scientist, here they are at this panel talking about class war, presumably, with the exception of Michael Lind, who’s somewhat self aware of his, you know, in his model, he’s part of the elite, who presumably position themselves as champions of the said new working class, because if you have a new class, you have a new working class who are defined by cultural proximities not how much money they have.
Nima: Right, it’s a way to redefine class so that right-wing billionaires are “the people” and the activist who’s out in the street with a Black Lives Matter sign is the elite. That is actually the realignment that they are hoping for. Now, from the beginning of the podcast, “The Realignment,” this is again, the Hudson Institute podcast called “The Realignment,” it was basically, you know, used as a launching pad for J.D. Vance’s political career once he published Hillbilly Elegy, which became immensely and frustratingly really popular, the launch material kind of gives it away. This is from early August 2019, the press release for this new podcast that reads like this, quote:
Hudson Institute announced today the launch of a new podcast, The Realignment, hosted by Media Fellows Saagar Enjeti and Marshall Kosloff. The United States is in the midst of a dramatic political realignment. Events such as the unexpected election of Donald Trump, populist revolts across Europe, and the arrival of an aggressive and unapologetic China have upended conventional wisdom. The Realignment is a weekly podcast that will explore these shifting norms in national security, economics, technology, and the role of government.
Now, the announcement further noted that the premiere episode of the new show would feature as its guest, J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy. The press release states that the hosts and guest will, quote:
…discuss whether it was a mistake to let China into the World Trade Organization, how conservatives should approach the free market, what it means to be an American Nationalist in 2019, and his skepticism of the technology industry as a venture capitalist.
It also shares a choice pull-quote from J.D. Vance, from the premiere episode, that goes like this, quote:
I think that we should consider China as our nation should have considered Nazi Germany in the mid-1930’s. Only we should recognize that it’s more dangerous because it’s larger and it’s more ambitious. I think that Hitler wanted to rule Europe. I think that China wants to rule over a much larger share of the world — maybe the entire world.
Adam: So what you have from this group is nothing but anti-China hysteria and China bashing mixed with a lot of rhetoric about how the elites are co opted and captured by China. So what you get is a sort of typical Hudson Institute hawkish foreign policy with, again, this faux anti-elitist, faux populist trappings, and another group that has emerged in parallel since 2019 is the Oren Cass led American Compass, which has done multiple events with Saagar and J.D. Vance. They even had Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley sign off on a few of their statements, and they claim to be, quote, “a conservative think tank,” which is trying to build a quote, “conservative labor movement.” They call themselves a post-Trump political movement that is trying to, quote, “have pro-union labor policies, domestic regulations, tariffs, while encouraging growth of domestic industry and increasing wages in an equitable manner.” They do not support the PRO Act or any pro-labor movement, actual substantive union organization, they support a kind of half measure of collective bargaining based on various industries, which is total bullshit. They share many of the similar funders of the recent right-wing populism, including above all the Scaife family. Oren Cass, Mr. Man of the People was a former economic adviser to Mitt Romney during his 2008 campaign and used to work with him for a long time at Bain Capital. So, Bain Capital as the hedge fund that’s shut down multiple businesses and fired almost an incalculable amount of people. So, they nominally oppose increased taxes on corporations, again, I stress nominally, sort of rhetorically, while supporting a very sort of vague concept of decreased inequity, and they had numerous fluffy write ups in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg did a write up on them, all sort of framed around this idea of like, ‘Is this a new emerging right-wing?’ ‘Can we have a kind of right-wing populism?’
Adam: And for anyone who sort of lived through the Tea Party years, as you and I did, as geriatric millennials we did, a lot of this seems very, very familiar, which is a lot of rhetorical gesturing towards the working class, specifically the white working class, this sort of mysterious mystique of the white working class, but when the rubber meets the road and comes to actual policies, like actual, again, like the PRO Act or pro-union legislation, they’re absolutely nowhere to be found, and you’ll see this is a recurring theme of this episode you’ll see time and time again. Another example of this was a recent appearance by J.D. Vance on another astroturf right-wing populist podcast The Claremont Institute’s Jack Murphy Live at the Claremont Institute. The Claremont Institute is also funded by the Bradley Family Foundation, the Koch Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundation, and on it J.D. Vance, again, J.D. Vance, he works for the American Enterprise Institute, whose super PAC, we don’t have the recent disclosures because they don’t have to disclose for another year, but we do know that his super PAC, which is the vast majority of his campaign funding, is $10 million dollar-strong super PAC, 95 percent of which was donated by Peter Thiel, the eBay billionaire. The rest was Robert and Rebekah Mercer, the Mercer family who gave about $600,000 each and that’s the entirety of the super PAC. So this is a podcast where J.D. Vance, funded by Robert Mercer and Peter Thiel, eBay billionaire funder, goes on the Claremont Institute, also funded by the Scaife family, the Koch brothers, the Bradleys, the Waltons, and the headline for this is, “J.D. Vance and Jack Murphy discuss the corruption of the ruling class.”
Adam: And I’m sitting there reading this going like, okay, so what is our definition of ruling class, if not the people who are funding these very same institutions? Jack Murphy himself describes himself as a populist concerned with culture politics and masculinity, right? Sort of this very kind of superficial, again, people talk a lot about virtue signaling, and nobody virtue signals more than, aside from maybe country music, no one virtue signals more than these kinds of gun-toting Trump hanger-ons, who again, keep presenting themselves as being working-class authentic. But of course, the idea of the Republican Party acting authentic is not necessarily new. There’s always been a kind of populist current, Reagan, Bush, they all sort of did this, right? This is not new. What is new is where it begins to sort of develop this supposedly illogical scaffolding of a legitimate movement.
Nima: Right. So, the idea of redefining class to kind of remove the traditional ideas of Marxist class definitions, shifting that to be far more superficial, based on cultural and educational lines, geographical lines, part of doing this is also then getting away from being defined as right-wing, that is obviously going to be helpful to the branding of your own populism if it cannot be branded as something that is inherently anti-worker, anti-poor, and pro-corporate bosses.
