You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.

Educated Fools

Why Democratic leaders still misunderstand the politics of social class

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.

In fact, the college graduates who are now the base of the party have moved working people out of the old neighborhoods. I think here of my own city—Chicago—where the members of the City Council whom columnists from Ben Hecht to Mike Royko used to mock now have more degrees than reporters of Hecht’s generation had. Here’s the finding of a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago: In 1970, one half of Chicago by census tract was “middle-income”—that is to say, the people who made up the old working-class machine vote, most of them without four-year college degrees. Now that “middle-income” group is just 16 percent. The bungalows in those formerly middle-income neighborhoods teeming with high school graduates now belong to high-tech entrepreneurs and investors in hedge funds.

I am a labor lawyer and should have known better, but when I ran for Congress in 2009 in my Chicago-area district and knocked on doors, the white working class I imagined to be around me was gone: They had disappeared like the Etruscans. Or they at least had gone somewhere way to the west of I-90 and I-94—the monster expressway known as the Kennedy, which divides the city the way the Mississippi divides America, well out of range of the higher-credentialed and better-capitalized parts of the city where it’s $15 for a glass of wine. We recently elected a new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, and the astonishing thing about her is not that she is female, or black, or gay—such things are routine in Chicago now—but that she is so totally from out of town: not born here, never went to high school or college here, or even in Illinois. She showed up for the first time in law school at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, which once did not count as Chicago at all.

This all fits the claim of the French geographer Christophe Guilluy about his own country in his 2016 book The Twilight of the Elites: Prosperity, the Periphery, and the Future of France. Guilluy describes how the movement, if not the expulsion, of the working class from France’s most prosperous cities incubated the innovation and new modes of production that fuel the growth of the Knowledge Economy. The same thing is happening in places like Chicago and most of the other well-off and innovative capitals of information-age enterprise. Alexis de Tocque­ville blamed the French Revolution in part on the literal physical distance between an aristocracy pulled into Versailles and the rural France they left behind. Now those of us with postgraduate degrees and who are in the elite of the Democratic Party live in our own Versailles, and we don’t know any working-class people either—except perhaps the name of a barista at Starbucks or the woman who comes by at night to clean the office.

For those of us cut off from the white working class, it is easy to think the answer to inequality is: Imitate us. Why can’t they be like we are? I borrow this idea from The Light That Failed by Stephen Holmes and Ivan Krastev (2019), a book that explains why newly liberated ex-Communist countries turned away from liberal democracies to authoritarian or illiberal ones. Imitate us—be like we are—turns out to be one of the most grating forms of foreign policy on offer in a world of such great income inequality. But imitate us is also grating within a country with income inequality on the scale even of France’s, much less that of the United States. There are other geopolitical reasons beyond my ken for the rise of Vladimir Putin in Russia and Viktor Orbán in Hungary, but there is something about imitate us that helps account both for the rise of these forms of illiberal democracy and for the one that’s been hatched here.

The center left and progressive left—or the postgraduates who control both sides in the party’s debate—have a similar answer to inequality. Higher taxes? Yes. More welfare? Yes. And what else?

More college—a lot more college. What to do about lack of mobility? More college. What about competing in the global economy? More college.

Or if a few have started to detect the class snobbery here and added community college, it’s still … well, it’s still in the hope that the upward-striving student population will go on to obtain a four-year college degree. And yes, I know; we are living increasingly in a knowledge- and data-driven economy, managed by credentialed and accomplished symbolic analysts. So to them it’s obvious: How can the answer not be education?

Well, of course education should be the answer—yes, I know that—but it will be the answer only when it becomes a democratic education for a democratic workplace. 

Yes, then it will be the answer—but it is not the answer yet, and, in the meantime, college for all might only reinforce the top-down authoritarian corporate structure that is preventing education from being the answer.


Yet college for all is still the drumbeat of the party’s leadership, and if anything the drumbeat is even louder from much of the party’s new highly educated base. It was true not only in the eight years of Obama, but also for the intervals our party has been out of power in the White House—with Kerry, with Gore, with their advisers and economists, and most of all, with the people who listen to NPR and read The New York Times and have college degrees of a caliber and pedigree that most college graduates do not have.

