US Middle Class Revolt is Still Divided

Roughly eight years ago, from the ashes of the Great Recession, we in the United States saw the rise of the Tea Party movement. Three years later brought the Occupy Wall Street movement. Both began by protesting the effects of Wall Street speculators on the economy, and the government’s unwillingness to do anything but bail out banksters and help them become richer. The Tea Party was somewhat mirrored by the rise of rightwing groups in Europe. Occupy and similar movements such as the Arab Spring, the 15-M Anti-Austerity movement (Indignados), etc. were also occurring in other countries, and were often ascribed as much to the ubiquity of cellphones and social media as to any new abuses by government.

The Tea Party was gradually co-opted into a protest against just about everything to do with liberals, the government, and the new President Barack Obama. Tea Party followers were mobilized in primaries to support conservative Tea Party candidates against moderate, establishment Republican state and national congressmen.

Occupy, being run by dedicated anarchists, was more difficult to co-opt. But rank-and-file Occupiers were not ready to do much more than demonstrate peacefully, hold general assemblies and try to hash out an ideal sort of world order. Their camps were eventually overrun by city police, and efforts to revive the fervor have been underwhelming. Some Occupy groups still try to achieve local objectives, like housing the homeless, but no one talks about Occupy candidates in national politics.

Now we have parallel political revolts within the Republican and Democratic parties themselves. One was initially based on anti-immigration fervor, and is personified by Donald Trump, and perhaps Ted Cruz. The other hearkens back to rage over Wall Street’s influence over the government, and is personified by Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders.

A lot of virtual ink has been spilt trying to explain why voters are engaged with a media personality like Trump. One of my friends loves that he is calling media, government and others on all the PC bullshit that has been coming down the pike for years. Nate Silver chalks it up to media exposure. Scott Adams believes that Trump is a Master Persuader in the vein of Dale Carnegie. John Michael Greer believes that Trump is adeptly channeling the resentment of the hourly wage class that has been savaged by Democrats and Republicans, and by the top 1% and the top 25% salaried classes alike. They resent being called racist, but are only accepting of minorities that act just like white people. These folk see immigrants and foreign competition as the primary bogeymen in the loss of their lifestyle.

It seems to me that Sanders is likewise channeling the resentment of underemployed millennials and older folk who have been left behind by the economy and left out of the BLS unemployment statistics. These folk probably attended or closely identified with Occupy events. They may have marched for the environment, favor unions, and tend to feel accepting of minorities and immigrants. They see a rich elite as the bogeymen.

Despite the media’s take on Iowa, both Trump and Sanders did well enough to show that voters are definitely looking for a change. I think that together, these movements would wield enough power to significantly change the government-industrial complex. The question is whether there will ever be enough common ground for them to function together as a political entity.

Media Breathes Sigh of Relief

From watching the morning newscast on WBAL and from reading TalkingPointsMemo and FiveThirtyEight, there seems to be a palpable sense of relief that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders didn’t win their respective party’s Iowa caucuses.

Also, even though it took the evangelical outsider Ted Cruz to beat the rage maestro Trump, Marco Rubio, a GOP candidate that currently seems acceptable to the GOP establishment, made a good showing of third on the GOP side.

The sense of anticipation that the election will finally start to follow a safe establishment Dem vs establishment Rep plotline seems just as pronounced in the so-called new or internet media. They seem no more inclined to want revolutionaries, and the prospect of real change, than are the mainstream media.

Breaking the Economy to Save the Wealthy

In November 2015, FiveThirtyEight posted, The Economy is Better. Why Don’t Voters Believe It? of which I noted they didn’t seem to believe their own explanation.

The easiest explanation for this paradox is that it isn’t a paradox at all: Americans are pessimistic about the economy because, for many of them, the economy hasn’t gotten better.

One of my infrequent commenters didn’t believe it, either.

But in, Americans Are Still Really Worried About The Economy, FiveThirtyEight seems more inclined to believe their own headline:

It’s possible that voters, with memories of the recession still fresh in their minds, simply don’t believe the signs of progress, or worry they won’t last. But here’s another explanation: Americans are feeling better about the economy right now, but they remain deeply worried about their longer-run prospects — retirement, student debt and, in particular, the ability of their children to find middle-class jobs. This shows up in Gallup polling data, which shows a marked divergence between Americans’ assessment of their current conditions and their future outlook.

Those fears are grounded in economic reality. Wages may have rebounded from the recession but they have been largely flat since 2000 after adjusting for inflation. A college degree, long the surest pathway to the middle class, is no longer such a sure bet. And a growing group of influential economists are arguing that the U.S. has entered a prolonged period of slow growth. Few economists would endorse Trump’s plans for dealing with that stagnation, but it’s understandable that voters are looking for solutions.

