What happened to “think different”?

I long ago pushed beyond the threshold of “curmudgeon.” This is not entirely my doing, though approaching 70 accounts for something. I have not been “hip” for years. Nor, really, do I have any desire to be an enthusiastic passenger on the Zeitgeist. I do not get excited about “new and improved.” I prefer that things just work.

I’ll pick on Apple for this occasion, though any number of companies would suffice.

Apple, we will recall, made much about “think different,” offering us images of iconoclastic cultural heroes, from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi, to Einstein and, well, Steve Jobs himself. The marketing, always impeccable, would have us believe that buying Apple’s products was an act of self-expression, setting us apart from the ordinary.

And Apple also proclaimed that its products “just work,” unlike the competition’s offerings, which were often a confusing bundle of components from dozens of vendors. Consumers of those products spent many a frustrating hour trying to get devices to “talk with one another.”

But it is in the nature of technology that nothing shall remain the same. There are constant revisions of software, design, and features. Any self-respecting consumer with means must have these, even if what they replace works perfectly fine.

Early on in its journey, Apple embraced music. It was said to be in the company’s “DNA.” The iPod made this so, allowing customers to listen to their music “on the go.” Over the years, especially after the introduction of the iPhone (which combined an iPod with a phone with mobile access to the Internet), Apple expanded its presence in music. Now Apple offers millions of “songs” with iTunes and Apple Music.

Here is where the curmudgeon truly shines, though not in a good way. Apple now tells me what is “trending.” But curmudgeons don’t give a shit about trends, especially music. A trend, is seems to me, is merely an aggregation of consumer preferences and any given time. There is near-zero chance that I will be interested in any one or any thing that is “tending.” Yet, when I open Apple Music, I presented with lists of trends.

Come on, Apple. “Think different” is the antithesis of “trend.” Sorry, Ghandi. Sorry, Einstein. Give way to Taylor Swift and Tech N9ne and J. Cole, the names that appear right now under Apple’s “new music.”

There. I feel a bit better.

Simple hate

There is much evidence that people voted for Trump because they hate people of color, and Trump, as we all know, both exploited and fueled such hatred, coming out of the box calling Mexicans “rapists,” promising to build a wall along the southern border that would be paid for by Mexicans (?), and threatening to ban all Muslims from entering the country. For added measure, he exclaimed that he would deport millions of illegal immigrants. Hooray, said his supporters. Now that’s a man I can get behind.

Vile. Contemptible.

But, despite decades of bitterly fought struggles to remove the shackles of racism, it turns out that nearly half the voters of this country are indeed deplorable.They are our neighbors, inconspicuous here in Puget Sound, yet open, brazen, and crude in the region of America some call the “flyover” states. You know, all those vast red areas on the electoral map.

Writing for Salon.com, David Mascriota, a denizen of that region, shares his experience of racial enmity, opining that the election was not about the economy, stupid. It was all about race. He tells us first:

When Barack Obama became president-elect in 2008, it seemed as if the entire country had transformed. The progressive orientation of young voters, of all races, and the diversification of American demographics, along with the unique charisma and brilliance of Obama, made what was unthinkable in my childhood an undeniable reality. Now, another previously unimaginable scenario has become all too real. A black family moved into the White House, and another form of white flight took off – white flight from political sanity, white flight from reality, and white flight from responsible citizenship.

His region’s white population evidently clung to its racial animosity, keeping it under wraps, until Donald J. Trump invited them to let it all hang out. Show the world what you really think. And what they think is every bit as loathsome as the Ku Klux Klan or Hitler’s brown shirts. He writes:

It has little or nothing to do with economics. Studies demonstrated, in the Republican primary, that Trump supporters were actually wealthier than the constituencies for the Democratic candidates. Five Thirty Eight reported that the median household income among Trump supporters is $72,000 – not exactly the Joads. If “working-class angst” explains the rise of Donald Trump, why is that working-class black and Latino voters overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton? If the “white working class” feels “forgotten and left behind,” why do they hate President Obama, who extended health care to 20 million Americans, doubled funding for Pell grants, advocated for free community college, fought to raise the minimum wage, and signed the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau into law, helping to protect low-income home buyers from scam mortgages?

