Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Formerly Silent Majority

Throughout my adult life, I have been baffled by people who have supported candidates and political platforms that were contrary to their own self-interests. Why would small business owners and blue collar workers support GOP candidates that facilitate anti-union efforts, corporate raids, unfair corporate advantage, and the exporting of American jobs? Why would people in economically- challenged rural areas support candidates that favor agribusiness over small farmers; and seek to ban abortion when the cost of raising a single child is astronomical and can be devastating to the life of a single woman? And these same candidates seek to squash all government aid designed to assist in the raising of an economically-challenged child.

Reflecting on my own childhood, I began to get some understanding. I was part of a large middle class family. My father was the breadwinner and my mother managed the home. We were not ultra wealthy but we were very comfortable in everyway. Education and travel were taken for granted as long as one maintained a healthy work ethic. All our neighbors, and all my friends, had remarkably similar circumstances. I attended a public middle school and public high school in the late 60's and early 70's. It seems very peculiar now, but there were no African-American students and you could count the number of students of Hispanic decent on one hand, shocking in retrospect, for a public school in Los Angeles.

Fifty years later the dynamics of my neighborhood and my school, over time, have changed broadly. I believe this may not have been the fact for many communities in Red states. And because of this some Americans have not adapted either psychologically or economically to the changing realities. And the change is not fake news, but real. And this change is disconcerting, even frightening for those Americans.

We have had a black president. The LGBT community, something that was never discussed when I was a boy, is achieving recognition and rights. Foreign competition and technology have evaporated well-paying American jobs. Women play a prominent role in the workforce. The wealth gap between the rich and poor is increasing faster than the polar ice caps are melting. And the American middle class is becoming an endangered specie.

America became great with the rise of a middleclass, beginning with the Industrial Revolution typified by Henry Ford and innovation of interchangeable parts, and solidified by the post World War II boom when America provided for the world. And with globalization and the decline of the middleclass, America is waning.

I didn't vote for Trump. In fact I haven't voted for a GOP candidate since Lowell Wicker ran for governor in Connecticut in 1990. But I can see why many people did. GOP candidates tend to be loud and brazen and angry. They symbolize masculinity and a return to the "better" past. They appeal to the machinist who has lost his job and cannot provide for his family and the small farmer who has just faced foreclosure. They appeal to the veteran in Thurmond, WV whose kids can't find a job. And they appeal to all the Archie Bunker types who feel emasculated by the election of a gay city councilman.

The GOP has become the party of depraved, indifferent, conmen and criminals. The greatest tick Trump, and the rest of the Republicans, ever pulled is convincing the formerly silent majority that he would do something for them.


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Why Trump Won in "16.........

I  heard one pundit the morning after the election say that both parties have been so busy trying to put together coalitions of wedge and single issue voters over the last 30 years that everyone forgot to broadly target the formerly young, formerly middle class white families in middle America that have become a vanishing demographic and are now in the minority, but still the largest minority voting block in America.  These were the people whose anger Richard Nixon tapped into in the turbulent society of 1968 when they were still the "great silent majority", and while most of them were and remain surprisingly provincial and unsophisticated in their ideals, they were not the same cadre of angry bigots and anti-government white people that George Wallace rallied around the American Independent Party (affectionately known then as the "Apes" for their acronym and political philosophy) in the same year.  These were the people who suffered through two oil shocks that further isolated them from the rest of country and disrupted a lifestyle that depended upon travel by private automobiles and supply lines served by over the road trucks.  They had their savings devalued by runaway inflation, then were "squeezed out" of buying cars and homes and investing in farms and small businesses when Paul Volker raised interest rates to squeeze the inflation out.  The Reagan Republicans energized these people temporarily, but ultimately abandoned them and took them for granted by adopting tax cuts for the rich on the theory that the benefits would “trickle down” to them, even though very little of that money ever really trickled down to the small mill towns and agricultural centers of middle America.  Bill Clinton sold middle Americans on a new vision of sensible populism to replace the New Deal and Great Society, but he too abandoned them and took them for granted by talking their employers and unions into supporting free trade on the theory that it would replace their industrial jobs with higher paying modern tech and service jobs.  In the end, a few people became fabulously wealthy in the "new economy", but free trade and lower tax rates encouraged traditional employers with factories and service centers (which had moved to smaller places in America seeking lower costs and cheaper labor in the 1950s and 1960s) to outsource labor intensive business to countries where building and labor costs were negligible, and their ability to offshore and outsource work gutted the bargaining power, prestige and political capabilities of the great industrial unions and left workers to fend for themselves.  While some people in major urban centers with good infrastructure managed to make a transition to better work, the working class people in small towns and cities more commonly ended up with shift work in retail and fast food or doing odd jobs for construction companies or their neighbors to make a living. 

