Editor's note: Thomas Frank will join Robert Scheer at 4 p.m. Sunday in Los Angeles for a public discussion about the upcoming presidential election and Frank’s new book, “Listen Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?” Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.
On Day 2 of the Democratic National Convention, Truthdig once again went live on our Facebook page. This time, Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer sat down for a discussion with author and Guardian columnist Thomas Frank. Truthdig Associate Editor Alexander Kelly, also in Philly, filmed the conversation. Frank's new book, "Listen, Liberal," analyzes how the Democratic Party abandoned working Americans.
In their discussion, Scheer and Frank discuss how the Democratic Party has crumbled and what the future of the establishment looks like. Frank explains how for years, working-class Americans made up the voter base of the Democratic Party because they "had nowhere else to go." But this year, Frank explains, they've found a new home in the Republican Party led by Donald Trump. "[Democrats] have not only permitted this to happen," he says, "they've made it almost inevitable in some ways."
Watch the full interview below.
And read the transcript.
Robert Scheer: Hi, it’s Robert Scheer again, the editor of Truthdig. And we have a great guest here [Thomas Frank]. We’re at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia; Hillary Clinton’s about to be nominated, it’s not much of a surprise. So we thought we could indulge your attention and talk to one of the terrific writers about politics in America. He shattered the whole Republican world with a book called “What’s the Matter With Kansas?” His father had been a professor in Kansas; he’d grown up there, and he was disappointed in his home state. And it addressed the whole question of the radicalization of the Republican Party. Then, much to the surprise and chagrin of some liberals, he decided something terrible had gone wrong with the Democratic Party. And he has a book out now called “Listen, Liberal.” And my question, the reason I wanted to talk to you, you’re here at the Democratic Convention; Bernie Sanders has been defeated. The machine is back in power. Hillary Clinton is being hailed as the second coming. And are they listening, these liberals?
Thomas Frank: Are the liberals listening?
RS: Are they listening to you?
TF: No. The short answer is no. The longer answer, I think, is that the criticism of the Democratic Party that I make in “Listen, Liberal” is, you know, it’s that what we have today is a liberalism of the rich. That it is a liberalism of the professional classes, these sort of affluent people who have developed a whole kind of pseudo-Marxist theory of why they’re affluent and why they deserve to be affluent, and why those who, you know, their former supporters in the working class don’t deserve to be affluent. And this is a really ugly ideology, but it’s not something that they are prepared to change their tune on.
So there’s a chapter of “Listen, Liberal” that criticizes Hillary Clinton -- not criticizes; I would say “analyzes” Hillary Clinton and her career. But I don’t think that Hillary Clinton can change. And so to criticize Hillary Clinton in this way, I think it probably strikes them as not being constructive. I don’t really, by the way -- and I want to know what you think about this -- I don’t think Hillary Clinton can change. She was criticized so much during the primaries for taking all this money from Wall Street banks for the speeches and stuff like that, and what I would always say is that it’s not just the money; that’s who she is. That’s her philosophy of the world is that these, the financial institutions in New York have this kind of -- what’s the French word -- mission civilisatrice, right? That the Wall Street banks are in fact run by fine, upstanding individuals who are opening up the doors of possibility for the poor people of the world, or something like this. She really believes in what they’re doing. Democrats look at Wall Street and they see people like themselves. It’s not that they’re bribed to like these guys; it’s that they have an ideological kinship with them.
I just read in Politico the other day, I just read in Politico that there’s this whole contingent of Wall Street people here in Philadelphia. They’re throwing these parties -- by the way, I’m going to try to get an invitation to these parties, and I’ll bring you along if I do.
RS: Well, one of the parties is David Brock’s party tomorrow night. And David Brock was the guy that we’re all supposed to hate, because he went after Anita Hill, and --
TF: Yeah, yeah. But he wrote that great memoir, do you remember that? “Blinded by the Right.” It was actually really good; I was impressed by that. That was influential when I was writing --
RS: Yeah, yeah. And now he’s on, you know, and after attacking the Clintons so much --
TF: He’s totally flipped sides, yeah.
RS: But the Politico article impressed me. I thought it was the best thing written about this convention, and I’ve been here, and so forth. And it really was, you know, the action on the floor is not the action. And sad to say, the Bernie demonstrators are not the action. The action is the Wall Street crowd.
TF: And their parties.
RS: And their -- but they are freaked out by Donald Trump, because Donald Trump represents instability. Neofascists are unstable, they’re jingoistic, they’re --
TF: Well, he’s going to tear up NAFTA. [Laughs]
RS: Yeah. You know, and so the real problem is that you’ve got to somehow -- what they’re really interested in is Hillary. They like triangulation. Bill Clinton -- this is the dirty secret of this convention that was buried by Bernie Sanders in his speech last night; it really saddened me, because he basically denied the responsibility of the Democratic Party and the Clintons for the radical deregulation.
