Turn on the TV and your senses will be assaulted by the fury of war raging in America, more precisely in America’s “White” majority. You can virtually “see” the loathing & contempt the predominantly “White” network anchors have for the other part of “White” America or what is now termed contemptuously as “Trump’s America”.
That term sort of fits the reality because this other part of “White” America elected Donald Trump. In contrast, the “upper” part of White America identifies itself with Barack Obama, the shining epitome of intellectual, professional & predominantly White “Caste” in America.
Yes, that ancient term is the perfect name for the chasm that is now wide & irreconcilable in White America – the chasm between “the professional and working classes in white America” in the words of Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Mr. Murray didn’t recognize it himself but what he described in his book was the Birth of a Caste in America.
Virtually every society on earth has treated & still treats “intellectual” or “cognitive” professions as higher & more worthy of respect than “menial” professions. One not so old example is the British practice of calling surgeons merely as “Mr” instead of “Dr” because surgeons mainly use their hands to operate while “Doctors” mainly use their cognitive skills in their practice.
How does one rise from a menial or lower “caste” to the cognitive or “upper” caste? The road has always been via higher education. Back in ancient India, Sage Gautam laid down this standard of upward mobility – ““all are born as Shudra (menial caste); it is with education that one becomes twice-born (cognitive caste)“. That was also the path to upward mobility for America’s Baby Boomers. Many of today’s highly successful Americans were born to parents who toiled with their hands as dishwashers, janitors & in other “menial” occupations.
The term “caste” is similar to the Iberian term “casta” and both are derived from the original Latin term “Castus” meaning pure lineage. But how do you maintain purity of “lineage” or “caste”? By marrying within the “caste”. This is how India’s professional hierarchy or “Varna” fell into a “caste” hierarchy. When the Indian economy began to slow down under foreign occupation, opportunities became more scarce. The focus of the “elite” shifted to maintaining their share of the economic benefits by restricting upward mobility from lower strata of society. The two methods used were
- inter-marrying within one’s social strata and
- by restricting education for people from lower social strata.
When these methods were adopted, the non-lineage Varna hierarchy morphed into a lineage-based Caste system.
1. Birth of a Caste in America
If you look closely, you see the same metamorphosis at work in America. As we described in our July 2012 article, Birth of a Caste in America, the college-educated class is becoming a “caste” in America. Look around you – college-educated people invariably choose college-educated spouses. That meets the inter-marriage test of a “caste”.
What about restricting upward mobility? College education has become so expensive that it is virtually shutting out kids of parents with menial jobs. This has not been an accident. Rise in Tuition matched the rise in income growth of salaries in intellectual professions over the past 25 years. During this period, salaries of blue collar jobs kept going down. The result has been a relentless decline in college affordability for families of blue collar workers. This meets the second test of a caste, a caste of college-educated Americans.
About a month after our July 2012 article, Niall Ferguson made a similar argument and also used the C-word in his Newsweek article College Becoming the New Caste System:
- “The problem is that this cognitive elite has become self-perpetuating: they marry one another, live in close proximity to one another, and use every means, fair or foul, to ensure that their kids follow in their academic footsteps (even when Junior is innately less smart than Mom and Dad) … For Americans, they risk creating a new caste system“.
2. Caste more powerful than Race or Religion?
A Caste system is almost invariably a structure of the majority community. It is often easier for immigrants of other races & religions to join the upper caste than it is for lower caste people of the majority community. That is if the new entrants share the attributes of the upper caste people of the majority.
And the most important attribute tends to be higher education, as it has been since the ancient dictum of Sage Gautam. You see that in America, an America in which Asians with higher education have easily joined America’s upper caste. More importantly, you see that in the African-American & Hispanic communities as well. Higher education has been the key for their kids to join America’s upper caste.
The reality that caste distinction is becoming much more important than race in America is starkly demonstrated by the way Barack Obama & Donald Trump have been treated by the American cognitive, college-educated upper caste. This upper caste totally identified with African-American Barack Obama as one of their own and supported him passionately in 2008, 2012 & in 2016. In contrast, they looked down upon White Manhattanite billionaire Donald Trump and opposed his candidacy furiously. Obama was the elite of cognitive elites – Harvard Law Review Editor, Columbia alum, an intellectually brilliant orator, a handsome man who personified their ideal.
Donald Trump was a stark contrast. He proudly called himself a “blue collar billionaire”. He openly preferred meeting blue collar workers and spoke their language, a language that repulsed America’s cognitive elite to their core. America’s lower caste adored him and made him their champion while America’s upper caste recoiled from him and abused him with a fury they had not shown before.This is why Trump got more African-American and Hispanic votes than expected, votes from the lower caste members of these races showing once again that caste in America has become more powerful than race.
This recognition of America’s caste system was what made us supportive of Donald Trump during his campaign and confident about his victory. That was assured, we felt, as long as Trump campaigned as the champion of a movement for America’s lower caste. No one who has studied or even read about socio-political movements of lower castes against domination of upper castes would have been surprised at the outcome of the 2016 election.
But America’s upper caste people were stunned & infuriated by that outcome. They absolutely refuse to accept it to this day. Their loathing of Trump & his lower caste movement and their fury at their loss has risen to semi-insane levels. They are actually blasting President Trump now for keeping his campaign promises. Don’t they see how nuts they come across? They don’t because they are simply aghast at losing their control, their ownership of America just like entrenched upper castes of other societies were when their lower castes seized political power from them.
But President Trump has to do more than just keep his campaign promises.
3. An Affirmative Action Plan for the American Worker
During his speech at the CPAC conference on Friday, President Trump made a major declaration – “GOP will be the party of the American worker“. This will be a big transformation for the Republican Party that had become the party of the corporate elite and the country-club elite post-Reagan. This is going back to the future of a GOP that is more Roosevelt-Reagan. It will require concrete programs and the effective use of executive & legislative power.
The first step should be the unveiling of a major transformation of Affirmative Action from a blind race-based system to a caste-based system. The reality is that the current Affirmative Action system has done very little for the majority of workers from American minorities. Virtually all the benefits have gone to a thin upper sliver of college-educated African Americans & Hispanics.
President Trump has been very active in persuading & cajoling America’s corporations to build factories in America to employ these workers. He has received excellent response from corporate CEOs. But these are long-range plans and they are unlikely to deliver near-term benefits to America’s blue collar or non-intellectual working class.
We think it is imperative for President Trump and his strategy team to devise a new & improved affirmative action plan that is geared towards the non-intellectual working class or what we call America’s lower caste. This has to mean greater access to Universities & Colleges for their children at much lower cost. President Trump should also direct the federal funding Universities receive toward such students to lower their tuition costs, to provide them jobs during summer and to provide assistance to local businesses to hire these students.
President Trump can and should do more. Take his plan of enabling America’s large corporations to bring back at a lower tax rate the trillions of dollars they have parked overseas. What does the Federal Government plan to do with these tax receipts? Why not take a portion of these tax receipts, ideally matched dollar for dollar by the corporations getting lower tax benefits, to provide back pay to workers who were laid off in the past to enable the corporation to move to overseas? Isn’t that moral & ethical justice?
The point is words are not enough and longer term plans to bring back jobs are not enough. What is needed is a plan to deliver financial benefits & a new affirmative action status to America’s downtrodden lower caste in 2018. This is the first step that will realize a part of President Trump’s declaration and galvanize his party to work for the forgotten, the discarded workers of America. Isn’t that what the party of Lincoln should do?
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