Thursday, January 22, 2015

Middle Class Darlings of the SOTU Address

Watching President Obama deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, two oft-repeated words began to irk me a lot: "middle classes". Tsk. Who are these people?

As I wrote in the first paragraph of a post in 2013 (here):
The USA's version of "middle class" is different from the UK's version. Here the middle class seems to refer to anyone not living in actual poverty, yet not of the 1% of elite bankers, financiers, corporate CEOs, "celebs", multimillionaires and billionaires. In the UK middle class is understood to relate to the professions: doctors, lawyers, professors, scientists - that sort of thing. Ordinary folk, tradespeople, craftsmen, office workers, factory workers, store assistants etc. are the working class.

If the President wants to help a group of people in this country, the poor should be front and centre of his focus, not the "middle classes" who, if I understand the term correctly, are already on their feet and striving, in their dreams, to become part of the 1%, or at least to claw their way into the top 10 or 20%.

A comment elsewhere online made me smile: with regard to the drinking games some like to play to ease their way through SOTU addresses by taking a swig each time a certain word or phrase is mentioned. A commenter observed that on Tuesday evening it'd have been be wise, if someone had chosen the term "middle class" to be the catalyst to imbibe (again... and again) then doing so only on every third mention of "middle class" would be required, if he/she were not to be found completely legless at the intoning of "...and God bless America", or as stated on Tuesday, "God bless the country we love" (I wonder why he didn't say "America" this year?)

Just to get a last bit off my chest: "values", he said...what values? What the heck ARE American values? Oh yes and...far as I can see, neither the USA nor its people are "exceptional". The USA is beautiful - but so are countless other countries, its people, on the whole are pretty nice, but so are the people of most other countries. Dang, but I wish Presidents would disabuse themselves of that notion of exceptionalism!


Anonymous said...

Yes, Americans are exceptional because it is essentially a nation of immigrant or recent generation immigrants- this creates a very motivated population and that is special!!!

Twilight said...

Anonymous ~ In that case Australia and New Zealand are also exceptional then - the word exceptional begins to lose meaning in one way, and pick up an alternative meaning: superior.

Merriam Webster dictionary definition:

1 Forming an exception : rare
2 Better than average : superior

USA is neither rare nor superior - just my opinion.

mike said...

We've discussed exceptionalism previously. It's a word with mutating definitions. I prefer the word nationalism.

Middle class, as understood here in the USA, has two levels: lower and upper. Both levels have a statistical mean income, educational level, and a social value system associated with each. Upper is a professional worker class and lower is a semi-professional worker class. Typically, lower is supervised by upper. Wiki has a decent overview:

It's more a matter of it what you will. It suffices the need to imply one's social status and to interpret the status of others. I grew-up in poverty, yet my parents always polished our appearance with thrift store purchases...we were exceptionally clean...we were taught to have educated mannerisms in our verbosity and social presentations. My mother thought it was very important to present a false front with the hope that it garnered a modicum of increased status...LOL.

The politics of middle class are of tremendous importance, as about half of the population of the USA falls into this grouping. Appealing to middle class values and presenting a financial incentive toward middle class incomes can make or break a politician. A friend of mine voted for Bush twice only because Bush offered middle class tax breaks that applied to his family, to which he overlooked any discrepancies in Bush's ethics (money talks!).

mike (again) said...

P.S. - I'm always annoyed when the word exceptionalism is employed in these political speeches.

"... In ideologically-driven debates, a group may assert exceptionalism, with or without the term, in order to exaggerate the appearance of difference, perhaps to create an atmosphere permissive of a wider latitude of action, and to avoid recognition of similarities that would reduce perceived justifications. If unwarranted, this represents an example of special pleading, a form of spurious argumentation that ignores relevant bases for meaningful comparison."

Twilight said...

mike ~ Nationalism -yes it fits. I'm now reading the third book in "The Forsyte Saga" trilogy by John Galsworthy. His description of 19th century English attitudes, among the wealthier classes, brought a wry went like this

They were ...deeply convinced of the unreality of everything but England.

Maybe another century will bring the USA out of its own unreal "exceptionalist" phase then. ;-)

I skimmed through the Wiki page you linked - thanks. Made me feel a wee bit nauseous to be honest! I do see, though, why presidents and politicians pander to these people.

My dream/fantasy would be to have a majority of politicians, and a president, who thought as Eugene Debs thought:

“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”
(Eugene V. Debs, Debs: His Life, Writings and Speeches).

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Yes - very good explanation there - it lays out exactly why I dislike the term and its implications so much too.

mike (again) said...

