The disturbing irony of the Trump political phenomenon is the fact that “The Donald” has amply demonstrated he couldn’t care less about the “forgotten Americans” who elected him, and this demographic will continue to be a huge, unresolved problem for America going forward (which I will discuss further down).
Don’t take my word for it. Simpy review how our rich, coddled, narcissistic president has lived his life to this point, with almost flamboyant unconcern for the common man.
For instance, he continued to publicly hurl racist diatribes against the black, Central Park Five “muggers” even after they were exonerated. He illegally discriminated for years against minorities in renting apartments. He stiffed contractors in his real estate schemes (e.g., paying a small piano seller pennies on the dollar of what he owed him). He hired the illegal immigrants he’s trying to ban to labor on his construction projects (and may have even married one).
He also says he loves the military but only likes heroes who aren’t captured (referencing John McCain, who had the temerity to criticize him).
In politics, this highly disingenuous fellow talks the talk but walks as he pleases. He would look oddly out of place in a T-shirt and jeans to match his pugnacious rhetoric, as in a ball cap he just looks like he’s slumming.
Even though he deceptively “swears like a stevedore,” in my grandmother’s quaint phrasing, uber-wealthy Trump has throughout his life demonstrated zero concern, much less love, for the underclass, except as sycophants, supplicants and slavish minions for his commercial and political self-puffery and profit.
So the tragic upshot of all this is that Mr. Trump, in a stunning surprise, was elected president of the United States by a large “base” of rural, white, under-educated, under-employed, under-actualized, and financially and culturally embattled Americans who seem to mean virtually nothing to him except votes.
He doesn’t seem to “feel” them, as it were.
He unrealistically (and unnecessarily, security experts say) wants to build a super-expensive wall on our southern border to keep out illegal Mexican immigrants on the pretext they are taking good jobs away from Americans, even though crossings are historically low at the moment and the vast majority of blue-collar jobs have been lost not to unbridled immigration but vastly improving technologies. So, that’s certainly not helping his base. But it does further reveal Trump’s unseemly thrall to protecting American whiteness.
In trying to dismantle major international trade agreements, he is not improving small-business profits and yeoman employee paychecks or raising anyone’s living standard except of those already super-rich. Farmers, one pro-Trump demographic, are warily eyeing the threatened prices of meat and grain in world markets, not to mention the very likely disappearance of various key commodities markets altogether as other trade pacts replace those in which America once participated. So, this is not helping Trump’s base, either. But rich capitalists are happy thinking our government is forcing China and the other biggies to stop cheating and pay fair prices and shares.
Morally, The Donald is also not mirroring his base. The much-maligned “deplorables” are so-called “real” Americans — conservative, rural, God-fearing and family valued. They don’t cotton to porn, adultery, dishonesty or personal lack of character. Yet, the president blatantly devalues all of those values. We don’t know if he watches porn, but he certainly likes to romp with porn stars. Adultery, with his three wives and multiple extracurricular affairs (consensual and not), is like a casual hobby for him. Dishonesty is his political trademark, and is extremely well-documented. Lack of character? After all that? Well, let’s just say the fact that he never admits he’s wrong even when it’s materially undeniable is the least of his flaws.
This all brings us to where we are now. We have a president who clearly looks down his nose at the downtrodden (unless they praise him as a demigod), while these political serfs seem fully unaware of this and continue to support him — apparently even if he were to “shoot someone on 5th Avenue” or even James Comey.
Yet, these “forgotten” Americans are still far from the nation’s consciousness except as a political catch-phrase, “the base,” while nothing is being done to resolve the fundamental causes of their underclass status. Rich capitalists, as always, continue to grease the skids for the American dream of personal prosperity to slide right past the not-rich as it heads to more prosperous environs.
I’ve taken a while to get to the point here, but it’s an old one: It’s the economy, stupid.
However, it’s not the economy of the rich but of the very modestly endowed and the near-poor. And, as always, the completely poor.What is the Trump administration doing for the aching, endless need of these core Trump supporters? Diluting their access to and benefits from Obamacare certainly isn’t helping (as if private insurers will step in to save the day with more-affordable, viable alternatives). Certainly, the “wall,” trade wars or saber rattling against North Korea won’t do it.
What to do?
A quick review of economic and social history reveals that virtually all societies have had underclasses, full of people who just don’t seem to thrive in competitive, aggressive, winner-take-all environments. A lot of remedies have been tried to soften the struggles of those people, from free-market capitalism to Marxist Communism to Naziism to Scandanavian and Western European-style socialism. In terms of the general happiness of their populations, moderate socialist governments seem to have been most successful.
Yet, for most countries, the U.S. included, a broad underclass or semi-underclass persists.
In America in the past several decades and now perpetuated under Trump, the plight of these “forgotten” folks has only gotten worse. A big part of the problem is the striking increase in economic inequality between the haves and have nots, and — this is important — the success of monied classes in gutting unions and worker protections, and in unleveling the field upon which captains of industry and their underlings both play.
An excellent summary of this strategic, purposeful and effective disempowering of American workers — many of them now thus unemployed or underemployed Trump apologists — can be found in an op-ed column in today’s New York Times by Thomas B. Edsall. What I admire about Edsall’s writing is its calmness, clarity and deeply researched facts. He’s a reasonable, fair, balanced analyst of current events, not a partisan bomb thrower. We need more of these guys in public debates. Less of Fox News and that ilk. Edsall says:
“Worker power has already suffered death by a thousand cuts, some political, others judicial and regulatory; some at the hands of a changing domestic workplace, others stemming from relentless global forces. Corporate America recognized these trends early on and capitalized on them ruthlessly.”
Going forward with the chaotic, embattled Trump presidency, it is worth noting that the very people who put him in office remain as disadvantaged and lost amid the American landscape as they’ve been for years. Their lives are not getting better and will continue to get worse, unless something drastic is done soon, as burgeoning technological improvements continue to ruthlessly supplant jobs all over the country. A better southern wall will have zero effect on this tech juggernaut, the most damaging process causing job losses in our economy (especially for those inadequately educated and skilled).
Edsall said the future looks dim for the least skilled Americans, quoting the book The Second Machine Age by MIT economists Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee:
For those with special skills or the right education, “there’s never been a better time.” For those “with only ‘ordinary’ skills and abilities to offer,'” however, “there’s never been a worse time to be a worker.”
I know that for many Americans, Bernie Sanders’ socialistic message in 2016’s presidential campaign was disturbing if not frightening. But, looking at what’s still not happening for struggling Americans who are most disempowered, it seems Sanders was the only candidate talking about a plan that actually might have had a prayer of helping disadvantaged citizens.
All I’m saying is that nationalist, white-pride slogans and in-your-face rhetoric have never solved this deep, systemic, even historical problem in human societies.
Let’s roll up our sleeves not to fight about possible solutions but to actually find one.
Keep in mind that “trickle down” is still not a thing.
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