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.

Easy to forget

In the endless campaign to determine who shall lead us we may lose sight of some glaring realities. In particular, we forget just how unequal our society has become and the reasons for it. Whether Clinton or Trump wins, the underlying basics of American life suck for the Rest of Us.

gini index us since 1947

Well, Bill Moyers steps up to remind us of the problems and how we got here. He has history both within and outside government and his 80-plus years on the planet give him perspective that few can provide.

“We, the Plutocrats vs. We, the People.” Guess what? The Plutocrats prevail at the expense of “the People.” Moyers:

When I was a young man in Washington in the 1960s, most of the country’s growth accrued to the bottom 90 percent of households. From the end of World War II until the early 1970s, in fact, income grew at a slightly faster rate at the bottom and middle of American society than at the top. In 2009, economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez explored decades of tax data and found that from 1950 through 1980 the average income of the bottom 90 percent of Americans had grown, from $17,719 to $30,941. That represented a 75 percent increase in 2008 dollars.

Since 1980, the economy has continued to grow impressively, but most of the benefits have migrated to the top. In these years, workers were more productive but received less of the wealth they were helping to create. In the late 1970s, the richest 1 percent received 9 percent of total income and held 19 percent of the nation’s wealth. The share of total income going to that 1 percent would then rise to more than 23 percent by 2007, while their share of total wealth would grow to 35 percent. And that was all before the economic meltdown of 2007-08.

But here’s the thing. Inequality grew rapidly not because of “globalization” or “automation.” Inequality is the direct consequence of deliberate policies enacted by Congress. Citing the work of Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Moyers writes:

The winners bought off the gatekeepers, then gamed the system. And when the fix was in they turned our economy into a feast for the predators, “saddling Americans with greater debt, tearing new holes in the safety net and imposing broad financial risks on Americans as workers, investors and taxpayers.”

Regardless of who enters the Oval Office next January, the situation is unlikely to change. It’s the nature of capitalism and its compliant “gatekeepers.”

Getting our attention

Much has been written about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the National Anthem, which is performed before all major sporting events. His action, joined now by dozens of other professional football players, has stirred debate and, of course, considerable controversy, which was his intention, feeling strongly, as he does, about racial injustice, especially as it pertains to perceived unequal treatment of blacks by police officers.

But I would suggest a far more effective way to raise awareness. Since blacks comprise the majority of both basketball and football teams, should they withdraw their labor en masse the NBA and NFL would essentially shut down, putting billions of dollars at risk.

Now that would cause a ruckus.

LEV could save us all

I’ve been watching some of the national parties’ respective conventions. In case you have missed them, conventions involve a lot of speeches and imagery. The purpose of each party’s convention is to rally the faithful and create a contrast with the opposition, as if the latter were necessary. This is done through words and symbols, mostly videos and signs sported by the assembled delegates.

Also, in case you haven’t noticed, there is a huge difference between the presidential candidates, pun intended. I, for one, believe that a Trump presidency would be a disaster in so many ways, not the least of which in defining who or what this country is all about. His election would demonstrate that America is essentially a political and cultural cesspool, even should the electoral votes be close. We are, after all, a country determined by majority rule, as followers of Supreme Court decisions know all too well.

I proudly confess to being a Bernie Sanders supporter. His views, in particular his judgments on economic inequality, ring truer than those of his primary opponent. I felt the Bern, and will continue to do so.

However, and this is most important in the political calculus, I cannot and will not vote for a third-party candidate nor write in Sanders’s name on my November ballot.

My argument is a simple one. Given our electoral system, with winner-take-all elections and the presidential structure itself, casting a vote for someone or some party sure to lose at the polls does indeed constitute a wasted choice. But it’s much worse.

If enough people vote for a third-party candidate, say the Green Party’s Jill Stein, and the numbers represent the margin of victory for Donald Trump, then they will have delivered the worst possible outcome, if we assume further that Clinton would have been the second preference to Stein.

In other words, lesser evil voting (LEV), is morally compelled for those who give a damn about what happens to the environment, women’s rights, international relations, and economic security—to name a few issues.

I admit to being pleasantly surprised to read Noam Chomsky’s essay on lesser evil voting. I commend the entire piece, which is not all that long. I quote his conclusion:

…by dismissing a “lesser evil” electoral logic and thereby increasing the potential for Clinton’s defeat the left will undermine what should be at the core of what it claims to be attempting to achieve.

Surplus males

As I walk the streets of downtown Everett, Wash., I invariably encounter single males standing about or trudging along the sidewalks, often with all their worldly possessions packed into bags or carts. Such a waste, I think. So many men with nothing to do.

The situation is not unique to Everett, of course. In every city the sorry scene I describe is replicated. On occasion the media report that local governments are trying this or that remedy to combat rising homelessness, which affects women as well as men. But the picture does not change; it may be worsening.

Nor is the problem reserved to America. Europe also has its share of idle masses, though on a much lesser scale than here. Moreover, those unable or unwilling to find work have a far more generous social safety net to soften the impacts of chronic unemployment.

Still, the following chart indicates the troubling trend among several nation-states:

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 11.04.33 AM

The figure shows us the percentage of working-age males to participate in the workforce. The green diamond shapes tell us the rate in 1990; the blue columns represent the numbers in 2014.

The United States has the third lowest participation percentage, while Italy appears to have suffered the largest decline over the period. Only Germany has improved their situation.

Some suggest, including Harvard’s Larry Summers, that we are in the midst of a “secular stagnation,” marked by low economic output and persistent un- and underemployment. The capitalist system, which has indeed yielded better lives for millions, has nevertheless failed to provide the basic necessities to millions more. Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century, agrees, adding that return on capital investment is and will continue to be greater than GDP growth.

