Searching

A long time ago I started work in a new city. I needed work on my little VW convertible, and my boss said to go to a local guy, Denny. He was gruff, but once I told him my boss sent me, he agreed to look at my car, and he did good work for not too much money.

At that time, I would run every day, and near the end of my run, I would pass an auto shop near my house with signs about specializing in electrical work. The owner would always give me a smile, a wave and a happy word as I went by. One day when I had trouble starting the car, I took it to that nearby shop. They replaced the battery. It still had trouble. They replaced the alternator. It still had trouble. They replaced – I don’t know – something else. Finally I took it to Denny and told him what the other shop had done.

All he said was, “They’re searching.” I asked what he meant. “They don’t know what’s wrong, so they’re just replacing things.” He fixed it.

It has occurred to me that after all the talk about white anger, a lot of Americans have done just that by electing Reagan, then Clinton, then Bush, then Obama and now Trump. We know there is a problem, and keep thinking we can solve it by replacing the sputtering president with a new one.

But it hasn’t worked. And now we have a hell of a four years ahead of us.

Policies vs Identity

OK, I thought I was done with the angry Trump voter articles, but this one at the Washington Post is pretty good. They interviewed Kathy Cramer, a poly-sci prof from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, just before the election. When the Post felt that Cramer had slipped into the voice of the mostly rural people she sought out and listened to, they used italics – blockquote messes with italics, so I’m going to add bold:

Post: I want to get into this idea of deservingness. As I was reading your book it really struck me that the people you talked to, they really have a strong sense of what they deserve, and what they think they ought to have. Where does that come from?

Cramer: Part of where that comes from is just the overarching story that we tell ourselves in the U.S. One of the key stories in our political culture has been the American Dream — the sense that if you work hard, you will get ahead.

Well, holy cow, the people I encountered seem to me to be working extremely hard. I’m with them when they’re getting their coffee before they start their workday at 5:30 a.m. I can see the fatigue in their eyes. And I think the notion that they are not getting what they deserve, it comes from them feeling like they’re struggling. They feel like they’re doing what they were told they needed to do to get ahead. And somehow it’s not enough.

Oftentimes in some of these smaller communities, people are in the occupations their parents were in, they’re farmers and loggers. They say, it used to be the case that my dad could do this job and retire at a relatively decent age, and make a decent wage. We had a pretty good quality of life, the community was thriving. Now I’m doing what he did, but my life is really much more difficult.

I’m doing what I was told I should do in order to be a good American and get ahead, but I’m not getting what I was told I would get.

There’s another interview with Cramer on her observations after the election:

Here’s the thing that was really eye-opening to me this morning. Eventually, we got around to discussing specific policies. I asked, “So what are you hoping he accomplishes in the next four years? In what ways do you think he’s actually going to make your life better?”

And they kind of looked at me. And they said, Well, probably nothing. Presidents don’t do anything for people like us. But at least he’s going to balance the books and stop spending money that we don’t have.

The Autonomous Government

Every two years, we elect parts of the government, and then sit back as they drive the country around and around, hither and yon. Sometimes we try to comment or protest about where we are headed, but it seems pretty clear that the government only changes direction for people with money. Even votes don’t matter all that much any more.

Almost forty years ago, the government began deregulating large financial institutions. About eight years ago, those institutions almost drove us off a financial cliff, and into the great recession.

One reaction was the Tea Party movement, named after the Boston Tea Party, which rose in early 2009 in protest of bailouts like the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and even the auto industry reorganizations. But the Tea Party eventually morphed – or was morphed – into a more fiscally and socially conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Another reaction was the Occupy movement, which echoed the Arab Spring and overseas anti-austerity student protests in the UK, Spain, Chile, and Greece. Hordes of young Occupiers railed against Wall Street and corporations as the 1%, but were never completely on board with their anarchist organizers, and were eventually dispersed by local governments.

One might see the presidential campaigns of Donald J Trump and Bernie Sanders as later echoes of the Tea Party and Occupy, respectively. Sanders’ campaign was undermined by the Democratic National Committee, but he now seems to be a major voice in what is left of the Democratic Party.

