The left has given up on ordinary Americans
Batya Ungar-Sargon on how the working classes are being sacrificed to elite virtue-signalling.
The modern left hasn’t just abandoned its former working-class supporters – it has actively turned against them, too. More often than not, in elite leftist circles, ordinary working people are looked down upon with disdain, as having the wrong political views and the wrong cultural tastes. Worse still, many of the left’s preferences are clearly harmful to workers. The green agenda, in particular, shows little regard for the lives and livelihoods of vast swathes of the population. So how did we get here?
Batya Ungar-Sargon is the deputy opinion editor at Newsweek and author of Bad News: How Woke Media Is Undermining Democracy. She recently joined Brendan O’Neill on the latest episode of his podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. What follows is an edited extract from their conversation. Listen to the full episode here.
Brendan O’Neill: Whenever you talk about the working class nowadays, someone will accuse you of making a racist dog-whistle. Why are questions of class and economic inequality being dismissed in this way?
Batya Ungar-Sargon: I consider myself a left-wing populist. Routinely, people on the left would say that I’m a conservative and that the points I make are conservative talking points. I always laughed at this because, first of all, I don’t think ‘conservative’ is an insult. People expect you to act like somebody just called you fat.
The other point is that it’s basically an admission that caring about class is now a right-wing position, and that being on the left no longer means caring about class.
This comes out in some funny ways. For example, when Elon Musk fired a lot of Twitter staff. We now know that those people were totally superfluous to the operation of Twitter, because the site is still completely operational. It turned out that a large number of people who worked there did an hour or two of work a day and then spent the rest of the time drinking matcha lattes. The average pay was $160,000 per year, for these funny-sounding jobs that didn’t seem to entail much work at all. A lot of Twitter employees were also working from home, and when Musk demanded that they come in at least once a month, they refused to. When they were fired, the left took up their cause like it was some great labour catastrophe – as if the real working class is made up of content managers at Twitter.
You see this a lot in the media as well. They take their unionising very seriously at these knowledge-industry jobs, where the average pay is $100,000 per year. I’m not saying those jobs shouldn’t be unionised, but don’t tell me you’re the proletariat if you sit behind a desk and make $100,000 a year. You’re part of the elites, you’re in the top 20 per cent. You’ve taken a bigger share of the economic pie and, as a result, you believe you deserve a bigger share of the political pie. That’s really what it comes down to.
You shouldn’t speak up on behalf of working-class people just because you agree with their opinions – you should speak up because a democracy requires sharing power. Throughout history, shared power has been tied to shared economic success, to upward mobility and to the middle class. If you don’t have a working class that has access to a middle-class life, then all political power is going to get funnelled to the top, and to the elites. Unfortunately, that’s how the leftist elites like it.
O’Neill: We have a situation now where the elites expressly call for working-class people to be deprived of certain jobs. In the UK, the government has given the go-ahead to a coal mine, which will create hundreds of well-paid jobs for working-class people. But the progressive set is actively agitating against that. What does the ideology of environmentalism tell us about class?
Ungar-Sargon: The coverage of the World Economic Forum meeting at Davos last month comes to mind here. It was amazing to watch. In any other era the left would have seen Davos for the sort of disgusting display of conspicuous consumption and elite vanity that it was. But instead those claiming to be progressive looked at Davos and saw their values being represented there. In a way, it’s genius. Through the green movement, the elites have created what the left always accused the right of doing – they have created a value system that makes the difference between the billionaire class and the educated elites fungible. Both of these groups are on board with the idea of this apocalyptic vision. They agree that the most important thing is the climate, and that we’re all going to die if we don’t solve it.
Getting the top 20 per cent to see their interests as aligned with gazillionaires is what is greasing the wheels of the green movement.
O’Neill: Do the elites really believe in the green agenda? Or do they just benefit from it?
Ungar-Sargon: I think they definitely believe it. I don’t think you can look at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, and not see somebody who is deeply sincere. The only thing that makes me think that they don’t believe it is the private jets. If you believed so deeply in man-made climate change, surely the first thing you would do is ban private jets. But on the whole I do think they believe it. It would be very hard to pull off at this scale if they didn’t.
The way the elites think of the economy is very related to green ideology. They picture an economy in which the top 20 per cent keeps making over $100,000 a year and lives in nice neighbourhoods and nice cities. All production is done in China. All service-industry jobs are performed by slave-wage Venezuelans brought in by cartels. And everybody making under $100,000 a year – who used to be the working class – is on universal basic income. That’s the view that a lot of so-called progressives consciously or unconsciously have of their ideal economic system.
Of course, this fits right into the green movement. You can’t have a middle class without cheap, affordable fuel and energy. And climate activists don’t believe in cars, they don’t believe in trucks, they don’t believe in farming. They don’t believe in the jobs that we actually rely on to survive. They’ve essentially given up on America. They’re definitely not proud of America, they’re ashamed of it. They hate conservatives, religious people, Republicans, people who voted for Trump. To them, those people are anathema to the good life.
The green movement just fits so neatly into this worldview. We’re outsourcing the dirty jobs to China, so we can forget about the CO2 emissions. At the same time, we’re happy to sentence the people who do those jobs to impoverishment. It’s an incredibly dark and elitist worldview.
Batya Ungar-Sargon was talking to Brendan O’Neill on the latest episode of The Brendan O’Neill Show. Listen to the full conversation here:
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