And so we get our second trope, the idea of third positionism, the ‘it’s not right, it’s not left, it’s for the people.’ One of the earliest uses of this is by Andrew Jackson in the 1820s. During his 1824 presidential campaign, Andrew Jackson and his supporters fashioned Jackson into an “anti-establishment” “outsider,” identifying him as a War of 1812 military hero standing in opposition to career politicians such as his then-opponent John Quincy Adams, obviously the legacy son of a president with plenty of experience in Washington circles and foreign policy. Now, an editorial at the time read, quote:
Although General Jackson has not been educated at foreign courts and reared on sweetmeats from the tables of kings and princes, we think him nevertheless much better qualified to fill the dignified station of president of the United States than Mr. Adams.
A campaign poster for Jackson at the time, read like this, bold print lots of exclamation points, and it said this, quote:
The Hero of Two Wars and of Orleans!
The Man of the People!
HE WHO COULD NOT BARTER NOR BARGAIN FOR THE PRESIDENCY!
Who, although ‘A Military Chieftain,’ valued the purity of Elections and of the Electors, MORE than the Office of PRESIDENCY itself! Although the greatest in the gift of his countrymen, and the highest point of dignity of any in the world
It should be derived from the
No Gag Laws! No Black Cockades! No Reign of Terror! No Standing Army or Navy Officers, when under the pay of Government, to browbeat, or
Old Revolutionary Characters, or our Representatives while in the discharge of their duty. To the Polls then, and vote for those who will support
AND THE ELECTORAL LAW.
Adam: Jackson’s populist posturing, of course, didn’t account for the indigenous people he’d extinguished through a series of forced removal policies or Black people he personally enslaved, it was exclusively of course interested in white people and the expansion of white power throughout the United States. Though Jackson lost in 1824, he ran in 1828 and was victorious. He was accompanied by the motto, “Andrew Jackson and the Will of the People,” his definition of people, of course, including people who look like Adam Johnson and not anyone else. This was followed up 140 some odd years later with George Wallace. During George Wallace’s 1968 presidential campaign, George Wallace, of course, was a famous segregationist, he ran as a third party, the American Independent Party, which had been founded in 1967 to counter the Republican Party, which they viewed as too liberal and too soft on race.
Nima: A “declaration of principles” for the party proclaimed this, quote:
A new party is urgently needed today because the leaders of the two existing parties, Democratic and Republican, have deserted the principles and traditions of our nation’s founding fathers. Both of the existing parties have become the proponents of big government, crushing taxation, dictatorial federal power, waste and fiscal irresponsibility, unwholesome and disastrous internationalism, compromise with our nation’s enemies, and authoritarian regimentation of the citizens of this Republic. Control of the government, under the domination of these two existing parties, has left the hands of the people our government was created to serve.
Now, as part of this campaign Wallace cultivated a faux-populist rage, putting the grievance politics of white southerners front and center. Wallace contended that, amid school integration policies, the Voting Rights Act, and other civil rights legislation, the white worker had been turned into an — what else? — an outsider, abandoned by the federal government and oppressed by antiracist activism. Wallace argued that quote-unquote “pointy-headed bureaucrats,” were at odds with the everyday worker, which he termed, quote, “this man in the textile mill, this man in the steel mill, this beautician.” And here is Wallace during the 1968 campaign, speaking at a rally in Atlanta, just one day before the presidential election:
George Wallace: They have taken our schools away from us, the senior and apprenticeship list of our labor unions, our businesses, and now the ownership of our property, and I am the only candidate of either three national parties that tell you in Georgia, that when I become your President, I’m going to turn back to you, in this state, the absolute control of your public school system, and you run them anyway you want to run them.
Adam: So Wallace’s campaign set precedents for third party quote-unquote “populists” or ostensibly outsider campaigns, for conservative figures like Pat Buchanan in 1992. During Buchanan’s run, his Republican opponent George H.W. Bush was cast as “King George” on account of Bush’s pedigree of high-ranking politicians, from the Bush family and his work at the CIA. Buchanan, meanwhile, was dubbed “Pitchfork Pat,” lambasting banks and big business as well as “radical feminism,” gay rights, and multiculturalism, while at the same time he, somewhat half-heartedly, courted labor unions through anti-NAFTA rhetoric and opposed immigration — never mind that Pat Buchanan opposed universal healthcare and a minimum wage.
Nima: What? You mean he was inconsistent? No way.
Adam: Yeah. So this is sort of a typical, ‘I’m not right, I’m not left, I’m for the people, I’m not with egghead academics on the left, I’m also not part of big business on the right, I represent the people.’ Now some people would say, especially historians specifically of white supremacy in the South, would argue that there is an actual, cultural, and therefore economic, inherent solidarity with poor whites and rich whites, because of the sort of ways in which white supremacy benefits everybody who’s white. I would argue that that’s not necessarily a law of nature, that is sort of a byproduct of a very particular funding and power apparatus and how you sort of exploit white fears, especially in the South, because you absolutely don’t want any kind of integrated unionism or integrated political coalition, and that kind of shadowboxing, this sort of fake class war, so central to how these things are done, right? Because something we have talked about a lot on the show is that, again, if I’m barely struggling by my, you know, I’m making $50,000 a year and I’m an assistant manager at AutoZone, and my boss rides my ass, and I’m always worried about making sure I’m hitting my numbers, and it’s very stressful job, and I go to the checkout line, and I see a Black guy with an EBT card, even though I myself have probably almost certainly used it, I therefore view him as someone who’s the reason why I’m suffering because he’s taking all these government handouts because my taxes are too high, or at least I think my taxes are too high, and to sort of prop up this scam, where you have us fighting for the bottom rung of the ladder the way in which you do that is you you really kind of muddy the waters of who’s really in charge. The reason why George Wallace or Pat Buchanan or even a Donald Trump can exist, because they all have very wealthy backers like this is not a, they know what they’re doing, right? This is not a, you know, they have small donors more than others, I know, Donald Trump actually had quite a few small donors, but fundamentally, the end of the day, they’re getting big, wealthy backers who understand that this kind of fake class war is very much in their best interest, and that’s why this kind of third positionism, kind of quasi-nominally opposing free trade, which the left does as well, right, which neoliberals always sort of say makes them horseshoe, ostensibly like Oren Cass opposing decrease in corporate taxes, there’s always sort of this one, there’s always this one little thing they throw at you to kind of give the impression that they’re actually on the side of the worker, but of course, they’re not because at the end of the day when the rubber hits the road, fascism can never be an ally of the worker, it can only be an ally of the ruling class, despite the occasional vaguely populist rhetoric.