For this group, there is only one way to do it: Imitate us, the people who are the helicopter parents, whose parents were professionals, whose presidential candidates are Rhodes scholars or presidents of the Harvard Law Review. Can college for all solve the problems of this country? Well, it worked for us. Even some of the social Darwinians were subtler in rubbing it in.

I hate to pick on Barack Obama, because I genuinely like him and admire his legacy. But let me cite his famous speech on inequality, at Osawatomie, Kansas, where Theodore Roosevelt, before his Bull Moose candidacy, had once delivered a rousing tirade on inequality. It’s here where Obama at last acknowledged income inequality as “the defining issue of our time.” But what did a white working class hear as the president’s number one solution to the scourge hollowing out communities and life prospects in dying factory towns and communities? He said: “We’ve got to up our game.… It starts by making education a national mission—a national mission.… In this economy, a higher education is the surest route to the middle class.” The White House website made the mandate even starker as it played up the president’s speech: “Earning a post-secondary degree or credential is no longer just a pathway to opportunity for a talented few; rather, it is a prerequisite for the growing jobs of the new economy.”

Imitate us. And that’s the center left: Further left, it gets worse. Bernie Sanders has a bill titled College for All. That’s all, as in “everyone.” I regret that even Elizabeth Warren has signed on to the same cause. She’s my ideal of a presidential candidate; I’ve even given money to her campaign. But like any smart liberal today, she is reflecting what so many highly educated Democrats think.

In past years, I used to despair: Does anyone in the Democratic Party get it? Of late, I think a few in the leadership do. But does most of the party still not get it? This is a high school nation. Even now, after all the years of pumping up college education as the only way to survive, there’s still close to 70 percent of U.S. adults from age 25 and older—yes, living right now—who are without four-year college degrees. If a college education is the only way to survive in a global economy, then the party’s effective answer to anyone over 30 is: It’s too late for you. And of course, that message gets across. 

If FDR is not rolling over in his grave, Harry Truman is. We liberals talk about the historical obsolescence of the working class as if the working class were not in the room. If we knew any of them personally, we might shut up. Who in the GOP would go to a NASCAR rally and talk about there being no hope for anyone without a four-year degree?

No wonder so many members of the working class flip us the finger, even if they are staging that gesture for the reporters’ pen at a Trump rally, or for a quick hit on Fox News. In the last election, it was such political genius for Trump to say: “I love the poorly educated.” Had Hillary Clinton or even Bernie Sanders been capable of saying that, they’d be on their way now to a second term. And it was also genius for Trump to make a point of pumping up his own moral squalor. It’s as if he wanted working people to know that at last they could vote for a president who was incapable of looking down on them.

Yes, there’s race, and immigration, and globalization, but there’s something even scarier, and hard to address directly: this Knowledge Economy, which belongs to us in the postgraduate elite, who cannot imagine the working class ever being part of it. In that sense, the vote for Trump in 2016 was the Luddite equivalent of taking a hammer to all that human capital belonging to us.

It’s true that just under 70 percent of high school graduates now go on to college. But it’s also true that this is why we have so many dropouts, people who tried to imitate us and now carry so much shame and debt. It’s hard to think of a better way of creating a social explosion. 

The whole postgraduate project—en masse college education, as Obama and others push it—defies logic or reason. The increase in the number of graduates that this program is likely to yield—those additional ones at the margin, as an economist might like to say—will be not only in nursing or law enforcement, but in business administration. And what do these extra college graduates with these business degrees do? They supervise the working class—all of it, white, black, and brown. So if everyone in the working class did go to college—and thank God that they don’t—there’d be no one left to supervise. In other words: A college education is valuable to the extent other people are not getting one. But of course, we’re not supposed to think about such a thing. 

