It seems that on race, everything changes and nothing does—even as many rural white Americans feel ignored and scorned by cosmopolitan elites. How should we understand today’s communal tensions, and is it possible to transcend them? In this third session in The Threats to American Democracy Roundtable Series, two of the world’s leading authorities on the subject discuss.
The Threats to American Democracy Roundtable Series explores various threats to American democracy.
This meeting is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy.
ROSE: Hi everybody, my name is Gideon Rose, I'm the Mary and David Boies, Distinguished Fellow in American foreign policy at the Council. This meeting is part of the Diamonstein-Spielvogel Project on the Future of Democracy. We thank our funders for all they do for the Council and for allowing us to do the kind of work that you all like to participate in. This project, this roundtable on threats to American democracy, as those who have been taking part in the sessions will know is essentially a survey of different issue areas to try and find out what has happened to our country over the last several years and several decades. We are exploring all sorts of different issue areas; we've had a great session with Theda Skocpol and Paul Pierson on the Rise of Partisan Polarization. We had a great session with Jason Furman and Valerie Rawlston Wilson on the Rise of Economic Inequality.
And today we have what should be a fabulous session with Heather McGhee and Arlie Hochschild on what I've called the Persistence of Social Hierarchy. And in all these meetings, we're trying to figure out what has gone wrong, why everybody is so angry and what possibly can come out of it? So as usual, I'm going to talk with our experts, it's an Ask Ms. Wizard session, and then kick it over to you guys for a half hour Q&A with our panelists so that you can delve deeper on the kinds of questions you want to talk about with them. So, let me just set it up by saying, when it came to partisan polarization or economic inequality, both of those are long-term trends that have been going in one direction over the last few decades. Things have gotten steadily worse, and we all can see it and know it. And so, the puzzle there is, what is driving the changes and so forth, and what can be done? In other areas of life, there also seems to be progress when looked at from one direction or seems to be commonality or directionality, should I say, and then from another perspective, it seems like there's persistence or cyclical return.
And when it comes to race, when it comes to communal tensions, to the feelings of being dispossessed, there seems to be a deep persistence of hierarchy in American society and life in which a lot of groups continue to feel persecuted at the bottom and upset at not being in charge in a way that seems to persist over time regardless of lots of other factors. And that's why I've sort of set this up as the persistence of hierarchy and I guess what I would just throw to you guys as an opening question is, on the one hand, when I look at various factors... Arlie is a distinguished sociologist at Berkley who has written extensively about the troubles of... Various aspects of American society, and most recently about the world views of the right world working class, Heather is a brilliant expert on race, the American economy, the American society more generally, who has been at Demos and who has a wonderful new book The Sum of Us, on the economic costs and social costs of racism and what can be done to get past it.
And so my question to you guys is, I can think of three different lenses through which to look at a group's progress over time, I can look at objective factors, what are the rates of... Whatever variable you want to see, is life getting better by objective measures decade by decade, according to material indicators. Absolute terms of well-being. I can look at that same group and look at that same set of data through the lens of relative well-being, forget how they're doing compared to how their parents did, how are they doing compared to their communal peers and other groups over the same period, because they may feel relatively deprived even if they're absolutely successful or vice versa, and finally... And I wouldn't have thought this until recently, but now I think I have to say it, we have to look at the worlds inside people's heads separately from the objective conditions around them, because we can see that people do not necessarily all perceive the same reality, and so life can be getting better and people can think it's getting worse, life can have gotten worse, and people objectively are happy as all clams, and they're standing relative to other groups, can go up or down objectively, and yet they can have exactly the opposite perspective.
So my question to you guys is, when we look at things like communal tensions, the eruptions of racial protest, the status and angers of various subaltern communities in the United States over the last several decades, is the real way into the question to look at objective trends in absolute poverty or whatever, over time, the trends in relative trend, well-being towards other groups or some sort of social psychology come into ideological thinking in which you have to understand what they are thinking because it's not in the numbers, it's in the minds. Okay, with that, Heather, why don't you kick it off and then Arlie, why don't you jump in it?
MCGHEE: Well, thanks so much Gideon and to the CFR community for inviting me into this conversation. When the email came across my laptop and I saw that I'd get to be in a conversation with Arlie Hochschild, I said, yes, absolutely. Strangers in Strange Land was one the first books that I read after I left the post of running Demos and set out on this journey to write The Sum of Us, and it really shaped a lot of my thinking and it was one of the few books that my husband and I read together and so it is often dinner table conversation, which is really great. So...