Re Eugene Debs - nice quote! It is similar to a quote that has several attributable sources:
"There is the best in the worst of us and the worst in the best of us."

mike (again) said...

Twilight, the sky must be falling:

"The U.S. Senate has finally admitted climate change is real -- but with a caveat.

Senators voted 98-1 Wednesday in support of legislation approving the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that included an amendment also forced the politicians to concede climate change is 'not a hoax.'

Democrats forced the additional language into the bill as they continue to oppose the pipeline on grounds it will accelerate climate change.

The amendment asked lawmakers to acknowledge 'that climate change is real and not a hoax,' a direct shot a Senator James Inhofe (R-OK)."

mike (again) said...

Oooops, left off the source:|main5|dl4|sec1_lnk3%26pLid%3D602762

LB said...

Twilight ~ As more and more folks begin to slip through the cracks, terms like 'middle class' don't mean as much as they used to.

***All it takes is one job loss, health crisis or medical emergency to change everything.***

These past few years my husband and I, along with many others, are now experiencing some of the same challenges typically experienced by much poorer folks. Things like slum-lords, extremely limited job opportunities and the lack of affordable, safe housing and access to affordable healthcare.

Our relationship with the material world has become increasingly tenuous, yet you'd never know it to look at us.

In a culture obsessed with money, power, status and 'things' (and far less concerned with how we get them or the harm we cause in the process), I don't see that changing anytime soon, nor do I blame a particular group of people for creating the problem, which is a human one.

mike (again) said...

"That Was Easy: In Just 60 Years, Neoliberal Capitalism Has Nearly Broken Planet Earth

Pair of new studies show how various forms of human activity, driven by a flawed economic system and vast consumption, is laying waste to Earth's natural systems

... According to the report, 'The new study also concludes that the bulk of economic activity, and so too, for now, the lion's share of consumption, remain largely within the OECD countries, which in 2010 accounted for about 74% of global GDP but only 18% of the global population. This points to the profound scale of global inequality, which distorts the distribution of the benefits of the Great Acceleration and confounds international efforts, for example climate agreements, to deal with its impacts on the Earth System.'

A worrying trend, notes the paper, is how a growing global middle class—exemplified by those in the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—is an increasing threat to the planet as the consumer mindset established in the OECD nations, particularly the U.S., spreads."

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Small mercies!
The caveat is that "We didn't do it!!"
(i.e. climate is changing but it's natural and not the fault of any human activity).

Green groups expressed outrage at the blatant disregard for science.

"After 49 Senators voted against a mountain of climate change science today, we wouldn't be shocked if the Senate decides to vote against gravity, amend the periodic table, or express its sense that two plus two might actually equal five," said 350 Action Policy Director Jason Kowalski.

At Common Dreams article:

Inhofe is, to put it as politely as his stance allows, an embarrassment, and quite ridiculous.

The piece also says:
A related amendment put forth by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), could reportedly see a vote as early as Thursday. Sanders' measure states that human-caused climate change is causing "devastating problems in the United States and around the world."

I can't see that meeting approval, sadly.

Twilight said...

mike (again) - Didn't see your 12.26pm post before I posted my 12.28 one.

Lots of elements feed into the problem - which is huge, and nobody in power wants, or would dare to, admit it. :-(

Twilight said...

LB ~ Yes, that's true, and it's something the President didn't acknowledge fully enough. He quoted the letter from the lady seated next to Michelle O. at the beginning and end of the speech, as though it were Holy Grail! What was true for that couple, admirable as they may be, isn't necessarily true for all those suffering financial adversity, or indeed those who have never known any other way of life.

It IS a human problem, but it's a problem that could be eased, a lot, with proper people at the nation's helm. But now we're in the realms of fantasy again. :-/

LB said...

Here's the link to an interesting article from the Washington Post, "What is the 'middle class?' It depends who's using the term, and why.":

I especially appreciated this observation, made by one of the 'experts', Wesley Yin, who said:

"I would look at it in terms of how our economy affects our opportunity," he said, not a dollar value. "People with very high income and a lot of opportunities and resources at their disposal, I wouldn't consider them middle class because of the way our economy is oriented to benefit those with high skills and assets."


Notice how he made a point of mentioning not only income as a determining factor but also opportunity and resources.

Having said all that, I do think it's the poorest and least powerful among us who suffer the most. Frequently, they're also the least visible, which makes them easy to overlook or ignore.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Good article, thanks! It appears the definition of this term "middle class" has no definite definition; in other words it's pretty meaningless without at least some qualification. Someone should tell the President!