Still, let’s think about it here anyway: As we force more people into college, the class that has a stake in pumping up the college premium, or the increment over what working-class people get, becomes correspondingly more powerful. That is, the more the members of this class have to invest in themselves by going to college, the more they will want to see a college premium, a return on their investment, at least for the time they and their children have spent out of the workforce. That’s the class we’re building up. That class—the one even the hard left itself is trying to build up—has no stake in letting the high school graduates do anything to decrease that premium. The more Obama and you and I tout college, the more we are committed to the project of pushing up that premium to justify a college education—and to make the life prospects of working people even worse.

College for all also justifies a top-down corporate structure where college graduates supervise those without four-year degrees. It makes sense for the Knowledge Economy’s management caste to ensure that the workplace is even less democratic, with even less agency for those whom the college graduates supervise.

In other words, with the best of intentions, we end up screwing them. It is what in the old days Marxists would call an ideology—until so many Marxists in our own time began pushing college for all. And we don’t expect a blowback? 

Of course we should have more college—absolutely—and yes, it should be cheaper, if not free. But more college should be part of a new and more democratic education that reflects a new and more democratic workplace. There are many examples in Europe—I urge people to read the work of scholars like Kathleen Thelen at MIT and others who study those European alternatives to our form of capitalism. And within Europe, Denmark is still the gold standard. Denmark has firmly committed itself to education at all levels, at all points of life. Under the Danish system, the state makes a heavy investment in training that makes no distinctions and eliminates boundaries: It is the same commitment to the employed as to the unemployed, for students from white-collar and blue-collar backgrounds, for college graduate and high school graduate, and early in life and in mid-career. It is not our idea of job training—it’s not focused on any specific manufacturing-type skill, nor is it occupationally based in principle. The idea behind this kind of lifetime instruction is indeed to get people out of narrow occupational roles by giving them continued education in social and communication skills for a knowledge-based and service-based economy.

Yes, it takes money—and in the U.S. context, it takes a commitment to knock down boundaries between the Democratic Party’s college-educated base and the working class that it should be representing. Community college has been a wonderful thing, and supporting it is the Lord’s work, but at present it is still little more than a baby step toward the type of democratic education theorized in its modern form by the great social philosopher John Dewey, which we Democrats should be pushing.

Let us put aside the underfunding of K through 12 education, which we now overlook in arguing for billions more to fund college. Let’s put aside the spending gap in K–12 instruction in my own state, Illinois, where it varies from $6,000 per pupil in some downstate districts to $24,000 per pupil in districts in the best suburbs—and let’s not even think about the private schools.

This formative educational inequality—crippling the working class all by itself—is in addition to another inequality, one that makes college for all seem so beside the point. It’s the inequality described decades ago by Mary Douglas, the cultural anthropologist whose book Natural Symbols shows the gulf between the ways professional-class parents and their working-class counterparts raise their children. Douglas’s findings illustrate what happens to children whose parents are stuck in authoritarian workplaces where they learn to take orders and pass on that culture to their children. In short, they raise their children in the same way that they experience their working lives. Working-class children are not given reasons for things, Douglas writes; they are simply told that this is how things are, much the way that their parents are told at work. In her typology, these children grow up as prisoners of a speech code—what Douglas calls “restricted” speech. By contrast, the children of the postgraduates and professionals, the ones in the school districts with per-pupil expenditures of $24,000 a year, are encouraged to inquire, and do get answers to their questions—and these children grow up with a sense of agency nearly parallel to the one that their parents enjoy at work. These are the children who grow up able to engage in elongated speech codes, where they learn to rationalize and give reasons.

These two forms of speech reflect the ways that work is organized—though this is not Douglas’s point especially. Still, the pattern seems clear: Countries with democratic workplaces are more likely to have higher class mobility; and those, like our own, with more authoritarian workplaces trap generation after generation with no way out, even as we push education as the answer. Yet education is only the answer if we start with changing the narrow roles of people in the workplace, and give them more responsibility. Douglas’s typology leads one to much the same conclusion that Dewey reached: namely, that democracy in education requires democracy in the workplace, and vice versa. It’s a simple continuous loop.

So long as there is no agency in the workplace, education can only save a few: There is no collective salvation. That’s in part why nearly 70 percent of high school graduates start in college—and then so many start dropping out. To be sure, the forbidding expense of a four-year college education is a deal-breaker for many working-class students. In a broader sense, though, the high number of middle-to-working-class dropouts reflects a wisdom of crowds. Students not rigorously acculturated to succeed in college from the start of their educational lives soon see, quite rationally, that the whole college project was set up for them to drop out of—and they see further that this is a sign that the whole project is either dishonest or misconceived.

So of course they love Trump because he loves the poorly educated—and they turn on us, with our Enlightenment values, and the Enlightenment itself into the bargain. That’s the deeper appeal of racism for so many in the Trump electorate, though many Trump voters seem confused as to whether they want to be seen as blustering racists or an oppressed racial minority, as they believe they soon will be. Either way, they see us Democrats as the party of the Enlightenment.

Yes, the Enlightenment, like higher education, is a good thing, but the Enlightenment in our time (again like higher education) has a Malthusian side. Only college graduates can be saved. There is no hope for the others. The other day, I met a friend, Dick Longworth, who had found a copy of a book, The End of Economic Man by Peter F. Drucker, the famous economist who published it in 1939 after he’d fled the Nazis. Drucker argued that people who supported Hitler and the others were tired of rational politics, because rationality, whether in a liberal or Marxist form, had failed. It was the Great Depression; everything had collapsed. The thrill of fascism, or authoritarianism, Drucker argued, was precisely that it was so loopy—so counter to reason, at a moment when reason and rationality had failed. “Isn’t that what is happening now?” Longworth asked. 

Yet back in the Depression, the Enlightenment had indeed failed. Now, however, it’s working only too well. The Enlightenment is coming to take away your job. Or it’s poised to take away you, altogether—your moral status, your sense of self-worth, your understanding of where you belong in a feverishly globalized grid of knowledge as social power.

And all this is threatening because, as was the case during the Industrial Revolution, there is a new kind of economic order, one leading to the permanent consolidation of the Knowledge Economy. That’s the threat for so many people displaced or otherwise made redundant by the ascendancy of the postgraduates—and that’s what the Democrats at least appear to be speeding up.

But the real threat is something else: We aren’t speeding it up at all. We are keeping it in the hands of a few. We don’t trust the working class to have a share in it.

In his classic 1944 study, The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi made this argument about the Industrial Revolution: It was not the material but the moral inequality that was the worst part of it. Indeed, in a material sense, the industrial workers forced into the cities were better off. Perhaps it is not economic inequality but moral inequality that is, to quote Obama, the defining issue of our time: It is the loss of social standing, social claims, the social assets that working people used to have, because, in our time, education is so much more decisive. Working-class constituencies have especially lost their standing in the Democratic Party—in part because they do not share our moral concerns, or our own enlightened values, like open-border immigration. And we Democrats rub it in—celebrate this dispossession—because as the party of education, we are the party that makes working people feel bad about themselves.

In this sense, Trump’s election is a good thing for us liberals, since it has made so many of us better people—that is, committed to decency, indeed, to Enlightenment values. But it’s also made us worse—readier to brand the white working class as failures—and in doing so, consciously or unconsciously, we are becoming much less sympathetic to their inability to defend or safeguard their social standing in an age when higher education is everything. We also make it harder, in our carefully concealed contempt, for people not already admitted to the charmed circle of Enlightenment to go on believing in themselves.

