It looks like I’ll be able to start the Feasting Theory posts just in time for Thanksgiving, which is serendipitous timing, at least for those of us in the United States, anyway.
For now I just want to write up a few concluding thoughts about the election before moving on. I’d like to respond to this from the latest Archdruid Report:
To judge by what I’ve heard [Trump voters] say, they want a less monomaniacally interventionist foreign policy and an end to the endless spiral of wars of choice in the Middle East; they want health insurance that provides reasonable benefits at a price they can afford; they want an end to trade agreements that ship American jobs overseas, and changes to immigration policy that stop the systematic importation of illegal immigrants by big corporate interests to drive down wages and benefits; and they want a means of choosing candidates that actually reflects the will of the people.
The fascinating thing is, of course, that these are things the Democratic Party used to offer. It wasn’t that long ago, in fact, that the Democratic Party made exactly these issues—opposition to reckless military adventurism, government programs that improved the standard of living of working class Americans, and a politics of transparency and integrity—central not only to its platform but to the legislation its congresspeople fought to get passed and its presidents signed into law. Back when that was the case, by the way, the Democratic Party was the majority party in this country, not only in Congress but also in terms of state governorships and legislatures. As the party backed away from offering those things, it lost its majority position. While correlation doesn’t prove causation, I think that in this case a definite case can be made.
Now, my recollection may be a bit hazy here, but that’s not how I recall it. I can’t speak to his part of the country in Appalachia, only to the Rust Belt where I live. But what I recall of those years during the 1980’s when Reagan was president and it seemed like a major factory was shutting down and locking its gates every other week, there WERE plenty of Democratic politicians who warned where such policies would lead. They truly were friends of unions (common in Milwaukee where unions were still strong), and were willing and able to stop the flight of factory jobs overseas and stand up for unions. There were plenty of op-eds in the newspapers here (there were a lot more newspapers back then) warning of the dangers of deindustrialization and globalization, and expressing concerns over the numerous devastated communities and wrecked urban areas as fallout from these policies. Many politicians repeatedly warned in their campaign literature and speeches that the effects of gloablization and unrestrained free trade would be a race to the bottom leaving wrecked communities and downward mobility in their wake. They were skeptical of the supposedly wonderful “service economy” touted by professional economists, and how “retraining” would solve all the messy problems such policies produced.
Do you know what happened to those politicians? They lost, that’s what happened.
The working classes, the same ones whose jobs were disappearing and communities were cratering, faithfully turned out election after election and threw every Democrat out of office that they could find. Not only that, but they actively despised the Democratic party, the party that was theoretically the only thing standing up for their interests in Congress and local statehouses.
Now, put yourself in the minds of Democratic party politicians during that period. Your whole purpose, and the historical purpose of your party, had always been championing the cause of the working class, and standing up for the little guy’s interests against those of the big bosses and financiers. And how did those working classes and little guys reward your concern for their well-being and advocacy for their issues?
By consistently turning up and voting against you, that’s how. Over and over and over again. This is what actually happened during the 1980’s.
So, you’ve got to wonder this: Why in hell would Democrats continue to advocate for a class of people that reliably and enthusiastically voted against them? That actively despised them?
They wouldn’t. During the Reagan years, when Democrats honestly did support the working class and trade unions, and the spirit of Roosevelt was still a guiding force within the party, there was very serious concern that the Democrats would not even survive as a party at all. So dramatic were their defeats, so catastrophic were their losses, so numerous were their failures, so deep was the antipathy of the white working classes towards them, that it was thought in many quarters that the Democratic party would cease to exist as an entity. Walter Mondale’s epic loss of 49 states was the catalyzing event here. And that was bookended by similarly catastrophic defeats of Carter and Dukakis. At the local and state levels, things weren’t looking much better, either.
So here’s how I recall the situation: The democrats didn’t abandon the working classes, the working classes abandoned the Democrats! And they did so primarily for reasons of racial grievance.
