The Sinking Middle Class
A Political History
Joe Biden’s current emphasis on the “American middle class” is typical of centrist Democrat strategy. It is used as a cudgel to defend the party against more radical demands that could win over working-class voters and non-voters. For Republicans, it provides a foil for disingenuous appeals to the “white working class.” Donald Trump's 2016 victory made full use of such rhetoric.
Yet, as David Roediger makes clear in a pointed and persuasive polemic, this obsession with the middle-class is relatively new in US politics. It began with the attempt to win back so-called “Reagan Democrats” by Bill Clinton and his legendary pollster Stanley Greenberg. It was accompanied by a pandering to racism and a shying away from meaningful wealth redistribution that continues to this day.
Drawing on rich traditions of radical social thought, Roediger disavows the thinly sourced idea that the United States was, for much of its history, a “middle-class” nation and the still more indefensible position that it is one now. The increasing immiseration of large swathes of middle-income America, only accelerated by the current pandemic, nails a fallacy that is a major obstacle to progressive change.
“As the nation burns and the future appears uncertain, David Roediger delivers another incisive, timely, clear-eyed analysis of class and race in America. His point is clear: another world won’t be built by pollsters or slick election strategies aimed at saving the middle class. We have to grow a movement.”
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
“A consistently pathbreaking historian.”
“No contemporary intellectual has better illuminated the interwoven social histories and conceptual dimensions of race and class domination.”
“Brilliant and insightful... Explores the ways in which appeals to save the middle class in electoral politics harm the very constituencies they purport to help.”
—George Lipsitz, author of How Racism Takes Place
OR Books (October 7, 2020)