I wrote most of this a couple of days before the election when, like most, I was pretty sure we’d be seeing a President Clinton. Obviously that’s not how things turned out. What was expected to be a time of post-election Republican-party soul-searching and regrouping has turned into the opposite, as people begin to take seriously the question of how the Democratic Party has lost the support of working class voters (a nice piece on this here). This post isn’t directly diagnostic in that regard, but it does resonate with that problem, and so I offer it as my own small contribution to thinking about what direction progressive ideas should be moving in as we figure out how to operate in Trumpworld.
In the Bill Clinton years, as George Packer describes in a piece last month on Hillary in the New Yorker, the idea took root in the Democratic Party that being progressive meant getting people out of the working class, rather than simply making the conditions of the working class better (through better pay, safer workplaces, protection of collective bargaining rights, etc.). In other words, Democrats came to believe that the mission of social policy should be to give non-elites access to what elites have, and so in effect to transform them into elites. And they thought the primary way to do this was to educate them more. This has been the reigning ideology of the Obama administration too. College is for career; the future is one for educated workers. This is not the same as, but it resonates with, the conservative drive to purge the “liberal” from the liberal arts and see higher ed in purely careerist, job-oriented terms. The mission of the university has thus come to be very widely seen as the economic transformation of the working class.
As a professor at a regional state university, my job is basically to carry out this mission. And every day I question it.