Nima: One really good example of this is from an August 18, 1996 Ross Perot speech when Ross Perot, then vying for President in 1996, received the nomination, the official presidential nomination of the Reform Party. Now, Ross Perot himself founded the Reform Party less than a year earlier than this to run as a third party candidate, but in his acceptance speech, he said this:
Ross Perot: Our ancestors came across the ocean in sailing ships, you wouldn’t go across a lake in. When they arrived, there was nothing here, they built their tiny little cabins, and they did it with neighbors helping one another, not federal grants. They came here because they wanted to be free, and they wanted to practice the religion of their choice, and after 200 years, too many of us take those privileges for granted. We must not forget they are precious, and they are fragile, that the immigrants who came later, with a plan to become American citizens waited their turn, and then came through Ellis Island. Once they left Ellis Island, they were on their own. There were no social programs to take care of them. They scrambled, they made do, they built the greatest country in the history of man.
Adam: Yeah, and so you have this sort of narrative of there are people who are the builders, and they play by the rules, right? They got in line at Ellis Island — which is not really how immigration worked back then but whatever — and they played by the rules and they built it, they produced it, which segues into our third trope we’re going to talk about which is producerism. Now producerism is one of those kinds of, a little bit of a skeleton key of right-wing populism, once you sort of know what it is you see it everywhere. It can kind of unpack a lot of things that may seem a little confusing or muddied.
Nima: Now, some historians have traced the development of what is known as producerism in the United States to Andrew Jackson’s 1824 presidential campaign, noting that producerist rhetoric relating to prosperity for Americans was used to justify anti-Indigenous and Native violence such as the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Now, some say it goes back even further. In a 2016 article from American Quarterly our guest today, Daniel Martinez HoSang and his co author Joseph Lowndes wrote this, quote:
This ‘producer ethic,’ as Alexander Saxton calls it, has roots in the Jeffersonian belief that the yeoman farmer, as neither a master nor a slave, was the proper subject of civic virtue, republican liberty, and self-rule. But it first emerged as a broad partisan identity in the antebellum era, where it expressed in the Democratic Party an opposition between white labor and those who would exploit it. Producerist ideology posited not an opposition between workers and owners but a masculine, cross-class assemblage connecting factions of the elite with poor whites both in cities and on the frontier in what Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a Democrat from Missouri, called ‘the productive and burthen-bearing classes’ in opposition to those cast as unproductive and threatening, including bankers and speculators, slaves, and indigenous people. As such, producerism provided a template for subsequent political intersections of whiteness, masculinity, and labor that would include different groups and target different foes, but always secured by a logic that described a fundamental division in society between those who create society through their efforts and those who are parasitic on, or destructive of, those efforts.
Adam: In a speech to Congress upon the passage of the Indian Removal Act, President Andrew Jackson smeared Indigenous people as no more deserving of their own land than white settlers and even undeserving of any paltry sympathy they received at the time for being forcibly removed from their own land, he said, quote:
Doubtless it will be painful to leave the graves of their fathers; but what do they more than our ancestors did or than our children are now doing? To better their condition in an unknown land our forefathers left all that was dear in earthly objects. Our children by thousands yearly leave the land of their birth to seek new homes in distant regions. Does Humanity weep at these painful separations from everything, animate and inanimate, with which the young heart has become entwined? Far from it.
Adam: So here you have this idea that Indigenous people, because they didn’t produce inventions and capital or whatever sort of idea that Andrew Jackson had in his head, or properly exploit the land and its animals, e.g. kill everything that moves, that that was evidence of their not being worthy. This is obviously something we hear a lot with Palestinians as well, that it was a sort of, it was an arid desert until the Zionist settlers came in, and then they produce something, therefore you sort of equate humanity in value with your ability to produce, the ability to make things as the moral criteria for which one deserves and invites humanity.
Nima: There’s also this kind of strange comparison between being forcibly removed from your ancestral land by US soldiers and taken to different regions of this continent, somehow is comparable to what Jackson here talks about young people moving to a different town to work. Do you know what I mean? There’s this completely skewed comparison, whereby he is then able to justify the genocide and certainly the torture and oppression of those removed by his own policies.
Adam: Well, yeah, because if you equate this kind of bourgeois idea of production and producing things with moral value, you necessarily serve the interests of the ruling class, because if they’re rich, by definition, they produce more, that’s why they’re rich. You can talk about elites and those in the ruling class, as J.D. Vance does all the time and others do, because you define elite as those who are educated, eggheads, right? Not people with MBAs from the Wharton School like Donald J. Trump. He’s not an elite, but like, people who are educated in things like art and culture, Ph.D.s in history, right? These are sort of elites, whereas the owner of the Fortune 500 company, save a few maybe investment bankers, they’ll take some potshots at, they’re not considered the elite.
Nima: They might as well be mine workers.
Adam: Right, and so you sort of rail against Wall Street in Hollywood, again, who are all said to be in league with the evil Chinese, back during the John Birch days they were all secretly communist. We just sort of updated John Bircherism. Many of the same funders, of course, the John Birch Society was founded by the Koch brothers’ father, that these are the parasites on society, that the poor, the indigent, the sort of homeless, these people are not producing whereas the elites in Hollywood, the cultural elites, the sort of academics, the lesbians, the sort of wink-wink-wink cosmopolitan types, they’re the elites, whereas a multimillionaire who owns 15 Toyota dealerships in South Florida is not, he’s a producer, even though, you know, we’re not sure what he produces.
Nima: Right, and so producerism from its origins in the early 19th century continued to undergird racist and anti-Semitic campaigns for the following decades. The anti-Chinese crusade of the 1880s, which resulted in legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, was helmed in part by white labor leaders like AFL’s Samuel Gompers who warned that quote-unquote “Asiatic” workers threatened to degrade the jobs and wages of white men. Producerist campaigns with clear racial and ethnic targets, of course, persisted well into the 20th century. After buying the Michigan newspaper the Dearborn Independent, Henry Ford published articles and books and otherwise used his massive influence to equate Jewish people with elite financial power and control during the 1920s. In addition to domestically, Ford’s writings were distributed in England and Germany, providing fodder for the acceleration of fascism and Nazism in Europe and of course also here at home. In Father Coughlin’s fascist doctrine of the 1930s, producerism similarly fused with antisemitic attacks against what were known as quote-unquote “parasitic” Jews.