TF: There you go. Yeah.
RS: Not that the Republicans didn’t want it; they couldn’t pull it off on their own.
TF: That’s exactly right. When you talk about, you want to talk about inequality, you want to talk about what’s gone wrong in this country, the sinking of the middle class -- everything that’s gone wrong, and I would include in my bill of complaints, my bill of grievances, the rise of Donald Trump -- all of these things are attributable to the Democrats’ abandonment of their traditional constituency and their traditional sort of Rooseveltian identity. And this is -- OK, it was a surprise to me that Bernie -- well, he can’t make that critique; he’s at their convention. Can you imagine if he had gone out there and done that? I mean, I would admire him; I would think that’s --
RS: Well, I was there last night, and I think a good part of the audience would have been on its feet cheering wildly. Because you know, there’s two groups here. I’ve been going to conventions since 1956. [Omission] I’ve been covering Democratic conventions since 1956. I was there when Kefauver was going against Kennedy, and Stevenson and so forth. And I’ve never seen a convention quite like this, because in the old days you did have a strong labor union constituency in the Democratic Party. They were there, and they were real. There were big unions, Ford local itself had 600,000 in Detroit and all that. It wasn’t pathetically scratching around with the small unions you have now. And they demanded accountability, and there were other constituencies that were involved; you know, civil libertarians, what have you. But that’s sort of gone. And there were two groups at this convention, from my point of view, talking to people. One were the Bernie people, who whether you agree with them or not -- and I happen to agree with them -- but they are ordinary folks who are feeling the pain of their neighbors, if not themselves. You know, that there’s something awry in this country; it’s not working, and they know that the Democrats are not delivering, and they’re there.
TF: This is a huge part of the problem. I mean, the Democrats, in this sense, are part of the problem. Can I just pile on to this?
RS: I’m going to give you [the microphone], but I just want to add the other group. And the other group is what has increasingly been the establishment of both parties: job-seekers. People looking for the ambassadorship, or the deal for their town, or the place for their business. And so you have people, really, who are here to find work or to find opportunity on a very high level. And those two groups have nothing in common. It’s like, who are these freaks who actually care about economic justice and world peace? And then there’s this other group that says, our side is going to win. This is our time.
TF: That’s exactly right, that’s exactly right. You can only -- you know, you try to imagine [omission] what the conversations are like. And you don’t actually see these Wall Street people, right? Politico had this article about them coming down in a big group down to Philadelphia, but I haven’t seen them, have you seen them?
RS: Well, the sad thing is, they’re disguised to look like the rest of us. [Laughter]
TF: Yeah, they’re up in the skyboxes, right?
RS: And some of them have even gone to the same schools we’ve gone to, you know. That’s the problem, and your book captures that. You have this wonderful scene in Martha’s Vineyard, and the fact is, these are not monsters -- any more, by the way, than the old Republican crowd used to be monsters. The whole demonization of the other party -- you know, now it suddenly seems real. Historically, it’s been a bit of a joke. There was no. ... You know, [a] paper-thin difference between an Eisenhower Republican and a Stevenson Democrat. Paper-thin. I mean, you really had to knock yourself out to find a distinction. And one could argue that actually some of those Republicans were even better on these issues Democrats claimed to care about. Eisenhower was certainly more devoted to world peace than a lot of Democrats, certainly Harry Truman and so forth. And even on social issues, Richard Nixon favored the Environmental Protection Agency; he had Moynihan in his government, favoring a guaranteed annual income, and he ended the war in Vietnam that Lyndon Johnson started along with Kennedy before him. So, but now we don’t have that. It seems to me what the Democrats have going for them now, and probably makes the acceptance of your book a little bit more difficult, is everybody is traumatized around here by the greater evil.
RS: I wanted to make up a button, “Hold Your Nose for Hillary.” [Laughter] It would seem to me to capture the mood of a lot of people. And that the real argument you’re getting, and I’m sure you’re getting it at dinner parties and what have you, is yes, yes, but why are you bringing this up now that’s negative about the Democrats when we have the Nazis at the gate, right?
TF: Yeah, yeah. Well, so of course that happens; that happens all the time. But the thing is, you want to do this in an election year, and Hillary is a perfect example -- a perfect specimen -- of the kind of Democratic politics that I’m talking about. Very oriented towards the professional class; she really believes -- I mean, how many times did you hear that word “innovation” from the podium yesterday? You know, people talking about education as the solution to every economic problem. This really is her ideology. She is a true believer in neoliberalism. It’s not an afterthought, it’s not something that she did in order to win the affection of the money men. This is who she is. And it’s who her husband is. And you know, I think that the Democrats have to deal with this, and I think it’s especially important in this year, because in some ways their abandonment of blue-collar people, or I should say the white working class specifically, is this really has allowed Trump to do what he’s done. This is what has made his success possible.
