Post updated June 27, 2018
With Trump and the plutocrats now running the country, it’s easy to forget the struggle of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations of the Obama early years. But those forces are still at work in our society and emerge in times of stress. The Urban Dictionary defines class warfare as
conflicts between economic classes, when a new, growing class comes into conflict with an established upper class.
Working class poor—people of color, females, and those of non-traditional sexuality—want more income and wealth while those in power want to retain the wealth and status they have. The ingredients for the struggle exist and are engaged.
Both sides use the term “class warfare.” After that alarm is raised, neither side listens to the other’s argument. That’s unfortunate. After that, contradictory claims are left undealt with and the decision to do nothing is still a decision—continue the current status quo.
Perhaps you think only one side claims class warfare, so let me give two examples, one for each side.
Have-Nots (The Poor, The Upcoming, and the Struggling)
People who support the voices of the have-nots use the term too. Jared Bernstein in the Washington Post during the 2017 tax bill published an article titled, “Republican class warfare at its most egregious.” Despite agreeing with the substance of his article, labeling it class warfare meant that Democrat loyalists would lap it up and Republican loyalists would disregard it. Only extreme versions of the issue are allowed in a war of opinions.
Haves (The Establishment)
The term class warfare has a jujitsu aspect when used by the establishment. Here is Ari Fleischer in 2007, turns an argument about helping the poor into an assault on the status quo :
“The President does not believe in dividing the American people and playing class warfare.”
The soundness or unsoundness of the argument is avoided by making the Haves worry about they will lose something.
Mark Hendrickson in Forbes magazine makes the argument that class warfare is really between politicians and those they rule.
There is class warfare in America, but it’s not between the rich and poor, but between the political class and the rest of the citizenry who bear the brunt of political power and pay the price in lost liberty, property, and opportunity.
He overlooks too easily the lobbying efforts of the top 0.01% which influence the politicians to make rules and regulations that benefit ?them against their competition and to the cost of the citizenry, the 99%.
The have-nots see the haves as taking too much. The haves see the have-nots as wanting too much without earning it.
Is it class warfare to ask for a fair shake? Are all changes to the status quo subject to charges of class warfare? Yes, all suggested changes will cost those benefiting from the status quo their advantages. For instance, the call for an increase in the minimum wage could decrease the net income of some companies and their owners.
Since I wrote the prior paragraph, I have read John Steele Gordon’s An Empire of Wealth. Let me quote his insightful answer on a political difficulty with changing the status quo.
People with an economic advantage, however “unfair” that advantage may be, will always fight politically as hard as they can to maintain it. … And because the advantage of the few is specific and considerable, while the cost to the disadvantaged many is often hidden and small, the few regularly prevail over the many in such political contents.
We must recognize that legitimate cries of class warfare will always exist?on both sides of arguments for economic change. That is in the nature of economic change, irrespective of the what that change is.
So, those concerns, although real, cannot be a final deciding point. Then, must we resist all proposals that affect the status quo? No, the status quo is the result of battles in the past over distribution of wealth between classes. Why must those prior decisions, made in different times and different situations, be immune to analysis and correction now?
Changes are Inevitable
We must dig into the conflicting arguments and search for points of agreement which in class warfare are hidden by black-or-white statements. For instance, do the have-nots want everyone to earn the exact same amount no matter their effort? No. On the other hand, do the haves want the poor to stay poor? No, they want them to work, earn more, and provide the labor for companies.
Change must be dealt with. We can’t let inflammatory words derail thought. Change is always coming from demographic, from technological, and from international forces. Change can only be ignored to our detriment, as it diminished our ability to adjust to new situations.
Image of class warfare: 1911 Industrial Workers of the World publication. Public domain.