Adam: And so this producerism ideology exists up to this day. J.D. Vance, Josh Hawley, they frame things as, again, sort of being, they’re always talking about they’re anti big tech, they love to talk about how they sort of oppose big tech, and they want to break up big tech. Well, the reason I’m gonna break up Big Tech, which, you know, again, there’s a leftist position to do that, there’s a leftist position to nationalize and to de monopolize big tech, but the reason they want to do that is because their set is being in league with centrist liberals and Chinese multinational corporations, it sort of all has a very xenophobic bent, and that there’s this global elite, represented largely by the Democratic Party, and to some extent, maybe even, you know, some of the rhinos in the Republican Party and the financial institutions who are all in league with these foreign entities like China, out to screw over the American worker and that this kind of authoritarian Voltron that exists is there to sort of oppress the average American worker, and the reason that the average American worker is poor is not because of any kind of traditional Marxist framework of rich and poor, or the ruling class, that it is actually the sort of, they’re corrupted by foreign influence. These foreign entities and these rootless cosmopolitans are actually the ones causing your suffering, and that the battle lines are not between rich and poor, but between those who produce and those who don’t, and this concept of producerism, which I’m excited to get into with our guest, is a central feature of how you create this faux-class war that’s essential to how you sell right-wing populism, which of course is just another rebranded Republican donor PR project.
Nima: For more on this, we’re going to be joined by Daniel Martinez HoSang, Associate Professor of Ethnicity, Race and Migration, and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity, which he co-wrote with Joseph Lowndes. His most recent book is A Wider Type of Freedom: How Struggles for Racial Justice Liberate Everyone, published in September 2021, by University of California Press. We’re going to be joined by Daniel in just a moment. Stay with us.
Nima: Joining us now is Daniel Martinez HoSang. Daniel, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: I’m so happy to be here, this podcast is so important. The history of bullshit is something we have to dive into, and I’m really excited to be here.
Adam: Well, I appreciate that very much. So, we’re gonna start off by talking about, in your book Producers, Parasites, Patriots, that you co-wrote with Joseph Lowndes, you make the case that producerism, which has been the focal point of the show, has sort of been the backbone of kind of faux populist capital, or Republican politics for some time, you trace its origins to Jefferson, the Antebellum South, you write that producerism, quote, “Posits not an opposition between workers and owners, but a masculine cross class assemblage connecting factions of elite with poor whites, both in cities and on the frontier.” We’ve spent the better part of an hour dissecting this idea and how its current pop iterations of Tucker Carlson, J.D. Vance, et cetera, what you have is people using kind of quasi Marxist terms like “elite,” “workers,” they even will throw out terms like imperialism, which is obviously hilarious, and in doing so they’re obviously using a word that has a separate definition than how lefties such as like myself would understand the term, and I think that conflation is deliberate, I want to sort of begin by talking about the ways in which these kind of deliberate category errors, and the co option of quasi Marxist or kind of class-based language is used to pick off confused media consumers who may think that they’re kind of sharing a definition, because obviously, when J.D. Vance talks about elites, he means something different than what we mean — I mean, I think it’s mostly an anti-Semitic dog whistle — but I want to sort of start from the co option of language and kind of this weird warped quasi class structure that producerism and right-wing quote-unquote “right-wing populism” uses in general.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, this is an important question, and I think we should talk about this history of how the term enters our political vocabulary. It’s actually a very disembodied term right now. In other words, it actually doesn’t, it operates as such an open ended referent on the right, that it really no longer actually names any particular position, sites, people. So, you know, one example of this is for the research for the book, we went to lots of right-wing militia rallies in Oregon, where Joe is based and where I was based, when we wrote this, and Oregon is one of those states in the Pacific Northwest, where there’s a kind of urban corridor, it includes Eugene, it includes Portland, especially, and then lots of rural areas, and, you know, at these rallies, you would hear these long lines of like, actually quite separate issues, you know, abortion, Second Amendment rights, some things around free speech, religion, and none of them really animated people, and then someone would say something about Portland, kind of strike back at Portland, and suddenly, just Portland, that animates everyone, right? Everyone cheers, they’re into it, and it’s almost like they need some kind of opposition to find each other and to figure out what they’re against. Now, I think there’s actually some truth to the ways that cities in many places have simply just disavowed rural areas in particular. So, it’s not that there’s no kind of underlying truth to that, but the point I’m trying to make here is it actually didn’t refer to any actual injury that people wanted to, you know, talk about or connect about, it was just this kind of open ended thing that brought people, that connected people together.
Nima: Yeah, I mean, you know, I think the thing that we’re sort of talking around, you know, is a certain kind of dog whistle is the element of race and racism, right? So perceptions of in this case if we’re looking at class and populism, but also in terms of this specific idea of the producer ethic, right?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Right.
Nima: Alexander Saxon’s producer ethic, perceptions of who produces and therefore who mooches, who is a parasite is heavily informed by race, and, as Daniel, you’ve noted, racist perceptions of government workers and government unions in particular really is a very animating piece of this. I’d love for us to take two major targets of this current parasite framework, and I say current knowing that these also have long, long histories, but even just kind of in this moment, teachers and by proxy the broader idea of academia is a constant target, of course, the dangerous campus that’s indoctrinating everyone, but also, the Postal Service is now part of this, you know, both are kind of in the crosshairs of this producerism kind of right-wing populist force all the time. Why do you think those are favorite targets, besides both sort of more or less being a reliable base of support for Democratic Party candidates?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, this is so interesting, because, you know, there’s been think tanks on the right that have just long long had in their sights public sector unions, I mean, from the ’60s and ’70s, when these unions began to have a presence in political life. But those attacks really never resonated with the public in general. It’s like, who thinks of the person delivering your mail, or your kids’ third grade teacher as the source of their dispossession. But something happens in particular, I think, in 2008, 2009, during the Great Recession, there’s a sense the economy has gone off its wheels, Alan Greenspan says markets are not supposed to do this, and you know, there’s real, this is like Wall Street, Wall Street did this to us. Remember, when Rick Santelli, 2009? He’s on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and he says, you know, ‘We’re forced to subsidize the losers, the losers’ decisions.’