So I was just in the Republican convention in Cleveland. And the man, you know, is this kind of monster in many, many, many ways, but there’s this one issue where he has got, he is reaching out to working-class voters and he’s doing it really effectively. And this is trade. And he talks about it constantly. And he’s very ham-handed, and he doesn’t have a plan, but he talks about it in a way that is convincing to a lot of these people. And here’s Hillary -- and by the way, this is the perfect, I was saying just this morning -- Hillary Clinton is the only Democrat that Donald Trump could possibly beat, and vice-versa. Right? Donald Trump is the only Republican that Hillary Clinton could possibly beat; they’re both, two of the least popular politicians ever to run for this office. But had it been any other Republican, Hillary would be in big trouble; had it been any other Democrat, i.e. Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump would be in enormous trouble. But when he goes against these trade deals, he’s always talking about NAFTA. And this is -- look, again, his party is largely responsible for free trade and for all of this stuff, for the free market theory and the reign of globalization. That’s his guys that did that. But NAFTA, and a couple of the other ones, he can blame on the Clintons. And Trans-Pacific Partnership, he can blame on Obama. And this is very, very, very effective. And Hillary Clinton is possibly the one candidate where this sort of thing would work.
By the way, to get back to something that you said earlier, which is the absolute inability of this convention to come to terms with the Democrats’ own role in where we are. In the destruction of the middle class, the sort of -- we were in Cleveland; like, you look at a place like Cleveland, it’s falling apart. The city is depopulating, the factories are empty, it’s a horrible thing that’s happened to Cleveland. It looks like a neutron bomb went off in certain neighborhoods.
RS: True of a large part of Philadelphia, too. [omission] Let me cut to the chase, here, because people are going to agree with you. They’re going to agree with you.
TF: You think so?
RS: Well, I think most people at this convention --
TF: I have found -- by the way, when I mentioned that Trump has this one issue where he is talking a good game, this makes people really mad, because they want to believe that he is, that he has this dark, diabolical, sort of Svengali power. And I’m saying to them, no; this is something unfamiliar, this is something new; this is not Marco Rubio, or if Ted Cruz had been the nominee. This is something different, this is a new beast. And I don’t think he’s a fascist, but it’s not a bad comparison, because the fascists had -- you know, they also built the Autobahn. And they also, you know, had this enormous public works program. And they also did all these things that was kind of like, you know, there was a reason that they were sort of popular.
RS: Mussolini made the trains run on time.
TF: Yeah. But they actually did these things in addition to all the really, like, abolishing democracy. So wouldn’t it be awesome if the Democratic Party, the people who really do believe in democracy, saw this coming and, you know – well. ...
RS: [omission] The reason I use the neofascist label -- and I didn’t do it lightly; I don’t want to just denigrate someone -- is that, basically, the misery that Trump is addressing is the same that Bernie Sanders addressed. The system is not working, and the statistic that he came out with last night, I would have thought, that’s a show-stopper and don’t tell me anything else. If the top one-tenth of 1 percent has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, what, what are we, what are we, in fact, talking about? This is absurd. And then for Michelle Obama to say it’s the greatest country in the world, now we’re in fantasy land.
TF: It gets worse. So there are people at the convention center holding up signs that say, you know, “No TPP,” or something like this. You know what I’m talking about? You saw those signs, right? And Barack Obama himself is going to speak here, tomorrow, I believe. And the TPP is his swan song; this is the last thing he wants to get done before he leaves the White House. And he’s quite serious about it; he means to get it done. He means to get that through Congress. And they’re out there, screaming about how bad it is. And they’re out there talking about [what] you just mentioned. [omission] The Trans-Pacific Partnership is going to be his last great gesture before he leaves the presidency.
RS: Well, what was Bill Clinton’s last great gesture --
TF: He deregulated Wall Street, he overturned Glass-Steagall.
RS: Yeah, we’re going to go from where we are now, to the convention center, and we’re going to hear Bill Clinton speak. And no one in the media is going to remember what Bill Clinton did as a lame-duck president. He signed off on the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, Title III, of which said -- you could almost be one of these biblical people, “Read Psalm” -- read Title III of the Commodity Futures [Modernization Act] that he signed off as a lame-duck president, which said: No existing regulatory agency or regulation will apply to credit-default swaps or collateralized debt obligations. Why? Because Lawrence Summers, who is also speaking here tomorrow --
TF: Oh, really? Oh, my Lord. Is that true?
