Archive | November 2016

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.

Holy Crap, Trump Won

I wish I could claim to not have been surprised by the election of Donald J Trump. I was not as surprised as our professional mainstream media, some of whom this morning can only choke back spittle as they rail against the orange one:

The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism.

I have been reading predictions of Trump’s working class support for over a year, from history guru John Michael Greer, from cubicle cartoonist Scott Adams, from the occasional odd source like Peggy Noonan. I didn’t completely buy in to their predictions, but I did expect that Trump would stay a lot closer than pollsters like Nate Silver predicted. Watching on both NBC TV and The Young Turks internet feed, I was still surprised to see him winning in real time:

Donald Trump, the bombastic reality-TV-star-turned-politician, won by harnessing deep discontent with Washington and deep-seated loathing of his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In so doing, he upended every scrap of conventional wisdom. With zero political experience, Trump dismissed the trappings of a routine candidacy. He insulted people. He warred openly with his own Republican Party. And he eschewed politically safe talk for calls to “build the wall” and “drain the swamp,” tapping into a deep vein of American populism.

I don’t think the election was really about Trump, though, or primarily about racism, or sexism – though Trump certainly appealed to a racist, sexist sliver of society. The engine of this election was a repudiation of an establishment (of both major parties) that has prospered at the expense of the middle class. That engine almost put Bernie Sanders on the Democratic ticket, except that he was outmaneuvered by both the media and the DNC.

But a friendly media couldn’t ensure the election of Hillary Clinton, though they tried. At the Guardian, Thomas Frank writes, Donald Trump is moving to the White House, and liberals put him there, and asks:

How did the journalists’ crusade fail? The fourth estate came together in an unprecedented professional consensus. They chose insulting the other side over trying to understand what motivated them. They transformed opinion writing into a vehicle for high moral boasting. What could possibly have gone wrong with such an approach?

Put this question in slightly more general terms and you are confronting the single great mystery of 2016. The American white-collar class just spent the year rallying around a super-competent professional (who really wasn’t all that competent) and either insulting or silencing everyone who didn’t accept their assessment. And then they lost. Maybe it’s time to consider whether there’s something about shrill self-righteousness, shouted from a position of high social status, that turns people away.

The second paragraph strikes home. I’ve encountered enough self-righteous disdain that, as Chris Rock might say, “I’m not saying they should have voted for Trump, but I understand.”

Splainin’ Trumpism

The presidential race has tightened. On a Young Turks snippet, Cenk Uygur cited a number of reputable polls putting Trump ahead in various swing states, and even Nate Silver has lowered Hillary’s chances from 87% a few weeks ago, to about 67%. Some attribute the Trump surge to James Comey investigating more of Hillary Clinton’s, “damn emails,” others cite a staggering recent increase in ACA (Obamacare) premiums. I have doubted all polling since FiveThirtyEight blew the Michigan primary.

Since Donald J Trump became a credible candidate, just about every pundit or blogger – myself included – has taken a stab at explaining why voters might support such a strange duck. I understand that Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo plans to write a book on the subject. I’ve already posted about the comparisons to Brexit, and the disaffected working class voters, and the pundits that have gone there. Most don’t go there.

A lot of mainstream media prefer to focus on Trump’s appeal to angry, white, male voters. The Awl makes that into quite the joke: The Only Article You Need To Read About Why Trump Voters Are Angry.

On a more serious note, one of my stepdaughters, who walks the walk at the Southern Poverty Law Center, facebook-posted an article from Dame Magazine, Why I Have No Sympathy for Angry White Men:

Their disillusionment needs to be heard since these feelings are why Trump’s racist and sexist appeals have found a large audience. Their plight, from the declining life expectancy to the heroin epidemic, from poverty to mass shootings, requires intervention because if White men are struggling, we are all doomed.

America is founded on the belief in the American Dream—for White men. … I’d like to welcome them to the world that people of color have lived in for centuries, with no hope of reprieve and no resources for reprisal. Let the salt of their tears season their brains to see beyond all the traps that they have laid for themselves in the minefields of White supremacy and entitlement.

I agree that Trump supporters would have a stronger case if they had been out marching for Trayvon, Tamir and at Standing Rock – but there are a lot of people of all ethnicities sharing in the working class decline. Many were heartened by Bernie Sanders, but can’t stomach Clinton or Trump. Most, though, will choose one or the other.

In, Donald Trump and the rise of white identity in politics, The Conversation supports a more charitable thesis of White Identity politics:

Many political commentators credit Donald Trump’s rise to white voters’ antipathy toward racial and ethnic minorities. However, we believe this focus on racial resentment obscures another important aspect of racial thinking.

In a study of white Americans’ attitudes and candidate preferences, we found that Trump’s success reflects the rise of “white identity politics” – an attempt to protect the collective interests of white voters via the ballot box. Whereas racial prejudice refers to animosity toward other racial groups, white identity reflects a sense of connection to fellow white Americans.

We’re not the first to tie Trump’s candidacy to white identity politics. But our data provide some of the clearest evidence that ongoing demographic changes in the United States are increasing white racial identity. White identity, in turn, is pushing white Americans to support Trump.

When we talk about white identity, we’re not referring to the alt-right fringe, the white nationalist movement or others who espouse racist beliefs. Rather, we’re talking about everyday white Americans who, perhaps for the first time, are racially conscious.

Of course ‘white’ is a fairly elastic term. George Zimmerman, half-Peruvian, looks Latino, but was white enough after he shot a black youth. Barack Obama, half-AngloEuropean, will never be white enough because his skin is obviously dark. I’m hoping this analysis is wrong because what we need are everyday Americans who are more class-inclusive, and less susceptible to racial division.

The Meritocratic Elite

A few days ago I listened to a three-months-old discussion between Robert Scheer and Thomas Frank – author of What’s the Matter With Kansas, and Listen, Liberal – in which Frank defined what I had been calling the comfortable class as the meritocratic elite: people who go to the same sorts of schools, know the same sorts of people, enjoy the same sort of success, etc. Frank sees them as the top ten percent, while I was thinking more like top twenty of thirty percent.

Anyway, for those who are still ticked off at our choice of presidential candidates, Mr Frank brings up the elite again in an article in Harper’s called Swat Team, The media’s extermination of Bernie Sanders, and real reform

But 2016 was different. It was a volcanic year, with the middle class erupting over a recovery that didn’t include them and the obvious indifference of Washington, D.C., toward the economic suffering in vast reaches of the country.

For once, a politician like Sanders seemed to have a chance with the public. He won a stunning victory over Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, and despite his advanced age and avuncular finger-wagging, he was wildly popular among young voters. Eventually he was flattened by the Clinton juggernaut, of course, but Sanders managed to stay competitive almost all the way to the California primary in June.

His chances with the prestige press were considerably more limited. Before we go into details here, let me confess: I was a Sanders voter, and even interviewed him back in 2014, so perhaps I am naturally inclined to find fault in others’ reporting on his candidacy. Perhaps it was the very particular media diet I was on in early 2016, which consisted of daily megadoses of the New York Times and the Washington Post and almost nothing else. Even so, I have never before seen the press take sides like they did this year, openly and even gleefully bad-mouthing candidates who did not meet with their approval.