FiveThirtyEight, and most other pundits, are still failing to notice the savaged class of blue collar hourly wage earners so aptly described by John Michael Greer in one of his most widely read and quoted articles, Donald Trump and The Politics of Resentment:

And the wage class? Over the last half century, the wage class has been destroyed.

In 1966 an American family with one breadwinner working full time at an hourly wage could count on having a home, a car, three square meals a day, and the other ordinary necessities of life, with some left over for the occasional luxury. In 2016, an American family with one breadwinner working full time at an hourly wage is as likely as not to end up living on the street, and a vast number of people who would happily work full time even under those conditions can find only part-time or temporary work when they can find any jobs at all. The catastrophic impoverishment and immiseration of the American wage class is one of the most massive political facts of our time—and it’s also one of the most unmentionable. Next to nobody is willing to talk about it, or even admit that it happened.

Ironically enough, you had to go to Gawker’s, hello from the underclass to find stories about these people.

The Fed is also blind to the situation of the middle class, and is still toiling to preserve the wealth of the upper percentiles. In Al Jazeera, Dean Baker argues against unnecessary inflation control with, Don’t let market crashes obscure our economic malaise:

The world economy suffers from pretty much the same problem it has faced since the collapse of the housing bubble threw the world economy into recession in 2008-2009: a lack of aggregate demand. Prior to the collapse of housing bubbles in the U.S., much of Europe, and elsewhere, the demand created by these bubbles drove growth. …

The best that we can probably hope for is that they not do anything to make things worse. This is where the Federal Reserve Board comes in. The Fed raised interest rates in December. The purpose of this rate hike was to slow the economy in order to head off inflationary pressures.

If it was not already pretty obvious in December, it certainly should be obvious today: We don’t have any inflation to worry about. The inflation rate is way below the Fed’s target and more likely to go lower than higher in the immediate future. In other words, the Fed was acting to slow the economy without any real world justification.

Incredibly, Sen. Bernie Sanders was the only presidential candidate in either party who seems to have noticed. He criticized the Fed’s actions and urged it not to take further steps to hurt the economy.

Teflon, Diesels, Toxins, Cancer

I’m probably not the only one wondering whether some of these celebrities recently died in their late sixties because of smoking, using drugs, or just from being immersed in a sea of carcinogens like the rest of us. You might think the EPA protects us by labeling carcinogens, but they only test a small percentage of chemicals in use. For example, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, or C8, a key substance in Teflon, was not tested until one law firm brought a lawsuit on behalf of some farmers downstream of a dump site.

The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare

‘‘Rob’s letter lifted the curtain on a whole new theater,’’ says Harry Deitzler, a plaintiff’s lawyer in West Virginia who works with Bilott. ‘‘Before that letter, corporations could rely upon the public misperception that if a chemical was dangerous, it was regulated.’’ Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the E.P.A. can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the E.P.A. has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years.

… if you are a sentient being reading this article in 2016, you already have PFOA in your blood. It is in your parents’ blood, your children’s blood, your lover’s blood. How did it get there? Through the air, through your diet, through your use of nonstick cookware, through your umbilical cord. Or you might have drunk tainted water. …

Bertel Schmitt used to blog at The Truth About Cars (as did I), now blogs at the Daily Kanban, and in Forbes Magazine, writes: Dieselgate Now Officially An Industry-Wide Problem As Cancer Worries Mount

Nitric oxide NO, nitrogen dioxide NO2, and nitrous oxide N2O (as a group called NOx) are released by many forms of combustion. Over half of NOx is released by internal combustion engines, particularly diesels. Volkswagen’s falsifying of their emissions tests has brought renewed attention to NOx, a carcinogen that I breathe every time I bike behind a bus.

The driving force behind it is German lobby group Deutsche Umwelthilfe, which through its member Axel Friedrich, a former official of Germany’s EPA-equivalent Umweltbundesamt, is connected with the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), the NGO that helped unravel Volkswagen’s dieselgate in America. For years, the group has tried to draw attention to the fact that NOx causes cancer, and that it is, according to the WHO, as dangerous as asbestos. Now, as Reuters writes, “the diesel scandal has heightened awareness of real-world NOx emissions by the broader auto industry,” and the message of the campaigners is beginning to resonate.

Will We Occupy the Vote?

A few days ago, FiveThirtyEight was trying to throw a little water on the Donald Trump buzz in, Donald Trump Is Really Unpopular With General Election Voters

 … Most Americans just really don’t like the guy.

