Economic Elites Drive Trumpian Motion

Posts in this series; some of the terms I use are described more fully in these posts.
Trumpian Motion
Negative Responses to Trumpian Motion
Economic Elites Drive Trumpian Motion
Beneficiaries of Trumpian Motion
Notes on Trumpian Motion Series


The driving force behind Trumpian Motion is the economically dominant class. In this post I look for an explanation, using the framework provided by Pierre Bourdieu as described in David Swartz’ book Culture and Power: The Sociology of Pierre Bourdieu.

Bourdieu studies the way social classes reproduce themselves so that the dominated class accepts domination as a fair outcome based on their lack of personal merit;, and the dominant class sees its power as natural and not the result of their birth, selection and grooming. A good example of the latter is that the academically marginal at best W. Bush got into Yale.

Bourdieu describes several kinds of capital, economic, social, cultural, religious and others. The most important is economic capital, and cultural capital is second. Cultural capital is a form of power based on “… verbal facility, general cultural awareness, aesthetic preferences, information about the school system, and educational credentials…. P. 75.

Swartz offers this summary of Bourdieu’s thinking:

Bourdieu considers conflict to be the fundamental dynamic of all social life. At the heart of all social arrangements is the struggle for power. One of Bourdieu’s key claims is that this struggle is carried out over symbolic as well as material resources. Moreover, it is Bourdieu’s fundamental claim that cultural resources, such as education credentials, have come to function as a kind of capital, and thereby have become a new and distinct source of differentiation in modern societies. P. 136.

The struggles Bourdieu discusses take place in fields. Fields are arenas governed by formal and informal rules of struggle. The field of power has fewer and less clear rules, but it is the most important. P.138. Bourdieu thinks economic capital is engaged in a struggle with cultural capital for domination in the field of power. This field operates as a source of differentiation and ranking in all fields, including political power.

Domination arises from power. The possessors of cultural power (the terms capital and power mean the same thing) have the ability to be dominant in some areas. Thus, artists, physical scientists, social scientists, museum curators, movie-makers, writers, teachers and others possess cultural power. Cultural power includes symbolic power, which controls the way people understand and respond to the social world. Symbolic power manifests itself in all areas of our social lives. I’ll use two examples: our concepts of justice and fairness; and our understanding of the physical universe.

The dominant culture in this country has changed over the last 50 years in the areas of justice and fairness. For example, when Social Security passed, it was designed to give as little as possible to African-Americans, and that was necessary to gain support from Southern Democratic party legislators . That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago (I’m less sure about today). The same thing is true of other forms of discrimination. So, that’s one expression of cultural symbolic power.

The second example of cultural power arises from the hard sciences and technology. Our understanding of the physical universe has increased dramatically, giving rise to huge fortunes and at the same time showing the dangers of the new understandings.

In the US, the cultural elites (those with a lot of cultural power) quit struggling with the economic elites (those with financial assets) and accepted the domination of capitalism. The economic elites largely quit struggling with the cultural elites over almost all matters of justice and fairness, including racism, sexism, and LGBTQ issues.

Economic elites have a mixed record with physical scientists and technology. In general they support it, but in specific instances they attack. For example, we knew from the 1920s on that leaded gasoline was dangerous. The history of getting lead out of gasoline is ugly, as the petroleum and auto industries lied and denied that danger. That opposition was controlled. Industry claimed to use science in its defense, and pretended to rely on their own fraudulent studies and false assertionas about defects in opposition studies.

As our knowledge grew and time passed, there were more and more examples of the free market poisoning the planet and building unsafe products and then lying and denying to cover it up. Just look at seat belts, the Ford Pinto, smog, water pollution, tobacco, other carcinogens, estrogen toxicity, and global warming. The scientists and technicians who study these things have been shouting into the wind about all of them, but industrial giants and their captive organizations fight back with increasing shrillness and personal attacks. With global warming, the attacks have broadened out because the science is so widespread across disciplines, and it now seems that the economic elites don’t care if they wreck the scientific community and discredit scientific methodology.

