Sunday, July 13, 2014

Playing In Peoria

One of the idioms that the Atomic Age has brought us is that of Critical Mass, the tipping point at which something happens. In the United States, issues tend to achieve critical mass when they trigger the fears of the "middle class" the somewhat amorphous group of people who are understood to inhabit the central place in American economic life, neither rich, nor poor. Generally speaking, the American middle class White and concentrated in "Suburbia." The partisan affiliation of the middle class varies - older members who live farther away from cities trend Republican, while younger people closer to the urban cores trend Democrat. But what makes the middle class politically central is that its fears move the political needle. Once the middle class becomes concerned with something, then it becomes Important.

David Dennis points this out in an article in the Guardian, where he describes the differences in American attitudes concerning the rare multiple homicides in areas that touch the middle class and the more common multiple killings that mainly afflict the urban poor and minorities.

The Mother's Day shooting [in New Orleans] is so irrelevant that politicians haven't even bothered to mention it to further their anti-gun agendas. If the shootings aren't even important enough for politicians to spin, then it's truly reached a black hole of irrelevance.
Gun violence in places like New Orleans, Chicago or, for that matter, Appalachia are politically irrelevant because, from the perspective of the middle class, they happen to Someone Else, living Someplace Else, and as long as those people don't come to middle class homes, schools, workplaces or recreational areas, they simply aren't a problem.

It's worth noting that this isn't the only issue that works out like this. Teen pregnancy and single motherhood have been issues in the United States for as long as there has been a United States. But when it was perceived as confined to poor and minority women, it wasn't an issue. It was only when the middle class became concerned that their children may have become sexually active that the issue really entered the national consciousness.

This is simply one of the issues that is baked into the American implementation of republicanism. Those issues that spur the middle class to political activity become important, because it's a large number of potential voters, and when things are going okay for them, they tend not to rock the boat. But when their concerns are not being dealt with to their satisfaction (or they feel that too many resources are going people other than themselves) politicians start losing their jobs.

1 comment:

John McGuinness said...

A slightly move benevolent factor is that for a white upper class politician to comment on events of the lower classes is to invite charges of racism or classism, particularly if the proposed remedies are not those currently preferred. Or even if they are the preferred solutions. So they keep quiet.

It's easier to say that disturbed white teenagers shouldn't have access to guns than to say that poor black people shouldn't have access to guns.