RS: Yeah, on one of the panels here at the Marriott that part of the Democratic Party has arranged. And Lawrence Summers, who was Treasury secretary under Clinton and followed Robert Rubin, who had come over from Goldman Sachs, and gave us the reversal of Glass-Steagall -- Lawrence Summers went one step further to silence Brooksley Born, a decent Democrat who was running the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Said, these things are terrible, they’re toxic, and everything else. And they passed this thing saying, no, they must be totally unregulated. Because otherwise we will not have an advantage in the world market. As a result, we have hundreds of trillions of dollars of this junk stuff still circulating --
TF: Wait, the vast majority of people in this country still haven’t recovered from that recession that was brought about by those toxic derivatives. And the derivatives were explicitly deregulated by Bill Clinton. But it goes on and on and on -- it’s like NAFTA, it’s -- when I was listening to the speeches yesterday, it was like they’re promising, they’re running on a promise to reverse all the things that Hillary Clinton did the first time around, or that her husband did, I should say. But the crime bill of 1994, they’re going to, oh, they’re going to reverse mass incarceration -- it’s like, well, why didn’t you just not do it in the first place? You know, they’re going to fix the global economy -- well, why didn’t you just not fuck it up in the first place, you know? On and on and on, down the list. And you know, the trade deals -- we’re going to stop these terrible, these trade deals have been so bad for working people. It’s like, well, why did you sign off on them? Why do you go to Davos every year? Why is your sitting president, representative of your party, trying to get one passed right now? In the Democratic platform, there’s a big thing about the revolving door, where they’re really against the revolving door -- do you know who the secretary of the Treasury is right now? Right now! It’s Jack Lew! Came from Citibank, where he oversaw their hedge fund division. You know? And then he’s in charge of the department that’s bailing out Citibank, because their hedge fund division that he managed dragged them down! This is insane! And he was put there by a Democrat. A Democrat who’s going to come here and give a speech on Thursday. This is -- yes, you’re exactly right. There’s enormous cognitive dissonance for these people, but they wipe it away, like so many -- I mean, there are so many examples of this, the way they think about Trump, the way they think about the working class, the way they think about NAFTA. It’s all this guilty stuff, they can’t deal with it, there’s something psychological going on. But this is the biggest. You know, they can’t deal with the legacy of the sitting president and the legacy of Hillary’s own husband. And they can’t talk about it in a straightforward way.
RS: What makes the conversation a nonstarter is, again, this fear of the barbarian at the gate in the form of Donald Trump. And it gets everybody off the hook. And suddenly, we don’t think about any of these things. And the reason one has to think about it, and the reason I want to get people to read your book and listen to you, is that I think the neoliberals have created, made the ground fertile for the people I do consider neofascists. And by “neofascist,” I’m referring very specifically to blaming “the other” for the problem that you have [noted]. That’s what I mean, and it’s the scapegoating, it’s the jingoism, it’s the racism. And that’s traditionally what we mean by fascism.
TF: Yeah, yeah. Well, that’s certainly there, yeah.
RS: And it’s a precise use of language, I think; this is what we see in Europe now, and Chris Hedges, who writes for our publication, had a piece this morning; he went to Poland, he’s quite smart and researched --
TF: No, but I mean, whether you call it fascism of whether you call it Trumpism, or whatever you want to call it, the point is exactly correct. That this guy is, because of the complete inability of the nominally left party in our system, the complete inability of this party to do anything about its -- well, it basically washed its hands of its former constituents and delivered them with a bow to Donald Trump. By the way, can I just throw one more thing in here? The other big question of this year. If ever there was a demonstration of the bankruptcy of the two-party system -- oh, my God. This year is it. You’ve got one party that’s been taken over lock, stock and barrel by this, like, loose-cannon billionaire, a very dangerous figure. And you’ve got the other party that is determined to cover its eyes and pretend that nothing is wrong. And there’s another article in Politico that I read on my way over here; I love reading Politico, sometimes, because of the kind of, the insider bias.
RS: Well, we used to love -- for the very reason we all used to love reading the Wall Street Journal. I mean, they actually were speaking to their own, and letting us in on it.
TF: Yeah, exactly. But they have a story where they described, essentially, the passing of the baton from Obama to Hillary. And it’s these two, they’ve captured this party; they’ve got the DNC on their side. Obama ... keeps Biden out of the race. And it really is, he is just transferring the, what would you call it, like Napoleon’s baton -- the imperial banner from one individual to another. And there’s no democracy in it! This is all a fraud!
RS: Right, but what we really have to clarify here -- because someone can watch this and say, you know, those bad-news bears that I listen to, they’re right; they’re right, and everything. But this is the choice we have. My own son, one of my sons, said this yesterday: We go for the lesser evil now, we go for the lesser evil.
TF: Yeah. That really, it motivates us.
RS: And that argument works if you -- first of all, they’re talking, I mean, Madeleine Albright, I think, is going to talk today at the convention about pushing the button. That’s the killer, right? And then you have to ask the question, why did you let any president of the United States have the power to destroy all of civilization?
TF: We had Richard Nixon in there once, you know. [Laughs]
RS: Anyway, assuming that there are no checks and balances on that, that’s a problem that should be addressed pronto, you know.