These attacks would not happen without the implicit assent of the economic elites.

Bourdieu says that economic power requires some other justification for its legitimacy. P. 91. In the Middle Ages that justification came from religion, which linked Monarchs and the aristocracy to divine will. Today it comes from cultural power, and from symbolic power. Or at least, it did before the rise of neoliberalism, a creation of the cultural elites in the field of economics. They purport to have a complete grasp of human nature. They tell the broad public that the market is wonderful and will make everything great. Meanwhile, economists whisper in the ears of the economic elite that they are the natural leaders blessed by the Market; it’s a modern version of Calvinism. Economic elites no longer need the cultural elites to provide legimation, because they are selected by the supreme computer. And so they feel free to attack the holders of cultural capital, to make them the enemy.

And what’s the goal of the rich? As we learn from James Winters and Benjamin Page, the rich have three goals in common:

1. Protecting and preserving wealth
2. Insuring the unrestricted use of wealth
3. Acquiring more wealth.

They don’t want any interference from anyone, especially the 99%. I’d like to think that there are responsible rich people, but I can’t think of a single example of any of the .01% effectively objecting to any effort of their peers to benefit themselves or the entire group of rich people.

The truce is dead. The economic elites are attacking the cultural elites. The cultural elites ignored the rise of the rich too long, and now lack the capacity to fight back effectively. And that’s why we are suffering from Trumpian Motion. It hides the gluttonous rich behind a wall of noise and fear.

8 replies
  1. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Thanks, Ed.

    Nice first example about Social Security. In order to garner the votes of southern Senators and a few Representatives, two large groups of workers important especially to southern white dominance were left out of the Social Security system: agricultural and domestic workers. Those two exceptions intentionally and disproportionately affected African Americans. Institutional racism, only not as blatant as the three-fifths compromise.

    The Vietnam era draft had a similar discriminatory effect. (So, too, did Nixon’s infamous war on drugs – and African Americans and hippies – which fit well with his Southern Strategy.) With its various deferments – such as those available to college students, teachers, members of the national guard, and those who could persuade a family doctor to write a letter about, say, bone spurs – young white men like Dick Cheney, George W. Bush and Don Trump stayed home. Young African American men took their places, in large numbers.

    And people still wonder why Martin Luther King, Jr, expanded his campaign from civil rights to economic rights and peace. Some people wanted to kill him over it. Someone did. Some would do it again. ‘Cause the way the world is, is the way it’s meant to be. A nice example of how cultural power – King’s and his movement’s – threatened to cause great damage to economic power and had to be put down.

    The continuing mistreatment of those labeled DFHs is another example. Campus radicals, often charismatic leaders and top students, threatened the social consensus the PTB worked hard throughout the 1950s to reinstate, after the democratizing accomplished by New Deal era legislation and the Second World War.

    Another example is the cultural pull-back and re-establishment of elite norms following the “excess of democracy” expressed during the Watergate debacle. Still another from the same era is Nixon’s long effort to deport cultural icon, John Lennon, who could move millions with a song. The war president, who once derailed the Paris peace talks to aid his election, who did bomb and chemically poison Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos back to the Stone Age, could not afford to give peace a chance.

    Ed, I’d say you and Pierre are on to something.

  2. Matt says:

    In Economics as Religion Robert Nelson nicely describes how economic elites purposely crafted textbooks that deified economics.  There is no other human field of study (besides religion itself) that uses personification and projection to create “god” outside the understanding and questioning of rational man.  “the Market” is God.  It knows what’s best for all individuals, always makes the right decisions, and punishes us when we fail to obey is laws.  Obviously we mortals cannot regulate it, control it, or tell it what to do.   So the best practice is to have “faith” in the Market and you will be rewarded for your unwavering belief.

  3. Trip says:

    In the Middle Ages that justification came from religion, which linked Monarchs and the aristocracy to divine will.