There is no foothold left in big cities, or anyplace else where the global winners live, for high school graduates to exercise even a tiny bit of power. There’s no church to slot into as a deacon, no chance on the shop floor to rise as a foreman, no union in which to become a shop steward or officeholder, no big-city political machine that in this digital age needs anyone to go door to door. Our wage workers have been stripped of every way to exercise the kind of morality or have the opportunities that come so easily to the top fifth. At least in the case of the Industrial Revolution, as described by E.P. Thompson in The Making of the English Working Class, there was religion—the new Methodist faith that gave the English working class a sense of moral superiority over their owners. But in the working class remade and discarded for the postindustrial age, there is an uptick in drug abuse, one-parent families, and indebtedness. The top fifth of the country, the most educated, may well be more moral—and, God knows, even more religious in terms of actual Christian values—than the current white working class. But that, too, represents another form of class oppression, worse than in the Industrial Revolution—the top fifth have appropriated all the morality.

And at least the old English working class had another claim on moral superiority: They were at the cutting edge of a new kind of economy, a new means of production. They were the advance guard in this respect, ahead of everyone else. They did enjoy—or at least must have felt—a sense of power. But in the time of Trump, this is the class that is left behind. Their real cri de coeur—so I would argue—is not against “globalization,” or even automation, but against their own receding sense of importance in the world. In this ever-mushrooming economy that is replacing the old one, in which knowledge is power, and data governs all, working people are told they are merely superfluous.

They’re not the advance guard of this revolution, the ones putting in place a new Knowledge Economy—to the contrary, they’re being put out. They’re not just making less; they’re made to feel they are worth less.

Now it may seem as if I’m taking their side—but every time I’m tempted to do so, some damned thing gets in my way. For example, my law firm is now representing some school districts in Illinois state court in a suit to force more aid from the state of Illinois—not for Chicago, but downstate, where the Trump voters are. It would be much easier if voters would change the Illinois constitution to allow for a progressive income tax, so that the wealthy up in Chicago would be paying for the instruction of working-class kids in downstate schools. Indeed, many of the wealthy in Chicago are in favor of a progressive income tax that would go to these kids—it’s the white working class that is against a progressive tax that would largely benefit them. It’s hard to sympathize with the oppressed when they are acting as the instruments of their own oppression.

But here’s why I still come out on their side: For all the fine words about college education, or joining the Knowledge Economy, we cling to a corporate model of socioeconomic power that’s designed to shut them out of it. It’s a resolutely union-free economic ideal, and in my lifetime I’ve seen that model become far less inclusive and participatory. In the rich countries, it is hard to think of a corporate structure less likely than ours to let mere high school graduates take part in the Knowledge Economy. The more that they might engage in a new type of production—not a standardized or role-based model, one that would afford working people some measure of control—the harder it is to fit into our corporate model. I admit here that I am much taken by the argument of Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s The Knowledge Economy. He claims we are trying to limit the Knowledge Economy, with the aim of depriving access to it among the working class.

But why limit it? Well, for one thing, there’s the well-documented incentive to hoard resources and maximize profits. The fewer people you have making decisions, the fewer people you have to buy off. Put another way: The more people with agency or voice, the greater the number of people who have to be paid off. Or to say it still another way: A democracy in the workplace makes it harder to swoop up all the compensation to the top.

Meritocracy has its own deep state—with secrets unknown even to those of us who are part of it. And the worst thing is the way it can taunt the working class with the ideals of the Enlightenment, when it is we meritocratic liberals who have the greatest interest in limiting its spread. We think we’re acting in such good faith in pushing for college and even community college education. But real salvation can be offered only to a few, on a retail, not a wholesale, basis: Instead of raising people up collectively, we’re being careful to do it one diploma at a time.

I think the working class—white, black, Latino—may have a sense of what is going on. OK, some of them have made a mess of their lives. But who can blame them entirely if they tell us to take our Pell Grants, our educational tax credits, and the rest and shove off?


The American political economy may be more rigged than even what Elizabeth Warren is telling us. While she may be wrong on college for all, at least she’s out there proposing a more democratic workplace, which is the only viable way to open up the Knowledge Economy to the members of the white working class who went for Trump. She deserves immense credit for proposing co-determination—really, a stakeholder model of collaborative enterprise that will replace, or at least transform, our top-down corporate model. But there is a risk in picking merely one part of, say, the German system of worker councils sitting on corporate boards, without taking the rest: Co-determination, if it is to work, needs a strong labor movement outside of that corporate structure to prevent it from being co-opted. The Germans have very strong unions, at least in manufacturing; and they have works councils too, which could easily turn into company unions if they’re transplanted here.