Well, so I would say this, I would say that my training as an economic policy person has taught me to look at the data, to look at the economic indicators of poverty, of job insecurity, of benefits of particularly wealth, because that's where you really do see someone's financial security, the idea that income may come and go, but do they have assets, home ownership, savings, investments to be able to cushion the blows, to be able to invest in their own future or their family's future. And then we have indicators like college attainment, and of course the sort of return on that college attainment.
And I think that's really important. I think those objective numbers are really important, and as we're... If we're talking about Black Americans, the picture of the long march of progress since the Civil Rights Movement is... I'm in a conference room in a law firm as I'm in a legal transaction so someone was just like, I need to get a book over there, so it's fine. So you've seen both a ton of progress and then also actually a striking lack of progress, and that basically the economic shifts that happened soon following the Civil Rights movement to make the American dream more elusive to everyone, the de-industrialization, the beginning in the loss of union power, the stagnation of the minimum wage, the de-funding of public college to have our college attainment levels start to atrophy, the rise of student debt.
These are all things that you can think of as not racialized issues, they're just sort of economic trends, I certainly was taught to think of it that way, and so in some ways, what has happened to the... For example, the black middle class has been... That black people were invited into a middle class just as the dream was hollowed out, just as the possibility of that great formula of being able to sort of work and have comfort and security, was no longer possible, and so that suggests that objectivity is necessary, that the relative status is necessary to think about, but then I think in The Sum of Us, in some ways, the whole book is my... Comes out of my frustration with economic data and evidence-based policy solutions as being sufficient to explain our self-sabotage and to explain the creation of the inequality era and to explain basically the majority of white people's consent to that inequality era and their voting patterns.
And so there, I really did learn to lean on sociologists and social psychologists, and political scientists, and people who were not the kind of people that I learned from when I was growing up in the first two decades of my career, and in so doing was able to create a more well-rounded picture of how it is that this country that invented the American dream, also then turned its back on that formula after the Civil Rights Movement.
ROSE: Okay, give a quick precis of that argument for those who haven't read your book, just give a two-minute version...
MCGHEE: Haven't read my book... No, I'm just kidding. [chuckle]
ROSE: I have but some of the participants haven't, so you know...
MCGHEE: No, I'm sure that they haven't. So basically the idea was that we created... The central metaphor at the heart of my book is the idea of the drained public pool, it's what happened to a basic public goods ethos that was always fiercely contested, but was the dominant kind of liberal ethos, of planning and government and investment of high levels of taxation, massive infrastructure investments, massive subsidies of housing, of things like social security, the GI bill, the creation of the 30-year fixed rate mortgage, all of these things, high levels of collective bargaining, high minimum wage, all of these things that created the middle class were to one degree or another, racially exclusionary, and so like public pools of which we used to have nearly 2000 lavishly funded, grand resort style pools that could hold thousands of swimmers at a time, it was part of the New Deal economic and social consensus to have nice things, to have the government tend to the higher and higher quality of life of Americans when Americans were 90 plus percent white. Of course, those categories evolved over time, but the racial exclusion was almost the price of the generous social contract and that when the Civil Rights Movement empowered families of color, particularly black families, said, “You know what, those are our tax dollars that have been funding those public goods all along, and in the case of the swimming pools, we want our kids to be able to swim too.”
Many towns and cities across the country, and not just in the Jim Crow segregated South, decided to drain their public pools rather than integrate them, and that helped me explain that historical example across the country, and the metaphor of the drained pool helped me explain... I knew the “how” of the levers that had changed across all of those economic policies to switch from shared prosperity and tight wage and productivity growth link, and fast and fair income decile, income-quintile sort of concentration in terms of income growth year after year, but I didn't know the “why,” like how? Why would we continue to do this to ourselves when so many more people were suffering economically and were not experiencing the gains of their work and productivity?
And it was this core question of an anti-government sentiment that really came into white consciousness in a mass way, when the government went from being the enforcer of the racial hierarchy to the up ender of the racial hierarchy, and then you saw a massive, very sudden shift, the sociologists tell me, it's not on the economic data, but it was very helpful in terms of the consciousness and perception of White support for public goods. Once they included all of the public, including public, whom they did not believe were good, and that's when you saw a real rightward shift in terms of the economic policy ideas of your average white American, you saw the last Democrat running for president to win the majority of white voters in Lyndon Johnson, after he signed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, and you really began to create a sort of racial bargain around an economic agenda that nonetheless is having costs for virtually everyone but the very wealthy.