My wife and I would often shake our heads and curse the darkness when we would ride through our neighboring town of Griffith, Indiana, over the summer and fall. Trump signs in the yards of homes, and even in the windows of businesses, were a ubiquitous eyesore. In the entire Northwest Indiana region, Griffith has become a major success story. New restaurants, shops and breweries open on a monthly basis, and property values consistently increase. One of the major Chicago newspapers, along with Chicago’s most popular business publication, has profiled Griffith, offering it as a model for small-town economic vitality. Griffith, like Elkhart, Indiana, went from borderline bankruptcy to commercial triumph during the eight years of the Obama administration. In a lengthy profile of Elkhart, the New York Times revealed that when Obama took office in 2009, the unemployment rate was nearly 20 percent. Now it is at 3 percent, but the town solidly supported Trump, even resorting to taunting the Latino members of a visiting high school basketball team with chants of “Build the Wall.”

In Griffith, a woman who owns two bars — far from poor — actually changed the part of her business sign where she typically advertises specials and events to “Vote Trump! Grab ‘Em by the Pussy!” The town council asked her to remove the offending words, but she kept the worst part: “Vote Trump!” is still there.

Ugly in the extreme. Welcome to the America you may have thought had finally been defeated.

Resentment

I’m not alone in ascribing the seemingly recent eruption of far-right nativism to economic insecurity. After all, the Great Recession wreaked havoc on the global economy, which would seem to underpin hostility toward those perceived to be responsible for a decline in one’s fortunes.

The conventional wisdom is that the economic losses suffered by working-class people throughout the developed world explain the rise of this new right. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are estimated to have been lost due to free trade pacts in recent decades, with industries like manufacturing absorbing much of the pain.

That’s created an ocean of angry and frustrated people — primarily blue-collar and primarily white — who are susceptible to the appeal of a nationalist leader promising to bring back what they feel has been taken away.

But, the rise of Trump and populist parties in Europe cannot be explained by economics. The explanation, according to this very important Vox piece, from which the above quote is taken, lies with white, mostly Christian, men feeling displaced by “others,” especially those with darker skins.

Zack Beauchamp, the author of the linked essay, references dozens of research papers that demonstrate the politics of resentment. A very large segment of the American population, essentially most Republicans and nearly every Trump supporter, fears immigrants, blacks, and government “elites” who, they believe, enabled the demographic changes.

This research finds that, contrary to what you’d expect, the “losers of globalization” aren’t the ones voting for these parties. What unites far-right politicians and their supporters, on both sides of the Atlantic, is a set of regressive attitudes toward difference. Racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia — and not economic anxiety — are their calling cards.

These attitudes, while learned, are deep-seated. They go back generations, and dwell within each of us in varying degrees.

I consider myself a tolerant individual. I would never deliberately offend those who are different from me. Yet, I must admit, based on past experiences, that I have feared “others.”

I’ll retreat to my high-school days at Mt. Diablo, in Concord, Calif. Of 2,000 students over four grades, there was a single black student, one or two of mixed raced, and a small population of Hispanics, some of whose families preceded the arrival of Western caucasians, the dominant segment of both the school and city’s residents.

During the summer of my junior year, while pitching for the local American Legion baseball team, I was chosen by the manager to start a divisional playoff game against Richmond. We were the visitors.

Now, despite having spent my first five years in that city, I was not prepared for the experience. The home crowd for that game was comprised of mostly African Americans. And they were vocal. This 17-year-old pitcher succumbed to playoff pressure. I walked the first five or six batters I faced, before finally calming myself down. Upon reflection, I suspect that much of my anxiety stemmed from fear of those who were different, namely black people. As I said above, my own experience was overwhelming white. It was somewhat of a shock, then, to face a hostile crowd who happened to be mostly dark-skinned.

There was another incident. I travelled on a school bus with a contingent of Mt. Diablo students to attend a football game against rival Pittsburg. That city had, and probably still has, a significant percentage of African Americans. The high school’s student body reflected the wider demographics.

Now, I don’t recall whether or not there were any incidents, but I do remember feeling afraid, an attitude shared by most everyone on the bus, all very white. I regret that fear now, certainly.

I concede that the reaction of far-right groups and individuals may be instinctual, as it likely was in me 50 years ago. However, I cannot condone xenophobia or racism or Trumpism.

Such attitudes, however, must be overcome, not embraced and fueled by political leaders and their associates. Trump is not healthy. He poses a very real danger. As the New York Times‘s editors wrote in their endorsement of Hillary Clinton: “[We believe] Mr. Trump to be the worst nominee put forward by a major party in modern American history.”