The Republicans were (and are) rabidly anti-worker and pro-wealth. And the working classes, the ones slowly being destroyed and ground into the dust by their policies, were their most fervent supporters. Vast swaths of the country became a de-facto one-party Republican state, and remain so today. Were were the concerns about these issues back then? Where was all the concern about deindustrialization back then, you know, when it was actually happening? Where was the concern about disastrous foreign wars and militarism during two Gulf Wars and the invasion of Afghanistan? About affordable heath care as premiums were rising with every passing year and employers were shedding responsibilities to their employees as fast as possible?
Looked at from that perspective, it’s easy to see why the majority of the Democratic Party abandoned the cause of the working class. Why keep advocating for a constituency that actively hates you and votes against you? That undermines you at every turn? That reliably and enthusiastically turns out to vote for your opponents? Furthermore, why would you do so when it puts your party at a serious fundraising disadvantage? With the enormous money advantage the Republicans got as being reliable handmaidens to the wealthy, the banks, and corporate interests, they could vastly outspend the Democrats and run television ads night and day convincing the working classes that the Democrats were their true enemy, regardless of any policy positions. And if there’s one reliable feature of Americans, they will do whatever the glowing box in the corner of the room tells them to do, even if it destroys them.
It was a recipe for party suicide.
So the Democrats did what I think was the completely rational and logical reaction. They stopped advocating for the working classes that hated them anyway. Instead, they adopted more wealth-friendly and banker-friendly positions, mitigated by a less rabidly simplistic anti-government philosophy. They embraced competent technocratic management as the same time as the Republicans were taken over by grifters and sociopaths. They embraced balanced budgets instead of the unrestricted looting promoted by the Republicans or generous social programs, shedding the old the “tax-and-spend” label. They played to the racial fears of the whites by taking up welfare “reform” and passing a series of “tough on crime” laws. They took the moderate positions abandoned by the Republican party during their takeover by the John-Bircher wing of the party. The Republicans had gotten into bed with Dixieland racists and the Religious Right as part of their electoral strategy during their rise under Reagan, so the Democrats could subsequently appeal to the more socially moderate sections of the country who were horrified by these extremist radicals. The tolerant areas of the country in urban areas that benefited under globalization, deregulation and tax cuts could now become a reliable source of campaign cash, offsetting the Chamber of Commerce money funneled to Republicans, closing the fundraising gap. Wall Street could now become a reliable source of money thanks to discarding the pro-working class polices that weren’t getting Democrats elected anyway.
They could become a less-extreme version of the Republicans. They could move to the abandoned middle.
And do you know what happened? They won! They started winning elections again, after more than a decade of humiliating defeats and wandering in the wilderness.
So what conclusions would you draw from this, dear reader? I’m guessing the same ones that the Democratic Party leaders did – that the old strategy of advocating for the interests of the working classes by being skeptical of globalization and deindustrialization was a bona-fide loser, and the new “third way” strategy of seeking the abandoned middle ground between business interests on the one hand and worker interests on the other based on running poll numbers was a clear winner. How can you blame the Democrats for doing what the cold, hard evidence told them to do? What should they have done, continue to lose over and over again like they did during the nineteen-eighties, like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football???
Why did “third-way” politicians take over the Democratic Party apparatus? Because they f*cking won, that’s why! Why did Democrats that advocated for the working classes lose power within the party? Because they lost! It’s just that simple. The leadership didn’t purge them, the voters did. The only reason that Bernie Sanders is still in in Congress at all is because he comes from a reliably left-wing state on the East Coast. If he had been a politician anywhere in the Heartland, his career would have been over a long time ago.
Want proof? Consider the Russ Feingold/Ron Johnson congressional race. Johnson, a wealthy businessman and “Tea Party” favorite, has been a reliable rubber-stamp for pro-corporate, anti-worker policies since day one. Plus he’s no longer an unknown entity, having served a full term in congress and shown his true colors. He’s not truly against offshoring, deindustrialition, tax evasion, foreign wars,or any of that stuff, as his voting record amply demonstrates. Feingold, by contrast, was one of the more leftist politicians in Congress–his signature issue was campaign finance reform (the McCain-Feingold bill); he was the only senator to vote against the USA PATRIOT act; and has repeatedly expressed concerns about the devastation that globalization has wrought in small communities all over Wisconsin. He has also been amenable to a single-payer health care plan in the past.
