• Morning in America Again, or Kristallnacht? The Answer Wins the Election

    January 13, 2020 // 6 Comments »


     

    Just before holiday visits back home to the Midwest, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney explained Trump’s 2020 reelection message will focus on the economy, immigration, and Democratic Party “socialism.”

    The first is straightforward. Some 76 percent of Americans rate economic conditions positively, up from 48 percent at the time of Trump’s election. Stocks are having their best year since 1997, and indexes are at all time highs. Wage growth continues, unemployment is at a half-century low point, holiday spending was up 3.4 percent with an 18.8 rise in online sales, and the media-driven fears of recession and trade war apocalypse yielded to reality. History shows the guy in the White House on Election Day gets the credit.

    The Democrats’ rebuttal is a blurry focus on economic inequality. The drunks at Midwest holiday parties actually agree in large part, but as sober voters are unsure who Bernie Warren is lecturing to about that, as they’ve been well aware of economic inequality for a long time. It was easy to walk them back through the weaker and weaker union contracts (when they still had unions) and  plant downsizings (when they still had plants) to around 1973, the year financial equality in America peaked. The conversation is like watching those YouTube videos showing the Beach Boys singing Surfin’ USA in the Sixties through to their creepy 2019 selves.

    These people are open to hear what Democrats plan to do about it but they do not believe the Robin Hood strategy Elizabeth Sanders proposes. They are also more than aware there are even more exhausted little towns down county wracked by drugs. They know places like that don’t care about Medicare for All, they already have Medicaid for All. Free college isn’t much of a draw because there aren’t a lot of better jobs begging and the places that have had training programs left over from presidential campaigns past already learned the hard lesson education, while a good thing, doesn’t create jobs. Jobs create the need for education. Otherwise it’s empty calories, changing underemployed uneducated people into underemployed educated people. Teaching a million people to code, or weld, even if you could, means nothing if there aren’t a million of those jobs accessible. Actually, if “those in a craphole of debt” are an important electoral demographic for Democrats, the people in these pink houses would welcome some attention to limits on the 24 percent interest rate they pay on credit cards, or the 391 percent interest on payday loans for those who can’t get credit anymore.

    If a Democrat came up with a viable infrastructure plan, he’d have these folks’ ears and if funded more intelligently than “we’ll get rich people whose companies don’t pay taxes now to pay” he’d likely have their votes, too. They’ve struggled enough at the end of a month to know money doesn’t come from nowhere, and the same people promising them something are promising others bribes in the form of slavery reparations, student loan forgiveness, and maybe free ponies. Some might even remember the War on Poverty, which started Medicare and Medicaid, was aimed in part at the Midwest some fifty years ago to help displaced coal miners. These folks are familiar with politician’s promises. This is not an audience easily won over by an argument to trust new and expensive government programs to fix everything.

    Sure there are paradoxical notes on meritocracy, that things are earned, which get scrambled among people who accept food stamps but decry others who do the same as lazy. But what makes sense and what is are not always the same. In 2020 the hint of new taxes to pay for things that aren’t likely to get them a better job is enough to stick with what little the last four years handed over. A job, or a better paying job, is what everyone wanted under the Christmas tree. Trump has not delivered fully as he promised, but things feel better.

     

    More immigration is about as popular as less football. Listening to Democrats talk about open borders, sanctuary cities, benefits for illegals, and admitting more refugees, you would be surprised to learn 77 percent of Americans see illegal immigration as a “critical/important” threat. So people are wondering why fellow Midwesterner Pete Buttigieg wants to deport fewer illegal immigrants. They wonder what happened to the 2016 Bernie, who once claimed open borders were a Koch brothers’ plot to flood the U.S. with cheap labor to depress wages.

    They wonder if Democrats can’t handle the truth. Never mind the sepia Ken Burns documentaries, they know they’re the descendants of immigrants who weren’t always welcomed, who were called Hunkies or Polacks before being exploited as cheap labor by the “whyte people” of the day. They also know damn well the reason wages are down today at many places is because people are coming from countries thousands of miles away to be exploited as cheap labor. Nobody this New Year’s said “our lives would be better if we had more immigrants moving in.” Nobody said “I’m glad some candidates are focused on transgender asylum rights, that’s important.” But nobody said “I hate refugees or trans people” either. Understanding the difference between the two statements is going to help decide the election.