Daniel Martinez HoSang: And you know, what’s interesting is that, again, it doesn’t activate. No one’s thinking, ‘Yeah, my neighbor, Tom, I told him not to take out this mortgage,’ it doesn’t activate that. But some sense that if you’re in this economy that guarantees security to nobody, you’re either in one of these positions, you’re either someone who’s dependent on someone else, or you defend yourself by talking about what you produce, and so quickly, that default, right, Scott Walker the next year, he starts naming, he’s saying it’s teachers, it’s school janitors, tollbooth workers, and what was so striking to us is how quickly that was cognizable to people, that they just said, ‘Exactly, that’s who’s out to get me.’ And so I remember at the time, you know, you could have folks saying, their pensions, right, their retirement, their benefits, it was so easy to kind of generate this animus against some sense that you’re falling behind someone who’s trying to get over on you. So, I guess part of what I want to say here is that it’s not legible. It’s really not teachers. I mean, it’s a workforce that has long been dismissed, as you know, it’s feminized in certain kinds of ways as not producing things, but there’s just something that’s been very deeply ingrained that keys people in to you have to always be on the lookout for the person who’s taking advantage of you, and I think just the fact that it was so recognizable, is part of what we have to think through.
Adam: Yeah, it probably didn’t help that a lot of liberal outlets, and even the Obama White House, pushed that right-wing, anti-labor Waiting for Superman film produced by Bill Gates.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Absolutely, it came from across the political spectrum. But again —
Adam: It basically made them all sponges, yeah.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Exactly. But it’s like, why again, were they so, who would have thought we can pin all of this on teachers and the post office? So I think we have to think about what are the conditions that made that possible?
Adam: Yeah, I mean, obviously, the post office is a vector for not only job security, but Black middle-class, unionized labor, which is sort of the three, the three things you don’t want, which is a black person with money, and you don’t want them in a union, and you don’t want them to have political power, and that’s why it’s sort of always on the chopping block. But I think again, it speaks to this idea that there’s sort of these, like you said, there’s those who produce it, there’s those who take, of course, never mind the trillions of dollars in bailouts to the banks in 2010, that sort of what’s, you know, maybe they would gesture to that, right, rhetorically, they’d say, like, ‘Oh, well,’ but as far as what was actually manifested in policies, it was the low wage public sector worker, and the obscure grad student barista that was the subject of our ire.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, I mean, this is a really important point, how twisted it’s become that the kind of hedge-fund manager is the producer, subject, the person that’s perceived to do that, and meanwhile, folks who are in low-wage jobs are perceived as dependent and parasitic. So, it has nothing at all to do with anyone’s material position in the economy. But even in Wisconsin, public employees in Wisconsin are actually slightly whiter than the population as a whole. So part of what we’re talking about is how this charge of dependents and parasitism has been expanded to much, much larger sets of people. It has its origins, absolutely, in attacks on immigrants, attacks on other folks of color, but it really has enlargened in an economy that’s so insecure, and precarious.
Adam: I want to comment real quick if you don’t mind, this is a follow-up on the anti-intellectualism of it. We’ve talked a lot about this, specifically this idea advanced by people like Michael Lind and J.D. Vance and those who are obsessed with this idea of a professional management class, now under Michael Lind’s class framework, podcasters are elites which I think is hilarious because I can’t pay my kid’s childcare with Twitter followers, it doesn’t really mean much, again, there’s some social cachet, I suppose, with having some kind of outlet, obviously educational, and cultural capital, as they call it, and sort of matters like I can kind of concede that. But I have a very difficult time sort of accepting that a Brown University grad student who works as a barista on a pathway to, let’s say, early childhood education or something that is not necessarily going to make them bank in 10 years, I sort of have a difficult time envisioning that person as the author of my suffering as a pseudo author of working class suffering, and so I want you to comment briefly, if you could, on this, which I think has been heightened a lot in the last few years by, you see it from the Hudson Institute, you see it from a lot of these supposedly right-wing populists, this kind of movement to obsess over the professional management classes, as the kind of vector of oppression. Now, again, I know this is somewhat self-serving, you’re in academia, Nima has a lot of relationships with nonprofits, a little self-serving, I understand that, but I want to sort of comment on this idea of culture or education as the organizing principle of a class framework, and again, Hudson Institute is funded by the Koch brothers and the Scaife family and the Mercers for a reason, right? I want you to sort of talk about this obsession with education as a proxy for elitism.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: So I think there’s just two things we might think about here on the one hand, yes, it’s a caricature, it has not, you know, this is this gap between people are willing to in the abstract critique public education, other public sector workers, even as they’re, they can be quite devoted to their local school, and believe quite connected to it. I do wonder, though, because in universities, there’s lots of hand wringing about this, why are we suddenly, you know, the site of this attack? And I think a couple of things about this. One is, this has really been the pattern across the last 30 to 40 years, as the economy has grown more insecure, that just more and more subjects have to be elevated as the exemplar of why things are wrong. So this dates back to the ’60s, certainly around moms on welfare, to the ’80s, around attacks on immigration and affirmative action, all these kinds of dependent subjects. So, as this class of dependency grows and grows and grows, it’s gonna consume more people, and, you know, part of the pattern is, and look, teachers unions did this. When the attacks on these other groups happened many of these unions just said, like, ‘Well, you can have at them. Maybe they are the problem, maybe they are dependent. That’s not me, you know, we’re good.’ And so when the teachers come under attack, there’s this rally, we write about a teachers union in the Northeast, where they have these signs that say, “First they came for the teachers,” and this is like 2008, 2009, and, of course, first they did not come for the teachers, they came for many, many others before that. But you know, we’re so kind of like, quick to say, ‘’Well, if you want to have it, then go for it.’ And so I guess there’s some part of it in which we shouldn’t be surprised. It was completely arbitrary and racist and vindictive, when they chose other subjects so now that it’s kind of escalating and capturing more and more folks, in some ways, it’s just not surprising. It’s a predictable outcome of this kind of, you know, a system that constantly needs enemies to reproduce a certain kind of sense of the world.