    Not so fast, Ed. What’s old is new again:

    How Russia Became the Leader of the Global Christian Right
    While the U.S. passed gay-rights laws, Moscow moved hard the other way.
    The former speechwriter for Richard Nixon and intellectual flag-bearer of paleoconservatism—that authoritarian strain of thought linking both white nationalists and US President Donald Trump—wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “entering a claim that Moscow is the Godly City of today. Buchanan blushed with praise for Putin’s policies, writing, “In the culture war for the future of mankind, Putin is planting Russia’s flag firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.”

    Moscow Cozies Up to the Right
    What would right-wing activists in the U.S. have in common with Putin’s Russia? More than you might expect. Conservative Christianity has been one common touchstone. The dinner at the George Hotel, hosted by conservative activist and Rockefeller scion George O’Neill Jr., was part of the festivities surrounding the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event run by evangelicals to forge new, if informal, diplomatic ties through shared spiritual principles. Evangelicals have discovered common ground with Moscow’s nationalist and ultraconservative push–led by the Russian Orthodox Church–to make the post-Soviet nation a bulwark of Christianity amid the increasing secularization of the West.

    In Expanding Russian Influence, Faith Combines With Firepower
    While tanks and artillery have been Russia’s weapons of choice to project its power into neighboring Ukraine and Georgia, Mr. Putin has also mobilized faith to expand the country’s reach and influence. A fervent foe of homosexuality and any attempt to put individual rights above those of family, community or nation, the Russian Orthodox Church helps project Russia as the natural ally of all those who pine for a more secure, illiberal world free from the tradition-crushing rush of globalization, multiculturalism and women’s and gay rights…“The church has become an instrument of the Russian state. It is used to extend and legitimize the interests of the Kremlin,” said Sergei Chapnin, who is the former editor of the official journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church and affiliated churches outside Russia.

    Putin and the ‘triumph of Christianity’ in Russia
    “After the fall of communism, there was a great abyss …, a void, because everything began to fall down into the black hole. All the certainties, all the truths, all the things that were taken for granted in one moment disappeared,” Dugin says. With Putin’s help, Dugin explained, the Russian Orthodox Church is filling this void. Indeed, the view as seen through Tsargrad TV eyes is of a Moscow skyline of countless domes and crosses, vying with hammers and sickles – a battlefield of symbols – and its clear which side is winning.The channel’s owner, Kremlin-connected investment banker Konstantin Malofeev, was once dubbed God’s oligarch, a title he eschews, “I’m God’s servant, not God’s oligarch …” he insists perched behind a large portrait of Nicholas II.
    “We live now in Russia … a delightful period, a period of triumph of Christianity.”

    How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia’s Anti-Gay Movement
    Meet the Fox News producer, the nightclub impresario, and the oligarchs who teamed up to write inequality into law.

    Millions of Americans Believe God Made Trump President
    For the pro-Trump evangelicals Strang describes, the improbability of Trump’s triumph is further confirmation of God’s involvement. To observe the election results was to feel “as if God had answered our prayers and the impossible had happened,” Strang says in the book. “We had a new president, one we believed God had raised up for a time such as this.”

  4. Charlie says:

    “Bourdieu says that economic power requires some other justification for its legitimacy. P. 91. In the Middle Ages that justification came from religion, which linked Monarchs and the aristocracy to divine will. Today it comes from cultural power, and from symbolic power.”

    This passage negates your conclusion. It isn’t that cultural power can’t effectively fight back, it’s that they desire economic power.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Indeed.  Cultural elites are driven by more than money; sometimes they work in opposition to it.  Economic power works strongly to resist such temptations, preferring to keep its home field advantage.  The rise of neoliberalism and its success in infiltrating so many social and political fronts, has narrowed the range of priorities many cultural elites promote.

        Ivy League schools and those such as Stanford reputedly have strong old boy nets.  Access to such schools is a form of cultural power, which is why academically low achieving children of the wealthy, such as George W. Bush and Donald Trump (unlike his high-achieving older brother), attend such schools.  The old boy net is an example of how those with cultural power (allied with those with economic power) control the predominant make-up of students and who is allowed tenure.  Given American intolerance for those who inquire too deeply into its power structures, Bourdieu, like David Graeber or a second C. Wright Mills, would probably not have been given tenure at such schools. According to the Powell Memo, the economic elite would consider it an own goal.