TF: No kidding! Yeah, wait, wait, do we have a president in there now who could do something about that?
RS: Yeah, yeah, so maybe that will happen. But the thing that’s going to be the showstopper for your book, and for you -- and let’s be honest about it, right -- is you are making trouble for the lesser evil. OK? And people, you know, this is the inconvenient truth; they love inconvenient truth when it embarrasses the other side, like climate change. They don’t love this inconvenient truth. Because the real argument is, is what the Democratic Party establishment been doing, does that build the right wing? That’s the argument.
TF: Yes. There’s no question that it does.
RS: I know, that’s your argument in the book; I’m just trying to lay it out here so people should understand this is not an effort to be destructive --
TF: It has built up for --
RS: You said “listen, liberal” because you really wanted them to listen.
TF: Of course, absolutely. But I also want them to listen -- well, in a number of different ways. But this goes back to “What's The Matter With Kansas,” where the -- if you get, I meet people who read that book all the time. But very few of them actually got to the last chapter, where I was writing about Bill Clinton. And I said, all of these things are problems with the right-wing mind, and we have this incredible right-wingism and this amazing flowering of the right in America. But all of it was made possible, ultimately, by the Democrats deciding, turning to their traditional constituency of working-class Americans and saying, you have nowhere else to go. In truth, it wasn’t just working-class Americans; it was all these different groups, minorities; this is back in the Clinton years. This was a sort of catchphrase of the period: “You’ve got nowhere else to go.” And these people have been looking and looking and looking for somewhere else to go. And here’s the awful thing: they found it. This year, they’ve got it, you know. And that’s the scary thing. And if Democrats don’t understand what they, their role in making that happen -- you know, going to Davos, Tom Friedman talking about -- always identifying with the winners in this new order, and never the people on the receiving end. Yes; they have absolutely, not just permitted this to happen, but made it almost inevitable in some ways.
RS: Well, so the real question here is, and we’re in this election season, does four more years of Clintonism make it a more dangerous situation? Does one think of third parties? Do they open it up somewhat? You have a libertarian candidate, ex-Gov. [Gary] Johnson, who seems to be getting 10 percent of the vote. There will be plenty of Republicans that will not want to go for Trump, genuine conservatives on the more progressive side. Jill Stein, who is a medical doctor, who is spot-on in her critique of the rising cost of health care, which gives Trump a good issue; it’s not working for a lot of people. And she’s certainly quite well educated and bright, Harvard undergraduate and graduate --
TF: Yeah, she’s awesome, agreed. Look, things are going to get worse. Four more years of this? So Obama -- I voted for Obama with enthusiasm in 2008; I was excited, I thought he was my generation’s Franklin Roosevelt, I thought this was, we’d come to the turning point. And then he continued the policies of the Bush administration on the banks, on a lot of essential issues, and things got, for working people, things have gotten worse and worse and worse. Wages still don’t grow; the share of what we produce here in America is less than, is smaller than it’s ever been before, the labor share, what the economists call the labor share of GDP. Smaller than it’s ever been since World War II. This is under Obama, the most liberal, we’re always told, the most liberal possible president. Look, of course it’s going to continue with Hillary as president; nothing is going to change. This is going to get worse and worse and worse. You’re going to continue to see the recovery or whatever, all the gains, all the economic gains going into the banking accounts of the top 10 percent or so. The Dow might continue to go up, but who benefits from that? It’s the people at the top, of course. Four years of this, inequality’s going to continue. That’s always what it comes back to, is that word “inequality.” And that’s going to get worse. The Appalachification is going to keep going. And four years from now, you’re going to have another Trump. And a Trump who’s not a fool, a Trump who’s not an imbecile, who’s not a buffoon, who’s not an open racist, is a Trump that can win. Hell, this Trump might win [laughs] if the Democrats blunder into his hands, which they are presently doing. We’ll talk about that some other time. But a Trump minus all of these sort of features of Trump would actually be successful. Now, you could also have another Bernie in four years, and another Bernie, someone who plays the game slightly differently, could also be successful, although it’s really hard to beat a sitting president from --
RS: Well, that was one of the things that was disappointing last night at the convention, listening to Elizabeth Warren. And suddenly you felt, wait a minute, is this person, can she possibly become a hack? Woah, does politics do that? Because she knows better. She knows that the Clinton machine has opposed her on everything that she tried to do. She knows what the Democratic Party did. I mean -- come on, you know? And I was just listening to what you said, because I drank the Kool-Aid on Obama myself. Actually, my wife maxed out, and I bought T-shirts for $500 at the last minute, and everything else. And the reason I did it was that in April of ’08 he went to Cooper Union, and he gave a speech that --
TF: Yes! That was the moment for me, as well. That was really important.