What happened? Wisconsinites voted to send Johnson back to Congress. How is that consistent with the supposed “We’re so concerned about wars/globalization/free trade/health care” narrative that supposedly led working-class voters to turn out and vote for Trump in Greer’s estimation?
Or consider Paul Ryan. This past election, Ryan was the standard-bearer for the “traditional” Republican values and their pro-corporate, anti-worker positions. Ryan ran as vice-president under Mitt Romney just four years ago, fully backing the standard Republican policies of deregulation, globalization, outsourcing, open borders, tax cuts for the rich, dismantling Medicare and Social Security, and all the rest of it.
Janesville (Ryan’s home district) is a small rural Wisconsin Rust Belt town that has been utterly decimated by factory closures over the years, particularly by General Motors. It’s also home to a large recently-arrived Hispanic community. Many populist politicians have run against Ryan over the years, pointing these facts out. Do you know what happened to them? They all lost! The overwhelmingly white residents of this devastated, hollowed-out Rust Belt community reliably choose to send Mitt Romney’s running mate back to congress over and over and over again. How exactly does that square with the alleged fact that Trump voters were so very concerned about job losses, immigration, and affordable heath care?
So when I hear that the working classes turned to Trump because of their concerns over globalization, or jobs, or war, or affordable health care, or falling incomes, I’ve got to wonder, where the hell have these people been for the last thirty-five years!!! Now, only now, long after the wreckage been assessed, are we told that people are suddenly concerned about the loss of factory jobs, affordable health care and other kitchen-table issues. These trends have been going on for the better part of the past four decades. Where they f*ck were these people then??? Why only now, do they suddenly start caring about these issues when an orange-haired reality TV star billionaire raises them? WTF? Are you kidding me???
So when they say, “race has nothing to do with it,” I kind-of roll my eyes. And when the Democrats are castigated for their “abandonment” of the working class, I have to wonder, too. If my recollection of the history above is correct, why wouldn’t the Democrats have abandoned the working class? Because, you see, when they DID advocate for working class interests, they were repeatedly and soundly defeated. And when they threw the working class under the bus just like Republicans, they stared winning again! What conclusion would you draw? The working classes actively turned to the right; the Democrats simply followed where the voters led. And yet, somehow, in this election, it’s their fault?
In other words, the working classes in this country spent decades voting for a party that actively wanted to destroy them, and now they bitch and moan that nobody is representing their interests? Who could have imagined? Seriously? Are you f*cking kidding me???
The same goes for war-mongering. Greer writes:
War isn’t an abstraction here in flyover country. Joining the military is very nearly the only option young people here have if they want a decent income, job training, and the prospect of a college education, and so most families have at least one relative or close friend on active duty. People here respect the military, but the last two decades of wars of choice in the Middle East have done a remarkably good job of curing middle America of any fondness for military adventurism it might have had.
Gee, where was that concern over the past 36 years since Reagan’s election when the people in “flyover country” overwhelmingly sent Republicans to Congress and the White House over and over and over again? Where was all the concern about war casualties and body bags during the Republicans’ military escapades, from Grenada to Panama, to the first Gulf War? Let’s not forget who initiated all those wars of choice in the Middle East in the first place–the Republican president George W. Bush, who “defeated” Al Gore back in 2000 and who won reelection twice despite his almost total incompetence. Did those people vote for Gore because of their concern over military adventurism back then? Did they angrily show up to toss Bush out of office in 2004 after he revealed his true colors and embarked upon the most ambitious nation-building program in American history using American blood and treasure to do so?
No, they didn’t. Not even close. Plus, it’s common knowledge that military servicemen overwhelmingly vote Republican in every election. But now they’ve suddenly become pacifists? Really??? it’s interesting that only now, when a centrist Democrat is running for office, do they suddenly care about potential military conflicts, just as they suddenly care about outsourcing and the loss of well-paying factory jobs after not giving two shits over the better part of the past three decades.
