Monday, January 4, 2016

Another iteration of the odd anti-economism critique

The idea that Trump’s popularity can mostly be explained away as misplaced economic anxiety, though, fails to account for the fact that Trumpism isn’t expressed as an economic program, but as a way to, as Greg Sargent put it, “keep the darkies out.” - Beutler
Brian Beutler has had some fun over the past few weeks ridiculing references to "economic anxiety" as euphemisms for racism. I can see how this would hypothetically be an issue, but am as always baffled by this line of criticism, since the class-only leftists pretty much died out a century ago. No one actually believes anymore that racism is just some kind of illusory epiphenonemal artifact of the material economy, so who exactly does he have in mind?

The problem, of course, is that these sustained objections amount, when they cannot be specified, to a campaign against any discussion of the role of economic anxiety of racism. I am completely unclear at this point how one can acknowledge even a minimal role for this dynamic in a way that does not run afoul of Beutler's critique. In the above article, for example, he doesn't bring up any particular example of anyone explaining away Trump's racist ad as a mere expression of economic anxiety - instead, the ad is just an opportunity for him to shadowbox against anyone who might.

So who is the target here? Are the 19th century vulgar Marxists still a significant political force in a way that is worthy of our attention and ongoing critique? And in a way that we can talk about with any amount of specificity?

UPDATE: Some welcome clarification from Beutler:

I'm admittedly unfamiliar with this tendency, since I tend to focus on the radical-right and center-left of political discourse as the borders of respectable opinion in our country; but the explanation makes sense, and I'm fine with conceding I misread him.

Worth adding that my misreading only illuminates a second, serious problem with the liberal critique of left economics: it is dangerously misdirected. American politics certainly downplay racism and rely on bogus economic analysis - but this is a symptom of the right, not the left. As McElwee ably demonstrates, it is American conservatives who have built a giant ideological apparatus for explaining away racist outcomes as economically justified. The left critique of capitalism is a crucial part of debunking that discourse and bringing the role of racism back to the surface, as are efforts like Brian's.