At any given moment, you might be in the middle class, or you might not be....

....And, second, because it is a category into which nearly every American sees him -- or herself fitting -- which is the sort of thing that political actors are loathe to try and discourage.

And from a comment there:

It seems to me that politicians use "middle class" to describe what used to be called "working class." The latter term has almost disappeared from the mainstream of public discourse because it was customarily used by communists and socialists, and most on the political left in this country don't want voters to identify them as such.

LB said...

Twilight ~ I like the way you summed it up in your first sentence.:)

mike (again) said...

The excerpt, "At any given moment, you might be in the middle class, or you might not be....", is fitting for my situation. Up until 2000, I had a very good position with accompanying salary. My federal and CA state taxes combined (no retirement) were 48% of my gross income. I lived on savings for a number of years, then I lived on an average $350 per month from 2009 through 2012. I took early Social Security retirement at the start of 2013 (hallelujah!!!), which now puts me just above the poverty level for a single person.

LB said...

mike ~ Were your ears burning the other day? My husband and I were talking about how having a good job (and/or savings) is no guarantee of anything and I used you as an example, remembering how you've often said you need to live frugally at this stage of your life, though I'd assumed that wasn't always the case.

I also mentioned you caring for your mom, something we can relate to.

At my age and with my lack of technical skills, it seems the only types of jobs I qualify for these days are minimum wage retail ones. Even then I'm not so sure they'd hire me when there are plenty of eager candidates much younger and more qualified than I am.

Still, we have a ways to go before retirement so it may eventually come to that. Dipping into savings every month isn't an ideal way to live.

Back when my husband and I both had good jobs with good benefits, I realized how fortunate we were to have good medical, dental and vision care. There's not much I can do about that now, except to take care and hope for the best.

mike (again) said...

LB - I was 50 in 2000 and was well on my way to a decent retirement, as my home was paid-off and I was putting a lot of $ in savings. I had a stressful job, but I was compensated very well. Quitting my job to care for my mother was my downfall, as I didn't realize at the time that it would take the next eight years before she would be in a nursing home. She entered the nursing home in 2009, which coincided with a deteriorated economy. I simply couldn't find work, not even at Walmart, Target, or the like (over qualified and too many applicants).

If I had it to do over, I wouldn't have quit my job! It has cost me dearly. On the other side of the coin, I feel that I accomplished much that I wouldn't have achieved otherwise. My mother and I smoothed our relationship and I don't have the guilt of having abandoned her. I left a stressful job, but entered the world of a stressful management of my mother, no income, then absolute poverty. I don't receive much from Social Security, but it seems like a lot after almost four years of nothing.

I have developed a very distinct feeling that this life I have is much like a game now. I feel much more free of burdens associated with having money or even saving face at this point. I've survived. Very little actually matters to me now. I'm pleased that I have my days that I call my own and spend time nurturing myself and my two critters. I realize now how toxic my previous middle class life was, full of self-importance and denial of my own essence.

LB, you and husband will do just fine, if you roll with the show and are true to your beliefs. I think you know that already. Don't succumb to fear.

LB said...

mike ~ Can't tell you how much I appreciate your thoughtful response (and sharing), *or* how similar our paths have been in some respects.

My mom hung around many years past the 'expiration date' the doctors had given her; in the end, she outlasted both my husband's and my management jobs (both businesses closed while we were still caring for her)as well as my own struggle with a painful, albeit temporary, disability. All that I experienced left me changed forever. Took me a while to realize what a blessing it all was.:)

People had warned me not to take on the responsibility of caring for my mom . . . mostly because of the financial cost (and risk), though I don't regret it for a moment. Like you, I gained much more than I lost. The time my mother and I shared at the end of her life healed something between us and within me. I also witnessed a LOT of painful truths about the world and can never go back to not knowing.

We live much smaller, simpler lives now, though they feel much BIGGER in many ways, more focused on what's important. I've learned to love my alone time and the freedom it's given me (to read, cook, volunteer, create art if I want to) and wouldn't ever want to go back to the kind of toxic work environment I left behind.

I know what you mean about being overqualified. Unrealistic as it may be (and it is, I know), *if* I could find a simple, part-time job doing something I genuinely believed in (working in a store that sells used or recycled items or organic, ethically-produced food, lol!), even if it only paid a modest wage, that would be great.:)

We can only make the effort ~ the rest is beyond our control. Also like you, my husband and I feel *very* grateful for all that we have.

I'm glad you were able to hang in there and arrive at a better place in your life.:) Also glad you have your furry friends to keep you company.