Why does the demagoguery of the right and extreme right work so well in this US election? Many white and non-white middle or low earners have seen the vast majority of good jobs vanish. My last post mentioned Robert Reich’s book on labor and its conclusion that the middle class was losing traction at an accelerating pace. Without going into a discussion of ever-developing robotics and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it is enough to look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projections for jobs with the most growth expected between 2014 and 2024. There used to be plenty of jobs: technical, skilled and satisfying jobs that didn’t necessarily require a long and difficult education which led to better but not vastly superior benefits. Many middle and lower class people are being unwillingly pushed into menial jobs, as a walk along Woodward Avenue north of Detroit made me aware again this morning. White workers especially can be excused for questioning and even hating themselves for failing to live to an image they grew up with since at least the eighties. Longevity statistics of middle-aged white Americans have been discussed recently. This segment of the population is more inclined to substance abuse, alcoholism, suicide. For evidence and discussion, see these two recent articles: Death rates rising for middle-aged white Americans; and Why are white death rates rising? These new workers belong to a generation that had parents with better salaries, cheaper homes (mortgages are a most important barometer), a decent pension system and medicare. Not all of this is gone but it has become very fragile and much more difficult to acquire. Thirty-five year old skilled workers cannot raise a family like their parents did, buy a home, and hope their present jobs, let alone pension and health coverage, will be there next year. One would have to take into account also the pressure new communication systems put not only on socially-enforced consumption but even more on labor saving systems and productivity.
Non-whites presumably do not have the same self-image problem even though they are under even greater economic pressure. They know or assume that their parents and grand-parents had to struggle to ensure a minimum education and welfare for their children. They are continuing this struggle and perhaps are readier to accept the harshness of their lives in the hope they have for themselves and especially the next generation. But for many workers, especially white men and women, the hope in a better life and the trust placed in the nation, its government, and its economic institutions, have been sullied or shattered. They cannot admit they are angry at themselves, perhaps their parents’ generation, or those like themselves—with whom they identify—who had their fingers on the levers of power. The publicized and authorized anger at immigrants that is so easily mediatized, as well as a more coded hate of blacks, is directed at all those weaker and even more vulnerable than they are.
For the working class to adopt a broader analysis and look at their real historical condition rather than turning on each other seems hardly possible in the US. Or rather a whole new crop of rich and well-educated demagogues like a Trump, a Rubio, or a Cruz, systematically helped by the media, resorts to inflammatory words to temporarily unify and use or abuse as many of these electors as they can. With feelings of hate and contempt directed at those poorer than themselves, a large segment of the population is provided by the elites with a new escape from reasoned political analysis and action. In regard to such deception, there is no difference between Trump and a standard Republican establishment that proclaims its revulsion at his demagoguery. The whole party, helped by its paid political and media affiliates, has long played a divisive game in order to suppress any social and political analysis of the real situation of labor. Even worse, some of its leadership is actually beginning to say that Trump will not be so bad after all. No matter the dangers in terms of domestic peace and foreign policy, they seem willing to harvest what they sowed—or rather to have others harvest the storm. The mostly cost-free cultural values that have long been used to hide real bread and butter issues (no to abortion, prayer in school, anti-gay measures) become less important for the Republican party if the temporary unity that Trump or anyone else builds on anger and hate gathers sufficient votes and power politics as usual can then continue.