Friday, November 11, 2016

My Election Catharsis

Although I returned last weekend from a trip that was super excellent and was bursting with photos and a desire to rip out another enthusiastic blawg post, the events of Tuesday have taken the luster off my buzz, to use a bad mixed metaphor.  And though much has been written by people who are far smarter than me (which is kinda why I never followed up with additions to my only election-related post of last spring) I feel compelled to throw down a bunch of thoughts, if for no other reason than simple catharsis. 

Like a lot of people  -most? – I kept being surprised by Trump’s success despite himself: his super cheeseball, gliding-down-the-gilded escalator announcement of his candidacy, his absolute dickishness towards his hapless competitors in the primaries, his weekly outlandish pronouncements that even Associated Press releases would point out were false, and his boorish temperament all seemed to me things that the electorate would find unappealing in anyone, much less a presidential candidate.  But with each of these incidents, he seemed to be that much more emboldened, pushing and confirming the concept that there’s “no such thing as bad PR.”  And in addition to saying the infamous statements about The Wall, Muslim and Mexican immigrants, etc it became clear that the large, Christian faith-based conservative population which – like it or not – are a strong political force in the US were well-aware that he didn’t share their values.  So if he doesn’t have liberals and he doesn’t have conservatives, how could he continue to be successful in the quest? 

Some years ago I read a great book  - recommended by brother Paul – called “DeerHunting With Jesus.”  It’s by a guy who grew up as a good ol’ boy in West Virginia and “made it” as a writer in New York, and he wanted to go back home and figure out why his old neighbors had a penchant for voting for candidates who consistently voted against their best interests; ie why poor people vote for Republicans whose mission it is to cut social aid of any kind to poor people.  Though it’s difficult to summarize an entire book into one sentence, fundamentally it’s because elected Republican officials realized during the Reagan years that people vote on emotional issues, and they cornered the market on the emotional issues that mattered to those people; basically:  God, Guns, and Babies.  And everyone – elected officials and constituents alike – ignored the boring details of economic policies that kept people down.  In the meantime, Democrats tried to explain ever-more-complicated policies to people who were deaf to it, and as unions have gone from being dominant in the American workforce (at one point 1 in 3 workers were union) and the Democratic party was historically heavily supported by unions (Dems for the people, Repubs for the corporations) so it was an easy to gravitate toward politicians who knew well what the voters wanted to hear.  

And that has continued to today.  Who doesn’t want to “Make America Great Again”, “End Illegal Immigration”, “Bring Back Factory Jobs”, “Make Government Accountable”, “Lower and Simplify Taxes For Everyone”, “Make Our Streets Safe”, "Rebuild Our Bridges", and “Clean Up Corruption?” All great goals, but they are simply platitudes that mask incredible complexity of each issue.  But the simple words resonate with people who can’t (won't) grasp the complexity, and they want to believe, so they then do believe.  But the truth is that what many people want to believe is either very subjective (what is “great?”  A military superpower that can blow up the earth many times over?  Or is it a country that readily “accepts the tired, the poor, the hungry” of many different nationalities/races/sexual preferences?) or stunningly unrealistic (bringing back TV manufacturing). 

Part of the pent up frustration (that is manifested in anger) is seemingly rooted in white Americans thinking (realizing?) that they are not only becoming more diluted due to immigrants and economically suppressed by increasing international production and/or domestic automation, but that they themselves are getting treated like – and bypassed by – people whom they don’t feel should be supplanting them.  In a great article sent to me by Chris Cochella (that's basically a quick summary of Deer Hunting with Jesus), a liberal Berkeley sociologist spent a couple of years in the Louisiana Bayou trying to understand why people there are for Republicans and against Big Government despite the fact that several corporations created severe, dramatic environmental disasters (one was a sinkhole that swallowed 300 homes!).  The analogy that she came up with is that these people are in a long line going up an ever-steepening grade that leads to the American Dream, and the line has not only stopped moving but minorities, immigrants, and even migratory birds are getting waved into the line ahead of them, and  - right or wrong – they are being waved in by the Gubment.  And bygawd, they are entitled to the American Dream! 

And the lead waver-inner is Black.  Despite being 50 years past the Civil Rights Amendment, it’s no secret to anyone that despite much perceived enlightenment, there are still many people who overtly or subconsciously are just suspicious and/or critical enough of African Americans – and all other minorities, for that matter  - that the thought of them being deep in the line and having "those people" “taking cuts” in front of them and having those cuts being created by a wealthy, articulate, and powerful Black Guy is too much for them to handle.  And thus the Great White (orange) Knight swings in with thunderous gusto to potentially defy The Uppity Bitch, who is almost as bad as The Black Guy.  I hope I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think I am.

Ironically too, much of the dissatisfaction/frustration/anger is a function of one of Republicans’ fundamental societal blocks:  Supply side economics. Originally introduced by their folk hero Ronald Reagan, it is fundamentally means cutting taxes on wealthy people so that they have more money to invest in their businesses that employ people and buy more shit from other people.  However, 35 years of this – not really curtailed by either Bill Clinton or Obama – has simply resulted in ever-increasing income inequality, which is why so many “middle class” people don’t feel so middle class anymore.  But people dislike economics and economists almost as much as they hate the government meddling in their business, and as long as the ever-more-expensive political campaigns are the realm of rich people, those elected rich folks will use any language they can to avoid the simple fact that they and their friends are doing (wink) just fine with with their portfolios, and there isn’t a lot of incentive to change that scenario.  But doubly ironic, one of the supposedly-richest people in the world somehow swoops in and says to the middle/lower class “I feel your pain!”  Huh?  The last time you felt economic pain was when you had to face the fact that you were going to carry over $1B in you wouldn't have to pay taxes.  But again, folks believe it because they want to believe it, even though rich people simply add the ever-more money that they make to their investments, even though the “trickle” down is indeed barely a trickle (at least they architects of this theory got that part right!).  People also feel entitled to "their share", and over time I’ve come to believe that a strong sense of entitlement is almost as powerful emotion as love, hate, and envy (because all of those are wrapped up in a sense of entitlement).