Politics reflects, sooner or later, economic and social conditions. Trump, Brexit, and the rise of far-right parties in Europe may be only the beginning of what may be a wholesale unraveling of the established neoliberal order. Polarization reigns. Unity can only be a distant hope.

Discouraged, am I.

_________________

UPDATE: 7/11/2016

I neglected to provide the source for the above graphic. Here ’tis.

Weep for America

Tragedies abound, here in the good old USA. Judging by the concerted inaction among those parading as our representatives to stop the mayhem and bloodshed, we can look forward to more of the same, if not worse.

Indeed, on nearly every issue that matters, from health care and employment security to skewed priorities favoring military spending over basic services like education and guaranteed pensions, America’s elected officials consign us to an ugly, nasty, and brutish existence. Except, of course, for the billionaires, who have fashioned a legislative-economic-and-political system that redounds to their benefit, while the Rest of Us practice a crude, spiteful form of social Darwinism. The many must fend for themselves against increasingly miserable odds.

Much of this was brought into sharp, albeit somewhat ironic relief in the newest film by Michael Moore, Where to Invade Next. I commend the movie to you, but here is the quick takeaway: most European countries have those basic services as a matter of right and culture. The promise of our Constitution’s Preamble is being fulfilled elsewhere. Meanwhile, we Americans have been beaten down, denied necessities, and been forced to worship at the altar of unbridled capitalist greed.

I mentioned culture. The many people interviewed by Moore across Europe embraced their countries’ general welfare policies as common-sense givens, integral to the widespread notion that decent society demands people care for one another. Let’s take a quick look.

Moore spoke with several Italians who benefit from extended vacations, holidays, and generous family-leave programs. Italians, both business owners and their employees, believe that happy, well-rested workers make for improved productivity and company balance sheets. Despite receiving upwards of two months or more of paid time off, Italian productivity is just a shade lower than America’s, said Moore.

In Portugal, drug possession and use has been decriminalized completely. As a consequence, usage has plummeted, in part because the Portuguese spend resources on curing addictions. America’s wars on drugs, in contrast, targeting mostly African-Americans, has stocked our nation’s burgeoning prison system. Moore suggests that America reintroduced slavery via its draconian drug policies. And it was no accident.

Moore took us to a public school in France. The cafeteria, to be exact. There a full-time chef plans and produces three-star meals for children, who sit at round tables to which food is delivered by servers. No greasy pizzas. No cans of soda pop. Nothing that is found in the typical American child’s lunch. All healthy stuff, with plenty of vegetables and fruit, eaten over a leisurely hour or so.

In Slovenia Moore found American students earning degrees from that countries’ universities. And get this, at no cost to themselves. Education is completely free, and there is no such thing as student debt. The benefit is afforded to anyone from anywhere, and a hundred or more classes are taught in English.

Workers comprise half the corporate boards of German companies. Moore visited the Farber pencil company. He interviewed workers and managers alike. They reported that the employee involvement in decisions at all levels yielded a better-functioning workplace. Moreover, employees earned a living wage, supplemented by free health care, of course.

What about education? Moore flew north to Finland. I’ve written often about Finnish lessons. (Just search for the term on this site.) Finland completely reformed its education system, which bans private charter schools, by the way. That system is now the envy of the world. Shocking to Americans bombarded by Race to the Top, and No Child Left Behind, not to mention the excessive impositions of Bill Gates, et al.—Finnish children spend the least amount of time in the classroom of all OECD children. They do no homework, and there are no standardized tests.

Iceland was the first nation to elect a woman to its highest political office. That was in 1980, five years after a nationwide strike by women. Today, political bodies and company boards must have at least 40 percent of their membership female, though no gender can exceed 60 percent. During the 2008 global economic crisis, those Icelandic banks led by men all failed. The one dominated by women survived. Also, and worth noting, the male bankers are now spending time in a remote prison. No prominent U.S. banker was ever prosecuted. One woman CEO interviewed by Moore said that she could never live in America, because America is all about the individual and getting more of everything. There is no sense of caring for others, demanded of a decent society. Amen.

I admit to shedding a tear for what could be here in America. We could have all the services and cultural amenities enjoyed by our European counterparts. Indeed, as Moore emphasized at the end of his film, most of the ideas that have become reality in Europe had their origins in the U.S., including the abolition of the death penalty (Michigan in 1846). The Finnish education transformation is based on the teachings of John Dewey, an American philosopher and educator. The Equal Rights Amendment predated Iceland’s woman’s movement, though its ratification failed by three of the 50 states.

Alas, we’re confronted by a growing fascist spectacle and a citizen-less democracy. You, too, should weep for America.

 

Not to be outdone

Yes, I excoriate Republicans, for many serious reasons. But I hasten to add that the modern Democratic Party is evil in its own ways, beginning in earnest with the presidency of Mr. Clinton. It really is corrupt, taking quid-pro-quo to an art form, an integral part of the new Democrat. Wall Street won. Everyone else can go suck on a lemon.

Bill Moyers picks up on Thomas Frank’s latest book, Listen, Liberal. Writing for the Huffington Post, Moyers says:

The lust for loot, which now defines the Democratic establishment, became pronounced in the Bill Clinton years, when the Clinton-friendly Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) abandoned its liberal roots and embraced “market-based solutions” that led to deregulation, tax breaks, and subsidies for the 1 percent. Seeking to fill coffers emptied by the loss of support from a declining labor movement, Democrats rushed into the arms of big business and crony capitalists.

No wonder Bernie Sanders is staying alive.