When Bernie Sanders talks about the “one percent” he’s echoing an idea that came out of Occupy Wall Street, the idea that the central political and economic conflict in the United States pits the vast majority of the American people against a tiny elite of billionaires. In reality, it’s a lot more complex. Indeed, the real lesson of Super Tuesday is the dominant victory for Joe Biden in Virginia, a wealthy state where upper-middle-class professionals came out in huge numbers to vote against Medicare for All and free public high education. Young people and working-class people largely stayed home. While Bernie Sanders has largely failed to mobilize low income people he’s created a backlash in the professional managerial class, such a powerful backlash that the Democratic Primary in the state of Virginia saw almost double the number of voters in 2020 that it did in 2016.
This cycle, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, 1,324,325 people had headed to the polls in Virginia — a big uptick from the 2016 Democratic primary, when 780,000 people did the same.
I believe that most of the talk about “Bernie Bros” and mean tweets that’s been dominating election coverage over the past few months has its origins in conflict between liberal white voters in the working class and liberal white voters in the upper-middle class. I don’t think the same conflict exists among black Democrats, for example, where loyalty to the Democratic Party and concern about racism outweighs any tension that may exist between the black bourgeoisie and the black proletariat. Indeed, most of the voters in the Democratic primary in South Carolina were working-class black people following the lead of the black elite. Indeed, so successful has the upper-middle-class liberal elite been at painting the working class and precariat as white and racist that a lot of older, working-class black voters in South Carolina voted to cut their own Social Security to make sure their grandchildren don’t have health care. I don’t think the conflict exists among conservatives and Republicans, where cultural issues like guns and abortion outweigh economic issues. White working-class conservatives are fine with the idea that Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet make more money in 5 minutes than their families will have in 100 generations as long as the wealthy agree to defend their “liberty” to own AR-15s.
Among white people on the left, however, there is a deep, acrimonious hatred between rich Boomers and poor millennials, between people with high school diplomas and Ivy League degrees, between the working-class and the precariat and the upper-middle-class, between people who own houses and people who don’t, between the happily married bourgeoisie and not only “incels” but normal people who will never have the money to establish traditional middle-class families, between people who suffered during the Obama years and people who prospered. The conflict is expressed not only through voting — the upper-middle-class favors Warren or Biden and the working class Sanders — but through expectations and cultural assumptions. The working-class see the system as corrupt. The upper-middle-class wonders why those losers who live in their parents’ basements can’t just get a job and buy a house. The working-class sees the one percent as as malevolent force conspiring against the ninety nine percent. The upper-middle-class wonders why everybody’s bringing up outdated issues from the Occupy Movement. Haven’t we all gotten past that by now? The working-class wonders why the upper-middle-class isn’t more angry about the Iraq War and the Patriot Act. The upper-middle-class wonders why the working-class is so rude.
Indeed, the issues of “civility” and “wokeness” have split the Democratic Party in a way not seen since the 1960s, where blue-collar Democrats sent their kids to Vietnam and supported the war and upper-middle-class Democrats sent their kids to Harvard and protested it. This time, it has largely centered on black Democrats, and which candidate they will eventually support. Up until now they have seen themselves as allies of educated and “woke” white professionals against “racist” white proles but their loyalty is also in flux. As a result, the Civil Rights Movement has become contested terrain. Sanders’ s supporters remind everyone that Martin Luther King was a socialist who protested the Vietnam War. Warren and Biden supporters see King as a black nationalist who defended the African American community against racist white rednecks in the south and racist blue collar workers in the North. The debate started to verge on the absurd last week as Sanders’s African American spokeswoman Nina Turner, who’s loathed by elite liberals of all races, and the white Biden surrogate Hillary Rosen. Who owns Martin Luther King? The neoliberal elite or the left?
As far as demographics go, black voters weakly mirror white voters. Young African Americans favor Sanders. Older African Americans favor Biden. But I think in this election cycle the current alliance between black Democrats and white upper-middle-class liberals AGAINST white working-class Democrats and the largely white, young, intellectual precariat will hold. Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party nominee. Indeed, if Sanders couldn’t get by Biden in the Midwest and the South he’s likely to get slaughtered in the Democratic Party machine states of New York and New Jersey. So the general election is going to pit an alliance of upper-middle-class white liberals and blacks of all classes against white conservatives who support Trump. Will it be enough to put Biden over the top this November. At this point, nobody, least of all me, knows.