The Obamacare Disaster…was nearly as influential as Clinton’s reckless militarism. Most of the people I know who voted for Trump make too much money to qualify for a significant federal subsidy, and too little to be able to cover the endlessly rising cost of insurance under the absurdly misnamed “Affordable Care Act.” They recalled, rather too clearly for the electoral prospects of the Democrats, how Obama assured them that the price of health insurance would go down, that they would be able to keep their existing plans and doctors, and so on through all the other broken promises that surrounded Obamacare before it took effect.
Ah, yes, Obamacare. Suddenly, suddenly, these people are also concerned about health care costs too, after two decades of steadily rising premiums and endemic medical cost-induced bankruptcies? Again, where the f*ck have these people been the past couple of decades? Perhaps they are unaware that the reason we ended up with Obamacare in the first place is because it was thought that only way to get any sort of reform through a bought-and-paid-for congress was to choose one that had been dreamed up in a right-wing thinktank and put into place by Mitt Romney in Massachusetts. Are these the same people who reliably destroy the career of anyone who dares advocate Canadian-style “socialized medicine”???
What have the Republicans historically done to make health care more accessible to the average worker over the years? I hear crickets chirping. This is also the party that fought tooth-and-nail against the introduction of Medicare, and is still trying to eviscerate the program through privatization and voucher schemes (championed by the aforementioned Mr. Paul Ryan). Yet now the working classes turned out en masse to pull the lever for a Republican due to their concern over the affordability of health care? WTF???
All of the working-class concerns Greer touted above were abandoned for a simple reason–because the politicians who advocated them were reliably and soundly trounced at the polls over the years by a white working class that was far more concerned with “values” and fighting “socialism” than policies that actually helped out them and their families. Now, we’re supposed to believe that THIS election cycle they suddenly started caring about the bread-and-butter issues that they’ve stubbornly ignored for countless prior election cycles?
Greer seems to think that a Bernie Sanders candidacy would have had a chance at winning. That suddenly, positions that had been the kiss of death for Democratic presidential candidates in decades prior (tax and spend!!!) would have succeeded this time.
Maybe. But consider me skeptical.
Trump won because of racism, all right, but not in the way that most people people think. After Civil Rights, the Republicans became an authoritarian white ethno-nationalist party. When that happened, the working classes reliably turned out to vote for a party whose policies were destroying them. But there’s the thing–they didn’t seem to mind that fact too much until this year! Now, suddenly, they supposedly care about these issues–war, globalism, immigration, offshoring and health care, but only because it’s a Republican who’s bringing them up. The Democrats who had the temerity to raise these same issues over the years (less and less as time went on) were reliably and soundly rejected by these exact same voters for decades.
So I find parts of Greer’s explanation of Trump voters a little perplexing.
Seen in one light Trump’s victory isn’t all that surprising. I mentioned that today’s Republican Party is basically identical to the John Birch society (headquartered in Wisconsin, BTW). But there was one traditional Bircher position that stood out as an anomaly–the Birchers were historically very suspicious of free trade agreements and globalization, believing they undermined American sovereignty (in this, they were actually correct). So, really, Trump’s victory is finally bringing them fully into the Birch orbit. From the “Values” part of its Wikipedia entry:
The [John Birch Society]supports limited government and opposes wealth redistribution and economic interventionism. It opposes collectivism, totalitarianism, and communism. It opposes socialism as well, which it asserts is infiltrating U.S. governmental administration…The society opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, claiming it violated the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution …The society opposes “one world government”, and it has an immigration reduction view on immigration reform. It opposes the United Nations, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and other free trade agreements. They argue the U.S. Constitution has been devalued in favor of political and economic globalization, and that this alleged trend is not accidental. …The society has been described as “ultraconservative”, “far right”, and “extremist”. Other sources consider the society part of the patriot movement…
Trump was also able to combine white working class racial grievance with a politically popularist Producerist platform (try saying that fast). In this, he was able to meld concerns of both the Left and Right. What do I mean by Producerist? Producerism is a political position that has a lot of advocates at the grass-roots level, but few in mainstream politics. Wikipedia defines it this way: “Producerism is an ideology which holds that those members of society engaged in the production of tangible wealth are of greater benefit to society than, for example, aristocrats who inherit their wealth and station.” I would, however, characterize it as the belief that there are “parasites” at both the top and bottom of society–Wall-Street and other “crony capitalist” tycoons at the top sucking money out of the productive economy through crooked financial deals and usury, and “lazy” blacks, immigrants, and other minorities at the bottom living large on the dole paid for by taxes on the productive (i.e. white) working classes.
