This week while the flooring guys installed our new red oak floor, we stayed at the Hyatt Place, an increasingly uncharming unvacation, with nothing excitingly foreign and lacking the sweet comforts of home. With many years of marriage under our belt, Sally and I are good at comfortably sharing space, and we had no worrying collisions or conflicts, but also no room to spread out in the usual way.
We ate lots of local ethnic food (Indian, Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Ethiopian, Italian), which was fun, though I regretted eating so much, which is so easy to do in restaurants. I stuck with my resolution of using the hotel gym early every morning, but missed the machines and equipment at my usual gym. I missed making healthy green smoothies for breakfast. I missed my piano and exploring the intoxicating music of Chopin, Liszt, and Debussy.
But enough kvetching. On Friday evening, we moved back in to our condo, and found that our Latino flooring guys had done good work. We quickly hooked up the lamps and unpacked some essentials, and walked over to Pho Pho Pho for some good Vietnamese food. The dust gradually settled over the next couple of days – really, a lot of dust.
It was a big week for ISIS mayhem in Istanbul, Dhaka, and Baghdad, which got lots of news coverage, and the epic humanitarian disaster of 65 million refugees and displaced persons continued, with little news coverage. There was one happy NY Times story about Syrian refugees being welcomed by Canadians. Ordinary folk have volunteered by the thousands to help unfortunates get resettled. Those Canadians are especially gifted in the way of kindness and generosity. Too bad they have such cold winters.
We could be moving there anyway if Donald Trump is elected. But happily that’s looking less and less likely, as more of his cons, schemes, and frauds come to light. Also, more and more, it looks as though he isn’t seriously working to win the election, but is primarily running to gratify his vanity and improve his personal bottom line.
Now that he looks less like a serious threat to the Republic, it’s easier to admit that Trump has done something important and good. He brought attention to an enormous problem, which for many educated, well-off people was almost invisible before. I’m speaking of the distress, fear, and anger of millions of white working class males. It’s now clear that we ignore their welfare at our peril.
The anger and fear aren’t hard to understand. It wasn’t so long ago that these folks could play by the rules and pay a mortgage, go out to eat, go on vacations, and otherwise support their families and have a materially comfortable life. But complex forces, including globalization, automation, and institutionalized corruption have led to job losses, employment insecurity, and wage stagnation. These forces have been well described by Robert Reich (for example, here) and Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson in their book Winner-Take-All Politics (summarized here).
As the working class lost ground over the last few years, I’ve puzzled over why they increasingly voted Republican, while Republican policies were increasingly skewed toward the wealthy and against them. They didn’t seem to notice that Republican tax breaks were mostly going to the super rich, and changes in labor law enforcement and other areas were to their disadvantage. It seemed that they were attracted and distracted by various social issues, such as abortion, affirmative action, guns, gays, and the “War on Christmas.”
Trump has shown that white working class males weren’t so concerned about the conservative social agenda, and weren’t really buying trickle down economics. He has ditched trickle down and generally steered clear of the social agenda issues (except for guns). This demographic may have noted that the Democrats quit doing much to help labor or otherwise serve their interests, and also noted that Democratic elites viewed them mostly with indifference, if not disdain. Most likely they identified with Republicans’ emphasis on rugged individualism, and therefore viewed Republicans as the lesser of the evils.
In Trump, this population has found an outlet for their boiling frustration and anger. They like his commitment to change. Unfortunately, they are also well pleased and energized by his fantasizing, conspiracy theorizing, and demonizing. But most important, Trump has acknowledged that they exist, and their problems are real. For the first time in a generation, a politician has put their concerns and values front and center.
Like it or not, angry, frightened, downwardly mobile voters aren’t going to go away. In fact, absent major changes, there are going to be millions more of them, as political, corporate, and technological forces continue to take away jobs and the social safety net continues to fray. Democrats need to reconfigure to acknowledge and address their grievances. Bernie made a good start, but we better keep moving forward. If Democrats don’t offer real solutions, someone else will offer imaginary ones. It is all too possible that a future Trump, smarter, better looking, and even more cynical than the Donald, could mobilize their anger into a true nightmare. Think Germany in the 1930s.