Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reading among the Lines

I was reading the May 7th New York Times piece by Patrick Healy and Jonathan Martin on how the Republican Party was unraveling: traditional elites with their mantra on smaller government and strong defense  vs.  angry populists embracing protectionism and pulling back on what they perceive as rampant internationalism.
Former presidents, sitting governors, U.S. Senators and even the Speaker of the House of Representatives – all Republicans – have made it clear that Donald Trump does not represent their perceived GOP values… and they are either not willing to support this presumptive nominee at all or simply begrudgingly offering token support. Too many traditional GOP donors, obvious members of that elite that has accorded them tax and regulatory breaks, feel that Trump’s populism will cost them hard dollars and lost opportunities… so they are even entertaining supporting a fairly unpopular Democratic alternative.
What staggers my mind is the failure of the Democrats to recognize that if Bernie Sanders had even half the salesmanship of Donald Trump, half the experience in the outrageous world of “you’re fired” reality television that has graced Trump’s showmanship-driven career, they too would be facing the same unraveling. The angry populism relates to a very simply reality: as income inequality in the U.S. has reached unparalleled levels, as a power elite with strong ties to the elites in both parties have more money – earnings and wealth – than ever before in American history, 70% of working-age America has not seen an increase in real buying power in almost three decades.
Their quality of life plunges as they watch Chinese billionaires, who they believe have gotten fat on American consumers, buy up expensive homes in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Miami (ok, New York, too) is the buying choice for the mega-rich of Europe and Latin America. They see “free trade” agreements as putting American workers at a disadvantage. They watch their children struggle with the cost of higher education, which has escalated for decades well above any rise in the cost of living. Students faced with student loans at levels unprecedented in American history wonder why them?
Many Republican voters trudged along with those earlier nominees, but never became truly animated until Mr. Trump offered them his brand of angry populism: a blend of protectionism at home and a smaller American footprint abroad. And he was able to exploit their resentments and frustrations because those same Republican leaders had been nurturing those feelings for years with attacks on Mr. Obama, Democrats, illegal immigrants and others.
“Mr. Trump, with his steadfast promises to deport immigrants who are in the country illegally and to build a wall with Mexico, may have done irreversible damage to his general election prospects. But he quickly earned the trust that so many of those voters had lost in other fixtures of America — not just in its leaders, but in institutions like Congress, the Federal Reserve and the big-money campaign finance system that Mr. Trump has repudiated, as well as in corporations, the Roman Catholic Church and the news media.” NY Times. Benghazi? Who cares? Scandal-seeking? Everyone knows “all politicians are corrupt.” But why does it seem that I am making less and less, year-after-year? Stop!!!! Look at me!!!!
While Americans say they fear most is ISIS. Sure they’re pretty scary, but we’ve been dealing with growing income inequality for so long that it is a great pain that no longer scares us because it’s been around for a while. What really terrifies most Americans is not just that they have not achieved the American dream to the extent their parents did, but that most Americans are sliding down the economic ladder as upward mobility has all be vaporized except for a few techie geniuses. The face a new “gig” economy, direct global competition from labor that just costs less and demands for new skillsets that leaving them shaking their heads. Job security? Give me a break!
“Make America great again” seems like it applies to the undercurrents in both the Sanders and Trump camps. For Sanders, it is about shifting the unfair gains at the top down to the majority of Americans. For Trump, it is about stamping out the nasty foreigners who have taken our money and our jobs. Two solutions to the same perceived issue.
What’s worse, they feel that somehow, these disenfranchise masses have failed their own children with the cost of living, the changes in the labor system and the rigidity of a government that has been coopted by the power elite and is no longer responsive to the obvious needs of “most of us.” As with most prolonged economic realignments, finding scapegoats is just human nature. Build a wall to keep Mexicans out. Take down China and deprive them of their economic advantage. Catchy, but catering to scapegoatism.
We don’t want to spend money, but the fear of ISIS keeps elitist-Republican military spenders laughing all the way to the bank. That we failed in both Iraq and Afghanistan and that we have not won a major international conflict since World War II seems irrelevant. Given the unhappiness reflected in this massive populist movement, carried on high by both Trump and Sanders, exactly what are we defending?
How may potholes or traffic jams have you experienced recently? Think our public schools and colleges are getting better, making us more competitive? Think the staggering cut-backs in government funding for research will make us more successful against the rise of Chinese research investment capital? We are coasting, running out of gas, because we are living on the investments of past generations without the slightest willingness to invest in what is needed to keep us going.
What’s at stake here is not the unraveling of a single political party; it is the unraveling of the entire United States. The geopolitical fault lines are cracking. The Deep South, the “we are Texas and you’re not” and the open-land Mid- and Southwest have declared a values war against the Acela East, the urban northern Midwest and the “left coast,” believing that unless these new urban values are stopped, their vision of America will die. The economic classes that are splaying apart, everywhere, are producing their own political fault lines. There are decreasing reasons why Americans have a reason to hold together in common quest for a better future. The unraveling is not just within the incumbent political parties. We have met the enemy, and it is us.
I’m Peter Dekom, and despite the mandatory cries to unify the country from everyone running for president, until Americans are willing to accept the compromises necessary to make this happen, it is simply a catchy phrase that precedes the “great American unraveling.”

No comments: