The President looks genuinely interested in the non-college educated
At the beginning of the 21st century, David Brooks wrote a book called Bobos in Paradise — which was all about America’s changing class structure. Bobos are ‘bourgeois bohemians’, also known as the ‘creative class’ or, more broadly what we might call ‘knowledge workers’.
Urban, educated and progressive, they now dominate the commanding heights of the economy, and of culture too. For all their egalitarian pretensions, the rise of the bobos has left a lot of non-bobos feeling more excluded than ever before. That might be because of economic disadvantage or feelings of cultural alienation, but either way the bobos are resented.
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Of course, much of Brooks’ analysis will be familiar to readers of UnHerd; but in his latest essay for The Atlantic, he provides fresh insights.
For instance, he makes the important point that President Biden is a throwback — an old-fashioned progressive who still cares about the non-bobos:
While Donald Trump exploited the anger of the non-bobos, Joe Biden promised help — and is now providing some.
Brooks believes this could help narrow the “class chasms” that have done so much to polarise American politics. However, he also points out that these measures do nothing to deal with the “sorting mechanism” that allocates Americans to their position in society.
This centres upon an education system that values academic achievement above all else. Though it is meant to be meritocratic, it is nevertheless overtly hierarchical — openly advertising (and monetising) gradations of prestige. Furthermore, there’s a strong hereditary component. Brooks refers to research that found that “children whose parents are in the top 1% of the income distribution are 77 times more likely to attend an Ivy League college than those whose parents are in the bottom income quintile.”
At great (and unsustainable) expense, Joe Biden is attempting to bind up America’s political wounds. But beneath the bandages the causes of division are still there, waiting to be ripped open again.
While Biden may be the last of his kind of progressive, Trump is just the first of his kind of populist.