     

    That brings things to Mick Mulvaney’s last Trump campaign point, “Democratic Socialism,” a vision for what America could become under a new administration. It is a story a candidate tells voters. What the Democrats are offering seemed as popular as the burnt crescent rolls even the drunks left alone on the table New Year’s Eve. An “…and in other news” story about how the Bernie Sanders campaign is worried spending too much of their money on office supplies from Amazon is unethical brought forth a consensus opinion locally of “and these people represent who” around here?

    The great campaigners — Reagan, 2008 Obama, first-gen Bill Clinton — had a vision of Morning in America, of Hope, and, of well, also Hope. People vote their pocketbook, but they also vote on that vision of who they are and who they think they want to be. Aspiration is an economic driver same as wages and in America may be more powerful. Trump is good enough at this. He tells people he’s rich, he’s powerful, he can do anything he wants, and what he chooses to do is work for them for free. Look at the faces at a Trump rally. You saw the same in 2008 with Obama, with Reagan in 1984, and it becomes a conversation that ends almost organically with a vote, like a perfect date that slides buttery into breakfast. They don’t really want to stand up and complain at a town hall, they want to see their future. Save the arguments about what is real and what is guff because they don’t matter when you’re telling a good story to an audience that wants to think they’re better people than they’ve been forced to become.

    Meanwhile, the story Democrats are telling is of a crappy place buried in racism and homophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments. It’s not Morning in America in 2020, it’s Kristallnacht. We’re not people of hope and aspiration, we’re bitter and hateful, despised not just for holding a political opinion, but for being the kind of person who holds such an opinion. Nobody takes Michael Moore seriously in a literal way anymore, but he spoke out loud what many Dems think when he said “Two-thirds of all white guys voted for Trump. That means anytime you see three white guys walking at you, down the street towards you, two of them voted for Trump. You need to move over to the other sidewalk because these are not good people that are walking toward you. You should be afraid of them.”

    We’re not even really worthy of our vote — the popular vote, as expressed by New York and California, will allow a more righteous country to emerge over bodies of the rednecks the Russians told to vote Trump.

     

    The only real vision the Dems offer is whichever one of them limps out of the primaries, they are not Trump. They want everyone to forget the three years of lies and conspiracy theories that Trump was working for the Russians. They want everyone to ignore the FBI campaign to overturn the last election, the last gasping efforts of which are an impeachment process even the Democrats seem to wish would just go away now. They want everyone to forget the fear mongering saying Trump would start a war with China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea or just nuke somewhere in a fit of rage when Melania had a headache again. They want everyone to forget the three years of claims Trump is incestous, is mentally ill, subject to the 25th Amendment, a danger to us all, bonkers, unhinged. They don’t know the more they rage about Trump and predict catastrophe the more out of touch it seems when the catastrophes don’t happen. Pssst, people have noticed the pattern, Rachel.

    Dems also want everyone to forget how those actions, consistent and over time, might be a better indication of how they would govern than any “plan” posted on line. So much fuel has been burned pointing out Trump’s ugliness that the Dems think voters won’t notice the party’s own self-righteousness. Everyone has had their good will tested by years worth of movies and TV which eschews plot to shove simplistic versions of wokeness and feminism down everyone’s throat. We get it — commercials feature disproportionate levels of same-sex and mixed race couples, and the moral of the story is the old white guy is wrong. The absurdity of a man with long hair identifying as a woman and setting local high school track records is now drilled in. That is part of the vision ascribed to Democrats, and it is not worth many votes.

     

    Few people listen to the media anymore here and even fewer believe much of what they hear. Polls show 47 percent of Americans believe it’s difficult to know whether the information they encounter is true. Some 60 percent say they regularly see conflicting reports about the same set of facts, and way less than half of Americans have confidence in the media (the number drops to 15 percent when just Republicans are asked.) The ground truth is not hard to tease out, though reality is easier to see when your morning coffee doesn’t cost $6.99. The Millenial pundits from Brooklyn who write the dumb garbage about the Heartland as a infestation of inbred racists wouldn’t even need passports to come out and visit. They might come to realize they spend too much time reporting off social media without knowing they’re talking to themselves. But they wouldn’t be comfortable at the cousins’ homes. When they ask where the coffee is sourced from and is it sustainable, the answer would be “Um, Kroger, and yeah, we got a whole pot on.” It helps to have to have grown up in a place where it was usually too cold to leave the beer outside on New Year’s.

