Thursday, November 17, 2016

Not Deplorable, Just Revolting

The loss of Hillary Clinton should not have been a surprise, since she was probably the worst major party candidate in the history of the country, and would be more suited for a cubical cell than an oval office. But there is still a lot of shock about the win of Donald Trump.

I don’t believe there’s any relevant rise in racism or bigotry—no sudden rise in deplorables. In fact, while I think getting two such unlikable candidates is a cultural issue, I don’t think the outcome is mainly cultural. It’s mainly economic. It’s a critical mass of people who have “had it up to here” with the depression we’rein and not calling it that—people revolting against the status quo malaise, who think it’s about time for a change.

The difficulty for me has been understanding why we got Trump as the alternative to economic stagnation, when we had at least half a dozen alternatives who were better on free market economic principles, plus better on cultural and international leadership, with just plain better understanding of the Constitution, which leads to freedom, prosperity, and civilization every time it’s tried.

I came across a little more understanding this week. First, I listened to an Uncommon interview with J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy. He talks about the people of Scots-Irish descent, who settled in Appalachia and the Midwest. Even among them there is a divide: Some follow the rules of society, work hard, remain steady, and move into the middle class by sheer fortitude and endurance. Some drink hard, have a hard time holding a job, and live lives of violence and chaos in extended messy families. They used to be able to get by with labor jobs, which were plentiful. Now they are more likely to be unemployed, and waste their lives in drink and drugs, blaming some outside force for their plight.
J. D. Vance, on Uncommon Knowledge

Vance grew up in the chaotic branch, but had ties to the more stable side. Someone rescued him, in his teens, and set him on a path for college (he went in the military, then college, and eventually graduated from Yale Law School). I haven’t read the book yet, but, while it appears fairly damning of this culture he came from, when he speaks about them, it is with a lot of affection, rather than bitterness. He loves his extended family. He’s trying to help increase understanding.

The chaotic ones are angry for the loss of opportunity. But the ones who tried to do everything right, and have been suffering loss of opportunity anyway—they’re really fed up. So when Trump came in and promised them he’d fix that, speaking in the plain language they’re used to, that sure sounded a lot better than more of the same.

The next day I came across a piece called “What So Many People Don’t Get about the US Working Class,” by Joan C. Williams. She reveals a misunderstanding of terminology: working class really means middle class, not poor. The two parties use these terms differently:

When progressives talk about the working class, typically they mean the poor. But the poor, in the bottom 30% of American families, are very different from Americans who are literally in the middle: the middle 50% of families whose median income was $64,000 in 2008. That is the true “middle class,” and they call themselves either “middle class” or “working class.”
“The thing that really gets me is that Democrats try to offer policies (paid sick leave! minimum wage!) that would help the working class,” a friend just wrote me. A few days’ paid leave ain’t gonna support a family. Neither is minimum wage. WWC [white working class] men aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50. What they want is what my father-in-law had: steady, stable, full-time jobs that deliver a solid middle-class life to the 75% of Americans who don’t have a college degree. Trump promises that. I doubt he’ll deliver, but at least he understands what they need.
Back in 2012, Mitt Romney, in a private meeting, was asked about his plans for cutting taxes. He was recorded as saying he wasn’t worried about cutting taxes on the rich, who were doing fine, nor for the 47% not paying taxes—how do you cut taxes from zero? He would concentrate on lowering taxes for the middle class.

Romney would have done what the “revolting” middle class is insisting on now—and we would be four years into recovery. Yet he was excoriated for “doing nothing” for the poor (for “working families” was how that was spun). He wouldn’t have done nothing; he would have increased opportunities for all, which wasn’t included in the scope of that particular question. But his answer is still quoted as one of the big mistakes of the campaign, even though it was exactly true and sensible.
So why the acceptance of Trump but not Romney?

Working Class Americans
photo from here

Williams offers some additional information into how that middle-American middle class thinks. The WWC “resents professionals but admires the rich.” They’re angry about college graduates, who get management positions, lack experience about how the job is really done, but nevertheless spend all day telling workers how to do their jobs. It’s the educated upper-middle-class that they have experience with—those are the ones they resent, not the distant unknown rich people. It’s not the success of the rich that the WWC resents; it’s the controlling of their lives. As Williams says,

Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable—just with more money. “The main thing is to be independent and give your own orders and not have to take them from anybody else,” a machine operator told Lamont. Owning one’s own business—that’s the goal. That’s another part of Trump’s appeal.
So, when you have a condescending Harvard-educated black president (prejudiced against them because they aren’t black) ordering them around, controlling their lives—everything from Obamacare to who gets to use whose bathrooms, and whether a source of jobs will be curtailed because of an infinitesimally small possible effect on climate a century hence—and that guy might get followed by a woman who also condescends and insists on doubling down on those very policies, there should be no question about why they would revolt against Hillary Clinton as a candidate.

That segment Vance talked about, the ones who keep their noses clean and go along—they were willing to give Obama a try, when he said he was going to help the working class. Plus he would prove the country was beyond racism, so those accusations would go away. But after eight years, they’re now aware Obama isn’t even trying to help them; he’s trying to help the non-working poor, or the entry-level kid, at their expense. And they’re done with that.

I’ve considered myself middle class—so, yet another way to misunderstand the term, since I’m college educated. In so many ways I find this revolt understandable. I’m also tired of the bad economy. And I’m tired of a smug and condescending administration and their minions in academia and the media insisting that the way I think and live is unacceptable, or even deplorable.

I’m a thinker. I know how to take what the “progressives” say and measure that against principles and sound, reproducible data. So I can say why I believe they’re wrong and their policies won’t work.

I was willing to trust Romney to do what was needed. He’s a better all-around businessman than Trump, has covered more industries, specialized in helping businesses turn around and function better. And he is inarguably ethical, which can’t be said for Trump, whose business in gambling and entertaining was always tied to cronyism, and a trail of lawsuits dog him.

But, for whatever reason, the WWC demographic saw Romney as untrustworthy; he seemed too smooth, too educated—too much like those professionals they’d been pushed around by. I wish he could have connected with them. I’m trying to understand why he didn’t. That air of being college smart instead of street smart might be key. I don't think Romney should have tried to be otherwise; he is what he is. But Trump, while college educated, never sounds like it.

The reality might be that Trump will be a lot more authoritarian, a lot more “progressive,” than Romney would have been. And culturally will be a lot less civilized. (Almost everyone is less civilized than Romney.)

College educated conservatives, as a demographic, I believe are much more likely to be pro-Constitution, pro-principle-based limited government, and pro-traditional family than Trump is. So that’s a division I hope we can heal. But I think the pro-Trump middle-class voter is just as likely to love country, family, and traditional values as I do. They might not know how to articulate how we get freedom, prosperity, and civilization from adhering to our Constitution, but they will appreciate those things when we get them.

So far this week there are reports of Trump reaching out to former foes like Mitt Romney and Ted Cruz. He might be sensible enough to use some Constitutional conservatives and good economic data wonks in his cabinet and administration. That would go a long way toward healing the rough, off-the-cuff brashness that may have won him the election but without help from people like me.

We’ve had presidents with ugly personalities before: LBJ, Andrew Jackson (both democrats). We can survive brash and ugly—if Trump will do the principled things that need doing.

So, again, I’m praying for President-elect Trump and all those who surround him to be wise, and good. 

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