Middle Americans have always been patriotic and nationalistic, and while many made a pragmatic decision to join the "all volunteer military" to escape the increasing dead ends of local life, many more saw the National Guard as a way to make extra cash for their young families by volunteering for weekend and summer duty, and the occasional task of helping with disaster relief and security did not impose too many hardships on people rooted in families and jobs in small places.  George W. then betrayed them again by deploying National Guard units to conduct foreign wars rather than gearing up the number of regular volunteer army troops needed to meet his objectives, and although he paid lip service to the sacrifices of the Guard units, he did not do very much to support their families or small business employers while they were deployed and ultimately dropped hundreds of thousands of returning veterans back into their small communities without access to the kind of medical, psychiatric and social support needed to treat their physical injuries and PTSD.  Bush then led the country into a financial and economic collapse which might have been the only time in 35 years when the small places in middle America received the same treatment as their urban and suburban counterparts, and Bush then "solved" the problems he created with a plan that bailed out the major financial oligopolies from the liabilities and losses sustained from their intemperate gambling for bonuses, but did not require them to pass on the favor to the people in middle America who had undertaken financial obligations to them in good faith that they could not now repay.  Obama offered middle America the "hope" of rebuilding our country, and actually got votes from some of them, but allowed his handlers to waste his temporary majority in Congress on a stimulus bill that combined "investments in America's future" with old fashioned pork barrel deals, and neither of these provided much tangible relief to any of those
areas outside of the major urban centers where the steady increase in people's misery had grown even worse after the financial collapse.  By the time Obama started working on ideas that might have broader benefits, so many people who had been left behind over the years had been poisoned by the anti-progressive propaganda of Fox News, conservative talk radio, fundamentalist churches, and internet conspiracy theories that they swelled the moronic ranks of the Tea Party, which beyond its pointless fixation on nostalgia, negativity and anarchy, elected representatives who were openly antagonistic to and categorically rejected any efforts by the Obama administration (like the ACA) to provide meaningful relief for any of the real world problems faced by the very voters who elected them.  

And Why Trump Will Win Again in 2020



In his own P.T. Barnum way, Trump united small town working people with each other and with family farmers who had been driven to the wall by industrial farming, produce imported from low wage countries, and constant manipulations of financial markets that generated obscene profits for speculators but created wide swings in the prices of commodities and agricultural land that made small farming unsustainable.  In doing so, he turned the century old farmer-labor coalitions of Midwestern Democrats and Progressives on their heads, and managed to get enough votes to turn back the new Obama urban coalition of educated young professionals, aging liberals and poor minorities that had enabled the Democrats' to elect a black candidate despite their loss of traditional support among working people outside of the major urban centers.  Unlike Hillary Clinton and the establishment and Tea Party Republicans he out polled, Trump appeared to finally listen to the grievances of his new “silent majority”, and even pretended in his semi-coherent way to stand up for them after 35 years of neglect and betrayal by both parties by dumbing down his message and selling it enthusiastically and relentlessly.  Along with their respect for the power of the "big lie", Trump and his surrogates also used rallies and events in the same clever ways as the Nazis had in the 1930s - to amplify the supposed voice of "little people" by gathering them into crowds where they gained an initially unrealistic but increasingly self fulfilling view of the power of their own numbers and Trump was the only star.  In contrast, Clinton's rallies drew countless famous people from pop culture to energize her supporters, but did not provide the same immersive emotional experience of being part of a larger movement to the little people in attendance and tended to upstage the qualities of the candidate with the star power of her endorsers.