    Still, they might learn the majority of voters in purple states, the ones who likely will decide the election, don’t see America as a hateful place consumed by racism, homophobia, and white supremacy, and they don’t see themselves as racists, homophobes, and white supremacists. A lot of these people voted for Obama when he won Ohio in 2008 and 2012. The people the pundits might meet are also more aware than the media things were not so great during the Obama years progressives now bathe in golden light. These people are tired of being defined and reviled by candidates who have no idea of how they live, yet hate them anyway for not watching PBS. The media’s idea they are Nazis, or support anything close to Nazism, is an insult. Their grandfathers fought the Second World War. They know Facebook is where you post pictures of the kids, not receive marching orders from the Kremlin. Their America hasn’t been taken away from them by blacks or whoever’s; nobody really wants it.

    “Not Trump” will be enough for the Whole Foods/Trader Joe base, but not for places across Ohio and elsewhere further down the food chain. Trump gets this at a visceral level. It is messy out there, but these people understand they have made it three years without a new war, without an economic collapse, that the impeachment matters not a whit, and even Saturday Night Live is sort of funny again.

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Trump

    Democrats Need to Stop Dry Humping the American Dream

    May 13, 2019 // 2 Comments »


     

    Economic inequality could be the signature issue for Democrats, one that speaks to purple voters, progressives, and maybe even some current Trump supporters. But the Dems do not seem to understand this. They need to decide if they are running as a party of governance, or just one of protest.

    On economics, an issue voters reliably care deeply about, Trump’s approval rating is 58%. Rarely is an incumbent defeated under a strong economy. While many factors affecting the economy are long waves, with decisions made one or five administrations ago rippling forward, the reality is the president in office gets the credit on election day. That payoff is due to be collected by Donald Trump. Throw in his tax changes, that he is the only president since the fall of the Soviet Union to not start a new war, and his red-meat-to-the-base wins on immigration and Supreme Court appointments, all coupled with the whimpering end of Russiagate, and you have a candidate with lots to crow about.

    On the other side, “Not Trump” will be enough for the Whole Foods base. But Democrats appear willing to punt too many other votes for lack of a message about what they might do if elected. The recent Politico headline “Biden Goes Light on Policy, Heavy on Emotion” is not good.

    Meanwhile, economic inequality, the disparity at the heart of our nation, is shaping whether America will remain something of a pluralistic democracy, or complete its descent into a modern form of feudalism where 0.01% of Americans effectively control the rest of us. That’s could be a very powerful anti-Trump message.

    Yet the Democrats’ version is erroneously based on economic inequality being a minority POC issue, maybe something to address via reparations or more social justice programs. Dems scold into deep resentment the vast numbers of white midwesterners stuck in poverty (who lean Trump) as too stupid to vote in their own self-interest. They lean on tell-us-what-we-want-to-believe books like Hillbilly Elegy (due out as a Ron Howard film for 2020) to reinforce the concept of meth-addled yokels.

    The Democrats are simultaneously throwing away an issue that resonates with progressives: economic inequality drives the search for scapegoats, the handmaiden of racism and hate. It has to be someone else’s fault I’m not doing well, because “they” get free food from the government or because of immigration policies which take my job away to give to “them.” Reduce economic inequality and you will reduce its societal ills is a very powerful anti-Trump message.

    Using government money to reduce economic inequality goes against the ethos of many. But we have underestimated the societal disruption economic inequality created in America even as we mark a surge in deaths of despair from alcohol, suicide, and opioids, Robert Merry, writing in The American Conservative, calls our time “definitional” and wonders if the polity will hold. While we wait for everyone to lift themselves up by their bootstraps, we are missing what a volatile people we are, and have ceded our darkest tendencies to those who manipulate them for their own gain. We have become too violent and too well-armed and too goaded by social media to let the market sort this out.

    Yet according to a CNN poll, 71% of Americans still rate the nation’s economic conditions favorably. Democrats must explain to Americans while things are not visibly bad on the surface, they are fundamentally not good for about 90% of us. Silliness like “Trump might still crash the market” or “Obama deserves the credit” simply encourage the short-term thinking that drives that CNN poll. Democrats need to explain the long term — the top 0.1% of households now hold about the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90%, and it is only getting worse. The share earned by the top 0.01% rose from 0.5% in 1973 to 3.3% in 2010. Something that threatens the financial life of 90% of us is a majority, not minority, problem.

    Economic anxiety, more than what the left imagines as racial or cultural uneasiness, lies deep in the Heartland. Trump spoke to it in 2016 in the guise of promises to bring back coal mining’s glory days, raise tariffs, and slow immigration. Democrats should speak sense to that anxiety. The answer should be infrastructure.

