Here’s a little thought experiment: What would happen if, by a snap of the fingers, white racism in America were to disappear? It might be that the black and Latino working class would be voting for Trump, too. Then we Democrats would have no chance in 2020. We often tell ourselves: “Oh, we lost just the white working class because of race.” But the truth might be something closer to this: “It’s only because of race that we have any part of the working class turning out for us at all.”
How many of us in the party’s new postgraduate leadership caste have even a single friendship, a real one, of two equals, with any man or woman who is just a high school graduate? It’s hard to imagine any Democrat in either House or Senate who did not go beyond a high school diploma. (And no, I am not talking about Harvard dropouts Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.)
Still, it’s unthinkable that the college-educated base of the party would trust a high school graduate without a four-year degree to run for or hold a serious office. We don’t trust them, and would never vote for one of them. Why should they trust or vote for one of us?
It used to be otherwise. Yes, in the 1940s and 1950s, many a Democrat in the House or Senate had no four-year diploma: Even a president, Harry S Truman, did not. What’s more, those who did frequently went to night law school, or a teachers’ college, and at least still lived, or had a social life, in neighborhoods where no one over a long stretch of city blocks had college B.A.s. This was true even for the profession now cited as a sort of polemic shorthand for rule by the knowledge elite—the “liberal media.” As late as 1970, my friend Steve Franklin joined a city paper and was surprised to learn that most of the editors had never been to college—and of course they lived in neighborhoods all over the city with people who had gone to the same high schools they had.
Back then, many of these people understood that they could trust the Democratic Party for the same reason they could trust the liberal media. The Democratic Party of the 1950s and 1960s was probably much more corrupt and inept than the Democratic Party of today—but back then it lived in the neighborhood, as it no longer does today. Now the Democratic Party relies on think tanks in elite universities to find out what people back in those neighborhoods are thinking
Madison taxpayers spend far more than most K-12 school districts. Yet, we have long tolerated disastrous reading results.