Donald Trump and the sores of discontent

Lambert Strether, a blogger who helps with the naked capitalism web log, says college-educated liberals are making a big mistake to dismiss Donald Trump’s followers as ignorant, racist or fascistic, and nothing more

He wrote that history – the history of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and the reign of the Ku Klux Klan in the Old South – teaches that people turn to fascist movements when they’ve suffered damage – military defeat, economic devastation and, above all, psychic damage.

Germans and Italians in World War One, and white Southern Americans in the Civil War, suffered  military defeat, economic devastation and, worst of all, humiliation.   What kind of damage have Donald Trump’s followers suffered?

Speculating freely, I’m guessing we’ve got several overlapping subsets in Trump’s following, with damage common to them all.

  • First overlap:  The cohort described by Yves [Smith] in this post: “‘Stunning’ Rise in Death Rate, Pain Levels for Middle-Aged, Less Educated Whites”; “488,500 deaths would have been avoided in the period 1999‒2013,” had the death rate continued to fall at its previous rate of decline.  That’s a lot of organic damage.
  • whats.wrongSecond overlap: The “working class whites” whose jobs and communities were destroyed by the neo-liberal dispensation that began in the mid-70s, given that “less educated” is a proxy for working class.  More damage there.
  • Third overlap: Military personnel who were sent, by elites, to fight and lose the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, many of whom (thanks to the wonders of modern battlefield medicine) came back to their families and communities terribly wounded (not to mention with post-traumatic stress).  More damage.
  • Fourth overlap: The “bitter”/”cling to” voters (explicitly) thrown under the bus by Obama’s faction when it took control of the Democratic Party in 2008 (with results that we saw in the failure to ameliorate the foreclosure crisis, and the administration’s successful shrinkage of the workforce, as shown by the labor force participation rate).  More damage.

So Democratic apparatchiks can recycle 2008’s racism tropes all they want — identity politics is all they know, after all — but at best they’re over-simplifying, and at worst they’re destroying the dream of “uniting lower- and middle-income Americans on economic issues.”

Again, add up the decades of organic damage.  My anger would be bone deep. And justified.  Wouldn’t yours?  Trump, and maybe Sanders, are speaking to that anger.  Today’s Democratic establishment is not.

Source: naked capitalism

My college-educated liberal friends (some of them) say that Republican white working people are fools because they “vote against their own economic interests.”  As if Barack Obama or the Clintons championed the interests of wage-earners!

For more than 30 years, Democratic Presidents and presidential candidates have ignored labor unions, supported pro-business trade agreements, declined to enforce the anti-trust laws, deregulated high finance and bailed out the banks when they failed.

President Obama will neither prosecute financial fraud in institutions that are supposedly “too big to fail”, nor push for breaking up them up into institutions that are small enough to fail.   The thing he’s fighting for the hardest is the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will enact a pro-business, anti-worker agenda into international law.

720x405-GettyImages-483208910Certainly Donald Trump deserves to be called out on his appeal to anti-black, anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim prejudice and the violence that he instigates.  But lecturing people on their prejudices is not enough.

Immigration policy is a legitimate and important issue.  There is a limit to how many newcomers any nation can admit and still preserve its integrity as a functioning society.  I come down on the liberal side of the immigration issue myself, but I agree there is a limit to how many newcomers any nation can admit and still preserve its integrity as a functioning society.

People who worry about excessive immigration, especially unauthorized immigration, have every right to argue their case, and have their concerns addressed, without being called racist.  If this right isn’t recognized, it won’t be surprising if they turn to the real racists.

I recall when George Wallace and Richard Nixon were talking about “law and order,” and liberals said this was a way of expressing racial prejudice against black people.  No doubt it was, but, as the same time, the rise of violent crime was a real and serious matter in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  If the respectable liberals don’t address issues that worry people, they’ll turn to those who do.

President Obama in 2008 promised “hope and change,” but soon told his followers that this was too much to expect.  Unless liberals and progressives are able to offer real hope and fight for real change, working people will turn to the likes of Donald Trump.


Will the Republican Party Survive the 2016 Election? by David Frum for The Atlantic.  [added 12/23/2015]

Why the Democratic Party can’t beat Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist army by Ryan Cooper for The Week.  [added 12/23/2015]

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