Trump ran as the anti-establishment voice for the forgotten working class, but seems to be surrounding himself with “experienced” staffers from the ranks of the same swamp he promised to drain. It remains to be seen exactly how Trump governs, but I suspect that he will end up as another passenger in the autonomous government.

More Hindsight

I remember in college when B Kliban’s cartoon book Cat (“love to eat dem mousies!”) became hugely popular and all of a sudden all the stores had all sorts of other cat cartoon books, too. At first I thought they were copycats (heh) but I realized a lot of this other work had already been out there, and was just getting noticed because of Kliban. Same goes for a lot of the magical books that rode the coattails of JK Rowling.

Right now, everyone is busy trying to explain why Trump won. Half of them are trying to set the narrative by trying to blame Comey or Stein or racists, but there is also a wealth of opinion on the white working class that simply wasn’t showing up before the election proved a lot of pundits dead wrong, and out of touch. Thomas Frank is one of the main sources, but at Harvard Business Review, Joan C Williams offers What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class:

Understand That Working Class Means Middle Class, Not Poor

The terminology here can be confusing. When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true “middle class,” and they call themselves either “middle class” or “working class.”

“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,” a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. WWC men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.

Williams goes on to explain that while the working class (including most of my siblings, and most of my wife’s family) admire rich people, they resent highly-educated professionals (such as me) and particularly professional women.

If You Want to Connect with White Working-Class Voters, Place Economics at the Center

“The white working class is just so stupid. Don’t they realize Republicans just use them every four years, and then screw them?” I have heard some version of this over and over again, and it’s actually a sentiment the WWC agrees with, which is why they rejected the Republican establishment this year. But to them, the Democrats are no better.

Both parties have supported free-trade deals because of the net positive GDP gains, overlooking the blue-collar workers who lost work as jobs left for Mexico or Vietnam. These are precisely the voters in the crucial swing states of Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania that Democrats have so long ignored. Excuse me. Who’s stupid?

This is of course why everyone is bringing up NAFTA and the TPP (which presently seems dead in the water). Whether any sort of protectionism could have preserved manufacturing jobs is hard to say, but both parties certainly smoothed the way for employers to send them overseas. It seems unlikely that Trump can bring back all those jobs, but I expect him to make some symbolic gestures.

Democrats! huh

What are they good for? Absolutely nothing? Not quite, but they have become a very ineffectual, weak party.

Consider that with a majority in both houses, President Obama could only pass the insurance-friendly Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which may have brought some coverage to a great many poor people, but did nothing to control health care costs. The Act was weak enough that several states were allowed to discourage advertising, enrollment and expansion of Medicaid. Even though the mandate seemed to be a boon to insurance companies, many have been withdrawing from money-losing markets. Recent staggering increases in premiums have been cited as affecting the recent election, and many potential customers routinely choose the penalty as more affordable than the coverage.

Consider Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court vacancy. He was not a particularly liberal pick, but the Republican-controlled Senate withheld consent, hoping for a very conservative pick by the next President. The Democrats could do nothing. Republicans seem to have won that battle, unless President-elect Trump nominates Judge Judy Sheindlin.

Consider that the Populist/Republicans now control the Presidency, Senate, House of Representatives, and far more statehouses and state legislatures. Many of the Democrats that do hold office are far from progressive.

So while we can be properly grateful for the social gains initiated by the Democrats, we have to be concerned that they haven’t got the political muscle to protect or expand them in the future.

Good God, y’all!

Who To Blame

By now we’ve all read many, many pieces to the effect that the burghers of the Democratic Party and the mainstream media, and much of the new internet media, vastly misread the working class electorate. Matt Taibbi has another good one in Rolling Stone.

But yesterday I ran across an article in CNN: How Gary Johnson and Jill Stein helped elect Donald Trump.