The final results did not so much reflect a lack for support for Clinton as a net rise in voter participation for Trump among people who had stopped caring about the government (as opposed to Tea Partiers who already actively hated and feared it), and this edge was enough to sweep an unqualified, temperamentally unsuited, and generally dishonest person into leadership of the Free World.  The media and Democratic Party analysts can slice and dice the data in a thousand ways, as they did before the election, and it still won't explain why Hillary lost after she had run the right kind of campaign to win an election in an increasingly pluralist and supposedly data driven America.  My post mortem review indicates that all anyone needs to know about this election can be seen in the maps showing vast red expanses of counties in rural areas of the swing states that had turned colors many times over past election cycles in favor of particular candidates or messages, and in some of the lopsided vote totals these smaller counties returned for Trump.  While Trump's support in urban areas was generally a distinct minority composed of his basket of young deplorables from the alt.right and aging Archie Bunker holdouts in shrinking white neighborhoods, he almost uniformly swept the votes in districts which used to have functional Democratic Party support in those cities of under 100,000 people anchored for many decades by local industry, and these allowed him to win the electoral vote with close races in swing states despite coming up short in the total popular vote.  I guess it took the gut feelings of a “big picture” promoter to see through the details of single issue voters and demographic voting propensities that for years have hidden a larger and simpler (and therefore more troubling) picture of the mood among the least cultivated and often least rational segment of our electorate.  From the evidence in the swing state voting, I think this election was more about geography and economics than age, sex, religion or level of education (although many of these may correlate statistically by reason of self selection - i.e., young people, liberals, gays, atheists and highly educated people tend to move to urban areas where they find better opportunities and social acceptance).  While Trump's marketing ploys may have exposed a more realistic fault line in America than the market segmentation and targeting of minorities and single issue voters that got Obama elected and reelected, I personally find it sad that Trump and his racist allies have replaced Lincoln and his abolitionist allies as the face of the Republican Party, and I still believe from the exit polling that there were more people on the wrong side of the fundamental geographical, economic and cultural divide who were willing to overlook the racist and misogynist overtones of his campaign than the numbers who actually embraced it.  Because so many of the Trump voters were willing to ignore facts and common sense to vote against the establishment, this election has provided future Republican strategists with a new corollary that Lincoln left out of his famous quote on the American electorate – “You can win an election if you fool most of the people most of the time.”

To illustrate the problem with an analogy, most people know that even the most loyal and good natured dog can turn vicious and aggressive if it is abused or neglected over a long enough period, and once a good dog turns bad, it takes an enormous amount of time, attention and consistency to restore its trust in people and bring back its original character.  Some people are willing to make the effort to turn the situation around and have the love and patience to rescue a dog, but others don't believe that it is worth the time and effort, or the risk of the rescuer being attacked and injured during the process because of the evils inflicted by other people over the years which the dog comes to associate with people in general.  I have likely wasted thousands of hours over this long election reading, researching and vacillating between mindless rants and more elegant but equally feeble efforts to explain things political and historical in an election that defies precedent, and while I like to think I understand what went wrong with politics in this election, I came away with no good ideas of how anyone would fix the situation, regardless of who ultimately won the contest.  In my frustration, I have been forced to fall back on a piece of blunt New England wisdom offered at the end of what is perhaps Robert Frost’s most morbid poem, “Out, Out”, where a young New England farm boy bleeds to death after cutting his hand off with a power saw.  After recounting the boy's last moments, the surreal nature of the momentary violence of the accident and quiet fading of his life, and the helpless moment when the family confirms that his heart had stopped, Frost closes with words that resonate with me today:



 "No more to build on there. And they, since they
 Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."