Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson is editor-at-large of The American Prospect. His email is hmeyerson@prospect.org.

Recent Articles

About Those (Not Quite so Great) Wage Increases

As America goes to the polls, Republicans claim one talking point that isn’t racist as such: Wages are going up. For the most part, of course, they don’t claim it. The vast majority of Republican candidates have fallen in behind Donald Trump in making their closing pitch an attack on immigrants. They’ve largely ignored the headline stories in last Saturday’s papers: that wages in October were 3.1 percent higher than they were in October 2017. That increase is largely the result of the low unemployment rate, which remained at 3.7 percent. But that increase isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be: So if you’re in line at your polling place next to a prospective voter who effuses about that wage increase, you might suggest that this effusive prospective voter consider this: That 3.1 percent increase doesn’t take into effect the rise in the cost of living since last year. Were it to do that, the wage increase—the actual wage increase...

Trump and the Political Hysteria of Rural Life

Just for a moment, let’s ponder President Trump’s claim that the caravan of 5,000 Hondurans embarked on an epochal walk to the United States contains “unknown Middle Easterners” and other presumably would-be terrorists.

There is, of course, no factual basis for Trump’s claim. Even as a hypothetical, though, it doesn’t make sense. Terrorist wannabes should want to slip across our borders undetected. Coming in a caravan of 5,000, subjected to the relentless eye of the media, doesn’t seem the way to do that. Should the caravan actually make it to the border, it will definitely be detected and then some—its members all locked up and investigated, if not sent back to Honduras immediately.

But then, Trump isn’t particularly concerned with the accuracy of his characterizations, or even the plausibility of his hypotheticals. He has Fox News and his fellow Republicans to bolster his charges by sheer dint of repetitions and variations on his theme. Newt Gingrich, for one, has termed the march an “invasion.”

With the Kavanaugh passions fading, the Republicans have decided to crank up this xenophobic echo chamber as the best way to turn out their base come Election Day. If that’s what it takes to get their targeted voters—insulated from facts, drenched in Goebbelsesque fake news, disproportionately white, elderly, and rural—to go to the polls in sufficient numbers, so be it.

And this strategy is hardly peculiar to American Republicans. The electoral divide in nations too numerous to quickly count now runs along the same lines. On Sunday, Poles went to the polls to elect their local governments, and while urban Poles soundly defeated candidates from the nation’s virulently xenophobic and increasingly authoritarian ruling party, rural Poles conferred victory after victory on such candidates in one small town after another.

Marx famously bemoaned “the idiocy of rural life,” while counting on the urban proletariat to wage socialist revolutions. In the period in which he wrote, however, most proletarians had only recently relocated from farms to factory towns and cities, a transformation with which he was fully acquainted. He didn’t write or mean, therefore, that people in rural areas were themselves idiots; he meant that the conditions of rural life—in which workers were dispersed and didn’t come together as workers in factories were compelled to do—weren’t conducive to building class consciousness.

Today, the distinctive political consciousness of white rural and small town life in many nations appears to have less to do with Marxian class consciousness or the absence thereof, and more to do with a sense of cultural, racial, religious, and (only then) economic distance from, apprehension about, and anger toward increasingly diverse and cosmopolitan cities. It’s about those residents’ perception that they’ve been dropped from their once honored place in their respective national narratives, replaced—worse yet—by other races with other religions and other values.

Such sensibilities may or may not emerge spontaneously, but to rise to the level of electoral majorities, they need to be whipped up. Right-wing parties and media do all they can to increase their potential voters’ sense of victimization, of being cast aside, of being imperiled by alien hordes, helping foster a collective consciousness more successfully than Marxian proletarianization ever did. West Virginia, the state that gave Trump his biggest margin in 2016, has virtually no foreign-born residents; in such a state, it takes a media echo-system and ecosystem to create a sufficiently intense and widespread fear of immigrants and cosmopolitanism. There is no idiocy of rural life; increasingly, there is, if properly stoked, a distinctive hysteria.

The Return of American Socialism

A largely millennial movement, with a surprisingly broad base of support, has staked its claim on the nation’s political discourse and direction.

This article appears in the Fall 2018 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . In 1960, the young socialist Michael Harrington traveled to Ann Arbor to provide what help he could to the fledgling radical movement at the University of Michigan, and to see if he could recruit some students to the Young People’s Socialist League. He had particularly long talks with the 20-year-old editor of The Michigan Daily (the student newspaper), Tom Hayden. Though the two hit it off, Harrington couldn’t make the sale. “He accepted much of my analysis,” Harrington later was to write, “yet he balked at the socialist idea itself.” Harrington was no slouch at converting progressives to socialism; an unusually high percentage of the members of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (which he founded in 1973) and its successor organization, the Democratic Socialists of America (which he co-founded in 1982) signed up after having been...

The Constitution's Anti-Majoritarian Bias

The battle over the Constitution has been joined. Writing in the New York Post , National Review editor Rich Lowery has taken it upon himself to counter many of the arguments that liberals have lodged in the wake of the Kavanaugh confirmation that the Constitution is anti-majoritarian. Those arguments have pointed out that the two most recent Republican presidents decisively lost the popular vote but were elected nonetheless due to the anti-majoritarian Electoral College; that the Senate’s one-state, one-vote structure greatly magnifies the power of small states at the expense of popular majorities; and that as a consequence of those two anti-majoritarian distortions, we now have a far-right Supreme Court devoted to imposing its beliefs and biases on its disconsolate compatriots. To which Lowery responds, in essence: Yes, and isn’t that great! Lowery casts this battle as one of regions, asking why the fly-over nation should have to submit to the coasts. Noting that the...

Trickle-Down in Steel

trickle-downers_35.jpg For the American steel industry, these are boom times. President Trump’s tariffs on steel imports have been a boon to domestic manufacturers, who are enjoying profits unlike any they’ve seen in years. And as for the steelworkers? Well, not so much. The profit surge has come just as the multi-year contracts that the United Steelworkers has with the two mega-makers of American steel—Arcelor Mittal and U.S. Steel—have expired. The companies have presented their 31,000 unionized employees with proposed new contracts that appear designed to demonstrate just how farcical trickle-down economics actually is. At first glance, the pay increases appear generous. But the companies are also asking their workers to start paying for health benefits that cost an arm and a leg. According to a report in today’s Los Angeles Times , the net effect “would reduce the overall wage increase to just about 1.7 percent over nine years.” Not...