Mr. Beauchamp, the Vox writer, offers some hope:

The forces of reaction, of ethno-racial supremacy, have been defeated in the past, and can be defeated again. The key to doing it is to refrain from surrendering on core values — to reaffirm Western societies’ basic commitment to tolerance and to craft policies that promote that commitment rather than back away from it.

The future shouldn’t belong to the Front National and its ilk [including Donald Trump]. It should belong to the people they’re afraid of.

A slice of Trumpism

Peeking around the corner from the “basket of deplorables,” what explains Trump’s appeal to small-town inhabitants, who comprise a lion’s share of Trump support? In an essay for Quartz, Morgan Ramsey-Elliott, an ethnographer, writes:

But during my time in the field, I began to arrive at a more complex interpretation. It is true that fundamental prejudice plays a role in some conservatives’ attitudes toward minority groups. It is also true that, to Robby’s family and others like them, groups of people who are actually fighting for basic human rights look like individuals who have decided to elevate their own identities and needs and appear to be calling for special privileges. This idea is anathema in communities that value, and in many ways are structured around, subsuming individual needs and desires for the good of the group. For many I met in rural America, “minority” agendas and the individualism they are seen to represent are a manifestation of a larger problem: the vanishing respect for duty and self-sacrifice for the sake of the local community.

Ah, community. It’s become an illusive and rare commodity in the U.S., certainly. Communities, I should imagine, depend on a critical mass of a local population sharing common values and broad experiences. Communities would also be necessarily small. How else to know one’s neighbors?

Viable cities may achieve “community” in numerous distinct neighborhoods or districts. I think of Seattle’s Georgetown, Capitol Hill, Magnolia, and West Seattle, for example. Insofar as these areas succeed as communities, they do so by capturing and promoting unique identities of place, but also lived traditions. Thus, they are essentially conservative in collective disposition, however liberal and progressive its individual residents’ political and social attitudes may be.

In contrast, suburbs prevent community-formation, save for ad hoc religious groupings based on physical churches. Too many distinct houses and miles of roads conspire to deny even neighborhoods.

Small towns, idealized to be sure, provide the requisite ingredients for community. They are typically older, marked by lived traditions over generations of inhabitants. People know one another and are both willing and able to help each other out in times of distress. I suspect that small-town residents harbor hostilities toward newcomers and “others” who do not look or behave like them. It is impolite to rise above the rest. Moreover, they are suspicious of cultural “isms.” As Ramsey-Elliott puts it:

Far from being abstract, the social infrastructure of small town America is extremely concrete and personal.

I’ll end with quoting the last paragraphs of the writer’s piece:

In this way, Trump is tapping into rural America’s community-first structures and values, as well its highly individualistic and personal dynamics of everyday social interaction. At first glance, these two logics that play such an important role in small town social life—communitarianism and individualism—appear contradictory. But the gap between the individual and immediate community in these small towns is extremely small. In many ways, the community is an extension of the self. It’s a simple point. But it’s something liberal politicians often fail to appreciate when trying to engage small-town America: they focus on either highly abstracted notions of American ideals, or prioritize the rights of individual self-expression.

Until the coasts develop a more nuanced understanding of everyday life in rural America—how values like service, duty, generosity and authenticity are actually experienced—we will continue to have a reductive view of Trump’s supporters, which may in turn further deepen the country’s political and social rifts. In this, the most divisive election in modern history, it has never been more important to think deeply about why certain messages resonate with voters across the center of our polarized nation. Without such a concerted effort, attempts to engage rural American voters will be as flat as our stereotypes of them.

 

Facts matter

The “basket of deplorables” comment by Ms. Clinton generated strong reaction from the right, of course, but also from more liberal pundits. Yet, in the fog of commentary few bothered to check the numbers. Are half of Mr. Trump’s supporters “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” as Ms. Clinton averred? That translates into roughly 20 percent of the population. Could that many people belong in the “basket”? Well, yes.

Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic also reacted. He is not too happy with journalists:

…For much of this campaign journalists have attacked Hillary Clinton for being evasive and avoiding hard questioning from their ranks. And then the second Clinton is forthright and says something revealing, she is attacked—not for the substance of what she’s said—but simply for having said it. This hypocrisy carries a chilling implicit message: Lie to me. Lie to the country. Lie to everyone. This weekend was not just another misanalysis, it was a shocking betrayal of the journalistic mission which should urge the revelation of truth as opposed to the propagation of hot takes, Washington jargon, and politics-speak.