ROSE: Thank you very much, that's a wonderfully concise summary, and you should go on to read the book everybody, because it takes that and fleshes it out and tells it in a way that's pretty damn compelling. Arlie, over to you. A, what is your take on the original question? B, what is your take on what Heather said?
HOCHSCHILD: I really love Heather's book and her work. And for me, what it does is raise the question of how... Of emotion. In other words, she's laid out the facts, and we have a public good and we used to believe in this and now why would people be draining swimming pools so little kids couldn't swim in them? How did we get there? And I think what my work is, is to kind of try to address that irrationality, and I began in fact, focusing on emotion in Strangers in Their Own Land with this red state paradox, which says, Not only is ignoring the government bad for blacks or people without... Working class or lower class people housing but it's bad for the Republicans who vote for it.
There's a red state paradox that around the whole country, it is the poorest states, the states with the highest rate of disease, lowest life expectancy, the worst schools and worst health are also the states that take more money from the federal government in aid then they give to it in tax dollars and revile the Federal government. Okay, how does that work if you need... If you got all these problems that you want to work on, why wouldn't you want an activist government?
I sort of entered the project scratching my head, this doesn't make sense, but what I want to point out and add to Heather's formulation is that even for the people who are voting against the government, it's not good for them, they have a lower life expectancy because they're for cutting the EPA by a third, and...
ROSE: That's why the absolute stuff, it always puzzles me because I used to be taught that the absolute stuff mattered, and now it's like, I'm not sure the absolute stuff matters. I don't know.
HOCHSCHILD: What I think we learned is that actually there is something highly irrational here, and we need to be serious and actually rational about understanding it, and what I think I do is not to go and talk to people and report back, what I think I do is try to tune an ear to how they hear and learn from that, so that I know what they're tuning out and what they're tuning in, and then I have an eye for the potential empathy bridges across this divide and actually, I'm now doing work in Appalachia in the last four years, and again, tuning in and trying to see where whites and entirely whites, how they can empathize with a poor people's campaign with a cross-class kind of alliances. And I actually see quite a lot of possibility.
ROSE: What has stopped them in the past and what are the possibilities?
HOCHSCHILD: Well, okay. Okay, I'll give you an example, there are people kind of at the top of the hierarchy in this town that I'm looking at who feel like they've earned status and they feel like giving back, and they are people, where I see a kind of a possibility, a strong possibility. Everybody's a Trump voter pretty much that I've talked to or they don't vote, and some of the people I'm talking to are in prison and others are in addiction rehab. So I'm trying to really go top to bottom, side to side and really listen close in, but I also see people who've hit bottom and in the sense that they were living life, but their dad lost his job and he and his mom was picking up cans. The one person I'm thinking of, by the side of the road in the Holler, and then he became addicted and really hit bottom for a long period of time, 12 years, and then got in recovery, and now I think there is a whole bottom sector of real poor people who are white, who really are open to this message, but let me give you one example.
There's a guy who said to me, you know, "Look, I'm poor, I was born in this holler, but I don't see any... And my uncle was dealing meth outside of a trailer, my parents would let me... I grew up in total fear, there was a murder three trailers down, I just wanted to get out of this town." And he said, "But I don't see any difference between my life and the life of someone in Central Detroit or Cincinnati, a black person, I think we're living the same life, I don't see a difference except for the music." And then in another interview, a guy says, "Oh no, you don't know about hillbilly rap?" So I thought well, there is a channel there that I think is being pasted over and the people I'm talking to, they do feel dissed. They feel oh you think I'm a hillbilly, I'm stupid. And you think I'm racist. Well, not so fast. There's an opportunity I think.
ROSE: Okay, well, there's so much we could talk about and will talk about. I'm gonna leave some stuff to questions to be picked up on. Let me take a sort of side light here, because in about 2003 or 2004, I think it was about 2004, I started to really question the wisdom of the Iraq occupation when a version of the swimming pool incident happened, Heather. It was when we had put in some soccer fields in some different... We were rebuilding Iraq in some areas that had been conquered and were now being reconstructed, and we put in some soccer fields, and the weekend after they put in the soccer field, when they didn't put a guard on the soccer field, they came back to find the soccer field had been trashed and the dirt stolen by different communal factions, this kind of thing, and the American soldiers were interviewed looking at this going... They stole the dirt for the soccer field. What can we do with these people?
They don't want to be together. There is not the conditions here. These people are so divided by their groups, they'd destroy themselves rather than move forward. Why do I say that? My question to you guys is, you've been telling this and we've been talking about it as an American story, is this just how people are?
And when you go to Iraq, the groups there hate each other and resist each other's rise, and when one gets in power, the other goes into opposition and gets disgruntled and are we just kid... Were we just kidding ourselves that things like ethnic rivalries, tribal divisions, communal hatreds are things that happen to black and brown people in other distant countries, when in fact all along, everybody is the same, and we're just rent by the same tensions that everybody else is. How... Put America in comparative perspective.
MCGHEE: Yeah. Well, I think anyone who didn't realize the degree to which American history has been shaped by racial hierarchy was definitely kidding themselves, but not everybody was under that delusion, particularly not many of the people who've lived through that history. But I do think that there are... Just as there are examples of massive sectarian violence in various countries, there are also some examples of broader social solidarity and a sense of national identity that overcomes sectarian, religious, cultural, racial class divisions, and it just has to be worked at.
It's a question of, as I say at the beginning of the book, everything that we believe comes from a story we've been told, and there are actual people telling the stories, there are actually powerful people using their megaphones in society to tell certain stories to people, whether it's in churches, in politics, it's reflected in their economic rules and the sort of common sense of the way our culture is ordered, when you have a society where how much the property values of the houses around a school dictate how much funding the school has, that communicates just as much as anything that a politician says, that there is a hierarchy of human value. And that some children are simply worth more than others. When you have a society that has no common understanding of the racism that was baked in in the creation of those housing values, then you have a society that is really at odds with itself about its own history and where ignorance of the structures that would create a differential in housing values from a black neighborhood to a white neighborhood means that most of the white people substitute stereotypes for the lack of structural knowledge about how wealth was subsidized and created in one community and basically banned in another, and so I think it does have to do...
I think the United States is... I'm an American Studies person. I'm interested, I'm fascinated by the United States as we become more and more a country with no racial majority, I think studying how we figure it out here and whether or not we create and hold on to a multi-racial democracy here is really worth studying. But I think it's not about anything sort of inherent in our people or our character, it's about our national stories, and there are societies where it is a given that... There are societies, I think 24 of the OECD ones, maybe 25 now that say, of course, because new people of this country are so valuable to us, we want to make sure that the parents get to stay home and raise that child for six weeks, three months.
Right, that's just a core value that evidences a kind of lack of hierarchical, an adherence to hierarchical thinking that other societies, events that we don't, and I think that has a lot to do with the stories and the rules that are shaped by elites. I don't think it is anything sort of inherent, and I think that the elites in Iraq have very much had incentives and profited from shaping those stories to be so sectarian.
ROSE: Thank you. And so Arlie I want you to build on that in the following way. Heather talked about the stories that we tell ourselves. And this is an interesting point that I was talking with Theda Skocpol about in the first session about partisanship, because she was talking about many of the voters that you're talking about, and her conversations with them and what would be needed, and in her view, a dominant thing driving their consciousness was FOX, and the ideological environment and the media environment that many of these communities were dominated by, and I raised the question with her, 'cause she was placing a lot of stress on the manipulators, rather on the powerful people controlling and shaping the narratives, and so my question was, is if somebody believes a false narrative, is that on the creator of the false narrative or a caveat emptor on the person who's the...
And we're talking about rats getting addicted to the opium or the cheese, and I was like, "Do we have a rat problem or the cheese problem?" And she was very upset at the notion that this was a rat problem. She was like, "No, we're having a bad addictive cheese being laced with bad stuff, addicting all of our nice good rats," not just rats drawn to unhealthy cheese, and when they could have the nice crudités next door on the other channel.
So my question to you is, Heather... Heather laid out a wonderful, nice cosmopolitan liberal framework, and the stories were changeable and changeable to a nice positive way, like a good social democratic story that sums us all together and makes us better, and what I'm saying... And my question to you is, I read your recent work and I hear it full of lots of stories, but they're weird stories with no connection to reality that are pedaled by self-interested actors and entrap a lot of people into cults, and then it's not just the right-wing thing, I look at the anti-vaxxer type stuff. And before the pandemic and even during the pandemic, the places that are the most anti-vax of all is not rural Tennessee, it's Marin County, or Brownstone, Brooklyn, where all the crazy lefties and health nuts are now anti-vaxx even more so than the people out in Appalachia. So are we actually... Are stories just a way to manipulate us because we are dumb little creatures, primates, not that evolved with lots of cognitive biases who are prey to any story that attracts us and ties us into weird little groups.