RS: He gave a speech there, which we could summarize, which he basically nailed it. It was bipartisan, and it was radical deregulation, and he was running against Hillary, so it was an easier argument to make. But the Democrats and Republicans were jointly responsible for this economic meltdown, and he was going to take on Wall Street. Then what happens is, Hillary drops out. And he then turns to the very same people who engineered this! He goes to Lawrence Summers, who was working for $6 million a year for D.E. Shaw Hedge Fund. He turns to Goldman Sachs, and he gives up campaign finance. All this crap about Citizens United, which they keep stressing -- it was the Democrats that decided not to have public funding of a presidential campaign. That is what is so startling, and nobody mentions that.
TF: This is a turning point. So look, Obama was a turning point for me and obviously for you as well. But that’s what “Listen, Liberal” was ultimately about. It’s dealing with the curdled hope. By the way, I was surprised to see that they’re still using that term, “hope.” That this is still their brand identity. Hope? What are we supposed to be hoping for? You had the White House for eight years; why do we still have to hope? [Laughs] Why can’t we just have it delivered, right? It’s time, right! They’ve been in power for quite some time.
RS: Well, they blame it on the Republicans.
TF: Of course, Republicans in Congress, yeah, right, right, right.
RS: The first two golden years, and then the Republicans came back.
TF: I was also surprised, by the way, that they are all coming out for a public option now. It’s like, what? What the hell? Why weren’t you in favor of that when you could actually have had it? But what you said about Obama bringing back all the same people, one of the reasons I chose him over Hillary in 2008 was because I wanted to see new blood in the Democratic Party. I wanted to see a new generation. I wanted the Clinton influence to be washed away, and I wanted a whole -- all of these people who had engineered the deregulation and the free trade deals in the nineties, I wanted that gone. And instead he brought them all back. Rahm Emanuel comes back. You know, you mentioned Larry Summers, but you can go right down the list.
RS: And now her campaign manager, Podesta, who --
TF: Yeah, Podesta was there, but who was the Department of Justice, the attorney general? -- Eric Holder, of course. But you go right down the list, and it was just a Clinton administration reunion.
RS: We’re going to have to wrap this up, so let me just ask what I think is a question, I mean a question about what I think is the most interesting thing about your book. And you’re willing to deal with class; class. And I remember, I was a graduate student in economics in the late ’50s, early ’60s; you didn’t even talk about class. I mean, Michael Harrington wrote a book, “The Other America”; Gabriel Kolko wrote a book; C. Wright Mills wrote a book. There were a few academics.
TF: Yes. My heroes you’re talking about!
RS: But the fact of the matter is, and now it took a Frenchman to remind us of class -- [inaudible] yeah, but the reality, and it comes up at this convention thanks to Bernie Sanders, is the fact we have a crisis of class consciousness, to use an old phrase. And it happened on the Republican side because what they did on the Republican side, the great Nixon strategy was with the end of segregation, the way to appeal to whites who still wanted segregation, was to have code language about religion and normal Americans and family values and all this garbage. And so the social agenda of the Republican Party, and of the Baptist church, which was not there before, became a way of cloaking, or saying to ordinary, white, working people, particularly in the South, go with the rich guys in the Republican Party because they’ll respect your church and your family values and you. OK. On the Democratic side, you have a comparable deception. Hillary won over Bernie Sanders because she got the black vote in the primaries, and to some extent, the brown vote, originally. And yet, the statistic that I keep bringing up, the Federal Reserve of St. Louis, using the best data available, put out a study quite recently saying that the target population that got hurt in the housing meltdown were black and brown people who graduated from college.
TF: Yeah, they were hurt the worst.
RS: Hurt worst, because they were targeted --
TF: What’s fascinating is, the ones who graduated from college were hurt worse than the people who hadn’t gone to college.
RS: Yes, and the ones who graduated from college lost 70 percent of their wealth, reversing the gains of the civil rights movement. So the question I would ask you, because this is really --
TF: That’s a fascinating statistic. And we really haven’t -- it’s insane that that happened.
RS: Right. So you come to a convention like this, and you’d be considered something of a racist, even, if you dare bring it up. I mean, the whole attack on Bernie -- well, you’re a white guy and it’s a white movement, as if Hillary’s not white. But the argument -- and you wonder, maybe the thing is we have, as with the labor movement and everything else, we get this sort of professional class of people that have an aspiration of joining the club, or being in. And there’s an absolute, abject betrayal of the people you are supposed to be representing. For instance, let’s take the brown community and this whole issue of immigration. Why didn’t the Democrats deal with immigration for the last 40 years or something? They helped the Irish on immigration; why didn’t they do it for Mexican-Americans, right? I mean, Kennedy did. Why wasn’t there immigration reform? Why was Obama the deporter-in-chief? I mean, these are -- part of the reason was that Democrats traditionally were against immigrants, because of the --
TF: Back in the old days.
TF: Yeah, that’s right. Geeze. Where am I going to start? How am I going to answer this, Robert? Now it’s my turn; what do I say? You’ve touched on so many things.