Amen.

You cut in line

Like many people, I am appalled by Trump and Trumpism, wondering how both phenomena could happen? I have toyed with the notion that there has always been a subset of Americans disposed to believe inane things, some cloaked in abject hatred for “others.” Certainly there is much history on the waves of nativism, xenophobia, and, of course, raw racism, an irrational belief that white people are superior to people of color and that the latter should be oppressed, enslaved, or deported. Trump, as we’ve come to experience, enables and encourages this subset, taking the worst in us to the mainstream. After all, Trump is the official presidential nominee of the Republican Party.

But I should suspend my judgments for a bit to consider the possibility that the subset has justification for their “feelings,” however base and divisive they may be. Perhaps there are millions of Americans who feel cheated or disrespected. They’ve tried to live by the rules in their quest of the American Dream. Yet, these “others,” which are both people and “the government,” have impeded their progress or denied them outright.

Such is the view proffered by Arlie Hochschild, whose work and conclusions are referenced in this Vox piece by Dara Lind. She quotes from an interview with Hochschild, who spent five years in Louisiana observing it’s mostly poor inhabitants.

Think of people waiting in a long line that stretches up a hill. And at the top of that is the American dream. And the people waiting in line felt like they’d worked extremely hard, sacrificed a lot, tried their best, and were waiting for something they deserved. And this line is increasingly not moving, or moving more slowly [i.e., as the economy stalls].

Then they see people cutting ahead of them in line. Immigrants, blacks, women, refugees, public-sector workers. And even an oil-drenched brown pelican getting priority. In their view, people are cutting ahead unfairly. And then in this narrative, there is Barack Obama, to the side, the line supervisor who seems to be waving these people (and the pelican) ahead. So the government seemed to be on the side of the people who were cutting in line and pushing the people in line back.

As Lind points out, these suspicions are unfounded. Yet, they exist nonetheless. Rather than dismiss these attitudes and the people who have them, liberals and progressives might try to understand and appreciate the sources of the discontent and take steps to rectify. Lind suggests:

You could stubbornly insist the pain isn’t real, because it’s not justified by economic reality, or say that it’s their own fault for being racist. That would shut down the conversation; it would drive them deeper into the conviction that they’re locked in opposition against nonwhites and the elites who aid them.

Or you could acknowledge that pain and try to fix it. But you’d have to find a way to do it without saying it’s okay to resent nonwhite people for making progress in America — without accepting the premise that one group’s gain is always another one’s loss.

Who among us?

Yesterday Donald J. Trump invaded Everett, a once-thriving mill town that’s now in transition, let’s say, though I have no idea to what. At any rate, its blue-collar heritage intact, Everett joined Lynden and Spokane as Trump venues in the state of Washington, the latter two cities well-known for their extreme conservatism. Is Everett not far behind, despite Democrats solidly entrenched in elected offices?

As my wife and I took the elevator down in our apartment complex, a woman joined us from a floor or two below. With a smile on her face she announced that she was a “Trumper” holding a ticket to last night’s event and hoping to make it into the arena. As my wife and I headed out for dinner, we wondered aloud what was behind the smiling eyes? Unfortunately, we concluded that she was a racist.* Harsh? But if Donald J. Trump stands for anything, it is racism.

Since Trump’s campaign announced that the candidate would be appearing at Xfinity Arena, about four blocks away from our downtown dwelling, I had wondered who among my neighbors would be attending the rally, or at least trying to get in. Actually, I do not want to know the answer. One confirmed is enough.

The Everett Herald talked with a few people waiting to get in. Here are some excerpts:

“This election cost me a 30-year friendship,” she said. “That’s how serious this election is. I have a 30-year friend who was a Bernie supporter. I’m a Trump supporter. We got into it so much that it ended our friendship.”

Brandon Knox, 18, of Auburn, showed up at 2 a.m. and was first in line.

“I like Trump because he’s pro-gun and he wants to enforce immigration,” he said.

Photographs taken both inside and outside the arena show white faces almost exclusively. These are the Trumpkins, the Trumpsters, the Trumpettes, the Tumpeteers.

Conspicuously absent from the event? Local and state Republican office holders. Hmmm.

___________

* Here’s my dictionary’s definition: a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another