HOCHSCHILD: Well, I think we need to back up and look at a bunch of vectors that are making us act like rats with cheese. And I would put part of the issue off of it. Cheese mainly. I'm with Theda on that but some on the rat, but if we just back up, look at all the divisive forces that have been at work. One is the Republican party itself, I would have to say, has been busy trying to pursue a racial line, and just recently, not just with Trump's latest announcements, but really for the last 30 years. I also think if you look at industry, it has had its role in dividing the races by bringing in black strikebreakers, for example, in the coal industry, and you've got the loss of unions, which had had a very positive uniting effect, and then you've got the mass media, and it's not just FOX News, but we know recently that Facebook is actually finding it can make a lot of money by focusing on anger, which keeps eyes glued to the screen for a longer time and brings in more advertisers so that actually it's lucrative to Facebook to divide us by race, class, everything else.
So that's a third kind of macro vector here. And then I would say identity politics on the left, and I'm hearing a lot of people, I'm interviewing kind of blow back of, oh, it's kind of the Democrats that are trying to divide us by race, two national anthems. Oh no, we need one. They see themselves as unifiers and see Democrats, the left as the big dividers. Now, we think about identities, not the class issues that really affect them. So I think putting all of these together, we need ourselves to make an empathic leap into a brain that doesn't... That couldn't hear what Heather just said. What you just laid out, all the ways that there's been a systemic structural disadvantage to the blacks, how to get that story, which the people I'm talking to don't know. They don't know. And are they interested? Would they be open or is that a threatening story? Is there a way to get that story across that says, hey, it's not far from what happened to you. And are we looking at that possibility or are we just saying, look, this is the truth, if you don't get it, you're stupid, and I guess I would say to the set that doesn't want to hear what we have to say would be to understand loss and anxiety.
In other words, loss, and we know this from the social, psychological studies is very different from deprivation, that if you don't have something, you want it, but it emotionally triggers different things than if you had it and you lost it, and we know this from looking at history, World War I, what led to the holocaust, this whole political story of preying upon loss and turning the anguish of loss into political fodder, to turn loss into stolen, which I think is what we're in the middle of right now. And that stolen means that there is an author of the loss that you can point to, and that's a very dangerous juncture that I think we need to understand very well at this juncture to move ahead with the agenda that Heather is laying out.
ROSE: Thank you very much. I think that's absolutely true, and I think the flip side of that is that... It's funny, last time we talked about economic inequality, and there was a very strong feeling on the part of both panelists that this was a chosen decision on the part of United States, because of policies and institutions and that it was not inevitable as a result of structural factors, and if you had a different set of political actors who chose a different set of choices, you could easily have different kind of things here, and...
So I hear you guys also seeing much of the stuff we're talking about, not as inevitable or ancient hatreds or mercenary things, but human conditions and frailties and potential stuff preyed upon by political actors and developed into various institutions and policies which could hypothetically in a different world be moved past or coordinated. For loss, for example, the same ingredients that could do a stab in the back legend could lead to a common sense of shared national loss and mourning, especially during the pandemic, when we all literally were mourning the same damn thing in the same damn way.
If there was never a more potentially... Why such a unify... A potentially unifying event becomes such a potentially divisive event is a sad comment on humanities need to divide into groups. But we're going to go to our participants, we're going to invite you to submit questions now please. I'm sorry, put your hands up, if you want to ask questions, but I will first, while you're doing that and while we're gathering questions to Heather, the last question I want to ask you is a forward-looking one, which is, it seems to me that the last several years of turmoil and open conflict and open racial division and communal hatreds in which everybody sort of acted like some kind of weird sketch in which everybody... There's a wonderful scene in Do The Right Thing when everybody, John Turturro and Spike Lee vocalize that everybody around the thing, vocalizes what they actually think about the other groups and don't say it, and there's a sort of cathartic effect afterwards that everybody's honest.
It almost feels like we've gone through the national version of that over the last several years, in which everybody has said every bad thing they actually inner thought about the other groups, laid it out there, and now we're all, okay, what do we do with our neighborhood afterwards? And how do we move forward?