Adam: Because you talk about how precarity and inequality drives this need for a new kind of non elite boogeyman and to make a somewhat dated and crude pop culture reference, it’s like the Titanic bottom floors, the Irish fighting over getting out of the cage, while meanwhile, the wealthy are being ushered to the boats, and it’s like, we’re kind of fighting on the bottom rung, and then of course, you say, well, obviously, this is all just one big distraction from the real forces that are, again, this sort of faceless hedge fund in Connecticut, who closed down, or, you know, Bain Capital, who closed down your air conditioning plant in Indiana, is not something that shows up mysteriously, shows up on Tucker Carlson, whereas we get 18 hour back to back of Colin Kaepernick not saluting the flag, right?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: That’s right. And two things here, first, who knows, actually, who the hedge fund folks are, and actually what we would need to do collectively to hold them accountable. That just seems far more distant.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: It’s much easier to conjure and imagine, you know, that figure. The other thing I just want to say quickly about higher ed is I think there are some things on our end, about the ways that higher ed has actually distanced itself from the concerns of working class people from, you know, traditional social movements so that when people say, ‘Well, have you really been there for us?’ And I don’t just mean it in the sense of the kind of angry kind of Republican base, but broadly, like, why aren’t more people standing up, launching these attacks at higher ed? I think there’s some truth to that. I think higher ed actually hasn’t been there in many ways as the economy has grown more unequal, as tuition has gone up, as a tax on workers has increased. So there’s a part of that that’s true. They’re saying, ‘Well, you also abandoned us,’ and so these are the conversations I have with my colleagues when people say, ‘Well, why the sudden anger towards us?’ Well, what are we going to point to to say, we’ve really been with you in solidarity, as life has grown less precious for you?
Nima: Yeah. I mean, when you mentioned that, who’s the author of pain, you know, Adam, you mentioned that, but then Daniel, you know, you kind of pointed to the faceless hedge fund manager, you know, it got me thinking about how, in earlier decades, earlier generations of this, perhaps, this idea of the working person, obviously, oftentimes white man, as being, you know, working in industrial profession, and therefore, one of the oppressive forces was not the industrialist producer, but rather the financial sector producer, which is all wrapped up into very kind of fierce anti-Semitism of, say, the ’20s and the ’30s, you know, Ford, et cetera, but now, it seems like that has shifted a bit because the financial sector kind of, if those are big Republican donors, those are big right-wing donors, those aren’t going to be the authors of pain anymore. So how do you think these definitions of who is to blame have shifted over time?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, I mean, I think when people understood their place in the economy was deeply tied to a particular employer, like the large industrial employers, or a sector, right? ‘When this sector is doing well, I’m doing well.’ There was a point of identification in that sense, like GM workers identifying with GM. I mean, all of that, right? All of those affinities and identifications are gone. So that question of who it is that you think might be looking out for you, who it is that you can identify with, and think, ‘Well, if they do well, I’m probably going to do okay,’ it feels like all of that is gone. And so I think that’s partly what just opens up this terrain, in which, you know, it’s like part of that, like the summer attack on critical race theory, this kind of came out of nowhere, people who do this work are like, ‘Why are they obsessed with us suddenly?’ But that’s part of what is happening now is in the absence of any forms of identification, security possibility, all it produces is the need for more enemies, and I think that’s what’s happening. So it has nothing really to do, again, with people’s material location, and everything to do with finding some, in a world where so many of us feel like we have no control over what’s happening, and kind of life itself is like slipping out of our fingers, it’s a not surprising reaction to try to find folks who we can hold to blame and accountable. And I think it’s startling to see how this shifts so much, right? That kind of, you know, if you look at Tucker Carlson, it’s like a new enemy every week is being introduced to you.
Nima: Yeah. Which actually just sort of turns populism into more individualism.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, it’s not even, right, it doesn’t have a structure to it anymore, right? It’s just disassociated into just kind of, if you listen to right-wing radio, it’s just a kind of set of ongoing takes of who might be a culprit that you can direct your anger towards.
Adam: Yeah, because you’ve been hinting at something or you’ve been saying it and I want to separate that, because it’s a really fine balance when you talk about the appeal of right-wing “populism,” quote-unquote, and I know that’s a somewhat generic term, where you want to do a balancing act where you say, okay, you don’t want to sort of do The New York Times parachute, bleeding heart, oppressed Nazi routine, because I think that’s reductionist and not really backed up by any kind of empirical basis in the sense that we don’t want to do the thing where all these racists are sort of exercising some trauma or neurosis, because I think that can become a little bit, it’s just excuse-making in a way.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah.
Adam: The same time, I think there’s another extreme where you sort of say, we’re gonna write off half the country or 70 percent of white people and make up this country just by virtue of what the statistics are, in a way that seems, has always struck me as a little glib and a little disinterested in kind of what politics is, which is politics is fundamentally an evangelical exercise. It’s about converting souls to your cause. And again, there’s this balancing act between those two, and I think your book does a great job doing that, and I want to sort of talk about what you’ve alluded to, which is that look, the extent to which right-wing populism can gain traction, we have to talk about failures of establishment liberalism and the Democratic Party, and the failures of specifically a kind of neoliberal capital, which has said, ‘Oh, you know, everything’s going to get great, yes, this plant shuts down, but we’re gonna teach you to code. Yeah, we lied about the war in Iraq. Yes, we’re gonna bail out the banks, and yes we’re going to not really hold anyone accountable for Wall Street.’ That there is a systemic failure of liberalism, establishment liberalism in this country that creates, that opens up space without excusing that space, but opens up space for this kind of co option. So I want to sort of get your thoughts on, again, what you’ve alluded to a few times here, which is what does a counter narrative look like? Obviously, full disclosure, I mean, I think it’s fair to say that this podcast was pretty much in the tank for Bernie Sanders, there was an assumption that that message or something kind of quasi that message could maybe have a little bit more purchase and a little more credibility because it could speak to these anxieties, as opposed to doing the thing where you say, ‘We’re just going to teach you to code. Sorry the plant left, sorry your brother’s addicted to opioids, tough titty. You need to go to community college and become a software engineer.’ So could you comment on those failures and how we kind of maybe can address that and have counter-messaging?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, I mean, we try to make this point that you can go to parts of rural Oregon where the unemployment rate is 25 and 30 percent.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: The conditions are not the same as in Ferguson or Cleveland or Detroit or, you know, on the border, but there’s convergence, and there’s a set of shared experiences, and I think there’s lots of traditions certainly like the Poor People’s Campaign, Dr. King’s work later in his life, where he could imagine, folks who thought of themselves as white, identifying with very clear anti-racist struggles, worker struggles, struggles led by people of color as very, very much in their interest. And it seems like we have not actually activated many of those possible formations that would cut across those lines, and kind of lay out and make possible new kinds of identifications, and I think part of what you referenced is Hillary Clinton’s basket of deplorables, some notion that people are so morally stained, that merely acknowledging them despoils us, and we’re really struck, the right is constantly thinking about new forms of identification, we saw that in 2020, the Trump folks were very willing to go after voters of color all over the country, because they thought that new forms of identification are possible. And on our side, there’s very, very few efforts that are actually trying to do that, to see where people might kind of find one another and struggle together around those things, in part, because I do feel like we’ve bought into a certain kind of consultant speak about political blocs, and how firm and rigid they are, and what they will do and won’t do, and as if those are kind of these preordained units of politics and then everything that comes after versus understanding politics as the the very process of those identifications.