Contra Rupert Murdoch’s assertion about Trump having crossover appeal, Trump is extraordinarily unpopular with independent voters and Democrats. Gallup polling conducted over the past six weeks found Trump with a -27-percentage-point net favorability rating among independent voters, and a -70-point net rating among Democrats; both marks are easily the worst in the GOP field. (Trump also has less-than-spectacular favorable ratings among his fellow Republicans.)

A coworker questions whether the polls are accurate about this. He doesn’t think people are going to admit to a pollster that they like Trump, even if they do think he might do a good job, any more than they would admit to disliking minorities, even if they do think minorities deserve what they get.

In a chat format, FiveThirtyEight today asks, Is the Bernie Surge Real?

micah: Are you all surprised that Sanders has gotten this close?

clare.malone: I don’t think it’s really all that surprising. I actually think, as crazy as it might sound, that Donald Trump and Sanders are trying to appeal to similar forces fomenting in the American population; people are frustrated with the way things are going, they are skeptical of big institutions (banks!), and they want to see a different kind of leadership. Of course, Trump’s way of courting this is instilling fear in people, and Sanders’s way of courting this is righteous, idealistic governmental revolution. They’re both populist movements, albeit with undertones of authoritarianism in one.

Nate and the other chatters thought the Bern surge was still hypothetical but I think Malone is spot on. I agree that the populist movements are influencing the election – in different ways, of course.

Tribal Privilege Warriors

I wasn’t all that aware that Social Justice Warrior had become an insult until a recent series of comments on The ArchDruid Report. SJW seems to have derived from young game-playing males defending their online culture, where women are fair game for abuse. An October 2015 article by the Washington Post clarified the timeline: Why ‘social justice warrior,’ a Gamergate insult, is now a dictionary entry:

… the word came into the mainstream during Gamergate, an online backlash against progressive influence in gaming which cannot be described neutrally in one sentence. Its supporters say the whole thing was really about ethics in gaming journalism, but the movement gained widespread attention for a subset of Gamergate’s supporters, who conducted several troubling harassment campaigns against women in gaming and journalists.

As happened with the word liberal, opponents – Tribal Privilege Warriors, if you will – began to use what was a neutral word as an insult. If you recall classic schoolyard bullying tactics, the alpha isolates anyone that seems different and vulnerable, comes up with an insult – fatty, four-eyes, mama’s boy – and repeats it over and over until even the target’s friends think of him or her as Fatty.

Granted, many groups assign nicknames, and some nicknames skirt the boundaries of insult. One of my wife’s nephews was known as the DeafMonster, which made fun of his disability while acknowledging his size and strength. But SJW is not meant to acknowledge any virtues.

In the case of SJW, the implication is that the target is a hypocrite: mouthing socially-positive, politically-correct platitudes while actually enjoying the benefits of tribal privilege. An older term was limousine liberals, white people who visited the ghetto to talk about lifting blacks out of poverty then hopped in their limos back to the gated community.

Barack Obama’s final State of the Union speech struck me as the President trying to make the case for continued social justice, reasoned discourse, and mutual understanding while denying that we are facing a declining economy. On the tribal side, Trump and Cruz are taking advantage of economic doldrums to propose authoritarian reinstatement of white privilege.

Trump and Nativism

By birth rates alone, Muslims are bringing a huge change to the culture of Europe, just as Africans, Hispanics and even Asians have and will to the United States. Many Europeans and Americans don’t want to allow their white heritage to be swallowed up in a darker-skinned future. They dismiss tolerance and multiculturalism as wrong-headed PC – political correctness. They characterize the newcomers as evil partially because they see them that way, and partially because that sounds better than admitting they want to continue the domination of the lighter-skinned.

In response to the widely-reported New Year’s Eve assaults on women in Cologne, Germany, an anti-immigration group called Pegida demonstrated against Muslims in the streets, as shown in a video on LiveLeak. While more liberal citizens wore or waved Refugees Welcome shirts with a silhouette logo of three running children, the protestors carried a banner with silhouettes of three armed adult refugees chasing down a woman, reading Rapefugees Not Welcome. Other signs read Multikultur Stoppen, Kriminelle Auslander Raus and Merkel, sind Ihre UNTATEN VOLKES WILLE?, which roughly translates to “Merkel, are their misdeeds the people’s will?” According to sources, Angela Merkel did say, “Surveys are not my scale,” which has been interpreted by anti-immigrants to, “the people’s will is not my concern.” Merkel has pledged to support deportation of criminal immigrants.

In response some counter-protestors held a sign reading, Massengrab Mittlemeer, or Mass Grave Mediterranean, and a very warmly-dressed woman stood over a sign reading, “Hey Rassist! Du bist so widerlicht! Die Welt konnte so schon sein OHNE DICH!” which roughly translates to, “Hey racist! The world would be fine without you!”