I would argue, is it possible, the nice little liberal in me wants to think positive things. Is it possible that we are now at the base of not just common understanding, but a recognition of the narratives you were talking about, what I am struck by is thanks to BLM, thanks to the more recent protests, thanks to the several years, thanks to the conjunction of BLM with MeToo with gay marriage, there's been such greater appreciation among the mainstream sectors of society increasingly over the last several years, and particularly over the last couple of years of the kind of narratives you're talking about. You don't need to be a fan and say everything is structural racism, but you have to... To say that there wasn't racial stratification driving American history is now something that would get you kind of laughed at in a general discussion rather than, of course, that was the way kind of thing.
Is that going to produce the possibility of a kind of more common set of narratives and beyond that common policies that could get us out of some of the divisions? And are we already seeing that in the bills of the last several years and the likely bill that comes forward? Which is a kind of more collective, have we bottomed out on are going forward...
MCGHEE: I hope so, obviously. But I think it's going to take leadership, right, I think that... And to be totally blunt, in the interest of time, the degree to which right-wing leadership and mainstream Republican leadership rejects the core strategy of dog whistle politics and racial demagoguery of Trumpism, not created by Trump, but certainly amplified by Trump, the degree to which the conservative media system stops echoing white nationalist talking points is basically going to decide not just whether we can have comity in our neighborhoods, but also... My argument is it's going to decide whether or not we can have a robust response to global climate change, and whether we can do something about child poverty and whether we can do something about all of these issues that impact everyone. And it really is the racial nihilism that I think is really about strategy, I don't care what's in anybody's hearts, that is going to be the defeat of it, it's going to be the 'but for' cause of the future that you seek. And I do want to... I had one question for Arlie that I really want to get out there, because I think if we're going to get to talk...
ROSE: Take the first question. You go for it.
MCGHEE: Okay. As people load up their own questions. So when I read the Deep Story from Strangers in a Strange Land, that talked about the line cutting, where the people in your communities in the Gulf Coast, the white Republicans, had been able to see the American Dream but now there are people cutting in line, and that Obama and the Obamas were particularly sort of a totemic expression of it. But you really took pains, is my understanding, out of a desire not to cut the empathic cord, to not ascribe it to racism. And the reasons why were because there was not a lot of interpersonal racism, people could sort of name a black person in their church, or it was sort of like, Well, these aren't Won't-sit-next-to-a-black-person racists.
And so this core narrative, which was absolutely about social hierarchy, and was about resentment of people who, in a period before, and that period was kind of before civil rights, had been behind them in the line and now they were in front of them in the line. And I guess I just wanted to ask about that choice, and how you feel about it today. And, for me, granted, I sit in a different position as a black woman, but that seemed like a very racialized narrative and the kind of racialized narrative that is exactly how it exists, right, it's very seldom a total biological racism, where it's like there's nobody black that has any redeeming quality, right? [chuckle] But it's rather a core narrative that, nonetheless, doesn't sort of make any sense without racial categories, and without racist narratives.
ROSE: Arlie, to you.
HOCHSCHILD: Yeah, well, you will find racial categories in my chapter on the history of race, and slavery as well, was that whole thing. And of course in the appendix to the book, I lay out what I call it fact-checking, but it's... [chuckle] Fact-checking about race and class and politics. And, so it's there, but I honestly feel I couldn't have done it. If I'd gone in there, from Berkeley, California, liberal, blah, blah, blah, and said, Hey, I want to talk to you about race. I felt, Well, I got to go sideways here. They didn't want to talk about race. So it was a strategic decision. But now in my new project in Appalachia, I am focusing on it. I'm in the middle of it.
ROSE: Any first fruits?
HOCHSCHILD: It left me curious, actually, it left me curious; Hey, what if I did focus on this, what's the story? How is the legitimacy of that Deep Story of the right going? And I've since talked about different chapters in that Deep Story; Chapter Two, when Trump seems to be the rescuer of the "victims", and then when he becomes beatified, and then when his believers are called to make sacrifices themselves. There are different chapters and they're different depending on each locale. I think there are different versions of the Deep Story, so... Yeah. I was a civil rights worker in Mississippi, in 1964, with my husband. So yeah, I'm keenly aware of the issue, but honestly I think I'm just... It was a pragmatic duck around something I knew was obvious.