There’s another problem with pursuing co-determination as a policy end in itself: It is hard for it to electrify the country, or working people, until they see it working in real life. It is unlikely to happen at the federal level—barring some tsunami for the left in 2020—but in many blue states, it could be put in place now. No, not for profit-seeking corporations, which can escape state law on corporate governance by incorporating in Delaware or, worse, South Dakota. But it can be tried in nonprofit entities like universities—Harvard University?—or big hospitals—Massachusetts General Hospital?—that cannot escape its strictures so easily, since they depend on charitable property tax exemptions from the state.

Still, there’s Warren, and others, and if the Democrats are far from ready to try economic co-determination at the state level, at least she and a few of her colleagues have made a start. A serious co-determination movement mandates a change not just in labor law but also in corporate law to solve the fundamental economic problem of our age: that is, to get our corporations to invest not in stock buybacks but in the creation of human capital, for every employee. What the working class needs is not only a redistribution of income, or even a redistribution of power. What they need most of all is a redistribution of work.

For a long time, I used to tout the German stakeholder model, which is limited and far from perfect, but still much better than our own. I thought that co-determination had some impact on big investment decisions. But I was wrong: While workers elect just under half of the directors to a supervisory board in which management can break a tie, that supervisory board has less of a role than our own executive boards of directors do in making critical corporate decisions. Yet there is a way in which this amplified voice for workers in the corridors of corporate power does lead to more investment in the skills of working people: They do have to be bought off, often in subtle ways, and the buying off can frequently take the form of broad-based investment in people as human capital. Instead of investing in a new production process, the mandate now is to invest in the people who invent the production process—indeed, in the Knowledge Economy, maybe it is a production process to be used but once, to make but one particular thing.

All of this cries out for a new form of democratic education—not college for all, but heavy state investment in lifetime learning, as in Denmark. But any such endeavor also requires heavy investments of private capital, which again becomes a far more plausible prospect if there is a new, more democratic workplace, or one that is guided by real worker voices and real worker participation. Indeed, in the case of Germany, this is part of the reason why there is still such a commitment to manufacturing: If private capital has to invest in all that human capital, not once but through the working lives of all these high-skilled workers, that creates a strong incentive to keep a manufacturing sector going, to get a return on that human capital. When John Maynard Keynes wrote The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936), he famously argued that the central economic problem was to get the wealthy to part with their money and to invest in the construction of durable goods. Were he living today, he might insist that the central economic problem is to get the wealthy to invest in the creation of human capital—and in a bigger knowledge-based economy, to maximize the return on that investment.

But more than a change of program, the whole party, left and center left, needs a change of heart. Rather than commission studies of the working class by postgraduates in top-ranking universities, maybe we need to figure out a way to live among them. We need to find a way back into the neighborhoods from which our liberal politics used to come—instead of buying them up and pushing people out. Besides, in Walt Whitman’s poetry, we already have a great study of the working class—in this time of Trump, I have been trying to walk with Whitman. A whole agenda for today’s Democratic Party could come out of his Leaves of Grass. If we treated working people with the reverence that Whitman had for them, if we see them in the workplace as Whitman did, we might never have had a Trump. Whitman—or so wrote my old college teacher and great friend and mentor, the late Sam Beer—saw “the Democracy” coming out of a great division of labor, for to Whitman, the division of labor could be a source of solidarity as well. Whitman calls for us to pay attention to the “grand races of mechanics, work people and commonality”—for even now, as then, out of the work of every class comes the common purpose of the nation. In our division of labor, we confer gifts on one another. For Whitman, as Beer wrote, these exchanges are not just heroic in themselves, but the bonds of our political union. If we are to preserve that union, we have to pay attention to this exchange, strengthen our ability to confer gifts on one another. And if we fail to do so, there will be no great future for our party and no way out of our divide.