What now?  Well, The Donald has:
·      Promised to eviscerate the EPA (those people in Louisiana with toxins in their swamps inexplicably will love this).
·      Repeal Obamacare (though as someone smart has pointed out in the last few days, even Republicans are loathe to take realized benefits away from people)
·      Get the US out of the Paris Climate Deal (BAD all around)
·      Simultaneously spend $1trillion on infrastructure and make $1.5trillion in tax cuts (a $3trillion difference: a good trick, if he can pull it off!), as well as generate 4% economic growth. 
·      Activate a system to really deport illegal immigrants (tho the Obama administration was the biggest deporter in US history)
·      “Bring back” coal energy, even as it has seen a very organic decline, even as renewables have had equally-organic growth
·      Create trade restrictions on China (that will really  piss off people about their TV’s; there’s no more domestic manufacturing, but at least the prices of them will skyrocket). 
And of course many others. (that's a depressing link)    Potentially apocalyptic, but here’s a thought:  bring it on.  Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post had a good column today and basically said:  “OK America, showin’s better’n tellin’.  Half of you wanted it, you were misguided and unwilling to listen, so now’s your chance!" The next four years will be a stark confirmation if Trump voters’ pious indignance about the perceived degradation of our economy and society and your faith in the platitudes by Republicans and your president will manifest itself in an improved economy and society….or not.  Most of the smart people I’ve read feel that this will not occur, but 4 years goes by pretty fast. 

However, the unfortunate thing is that if indeed the worst manifestations of a Trump Nation come about, the scars will be deep and long lasting: putting off action on climate change, stultifying economic growth….again, regressing on social memes via Supreme Court nominations (hang in there Ruth!), executing permanent losses of land/flora/fauna to development, and more. 

I had hoped/assumed that people would act in their best interests and see through that asshole’s charade, but – as I said in my FB post – it’s hard to fully underestimate our fellow Americans.  Time will show what they have wrought upon us all. 

Two interesting/discouraging facts:  One (according to Peter Donner; I haven't fact checked it yet, but it is...Peter Donner):  "Hillary lost Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan by a combined total of 107,000 votes, or 0.8% of 13.6 million cast in the three states.  If she had won those states, she would have won the election."  

And....from Ashley:  "Trump got roughly the same number of votes as Romney in 2012. Clinton got 6.5 million less than Obama in 2012. Dems stayed home."

Remarkably, despite being The Greatest Country on Earth, we also have probably the most  apathetic electorate on earth as well.....

1 comment:

  1. I like your blawg post. A few thoughts and comments.

    I do think there is a way to win over the group of white males ala a big, warm and fuzzy hug ($$ and recognition) from the government and the country. I am not saying this simply to win people over, but to do what is right by people that put alot into our country and are suffering. But there is not a "need" to win them over in that expensive way. Instead, just tell them economic fairy tales (cheap) and effective because it is in the same sentence as babies, guns and God-- it works.  Same thing in the book "What happened to Kansas"--deserted towns, gated communities and Dean & DeLuca stores for the execs that "have" to be in Kansas to manage the Cargill farms.  But people are hurting at the end of the day and it seems to continue.  And that makes me sad because that hurt is not letting us go forward and I don't like it that those folks built the industry of this country that was our way to where we are now and are now cast aside despite their points of view.   (Good description of this hurt and illustration of the election data from an Economist no less: jump to section on Election). They are people. They are devoted, patriotic Americans.  That makes me sad and it is not the promise of Capitalism. Of course, much of capitalism has been hijacked which makes me furious.  Wealthy Socialism comes to mind and of course they deserve it because they did it all. No, they did it with OUR system and with OUR people—Americans.  The system and our people made their wealth possible. Warren Buffett calls much of this wealth the "ovarian lottery"--Being born in America, timing, parents. This system costs something and we should all pay for the privilege of being in it and take care of those that are the inputs to it.

    I just don't think the Dems have it either, but they certainly have a lot less effect/outcome (as we all do) if we all keep fighting for some stupid-ass sense of control as if that is the way forward.  Would the Dems or the country consider change if Hilary had won?  No. I think we (the royal we) would have said, "told you so". Just as perhaps Trump supporters will do.  This does not work.  Try it out at home or with a friend?  Loneliness will happen. (Again, see the link above).

    Where is the "reboot" button?

    Maybe Trump is the reboot button like your Rampell article intimates.

    You also mention that Economists are disliked.  This is too bad, because so many of these decisions are economic and few people bother to learn the basics and think critically.  This is a lot like abdicating your retirement to someone who truly has little more intelligence and education than  yourself, paying them a % (and they get a % in a conflict of interest product sale) to do mathematically no better than an index fund (never mind that somne predict [who really knows] Trump intends to repeal the Fiduciary requirement of financial advisers, a direct shot at "screw the consumer" which has existed forever).  This is deep, deep cognitive dissonance amongst all Americans.  Wakeup.  Economics and basic finance should be revered because we talk on and on about its effects (trickle down, supply side,interest rates up/down, the Fed, jobs here or there, trade, efficiency) everyone dislikes it yet everyone votes on it.  Think.  Understanding that we have socialized healthcare ala the Emergency Room requires thinking about finance and economics.  Understainding that the majority benefit heavily from trade--how much would your TV cost if made in the US. Not that boring in my opinion as it is so central. Yet, boring/disliked but these are pivot points of our election. Did I say cognitive dissonance already?