RS: What I’m asking is about false consciousness and duplicity, which is the basis of instability in politics. You don’t address the real issues that affect why people have been hurt as a class of workers.
TF: But we know why they’ve been hurt. What’s fascinating to me, these days -- I’ve written about false consciousness among working-class people in the past. But what --
AK: Can you guys explain what false consciousness means?
TF: Yeah, it’s not a good term; I don’t like it. It implies that there’s a correct consciousness; that, like, when you’re a member of a class, you understand where your interests are, and then there’s a false consciousness where you’re confused about your interests. It’s a Marxian term; I don’t like it. So I almost never use it, but --
RS: Well, what I was bringing up is, for instance, for Southern whites to support the Republican Party is a betrayal of their interest as a class. The Republican Party does not want them to have higher wages, does not want them to have unions, wants them to have runaway shops, and is using religion as a cover for their misery, OK? There’ll be pie in the sky, by and by, was an old Broadway song. The Democrats have another false consciousness. Women -- yes, go on.
TF: Well, this is what I’m writing about. But it’s about the professional class, and they have a class consciousness, but they don’t like to admit it; they don’t like to talk about it. I’m sorry, they do like to talk about it; they love to, they write these long books about it, they read these books about what they call the creative class -- do you remember this? Back when Robert Reich -- who’s a great guy now, by the way, and I’m a big, big, big fan of his -- but he wrote one of the early iterations of this, about the symbolic analysts; this is back in the early ’90s. He’s since really changed his mind about it. But there’s this whole literature about the professional class and how wonderful they are, how they’re going to inherit the earth, globalization is going to treat them well. And naturally the Democrats identify with this class, with this group, and they themselves are also members of this group. And one of the -- they do act as a class, in a kind of naked class interest, where they’re like, this is who’s going to win from globalization, and this is who’s going to lose from globalization, and we all know that; we can see that coming. And so we legislate to make sure that happens. And the fact that they’re legislating in their own interest, that’s something that never dawns on them. This is a group that doesn’t like to think of itself as a class; they like to think of themselves as the best. Right? They’re on top because they went to a fancy college, because they scored really well on their tests, because they got an advanced degree from wherever it is. That’s how they think of themselves; they are where they are because they deserve to be where they are. I mean, it’s -- class is such a fun subject, because people can’t talk about it in a straight way in this country; they just can’t.
RS: Well, I was going to end this by offering a positive solution --
TF: Oh! There’s a good idea!
RS: And I think -- we’ve discussed this when I have interviewed you before -- but there was a fabulous book written by John Kenneth Galbraith, who was, I think, a brilliant economist of the old school, not the econometrics, but who actually looked at history. And he also was the U.S. ambassador to India, and close to the Kennedys, and knew about [inaudible] and so forth. But he wrote a book called “The Affluent Society,” in which he argued that it’s fine to become more affluent in terms of the upper reaches; but you have to share the wealth, or you lose stability.
TF: Oh, my God, yes. I mean, look --
RS: I mean, we just have to be clear about that. And that means, OK, you still want the nation-state, because you can’t live on some offshore island, and the peasants will come with their pitchforks and eat you. So you better share the wealth. That means having a good educational system, it means having guaranteed income of some kind, good medical care that everybody can have. So then, OK, you can have your billionaires floating around; but as long as they’re sufficiently taxed to give back more, you know -- and this is, you get this a little bit from the Buffetts; you get this even from a Bill Gates, and so forth. And you thought, for a while, that OK, the Democrats get it, and the Republicans don’t. And so there’s all this language about the Republicans, they don’t want any taxes, and blah, blah, blah. But the fact is, the Democrats lost that message, and they lost that message because they didn’t have to listen, because the labor movement was no longer so strong; there was no veto power.
TF: But there’s also this -- they lost it in this haze of self-love, where they believed that they, the sort of leaders of this class, the sort of white-collar, professional class -- they were so virtuous, they deserved what they had. And look, perfect example is this trade deals. I keep going back to the trade deals because that’s the subject this year, that really is where we’re at. And we knew that that trade deals were going to help some categories of Americans and really hurt other categories of Americans. And when you do something like that, when you set out to institute a policy that’s really going to screw a lot of people, you’ve got to do something for them, help them out. What do we do? What did the Democrats do for those people when they passed NAFTA? They scold those people. They don’t help them, they don’t give them something in exchange, something to make up for what they’ve destroyed; they scold them and call them names. You know, rubes and xenophobes and they laugh at them because -- well, just dial up almost any liberal webpage, and it’s like ha, ha, these people think that the Chinese stole their jobs, or something like that. It’s like, well, these people are really hurting! What are you going to give them, other than scorn? Nothing. In America, nothing. That’s all we do.
RS: Well, they become, what used to be the base of the Democratic Party becomes throwaway people.