Adam: Yeah, because again, I’ve always found that very pat, because again, if I’m part of the consultancy class of the Democratic Party, and I’ve been doing the same thing for 30 years, and I want to make sure I could do the revolving door to Uber and Amazon, naturally, I can’t make any existential critiques of that system. So, you know, if I fail in 2016, and massively underperform in 2018, and 2020, naturally, it has to be some sort of endemic and intractable core element of the electorate for which I can’t be held accountable. And again, it’s the only space for which you’re, as a salesperson, you’re permitted to do that, right? If I sell cars, I have a quota of 15 cars a month, and I’m brought into my manager’s office, and I’ve sold three cars, and they say, ‘What’s the problem?’ I can’t say, well, all my customers are dipshits. I mean, that wouldn’t be and again, I know that voting is a moral enterprise, and it’s not buying a car, but this principle applies, I think, you know, it’s the only job where you can sort of fail at convincing people and then say, ‘Oh, it’s a moral failing on the subjects for whom I’m trying to convince.’ Now again, I think for some percentage, it is a fixed moral failing, and you’re not going to convince them. But certainly there are some, there has to be some convertible, meaningfully, high percentage of convertible people, otherwise then what are we doing here? Why have a podcast? Why write? Why write books?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Why have a podcast? Yeah, I mean, there’s something clearly that’s so pessimistic about, we’ve just seen this in the last week that where the locus of debate is, who has a message that is somehow going to activate people, and who gets to be the kind of party whisperer that’s going to say, ‘I know that times one through 99 have failed, but I have crafted a message that’s going to solve everything.’ And so obviously, the debate is not about the messaging. It’s much more about concrete, material struggles, and you know, people are in motion all the time. I mean, you know, you’re like the recent episode you had on gig workers and others, so there’s just such a profound gap between the electoral strategies on the one hand, and all these places where people are actually contesting their conditions. I mean, even just that withdrawal of folks labor that we’ve seen in the last six months to a year that we’re trying to get our head around, like, why all these labor shortages, none of the political kind of class and consultants is tuned into that, what’s causing it, and how might that harness some new political possibilities? So that’s the part I feel much more pessimistic about, is this continuing return to just these stale debates over messaging?
Nima: I guess, to that point, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the reliance on culture, you know, so-called cultural issues or culture wars, right? That are deemed, I think, often in large parts of the political and media sector class that, oh, these are, you know, use cultural issues to build common cause or more often, let’s jettison any kind of values that actually exist, because we need to play these kinds of culture war games, as opposed to focusing on, as you just said, Daniel, material benefits to human beings’ lives, that these kinds of culture war things are deemed, oh, well, you know, we’re just kind of having this debate in the media, but those are very much life and death issues for immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ people, Black people, brown people, they can’t just be kind of dismissed, that they are kind of integral to all of this. So, what do you think about this idea that say, people on the left or even progressive people, even sometimes liberal folks are supposed to just concede on cultural issues as a political strategy, which then obviously serves to continue to perpetuate harm when it comes to reproductive rights, trans rights, all sorts of racial justice issues?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, I mean, this is, again, it’s like such a stale and one dimensional sense of how people think about politics because if you just start with the focus group and the poll as the somehow transparent way that you can just understand what moves people, yeah, there’s some kind of opposition, these sets of issues are pushing people away, these ones will pull us towards us, and you come up with an algorithm that responds to that. It’s a very kind of consumerist sense of how politics works. And, you know, there’s a couple things one, I mean, what actual Democratic platform has simply pushed so-called issues of identity and culture in a deep way, that just doesn’t really happen, right? It’s like, it’s not what candidates are running on. It’s not what their funding, their media campaigns are about. So that idea that that’s somehow the culprit in what’s a failure to really build a majoritarian block, I just don’t think it’s empirically right, and, you know, again, what we need are ways to figure out how do we attach and connect people’s very real material conditions, with, as you say, those issues, which are themselves also material? And I think there’s so little sense of what might be possible, because we keep reverting to the same sets of do this, but don’t do that.
Adam: Before you go, we always like to ask our guests, what are you working on? What can people look forward to, if anything at all? And where can we check out your writings?
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Yeah, I appreciate that. You know, the book I just came out with, A Wider Type of Freedom, is actually about this. It’s about how struggles for racial justice have actually long imagined remaking institutions and structures and possibilities for everyone, never as just narrow kinds of interest groups, or small constituency formations. So, that’s one project, and I feel like there’s a deep body of social movement history about anti-racism that we’ve lost in our kind of current debates about this. And then the current project I’m working on is about it really looks at universities and general ethnic studies programs in particular, and why we are not doing a better job at training and supporting students who can really contribute to social movements, who can understand change and capacious and generous ways who can be reflective, who are committed to working across difference. So, kind of how we get out of some of that parochialism that now seems to be so deeply associated with the kind of movements on the left.
Nima: Well, I think that is a great place to leave it. We’ve been speaking with Daniel Martinez HoSang, Associate Professor of Ethnicity, Race and Migration, and American Studies at Yale University. He is the author and editor of numerous books, including Producers, Parasites, Patriots: Race and the New Right-Wing Politics of Precarity, which he co-wrote with Joseph Lowndes. His most recent book is A Wider Type of Freedom: How Struggles for Racial Justice Liberate Everyone, published just last month, September 2021, by University of California Press. Daniel, thank you so much, again, for joining us today on Citations Needed.
Daniel Martinez HoSang: Thank you, a thrill, so appreciate this conversation.