The entire scenario conjures up memories of Ralph Nader’s Green Party run in 2000. Nader’s share of the vote in that year’s razor-thin Florida contest was 1.63%, according to the final totals from the Federal Election Commission. Bush won the state by just .05%, which tipped the Electoral College in his favor. (Nader has for years denied his candidacy played a role in Bush’s 2000 victory.)

It’s impossible to know how an election could have gone under hypothetical scenarios, but the Johnson campaign regularly said they thought they were pulling support equally from would-be Trump supporters and would-be Clinton voters. Stein’s campaign, meanwhile, made a constant, explicit appeal to disenchanted Democrats and former supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

First, whenever the press mentions Al Gore’s electoral defeat in 2000, they never, never, never mention their complicity in the meme that Gore claimed to invent the internet. The video clip of Wolf Blitzer’s interview of Gore was strangely unavailable until after the election, but there was endless rehashing and misquoting of that story. Gore is a fairly vanilla guy, and ran a fairly lackluster campaign. He failed to carry his home state. According to all recounts but one, Gore won the popular vote in Florida, but lost in a controversial Florida Supreme Court decision, that was essentially upheld by the US Supreme Court’s refusal to review the case.

But they always have, and always will blame Nader.

Second, Gary Johnson did help Donald Trump win. But he did not take votes away from Hillary Clinton. Some Libertarians are very well read, but most are essentially conservative Republicans that want to smoke a little weed, don’t like the US fighting in foreign wars and know something about Ayn Rand and Freedom. Very few of them would ever vote for a big government Democrat.

With former Governor William Weld behind him, Gary Johnson was well-positioned to siphon Republican votes away from the disreputable Trump campaign. Early on, Johnson-Weld were polling between five and ten percent of the vote, or more. Then came Johnson’s “What is Aleppo?” gaffe, followed closely by an interview in which he could not name a foreign leader. Johnson limped out of the race taking only 3% of votes away from Trump.

After offering her spot to Bernie Sanders, Dr Jill Stein – who urges a healthy skepticism towards big pharma – was repeatedly savaged by online DNC trolls as an antivaxx advocate, and her campaign went nowhere, too. She took maybe 1% away from Clinton. If Johnson had known even a little about foreign affairs, and taken 5%, Clinton may have won the battleground states.

But third parties make excellent scapegoats.

Update 20161112: The video at the end of the Rolling Stone article also claims that third party votes contributed to Clinton’s loss, and Rachel Maddow has also made the same argument on her MSNBC show.

Update 20161113: John Laurits crunches the numbers of the third party vote. Thanks to trkingmomoe for the link.

Refusal to Learn

Greenwald just knocks it out of the park. Here are some snippets, but read the whole thing at The Intercept. [Update: Greenwald was interviewed on this topic on today’s Democracy Now]

Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit

THE PARALLELS BETWEEN the U.K.’s shocking approval of the Brexit referendum in June and the U.S.’ even more shocking election of Donald Trump as president last night are overwhelming. Elites (outside of populist right-wing circles) aggressively unified across ideological lines in opposition to both. Supporters of Brexit and Trump were continually maligned by the dominant media narrative (validly or otherwise) as primitive, stupid, racist, xenophobic, and irrational. In each case, journalists who spend all day chatting with one another on Twitter and congregating in exclusive social circles in national capitals — constantly re-affirming their own wisdom in an endless feedback loop — were certain of victory. Afterward, the elites whose entitlement to prevail was crushed devoted their energies to blaming everyone they could find except for themselves, while doubling down on their unbridled contempt for those who defied them, steadfastly refusing to examine what drove their insubordination.

The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.

1. Democrats have already begun flailing around trying to blame anyone and everyone they can find — everyone except themselves — for last night’s crushing defeat of their party.

2. That racism, misogyny, and xenophobia are pervasive in all sectors of America is indisputable from even a casual glance at its history, both distant and recent.

3. Over the last six decades, and particularly over the last 15 years of the endless war on terror, both political parties have joined to construct a frightening and unprecedentedly invasive and destructive system of authoritarian power, accompanied by the unbridled authority vested in the executive branch to use it.