        It is a measure of neoliberalism’s success that one can argue that cultural elites desire only to procure economic forms of power.  It is the form of power its proponents most desire – and would have us all desire, to the exclusion of other forms.  Other forms of power compete with money power for dominance, such as in setting the range of permitted public debate, permitted taxing and spending priorities, and the application of controls on the use of money power (demonstrated in the virtual disregard of anti-monopoly rules).

        Bourdieu, a member of the College de France, is an example of someone who would have preferred cultural power over money power.

  5. Charlie says:

    Economic elites have always been driven by a desire for money. Under neo-liberalism, cultural elites have joined them in the desire for money and are actively battling them for it. Which is why we have the battle we see now.

  6. TarheelDem says:

    Another good post, Ed.

    It turns me toward some analysis of long trends of the interplay of the three forms of capital: economic, political, cultural and the revolutions that in the West shook loose a total revolution that had global impact and repercussions. This is a brief narrative, not a serious, rigorous argument. Beginning around 1500, there was an economic revolution that appeared with mercantilism and agricultural enclosures, which launched an age of maritime exploration, the Atlantic slave trade, plantation industrial-scale management, the Industrial Revolution, capitalist civilization (with its periodic collapses), various scale-increasing technological revolutions until it seems spent under global austerity and tyranny of the 1%..

    These economic changes produced a political revolution in ideologies and practices that transformed feudalism into Hobbesian monarchies, which produced the “liberal republican” revolutions that still ripple onward, freeing the economic, political, and cultural forms of capital from each others’ influence and control. We now stand at the point at which all of those are asserting the control of laws and force over the others and threatening dissolution of the previous stability of an ideology of order, justice, and welfare. That revolution has now run aground in the US, under assault of economic libertarianism (Randism) and religious/traditional and “rural” (remember, it is a style) reassertion, even seeking the power of white supremacy and Nazi cult power. All of this is going forward through the transformed communications that were kicked off with the printing press and last kicked along with the internet’s adoption of social media.

    Both of these created a long-running cultural revolution that transformed mass culture from rural to urban styles of living, symbols from religious to secular, and the origin of daily common sense from traditional to scientific. That curltural revolution is now fragmented, globalized, commercialized, and popping off in unexpected directions. The power of the 20th century cultural revolution is fragmenting communities, especially through the internet that the technological revolution coughed up.

    We are again in a position like that of 1500. If allowed to proceed in the fashion of capitalist civilization, artificial intelligence technology, cell biology technology, neuroscience, robotics, and more mundane transportation and communication technology will spawn new ways of organizing production and distribution. The limits on resources will organize new ways of resource extraction. What will constitute “labor” anymore? What, if anything, will close the cycle of the economy to permit exertion of “demand”? What does “ownership” mean? What is a corporation for? Does “profit” even make sense anymore? There will be new grifts, new serious ideas, new trends, and new laws that will upend capitalist civilization without even realizing it. That will destroy exactly what it is arguing that it is preserving. Feudalism will the default society and recurring relationship – bargaining with security, not money. (The money will be sequestered by the 1%.)

    That revolution in the economy (or will it be a collapse) will trigger directions the following political and cultural changes (revoluitions? maybe not) to follow. If those changes destroy capitalist civilization, markets will no doubt still exist for tradeable scarcities. Political changes will no doubt gain popular support with promising and often enough delivering social infrastructure. Neither of those to social contracts will please the elites, but one can’t eat money.

    At some point, there might be a liquidity trap of interchange between the three institutional kinds of capital. Money will no longer buy politicians or media. Cultural status will be absent of wealth and power. Political power may raise a rabble but not make one rich or honored.

    The field of economics is slowly being transformed to keep up with these economic changes or lose all relevance and subsidy forever.

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