    Bernie Sanders loves infrastructure. Elizabeth Warren wants to rebuild the middle class. Biden’s liked it since he was VP. Infrastructure underlies other candidates’ plans for guaranteed incomes and assured jobs. It’s hard to find anyone against infrastructure. But no one has presented something sweeping, linear, and encompassing enough to reach at economic inequality. This isn’t about jobs per se – unemployment is at a near-50 year low – but about how we live. Earnings for non-management, private-sector workers reached their peak in 1973, the high water mark of the middle class out there in Youngstown and South Bend, left today dry heaving about what’s still called the American Dream.

    The response comes from the last time economic inequality was this bad. America needs a new version of the 1935 Works Progress Administration (WPA) to build roads, bridges, and rail lines. A new WPA to create jobs people can do without significant training (not everyone can learn to code) and which pay living wages with real healthcare. Get echelons of people too used to chronic under-employment used to working for a living again. People working multiple jobs should not need food aid as many do today.

    Almost every community in the United States got a new park, bridge, or school under the WPA, never mind airports, train stations, over 600,000 miles of roads, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Hoover Dam. Upgrading all that after 80 years to improve lives is a powerful message. Fight growing racism and hate with the self-respect work gives. You don’t need to create an enemy if you don’t see yourself as a victim.

    The Democrats flirted with something like this recently, after Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi met with Trump to “agree” on a $2 trillion infrastructure initiative. But peek behind the curtain and it’s just rhetoric. Despite knowing the House controls the budget, Pelosi almost immediately crossed her arms and declared it is Trump’s job, not hers, to figure out how to pay for it. The whole thing appears to be a cynical ploy to claim “Because Trump” we can’t have nice things.

    Let how to pay for it become part of the Democratic platform. But the message better be more sophisticated than “were gonna tax the rich” because voters have been burned too many times, when “the rich” ended up being themselves paying higher taxes while the benefits fell to those below. The real rich, the 0.01%, seem to always have a loophole. This simplistic message is particularly dangerous in 2020 when many purple voters fear what progressives might do unfettered (Free medical care! No more college loans! A pony for everyone, just look under your seats!)

    The thing is the money is already there, or at least has been when we wanted it to be. The WPA over eight years used about 6.7% of the era’s GDP to pull the nation out of a full-blown depression with some 20% unemployment. Currently the U.S. spends about 3.3% of its GDP on military.

    But we don’t need that much. The U.S. spends $70 billion a year on food aid for 40 million Americans; repurpose some of that into living wages so people can earn their supper. During the last few wars, reconstruction and the building of infrastructure for Iraqis ate up $60.45 billion. The total for the same failures is more than $154 billion in Afghanistan, with the counter still running at about $9 billion a year on such projects. Only the most inane pundit could call such re-appropriation “anti-military” instead of pro-American; no much-needed bridge for you, Middleton, Ohio, we’re gonna build it in Helmand Province instead. The Obama-era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, with its more modest goal of a short-term stimulus not intended to address inequality, spent $105.3 billion on infrastructure. Unemployment is obviously much lower today, and the goal – better jobs to nudge economic inequality – is different. Those numbers would make an accessible start.

    Some 64% of Americans agreed with an earlier Trump proposal to improve U.S. infrastructure (75% support spending federal money to improve infrastructure when the idea was polled without Trump’s name.) Infrastructure spending also has bipartisan support: 78% of Republicans and 54% of Democrats agree with the need for more.

    Democrats must tell voters what they’ll do, instead of just saying one day it may be Not Trump in the White House. Infrastructure has bipartisan support, will reach purple voters and progressives, and address fundamental problems. The impact of the WPA is long, a bright moment in our history when government raised people out of depression. Imagine the power of owning that legacy.

     
     
    BONUS:

    The Gini coefficient is a measurement of the income distribution within a country which shows the gap between the rich and the poor. Zero represents perfect equality (everyone has the same income) and one representing perfect inequality (one person earns the entire country’s income and everyone else has nothing.) A higher Gini coefficient number means greater inequality. America overall (GDP) earns money in the same range as most European nations, but has a Gini number more in line with Russia, China, and chunks of the third world. That is an unique situation globally. Here are some more hard numbers.

     
    This article by Paul Krugman in the NYT goes to great lengths to create the spurious argument it is Republicans who despise the slack jawed yokels even more than the Democrats do.
     
    Matt Bennett of the center-left group Third Way put it clearly “There are things about this economy that are very popular — low unemployment, a lot of jobs, there’s been some real wage increase. We attribute zero of that to good Trump policy. But he will claim credit. What that means is that [Democrats] need a very clear economic narrative that resonates deeply with the voters that we have to win, and we better not be caught up in our own blue bubble world.”

     
     

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    Copyright © 2019. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

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    Posted in 2020, Democracy, Trump