• Better Understanding Trump, A Man of His Times

    October 9, 2015 // 9 Comments »

    gluttony

    Demagogues come and go, and are certainly nothing new in politics in general (Hitler) and American politics in the specific (nearly every Republican candidate.)

    But Trump is special, a man of his times, as if evolution created him in match with his environment.

    Trump is a top-level predator, not smart enough to understand but somehow evolved enough to know: the myth of the American Dream is falling apart, and the angry low and middle class people who are experiencing the collapse are unable to understand what is happening to them, essentially that they got played in one of the grandest long cons in the history of grifting. Trump senses this, and tells them it is not their fault. Blame the immigrants, blame the Muslims and, even though the Dream dumped even harder on them, why not, blame the Blacks. It’s not you, folks. The deck is stacked, says Trump.

    Trump is of course right — the deck is stacked. But not in the way he says it is.



    The American Dream

    The myth of the American Dream has been the dominating factor in keeping most people mostly complacent in the United States for 150 years, and allowing most of us to blame a minority of us for shortcomings. You know it — work hard, and your life will improve. Well, maybe not your life, but your kids’, or at least your grandkids’. If that doesn’t happen, you probably didn’t work hard enough, try again next generation and it’ll most likely stick. And if that doesn’t work, it was the fault of the Irish immigrants, or the damn Chinese, or those welfare freeloaders.

    The thing that made the myth so powerful was that 10 percent of the truth that proves the 90 percent lie. As long as near-constant growth could be assured, enough pieces would fall to the the lower and middle classes to keep the Dream alive in their minds. It helped that a kindly media would promote the hell out of every exception, whether it was the shoeshine boy in the late 19th century who went to college, or the plucky guys who invented some new tech in their garage and became billionaires.

    Things did slip up from time to time, culminating in the Great Depression in the United States. The old economy, the heavy metal machinery and industrial one, had maxed out and financial scamming by the one percent of the day hit the tipping point. But some social programs to tamp down any real sense of rebellion and a timely world war reset the Dream. And better yet, the outcome of that war, with the U.S. emerging as the only superpower and the only intact economy, virtually in control of all the world’s natural resources, the newly-created monetary and trade system and, for a few years, as the sole possessor of the Bomb, created a new cycle of growth never before seen in human history.



    Growth Via Consumerism

    The new growth, based on all of the factors above, was fueled by consumerism, not big iron; the Dream would be succored by the recycling of the lower and middle classes’ own wages, upward of course. Earn more, spend more, need more, buy more. That sucking sound heard between 1950 until around 1975 was money moving upward, leaving a little trail of bread crumbly growth in its wake, just enough, but not too much.

    But a straight line is a straight line, and that movement of money had an end point, now fast approaching, where in 2015 one percent of Americans own some 43 percent of the wealth and through that, nearly all of the power. The cycle is accelerating, because, as proven by Thomas Piketty, wealth in capital form grows faster than wages. The race to one percent owning 99.9999999 percent is on.

    Now under certain circumstances such a situation would have people at the barricades armed with pitchforks. But myths die hard, and especially when the basic American Dream myth is backed by the additional proviso that if you are falling behind it is a) because you are not working hard enough or b) somebody is messing with your piece of the pie.

    No politician plans to tell lower and middle class people they aren’t working hard enough, though such prescriptions are nearly required to be spouted at folks already poor. Instead, it is that second part, blaming someone else, that has always been the tool smart pols use to cage votes.



    What is New

    No nothing new, right? Wrong.

    What is new is not the message Trump is promoting, but the America in which he is promoting it. It has become impossible for the lower and middle classes to not see that they are slipping behind. The industrial jobs are gone. People have been talked out of most union jobs, convinced somehow that organizing was not in their own interest. Food stamps and other need-based programs are finding more and more middle class audiences, as suburban people who once donated to charities are now lining up out front of them. The snowball is accelerating, downhill.

    And so there is Trump, a man of his times, telling people who still want to believe that it is OK to believe. Trump made it, so can they. America is f*cked up, just look around, but it is not your fault, voters. And it is certainly not Trump’s, squarely in the one percent, fault. Nope, it is someone else’s fault, and to people desperate to Believe, that is very, very powerful medicine.

    Watch out for this guy, Trump. He has tapped into something deep and fearful and motivating.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    Review: The story of what makes – and unmakes – the American Dream

    June 14, 2014 // 5 Comments »

    An Amazon reviewer had this to say about Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent:


    Read this book. If you ever wonder what happened to the American middle class over the past 30 years or to the economy in the course of the last five years.

    Read it, though Ghost of Tom Joad is not an easy read. The portrait it paints is depressing. This is a hard reality to face. And Peter Van Buren doesn’t make it any easier by writing it partly as lived experience and partly as a political statement on America. There are moments of great descriptive writing and then there are whole racks of statistics that break the narrative flow.

    But none of this can take away from the importance of this book. It is a compassionate look at the American Dream since 1973 through the eyes of someone whose experience has been more nightmare than dream-like. It is also a cautionary tale– recognize the path that brought us to this pass in order to find a way out of the morass. The references to Grapes of Wrath are well-woven into the story and remind us of the need for constant vigilance to prevent exploitation.

    But this is not just a political commentary. Van Buren has written a very human story about a man’s life, his expectations and disappointments. It is the story about his decisions, the results that ensue, his limited room to maneuver because of a system that he doesn’t fully understand until it’s too late. It is also a story about the people who inhabit his world and their efforts to survive, against all odds. Heartbreaking, yet familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the heartland of America over the past thirty years.

    Every American should read this book. And the wider world as well to understand what makes – and unmakes – the American Dream.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America