TF: Yeah, that’s exactly right.
RS: We don’t really need them anymore --
TF: See, you’re positive and I’m negative. [Laughs] You think in the positive terms. I love Galbraith, by the way. He’s one of my heroes. And the son, too, the son is also a great economist.
RS: OK, so Alex [addressing Truthdig Assistant Editor Alex Reed Kelly], since you’ve been very patient, are there any questions from people, or you’re -- we’re supposed to be responding to questions.
Alex Kelly: Yeah. Some people want to hear about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and her resignation party. She resigned.
TF: Did you say her resignation “party”?
AK: Well, her, you know, she’s no longer part of the --
TF: Yeah, those emails are fascinating. By the way, I understand there’s going to be more to come. I was digging through them a little bit myself, and just -- you know, just entering random search terms, like “Bernie Bro.” It’s in there. [Laughs] Yes! They referred to Bernie Sanders as a “Bernie Bro.” You know, so I was going through all the sort of media memes about the Sanders people during the primaries. Anyhow, I was just digging around, and it’s very easy to find.
RS: I think what’s interesting about those emails, and the treatment of the issue after, is the shoot-the-messenger theme. It’s the same theme that the leading Democrats have done, the president and Hillary on down, about Edward Snowden; you know, now about Julian Assange, and so forth. So now it’s a Russian plot, you know.
TF: You would think that liberals would hesitate before [laughs] before accusing somebody of that, you know?
RS: Well, but it’s really -- let’s assume it’s true; so what? That’s the shoot the messenger. I mean, you got this information -- we spy all over the world; we do things all over the world, there’s black ops and everything else. But the interesting thing is how ready they are to make, to start a new Cold War with Putin. It affects the Syria policy, affects a lot. And as if, by the way, he’s still a communist rather than a Russian orthodox --
TF: Yeah, oligarch.
RS: His failings really are coming from the czar complex rather than a Trotsky complex or something. And the interesting thing about that, though, is that to protect the home brand, people are willing to give up fact and logic. That is what I find absolutely startling. And the home brand is us. And it gets back -- and then maybe we can conclude this, get a chance to talk to you at other times -- but I get back to the Martha’s vineyard scene. Because it becomes, and it’s really to me the most powerful idea of your book, “Listen, Liberal,” which I want to remind people, and maybe we’ll even have a book showing on the side when we post this again. But I thought you captured the mood of our gang. I’ve been there; I’ve been on the vineyard a lot, I’ve been in these circles, even though I’m a critic, coming more from the left. But still, these are our friends; these are the people we schmooze with, and so forth. And we give them, we tend to give them, a blank check. As opposed to the people you wrote about in [“What’s the Matter With Kansas”], including the current governor and everything -- they’re the primitives. And they have some kind of very narrow view of religion, and they’re selfish, and they only -- and they’re racist, and they’re blah, blah, blah. And it’s so easy to believe all that, whereas -- you keep getting to this -- we’re virtuous. Our crowd, virtuous.
And the reality is, there isn’t much virtue there. What they’re really able to assert in this election is stability. Their basic claim -- and that’s why Wall Street will give them money; that’s why the media will cover Hillary -- that’s right -- is that Hillary, that’s stability, somehow. Right? And Donald Trump, he represents instability. Now, you can only accept that argument if you think the system basically is working. Because if the Weimar Republic was your model of stability, and it begins to collapse, and people have marks, they’re shlepping around in their wheelbarrow -- then it’s not a source of stability. And what I argue over dinner parties is, wait a minute, Donald Trump didn’t create the problem. Donald Trump didn’t decide collateralized debt obligations were wonderful, and mortgage-backed securities. That, in fact, was Fannie Mae under a guy named James Johnson, who had been a Walter Mondale guy. It was Franklin Delano Raines who did this, you know, and these guys made tens of millions of dollars a year, and so forth. It was Robert Rubin and the Hamilton Society, and so forth. And so it’s really an interesting question, whether not raising your voice, and having certain social manners, trumps any kind of sense of responsibility --
TF: It does, for these people that we’re talking about. It does. And that’s class. He’s one of us; he’s not one of us. Sometimes it’s that blunt and that simple with these people. That’s what I’ve found.
RS: And the other element that makes it work is that they don’t share the wealth with everyone else, but they share it around their university; they share it with their social crowd, their charity. Maybe even the ACLU could be -- no, really, you know, and Planned Parenthood is a good example. Worthwhile organization --
TF: All the nonprofit people, they do very well.
RS: Well, unless you got a last word --
TF: [Laughs] Oh, my God!
RS: Thank you so much for doing this, and keep it up!
TF: Thank you, Mr. Kelly.
RS: Do you want to give a shout-out to Kelly for working some research?
TF: Yeah, this is Alex Kelly, my researcher. He did a great job.
—Posted by Emma Niles