Sunday, April 17, 2016

A semântica das classes sociais (agora nos EUA)

Working-Class Heroes - The 2016 election shows that, when talking about class, Americans and their candidates are both out of practice (New Yorker):

During the 2008 Vice-Presidential debate between Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, in St. Louis, Biden offered a memorable brief on behalf of struggling communities like the one in Pennsylvania where he spent his childhood. (...) “Look, the people in my neighborhood, they get it,” Biden said. “They know they’ve been getting the short end of the stick. So walk with me in my neighborhood, go back to my old neighborhood, in Claymont, an old steel town, or go up to Scranton with me. These people know the middle class has gotten the short end. The wealthy have done very well. Corporate America has been rewarded. It’s time we change it.”

In hindsight, what’s notable about Biden’s statement is not how it presaged the populist concerns of this year’s Presidential election but the fact that he referred to his neighbors—steelworkers, denizens of factory towns—as middle class, not as working class. In fact, the phrase “working class” came up twice during the debate—but it was Palin who said it, not Biden. Things didn’t change much rhetorically in the 2012 election. Obama and Mitt Romney, in the course of three Presidential debates, invoked the “middle class” forty-three times but never mentioned the proletariat.

For decades, both American culture and American politics have elided the differences between salaried workers and those who are paid hourly, between college-educated professionals and those whose purchasing power is connected to membership in a labor union. Some ninety per cent of Americans, including most millionaires, routinely identify as middle class. For many years, this glossing over of the distinctions between the classes served a broad set of interests, particularly during the Cold War, when any reference to class carried a whiff of socialist sympathies. Americans considered themselves part of a larger whole, and social animosities were mostly siphoned off in the direction of racial resentment. But, this year, Americans are once again debating class.

We are clearly out of practice. The current language of “income inequality” is a low-carb version of the Old Left’s “class exploitation.” The new phrase lacks rhetorical zing; it’s hard to envision workers on a picket line singing rousing anthems about “income inequality.”

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