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The American Outer Class

Thu, November 9, 8:00 to 9:45am, Hyatt Regency Chicago, Skyway 260, Skyway Level East Tower

Abstract

For left-leaning progressives and many centrist moderates, the election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency of the United States represents something like Armageddon. As such, Americans who were previously unengaged politically have started to join with activists of longstanding to demand what Abraham Lincoln famously described as “a new birth of freedom”—for women, for people of color, for immigrants and members of persecuted religious minorities, for the disabled, and even for the poor and downwardly mobile. While the coalitional aspirations of this still-emerging leftish movement are encouraging, and while the sense of mass solidarity reflected in recent displays public dissent in the face of Trump’s reactionary rhetoric have been empowering for historically minoritized individuals especially, there is cause to be concerned that progressive forces may already be squandering some of the potential they currently seem to possess to move American society significantly to the left by insistently mischaracterizing Trumpism as a far more coherent worldview than it actually is. Or, at the very least, in attempting to account for Trumpism, left-leaning critics have shown a tendency to describe it as the monstrous sum of various familiar ideological parts: racism, sexism, xenophobia, Christian nationalism, nominally anti-elitist populism, and good old fashioned working class resentment directed at college-educated city dwellers by desperate and profoundly ill-informed denizens of rusted-out red states. This papers concedes that Trumpism is animated by these forces to varying degrees, but it also argues that the Trump coalition is held together first and foremost by a shared sense of distance from one or more imagined centers of American social, cultural and economic power. Hardly a politics of the historically marginalized in the traditional sense of that term, and nothing that lends itself very easily to analysis in terms of existing social, cultural, or economic hierarchies, vertically imagined, this paper argues instead that Trumpism is best conceptualized in lateral terms as the ideological common ground of what might be referred to as the United States’ newly conscious and politically awakened ‘outer class.’ Only by conceiving of American social relations in this way, the paper contends, can we begin to understand the strange form of populism that put a patently plutocratic figure like Trump in the White House to speak for “the forgotten men and women of our country.”

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