Losing It

The Democratic defeat in the 2016 election was monumental at virtually every level. Only the Presidential election was close. Why so?

There are, of course, a million theories, but the one I like best is based on the book Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild, which was published a couple of months before the election. She set out to look at Louisiana members of the Tea Party, but many aspects resonate more widely. The last half century has not been kind to the middle class, who have gotten virtually none of profits of economic advance, and have been brutal to the working class, which has lost a lot of ground.

Now some blame this on the explosive growth of the wealth of the super-rich, but for various reasons, including a powerful propaganda apparatus in the hands of those same super-rich, many see the entitlements of those they consider line cutters, all those allegedly disadvantaged who get a leg up thanks to the government or thanks to the government letting foreigners "cut in". White men, especially white men without a college degree, voted overwhelmingly for Trump, and they have a lot of beefs with government and liberal ideology.

Aside from the disappearance of good jobs, like the factory jobs that gave their parents an entry to the middle class, they feel that their economics, honor and prestige has been dissed by the rise of affirmative action, feminism, and identity politics. They have a solid case. When some rise, others fall, even if only relatively.

The economics, though, are more complex. Globalization and automation have done most of the dirty work of taking away well paying jobs and transferring wealth to the super-rich.

2016, I think, was an election ruled by anger. What I don't see from the Republicans is any disposition or idea of how to fix the fundamental problems. Their health care plan is a symptom of their intellectual and moral bankruptcy. They can scapegoat Muslims, Mexicans and Blacks, but that (I hope) will only displace anger, not remove the causes.

Can Democrats, or anybody, transcend these problems to build a better society?


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