Taking Solidarity Seriously

My political instincts have always been right wing, which in America means individualist in economic matters, nationalist in military matters, and traditionalist in moral matters. I have always been aware that this juxtaposition is arbitrary, I could just as easily have believed in some other assortment, and I have always recognized that in theory many of the opposing values could be perfectly legitimate.

There is a lot of inherent contradictions in American party politics: why, for example is the party of unfettered capitalism opposed to the sexual revolution, which was essentially the application of free market principles to sexual matters? Why does the party of economic solidarity through the welfare state commit itself to destroying cultural solidarity?

An American political party which took national solidarity seriously would look a lot like Trumpism:

  • Favor a strong military but fewer overseas commitments.
  • Not see trade as a value to be pursued as an end in itself but a means of enriching the nation.
  • Discourage immigration and encourage family growth. (Trumpism is unconcerned with the latter).

But above all, a solidarity party would work on two deep-rooted problems in American politics, mistrust of labor unions and a discredited welfare state. Labor / capital relations in America have long been poisonous, and neither foresaw what Asian competition would do to American manufacturing. Republicans have worked to weaken labor unions in the name of economic efficiency and individual freedom, and much of that is labor’s fault: unions generally fail to attract members wherever membership is not enforced by law. Clever labor leaders should be asking themselves what value they can provide to dubious workers to convince them to join.

The problem is that labor unions, for all their failures, are also necessary for protecting workers from the flits and follies of capital and giving them leverage against exploitation. There could be a huge opportunity for any right-wing politician who wanted to form a national industrial policy that was even slightly pro-labor in exchange for proworker polices from businesses. The Unions have already been tacitly supporting Trump over his protectionist rhetoric and attempts to cut off the influx of illegal, low-skilled labor from Latin America.

As for the welfare state: Americans are a generous people in private but taxpayers resent welfare, because, well, poor people are assholes. Let me explain: the expectation of the American Left is that people who pay taxes should feel solidarity towards those whom the subsidize, but there is no reciprocal feeling of solidarity from the recipients. With rare exceptions they express no gratitude, and a conspicuous number of them treat being a burden on the public as if it were a legitimate lifestyle choice. Worse, welfare often discourages responsible family formation and career development. A robust welfare state is only possible in a situation where at least a critical mass of recipients feel a responsibility to contribute to the national well-being.

How could a post-Trump populist change the logic of the American welfare state? Perhaps the nation is too big and diverse to achieve that from a central position, and devolving administration to local communities would help. Or perhaps attaching more conditions to welfare could achieve something.

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