I realized this again while reading the last post from the University of Wisconsin professor who went out (like a colonial official visiting the natives) to talk to rural voters to find out what they think. Recall that “hard work” was at the heart of their world view, and that they expressed hostility to *both* minorities and to educated professional like the professor, claiming that both seemed to be living well by hardly working at all (“why are you interviewing me, shouldn’t you be at work teaching, or something???). Note also that both of these demographics are overwhelmingly located in wealthy, multicultural, and Democratic-leaning urban areas far away from the communities devastated by offshoring, mass immigration, and financialization.
I’m not the first to figure this out, by the way. Michael Lind pointed this out a while ago, and here he’s cited in this piece:
…[Michael] Lind [adds] one important piece of historical context that helps explain Trump:
‘ Trump is no libertarian; quite the opposite. He is a classic populist of the right who peddles suspicion of foreigners—it’s no accident that he was the country’s leading “birther” raising questions about Barack Obama’s citizenship—combined with a kind of “producerism.” In populist ideology, society is divided not among rich and poor but among producers and parasites.’
‘Populists are suspicious of unearned wealth, including the interest charged by bankers who manipulate “other people’s money” (to use the phrase of Louis Brandeis). And populists the world over are hostile to the idle or undeserving poor who allegedly live on welfare at the expense of productive workers and capitalists. Populists tend to attribute the existence of large numbers of the idle rich and the idle poor to government corruption. In the words of the 1892 People’s Party platform: “From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice we breed the two great classes—tramps and millionaires.”’
From this perspective, Trump’s proposal to kill the carried interest tax exemption, and his scorn for the “hedge-fund guys” who benefit from it, makes perfect sense.
Now you might find it strange that a guy who’s made his fortune from real estate speculation and “brand management” poses as the champion of the horny-handed sons of toil as opposed to financial sector “parasites.” But then again, real estate is the great source of middle-class wealth for white Americans, and and the people who got lucky from being on the right side of various real estate bubbles are pretty heavily represented in the GOP rank-and-file, where contempt for the “losers” and “looters” who lost their shirts in the housing and financial collapses was the original impetus for the Tea Party Movement.
In any event, it’s a very good thing that outside some fever swamps, Americans don’t especially associate the financial sector with Jews. European producerists (or right-wing “populists,” if you will) in the last century rather conspicuously did, with lethal consequences. It seems Trump is satisfied with making immigrants and the politicians who speak Spanish to pander to them the personification of evil. But it should be clear his kind of politics involve fishing in all sorts of dark waters of resentment and bigotry.
Trump and Producerism (Washington Monthly)
Wikipedia also takes note of the Producerist rise in Europe and elsewhere:
Producerism has seen a contemporary revival, sparked by popular opposition to the machinations of globalized financial capital and large, politically connected corporations. Critics of producerism see a correlation between producerist views, and views that are antagonistic toward lower income people and immigrants, such as nativism. These critics see producerism as analogous to populism. Examples of politicians or groups that are cited by these critics include the Reform Party of the United States of America, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, and Lou Dobbs, as well as Jean-Marie Le Pen in France, Björn Höcke in Germany and similar dissident politicians across Europe.
So, in summary, I find the ‘concerns’ of Trump voters a little hard to take at face value, given the way these people have consistently and overwhelmingly behaved over the past few decades, and whom they have supported at the ballot box, even when faced with viable alternatives. I suspect the ‘concerns’ Greer cites are little more than post-hoc emotional rationalizations for what they would have done anyway. And I suspect that even if (let’s be honest, when) these legitimate concerns are summarily thrown out the window, these exact same people will find new and different reasons to show up and vote in the next Republican into office, all while claiming the whole time that racial attitudes have nothing whatsoever to do with any of it.