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A Middle Class Rebellion Against Progressives Is Gaining Steam | Opinion

Newsweek logo Newsweek 6/3/2021 Joel Kotkin
a group of people standing in front of a building: Democrats could risk losing congressional seats to Republicans if they continue to support progressive platforms ahead of the 2022 elections, according to prominent Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen. A protester holds a sign reading "Defund the Police" outside Hennepin County Government Plaza during a demonstration against police brutality and racism on August 24, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. © KEREM YUCEL/AFP via Getty Images Democrats could risk losing congressional seats to Republicans if they continue to support progressive platforms ahead of the 2022 elections, according to prominent Democratic pollster Douglas Schoen. A protester holds a sign reading "Defund the Police" outside Hennepin County Government Plaza during a demonstration against police brutality and racism on August 24, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A specter is haunting America, a great revolt that threatens to dwarf the noxious rebellion led by Trump. The echoes of a another potentially larger pushback can already be heard in progressive America. But it's not towards socialism, as many suggest. It's the opposite: a new middle-class rebellion against the excesses of the Left.

This new middle-class rebellion isn't rejecting everything that progressives stand for; the Left's critique of neo-liberal excess is resonating, as is the need for improved access to health care. But the current focus on "systemic racism," coupled with a newfound and heavily enforced cultural conformism and the obsessive focus on a never-ending litany of impending "climate emergences" are less likely to pass muster with most of the middle class, no matter how popular they are with the media, academics, and others in the progressive corner.

And this new middle-class rebellion is being bolstered by a wide-ranging intellectual rebellion by traditional liberals against the Left's dogmatism and intolerance. Indeed, what we're about to see has the potential to reprise the great shift among old liberals that had them embracing Reagan in reaction to the Left's excesses of that generation.

In a way, this should not be surprising. After all, the progressive base is limited: According to a survey conducted by the non-partisan group More in Common, progressives constitute barely eight percent of the electorate. The report also found that fully 80 percent of all Americans believe that "political correctness is a problem," including large majorities of millennials and racial minorities.

Party line journalists may see President Biden as the new champion of the middle class, but every time he adopts central tenets of the new Left, he undermines his pitch. And this happens not infrequently: The Biden Administration has adopted elements of the "anti-racist" agenda, for example, by explicitly favoring Black farmers for subsidies, rather than focusing on all farmers in need. Race issues may be popular on college campuses and in the human relations departments of giant corporations like Lockheed and Amazon, but a recent Yale study found that language based on inclusivity around class was far more popular than one focused largely on race, even with progressive voters.

This is not the message coming out of the Biden administration, which has put a premium on diversity hiring and "equity," despite the fact that racial quotas, in hiring or in college admissions, are unpopular with three out of four Americans, including African-Americans and Hispanics; 65% of Hispanics, 62% of black Americans and 58% of Asians oppose affirmative action in college admissions.

Biden is similarly losing the middle class on immigration. Already many Latinos, particularly in Texas and Arizona, fear the loss of border control that accompanied the shift from Trump to Biden administrations. The crisis at the border has the potential to overwhelm the economies, health and welfare systems in heavily Hispanic border communities, which is sparking alarm among border state Democrats.

None of this is to suggest that minorities will vote for Republicans en masse in the near future, particularly if the party cannot transcend its embarrassing Trump worship. But the growing chasm between what people want and what Biden is offering could prove a potentially immense challenge that could undermine future Democratic gains.

Major pushback on how the progressive Left sees American history is also brewing. Americans by and large remain patriotic, including the poor and working class. This patriotism stands in stark contrast to the prevailing view among progressives, which casts America as the intrinsically and irredeemably evil spawn of slaveholders and racists. This simply does not constitute a popular program to the middle and lower classes, a gap that could become more and more meaningful—especially as the message of the Left spreads.

Take, for example, Hollywood, which used to promote the virtues of the Republic and the heroic struggles of diverse Americans. Now, dominated by people scared to contravene woke progressives, the big media companies have been pushing far Left plotlines and characters—and they have lost markets as a result. The devolution of the once glamorous Academy Awards into a minor, sparsely watched proto-spectacle reflects how much Hollywood's hold is fading.

Of course, it's not just Hollywood. Much more consequential—and potentially more disastrous for the Left—has been the attempted takeover of public education, and, with the support of the Biden Administration, attempts to inject critical race theory into secondary school curricula. This has created a mounting pushback in school districts across the nation, many of them voting to ban critical race theory altogether.

The progressive case also increasingly suffers from its own manifest failures in urban bastions like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago, which have been losing residents and attracting far fewer immigrants while suffering among the poorest job recoveries since the onset of the pandemic. Meanwhile, there's a clear acceleration of growth in less dense, lower cost "boomtowns" like Nashville, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Austin, Nashville, Columbus and Des Moines.

Democrats who wish to remain in power will need to address critical challenges like a steady rise in urban crime and massive homelessness; citing systemic racism won't clean the streets of New York, San Francisco and central Los Angeles from drug addicts, the mentally ill and the destitute. A failure to solve these problems will impact investment; Walgreens, reeling from thefts and disorder at its San Francisco stores, just announced its intention close 17 shops in the next five years.

But already these failures are beginning to incite opposition. Last month, Austin, the true blue bastion in Texas, overwhelmingly rejected a Council edict to allow camping on city streets. Austinites may want San Francisco's tech jobs, but they absolutely do not want its social rot. Equally revealing is the focus on crime in the New York City mayoral election, as well as recent surveys that found that violent crime has once again become the biggest issue facing the nation. At such a time, the progressive cry to "Defund the police" comes across as unpopular; the proposal is supported barely 18 percent of adults—just one in three Democrats and less than one in three African Americans.

But it's climate policy that may prove the most damaging aspect of the Biden agenda, and the one most likely to inspire a significant backlash. Policies pushing massive electrification are likely to accelerate the current surge in energy prices, and these will hit the household bottom line long after the stimulus checks have stopped coming. And this despite the fact that relatively few Americans—barely three percent, Gallup found— view climate as their primary concern and, according to one recent survey, barely one in ten registered voters would spend $100 a month on climate mitigation.

California provides a precursor for the emerging climate regime. Our state's fixation on renewable energy, along with the closure of natural gas and nuclear plants, has helped drive the cost of electricity and gas to the highest in the continental U.S. It has also systematically undermined key blue collar industries like energy, construction and manufacturing, which have stagnated or shrunk, while regulations designed for climate reasons have helped boost home prices to the nation's highest.

Attempts to squelch fracking could also cause even more havoc in places like the Rockies, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma. In Texas alone, as many as a million good-paying jobs would be lost. Overall, a full national ban would cost 14 million jobs, according to a Chamber of Commerce report, which is far more than the 8 million lost in the Great Recession and has the potential to turn even vital smaller towns into instant slums.

You should not expect the middle class to take that quiescently. Indeed, they should not take it quiescently.

More pragmatic Biden advisors will hopefully try to shift course and focus on basic lunch pail concerns like health care, industry and improving worker skills. But they should expect a fight from on the relentlessness, well-financed Left fringe whose maximalist demands are likely to grow.

Without a Trump to unite them, the Democrats, led by a radical fringe unrepresentative even of their own party, may find themselves increasingly isolated. Only then, when reality asserts itself, can sensible alternatives, social democratic or conservative, again gain currency.

Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His new book, The Coming of Neo-Feudalism, is now out from Encounter. You can follow him on Twitter: @joelkotkin.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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