Adam: Yeah, I think the questions about how you distinguish between failures of liberal institutions versus the dark forces of right-wing funding are hard to parse, and obviously, it’s both a question of what percent of each? I don’t think everyone wants to downplay either, because obviously, that has its own risks. But clearly, if an entire party gets taken over by lawyers and marketing people, you’re gonna have a product that doesn’t necessarily resonate.
Nima: Right, And that lends itself to being countered by so-called populists, right?
Adam: Yeah, because, I mean, look, this is gonna be outdated by the time you listen to this, but you’re watching the gutting of the Reconciliation Bill, down from $3.5 trillion over 10 years to maybe over $1 trillion. You watch all these pre-K on the chopping block, overly means-tested, climate change provisions, paid maternity leave, dental for seniors, expanding Medicare, all these sort of important essential programs, and then when you hear Nancy Pelosi talk about it, or even President Biden talk about it, they sound like they’re ordering Thai food. They’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna have to cut some things and it’s unfortunate, but, you know, it’s what it is, it’s reality,’ and they kind of move on and you’re like, can you get mad? Can anyone get mad? Is anyone mad about this? I mean, this is the last chance in probably five years, maybe 10 years, we have to meaningfully try to alleviate poverty, you know, we gutted the enhanced unemployment, we got rid of the eviction moratorium, and all these programs are going by the wayside ostensibly because of two senators, although there’s some kayfabe there, I think, and I’m watching this and I’m like, can you know, if you get mad? Can you look mad? Can you look like you care? And Bernie Sanders to, you know, his credit and some of the progressive caucus and others, they sort of look mad, and it’s like, look mad, look like you care. Nancy Pelosi looks annoyed that she has to talk about it. Joe Biden sort of starts off going ho-hum, you know, ‘We have to concede and we’re going to get it, we’re going to get this down to four weeks and this down to two weeks and we’re going to means-test,’ and it’s like, there’s clearly no sense of the human stakes. And one thing, again, Republicans are good at is they are good at looking like they’re mad at things. They’re mad at total fake bullshit or they’re mad at things they shouldn’t be mad at or they’re absolutely phony, mad, but like, look like you care, look like there’s some moral stakes to what we’re doing here other than you’re sort of debating some trivial ideological preferences, if one would debate sausage or pepperoni on a pizza. Well, you know.
Nima: Well, sure. But like that kind of anger, that rage over something, the passion over something is so often derided in liberal or Democratic circles, right?
Adam: Yeah, they’re not even not mad, they’re above being mad. And it’s like, this shit’s life and death, motherfucker, look like you care, like look like you care, we are talking about funding hearing aids and dental for seniors, millions of people will benefit from this who are literally suffering right now because they can’t afford to go to the dentist and they can’t afford hearing aids, and this just got thrown out of the fucking bill like you’re going through and paring down a catering menu at a fucking wedding. Look like you have some sense of what the stakes are, and they simply don’t, and so it’s like, the politics of anger, which is to say the politics of grievance can be misdirected, but oftentimes, there’s genuine reasons to be mad, and it’s okay to take that and to harness that and to show you care and that you understand the stakes of the things that are going on here that these are not, again, that they’re not trivial ideological preferences, but there’s a real human face to these trimmed down budget, sort of, ‘Oh, you got to tighten the belt.’ And it’s like, well, okay, tell that to fucking little Jimmy who has no pre-K.
Nima: Well, I think this kind of lack of giving a shit, right? Or at least looking like you give a shit.
Adam: I don’t even need you to give a shit. I need you to fucking look like you give a shit.
Nima: Right, look like you give a shit.
Adam: I’m not greedy, Nima. I don’t need genuine conviction. I don’t need you to have the Lord in your heart. I just need you to fucking read the incantations. I need you to read the prayers. I need you to look like you care about Jesus.
Nima: Right, right. But it also connects to something that we’ve discussed on a different episode where we were discussing the enemy epithets, right? And we often hear in political speech or in the press about populist leaders overseas or across our borders or, you know, somewhere else in the world, populist, but what is always attached to that, what is the epithet? What is the descriptor attached? Firebrand. Firebrand. That if you’re a populist, you’re a firebrand, it means you’re unreasonably riled up over something, and you’re yelling into a mic, and you’re pounding on the desk, right? And this is uncouth, this is not the way, this is not the way that civilized politics is supposed to happen, and therefore populists are deemed to be, and this is populists writ large, it will get to the difference between fuckin left-wing and right-wing populists, of course, which is the whole point of this episode, but the idea of populism is deemed to be not politics in the way that politics should be practiced in our quote-unquote “civilized world,” right?
Adam: Well, because if you’re mad, it’s an acknowledgement that there’s something existentially wrong with the system. So if I’m president of Venezuela, and I acknowledge that there’s a 35 percent extreme poverty rate, and I’m mad about that uncouth, not the poverty rate itself, right? Not the lack of dental and hearing aids for the elderly, not the lack of any kind of climate change provisions, not the lack of maternity leave.
Nima: If you’re mad about something that means you want something to change, it means you want it to be fucking different, and so the idea of not being mad enough about something means that fundamentally you’re not trying to alter the system, and so what we see in right-wing populism is the performance, the nod to resentment, to grievance, to anger, to passion. I mean, maybe not in J.D. Vance, he’s a totally, totally, boring person, but it’s totally misdirected.
Adam: It’s misdirected towards faceless immigrants and China and Jews and other sort of, yeah, that’s what it is. But you know, and they’re good at playing that role, and liberals aren’t probably because they’re paid not to, but they’re not. So it’s a problem.
Nima: Yeah, and the result is obviously, no systemic change, except if it’s in the direction of making things worse for poor people, worse for immigrants, worse for people who don’t live in this country, and live on top of our oil and under our bombs, and of course, worse for LGBTQ people, worse for people of color, worse for workers, worse for labor and very, very good for corporations, very, very good for the donors of right-wing populists, and yet playing that role is very effective, because it gets people pissed off and then they support these fucking grifters.
So that will do it for this episode of Citations Needed. Of course you can follow us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed, and become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast. All your support through Patreon is so incredibly appreciated as we are 100 percent listener funded. And as always, a very special shout out goes to our critic level supporters through Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.
Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.
Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Associate producer is Julianne Tveten. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Thanks again, everyone, we’ll catch you next time.
This Citations Needed episode was released on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.
Transcription by Morgan McAslan.