ROSE: This is fascinating stuff. Once again, I've done one bit of bad arranging for all this, because my panelists agree too much. So my question to you in a broader sense is this, we all know there are many stories in some respects, and that there are brains and good faith arrayed across the spectrum in various ways. So what would your guys' closest friends, who are just as smart as you but with somewhat different political views, what would the critiques that your strongest critics make against your general frame on these issues? Supply the alternate viewpoint that is not being heard here, that if I had done my job as organizer better and gotten some really good colleague of both of yours whose books you also respected but who was of a different ideological persuasion; what would they say affect to you guys? As in the council member who said to me just now via text, "Ah, your a third straight session promoting socialism. Okay.
MCGHEE: So I think a good friend would say, you are letting money and politics off the hook, and you're letting Democrats off the hook. I mean in the book I definitely don't, I don't think, let Democrats off the hook. But... And they would say, Look at this moment now, where we finally have the list of nice things that could make the society fair and more prosperous for everyone, and it's being held up by, not Republicans, because we could give them a pass for not supporting it, which is silly, given that in many of these instances, the majority of Republican voters support these things, like universal elder care and home care and things like that. But it's being held up by two Democrats who have a lot of financial incentives not to raise taxes. And so they would say it's really not about race ultimately, it's about corporate power, it's about a Democratic Party that sold out working people. I think that's what they would say.
ROSE: Great. Arlie, what would your critics say about your stuff?
MCGHEE: Maybe what I said. [chuckle]
ROSE: Okay. Okay, so guys, I'm going to shut up now. Put up your hands, ask Ms. Wizard, there's great questions, great subjects. You raise your hands, participants, council people, they aren't going to be here all week, this is it. So go for it. And we will now turn to questions only.
SPEAKER: We'll take our first question from James Ryans.
RYANS: Hi, how you doing? I am James Ryans, I'm a military fellow at the council, and I've been very interested in these topics as a Black American, but I tend to be frustrated as with what Heather just said, is that there's a focus on party, there's a focus as if there's a moral superiority of one party over another. I was very happy to hear what Arlie was doing in finding bridges. I would put it to the group, how can we figure out a way to magnify the similarities in the situations that we have? I understand the originating factors, because I'm an American here, I've been here, I've experienced it, but the issue is, it's almost as if I feel that it doesn't matter as much as finding a unified set of principles to move forward with, that both sides can agree to. And how would we do that in a way that it could be at least palatable to both parties that are involved?
ROSE: Great. Heather, you want to kick that off?
MCGHEE: Sure, well, thank you for your service and thank you for the question. I mean, that... I think there's a... That hunger, I think, it animates my quest as well, right, that there are so many common solutions to our common problems, and that this division has cost us so much, all of us. And that in fact the zero-sum thinking that progress for people of color has to come at white folks' expense is a lie that sometimes people on the Left fall into, as well. And that we should be able to agree on basic things, like we should rip up all the lead pipes in the country and not be poisoning our children. That should be like a basic housekeeping thing of a great nation.
ROSE: What are some other things like that?
MCGHEE: What did you say?
ROSE: What are other good common good things that should be obvious things that we don't get to do because they are divided, because we're divided by our communal tensions?
MCGHEE: I think physical infrastructure investment is sort of the low-hanging fruit, which is why you see it being a source of bipartisan infrastructure, that bipartisan infrastructure plan, but who's going to pay for it is where things really fall apart. And I think that that is where the Chamber says it has to be sort of the beneficiaries and the users of infrastructure, it's like, Well, who is that not? [chuckle] And there's sort of this... Which I think is reflective of a belief in a hierarchy of human value, that there is no amount of money that the wealthy... That wealthy people should always have more money, but poor people shouldn't have more money, that there's something wrong there.
So I think things fall apart actually when you get caught up in this hierarchy question of who belongs, who pays, who deserves, who's better than others. But I think that physical infrastructure counts as that. When you get out of the beltway, when you look at the polling, things like universal elder care, things like universal childcare, things like paid family leave, are extremely popular, and yet there's been such a ratcheting down of our expectations from government, and such a heightened individual focus in sort of like, Okay, if I'm not making ends meet, I should get another job, I should go back to school. Not any sense that these are common solutions... That these are common problems and that there are common solutions, and that there's sort of, for working class people of all races, no amount of hamster wheeling that can make up for our fundamental fraying of the social safety net, and that other countries do it in a more financially efficient way to create that platform of security. So I think... I'm a big believer in common solutions to common problems, I'm a big believer in public goods, and I think that out of people who are paid to disagree, which is often politicians, right, there's a lot of comity and agreement out there in the country. Yeah.
ROSE: Your lips to God's ears, as my people say. Let's go to another question. John Alterman, you're in there?