On LiveLeak, sympathetic commenters posted pictures advising Rape is Just Muslims Being Muslims, and German People First. But others countered, “I’m glad the police smashed these idiots. This doesn’t mean I support the sex offenders who groped those women (they should be smashed too). But that doesn’t mean I have suddenly developed sympathy and common cause with Nazis.”

The protestors don’t consider themselves Nazis, or even racists, though their protests do often attract neo-Nazis and youths wearing Lonsdale shirts with only the NSDA showing. They also reject when the German press calls them Wutbürger or Frustbürger meaning, enraged citizen or frustrated citizen because those terms apply to frustration over the bad economy as well. They might not balk at being called, Neue Rechte (New Right) or JungKonservative or Nationalrevolutionäre. Pegida stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, or Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident. Local names vary. In Bonn, it is Bogida, in Cologne, Kögida; in Berlin, Bärgida.

Anti-Islamists don’t often talk to the Lügenpresse, or liar press, but reportedly they want strict immigration controls, immediate deportation of criminal immigrants and for law-abiding immigrants to assimilate by speaking German – even at home.

Those three demands should not be unfamiliar to anyone in the US, particularly anyone who has listened to Donald J Trump’s campaign speeches. The surprisingly resilient presidential candidate has tapped into a similar vein of nativist and anti-immigrant fervor in America.

In The Atlantic, David Frum wrote a cover story, The Great Republican Revolt, in which he put forth the idea that working class Republicans were tired of supporting GOP elites that offered lip service to workers, but really supported immigration that drove down wages. Frum’s idea was echoed, but also criticized in innumerable articles. He responded to critiques by noting:

Ethnic and racial resentment are always with us. The Donald Trump candidacy is like nothing American politics has seen since 1945. Not even George Wallace’s two runs for the presidency can compare: When Wallace sought a major-party nomination in 1972 (the Democratic nomination, as it happened), he first carefully cleaned up his platform and his rhetoric, disavowing his past support for school segregation. Trump has become more inflammatory as he has campaigned, and has only risen in the polls as a result. What’s changed?

This:

The United States—and other developed countries too—are becoming rapidly more ethnically diverse at the same time as they are becoming more economically insecure.

Right now, everyone is trying to figure out why Trump is succeeding. Even Nate Silver and the number wizards at FiveThirtyEight – who a few months ago seemed certain Trump would fade without endorsements – are hedging their predictions. In Three Theories of Donald Trump’s Rise, Silver makes the populist revolt Theory 1, but puts more credence in Theory 2: a power vacuum in the GOP, or Theory 3: Trump riding a media bubble. Before that, FiveThirtyEight chatted amongst themselves, asking, Is The GOP Establishment Blowing Its Anti-Trump Campaign?

There is certainly a power split between the Tea Party and the establishment GOP, which makes Theory 2 just a variant of Theory 1. As for Theory 3, Trump is certainly riding a media bubble, which is to me the most interesting facet of his campaign. The mainstream media serve a wealthy elite, and are trying to squelch non-traditional candidate Bernie Sanders by ignoring him, and are doing a pretty good job of it. But they can’t ignore Trump. Even though it is clear enough that no mainstream media talking head really wants non-traditional candidate Trump as President, their business model is to present the presidential campaign as entertainment. Trump is famous enough and colorful enough that they can’t not cover his outrageous stage antics. And they never anticipated that Trump’s base would dismiss all criticisms as wrong-headed political correctness (see Pegida above). Talking heads are desperately trying to point out that the Donald lusts after his own daughter, and that his latest wife was an immigrant pinup model … but his supporters aren’t listening to that noise.

Trump has what they call machismo in Spanish-speaking countries. His tough image trumps his faults. A recent NY Times OpEd, Obnoxiousness is the New Charisma, notes that both Trump and Cruz understand that, “at this crazy, cynical juncture, there’s a band of voters so distrustful of the usual etiquette that they think valor lies in viciousness, integrity in insult. They’re determined to rebel and want the opposite of what they usually get, along with permission to be their smallest, worst selves.”

It may well be that self-interested Nativism will overwhelm what remains of the good intentions of anti-discrimination legislation of the last century, and Donald Trump has cannily positioned himself to lead that movement.

Update 20160112: TalkingPointsMemo just posted Meet The White Supremacists Who See Trump As Their ‘Great White Hope’

William Daniel Johnson has a vision for America.

… Johnson made waves as a young attorney after he was revealed to be the author behind a pseudonymously published book that advocated repealing the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. “Amendment to the Constitution,” published in 1985 under the pen name James O. Pace, laid out Johnson’s proposal that “No person shall be a citizen of the United States unless he is a non-Hispanic white of the European race…Only citizens shall have the right and privilege to reside permanently in the United States.”

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