ALTERMAN: Hi, how are you? Gideon, thank you for doing this. Arlie, I gave my dad your book and he found it life changing. He's 86, and it just it really, it was amazing. And Heather, your book is next on my gift list. I want to ask Arlie, there's this Bob Putnam argument about bowling alone, and certainly as I look to my kids, I think they spend much less time in heterogeneous groupings than I do. I think that people in... Partly because of social media but partly because people are spending less time out in groups, that even people are spending much less time in church, for example, which could be more heterogeneous by some measures. I was wondering if you could link that issue to some of the things we're talking about, and especially young people. And to get to some of Gideon's points, are there ways to get young people to embrace heterogeneity? My perception is that they say they do, but at least with my kids, it's often in very narrow ways with people who insist on being diverse in precisely the same way, which is all about factions of democratic socialists of American Massachusetts, as you mentioned.
HOCHSCHILD: I think we need new structures for crossover. That if we look back 50 years, there used to be a compulsory draft, and that mixed and matched people of different classes and races, and there used to be a more vibrant labor movement, which in parts of it really mixed and matched people, classes and races. And public schools used to be more like public schools. And so we have now lost... I think the unions used to be pretty much a connective tissue to the Democratic Party, between the working class and the Democratic Party.
So we need to acknowledge that we've lost some of the basic structural structures we need for crossover. I think a one-year compulsory civil service with training in communication and mediation would be good. There is a new organization called The American Exchange Project, that I'm now on the board of that is now in 20 different states, and what it does is get high school students from north and south to exchange three-week visits, face-to-face, as you're talking about, John, just... They talk to each other, really, it's not just a cyber connection. And people on the coast going inward to rural areas and rural kids going to the coast.
It's one program, but what if that were to be built out into a national program where kids were really taught about empathy, and really taught, Look, it's not frightening to empower someone who really doesn't see the world the way you do, so that we can... Once we can actually re-skill people in this, that structures should do it... There's already the Bridge Alliance of some 70 or 80 different pop-up organizations, but once we re-skill people and get those structures going, I think we'll make some progress on agreeing what the truth is about race relations, about class relations, and can move forward from...
ROSE: Arlie, I truly hope that you are right, and the Gideon of several years ago would have agreed with you. I've become much more cynical over the years, and although I share your vision, as we close I just actually wanted to turn it around to John, because John's a Middle East expert, we've been dealing with the same issues in the Middle East for 30 years, and we've watched this; there was: The seeds of peace; let's bring Israeli and Palestinian kids together. My own camp, ex Camp Powhatan was where they went, we all... And to my knowledge there's no... I look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after 25 damn years of the best efforts of everybody in the US to try to make everything nice, and it's worse and more entrenched than ever. And so, John, my question to you, cynically, is we've seen that our engagement with Eastern Europe and Russia and Ukraine, which we thought would raise their politics to our level, has lowered our politics to their level. After 25 and 30 years in the Middle East, are we now in Iraq and in Israel worse and more communal, more like them, than they are like us?
ALTERMAN: Arlie was trying to leave on an elevated note, and you bring us right back to Arab-Israeli. Look, let me just...
ROSE: Arab-Israeli is us, that's what I see. I thought they were different, now I look and they're the same.
ALTERMAN: But here's the thing. I was initially quite skeptical that there would actually be any exchange when the Emiratis and the Israelis made a deal. I know a lot of Arabs... I know a lot of Arabs. And I said, I think this is a deep emotional wound, it has not begun to heal, this is a moral issue for hundreds of millions of Arabs, I do not think this will be consequential. And I was wrong, because there are a lot of people who say, You know what, the ideology doesn't carry anything for me; it's not about that, it's about, Do I have a career, do I have a meaningful life? I'd like to deal with some variety.
So that's not to say the Middle East problems go away, but I think there are times when we look at these things and say, you know, there's no possibility, these people have hated each other for 5,000 years and they're going to hate each other for 5001.
And then there are so many Israelis who went to Dubai, they brought COVID back to Israel, they were so excited. I have been shocked that I thought... And there are people for whom it's a deep emotional wound and the scar exists. And there are people who say, You know what, we'll see. And I think that's what gives us hope, and that's what gives me hope that our country can find some of that, and maybe Arlie's project is a way to begin going down that route.
ROSE: I think that's a wonderful note to end on. Thank both of you. Thank all of you for participating. And next year in Jerusalem and back in New York, as well.
MCGHEE: [chuckle] Thank you, take care everyone.
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