Hillary breaks a great taboo

Hillary Clinton speaking in New Hampshire in January.
Hillary Clinton speaking in Manchester, NH, January 22, 2016. Photo: Gage Skidmore

Finally, somebody said it (“somebody” meaning somebody who depends on public opinon): Donald Trump’s supporters are bigots, or tens of millions of them are, anyway.

Not just that Trump himself is a bigot; there’s no risk in saying that. But to say that the masses of Americans who support this candidate who has been blaring his contempt for Mexicans, Muslims and women, and, to a lesser extent, the handicapped and black people, in the highest-profile way imaginable for the last year – to say that not all of them but that tons of them are bigots themselves: This is something no mainstream politician or media figure has said until Hillary Clinton, God bless her, said it at a New York fundraiser Friday night.

“You know, just to be grossly generalist, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”

Then she talked about the other half.

“That other basket of people are people who feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for a change. They don’t buy everything he says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”

This is about as generous and compassionate a description of Trump’s electorate as any intelligent, honest person could make. To let fully half of them off the hook, to say that half of Trump’s voters are not bigots – I think Hillary was being charitable (or politic).

Trump rally in Reno
Trump campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, January 10, 2016. Photo: Darron Birgenheier

But can anyone honestly take issue with her claim, which she prefaced as being “grossly generalist,” that half of Trump’s voters are bigots? Or that bigots are “deplorables”?

I don’t think so. I think everybody outside Trump’s camp knows that what Hillary said was absolutely true and at least fair. The thing is, though, she broke a taboo, one of the most powerful ones in politics: You never criticize the public. The public is always good. The public is always wise.

Nobody believes this swill, either, but there are two kinds of people who will never admit it: Those in politics and those in the mainstream media. The reason is obvious: They both depend on public opinion. They cannot go ragging vast sections of their constituencies, or audiences, as bigots and deplorables because that will alienate them. The politicians will lose their votes, the media will lose their viewership or listenership or readership. So while politicians will rag those of the rival party, and MSM people will rag those of either party, none of them will rag the public or any part of it that keeps those ragged politicians afloat. For politicians, it’s bad politics; for the MSM, it’s bad business.

And since politicians and the MSM dominate the public discussion of politics, this ridiculous notion that the public is always wise and good, and that it’s always wrong to criticize them, is allowed to stand.

What this lie does is infantilize voters, who are, remember, adults. It absolves them of all responsibility for whom they elect. It’s a view of adults in a democracy not as citizens, but as customers – who are always right, which means there’s no good politics or bad politics, there’s only the kind that sells and the kind that doesn’t. Which eventually lands us with the likes of Trump.

On Saturday, the day after she spoke her mind about her opponent’s supporters, Hillary retracted. “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong. But let’s be clear, what’s really ‘deplorable’ is that Donald Trump …” bla, bla, bla.

Oh well. For one brief shining moment …

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Further reading: 

“Clinton says half of Trump supporters fall into ‘basket of deplorables,’ Thehill.com, September 9

“Clinton: It was wrong to call half of Trump supporters ‘deplorable,'” Thehill.com, September 10

“Hillary Clinton calls many Trump backers ‘deplorables,’ and GOP pounces,” New York Times, September 10

Trump and Netanyahu: Rich, selfish, haughty heroes of the common man

Trump rally in Reno
Trump campaign rally in Reno, Nevada, January 10, 2016. Photo: Darron Birgenheier

I understand that America’s white working class, in general, gets a charge out of Trump because he channels their hatreds. What I don’t get is why they also think he’s going to deliver them economically, that he’s going to get them better paying, more secure jobs, a better deal all around.

Don’t they see that he doesn’t care about them, that his whole life is about me, me, me and nothing else? He hasn’t exactly tried to hide it, after all. Don’t these white people without college educations, who are hurting for money and whose lives and futures are pretty shaky, understand that they are part of that wide swath of humanity whom Trump refers to as “losers”?

To the white working class, Trump is not “one of us,” to say the least, not economically or any other way – and he doesn’t pretend to be. He’s had the cushiest life imaginable; there’s nothing about him that anybody but another rich asshole could identify with. So why do these throngs of “common,” often suffering American men and women believe he’s the answer to their economic troubles and fears? I get the hatred he brings out in them; I don’t get the love.

And this leads me to a very dark speculation: that the “common man” doesn’t want a leader he can identify with, and who treats him as an equal – he wants somebody “better” than him, somebody “above” him, somebody untouchable, somebody to whom he is eager to subordinate himself.

These white Americans wait by the thousands for his “TRUMP”-emblazoned plane to land while the loudspeakers are blaring Wagner or some other heroic symphonic theme – it’s like Elvis in Vegas. Trump is rich, he retains traces of his former handsomeness, he’s vain, he has beautiful women, he makes strong men quake, and he wears a permanent expression of haughty disapproval – this is what the American common man and woman have been lapping up for the last year. They don’t want a president, they want a king, somebody they can bow to.

It grows out of the authoritarian, disciplinarian traditions of America’s white working class, it comes from a culture of hierarchy and obedience.

2009 Netanyahu poster
Netanyahu campaign poster, 2009: “Strong on defense, strong on the economy.”

What does this remind me of? It reminds me of how the Israeli counterpart of America’s white working class – the Jewish, largely Mizrahi, working class – worshipped Bibi Netanyahu when he rose to become prime minister in the 1990s. (Their ardor has since died down; after all this time, working class Jews no longer pin their personal economic hopes on Netanyahu, but they still trust him to bash the Arabs and the Left for them.)

Poorly educated Jews, most of them Mizrahi, went crazy for Netanyahu in those days – and he bore no resemblance to them. A professor’s son from Jerusalem’s upper-crust Rehavia neighborhood, high school in America, degrees from M.I.T., rich, famous – and with an unmistakably superior air. Plus, he was by far the most pro-business, anti-union, anti-poor-people leader Israel had ever seen. Yet the amcha, the working class, notably the Mizrahim, idolized him.

I think that story was the same one we’ve been seeing with Trump and his crowds. It’s the story of people from an authoritarian culture of obedience wanting a leader who’s above them, a king they can bow to.

This, as much as anything, is what’s soured me on the worldview of the Left: The masses really are asses. They don’t care about equality, they don’t care about justice, what they want most is to march behind an invincible leader who will wipe out the enemy tribes. I don’t believe in the working class, I believe in educating them into the educated class, and then maybe they’ll become less racist and less smitten with the likes of Netanyahu and Trump.

Have Trump’s working-class whites really embraced ‘class warfare’?

Trump rally in New Hampshire
Trump supporters at rally in Nashua, New Hampshire, December 28, 2015. Photo: Marc Nozell

For liberals, one of the lessons of the Trump campaign is that they and the Democratic Party have to start paying more attention to the economic pain of America’s white working class, which Trump has turned to his advantage in such a startling way.

These people without a college education are the ones left behind by the Obama recovery, left behind by the modern global, high-tech economy in general, and the Democratic Party, which used to speak for this class, doesn’t any longer and this has to change, according to the new liberal consensus.

I don’t doubt the economic pain of people who have no job security, whose salaries and benefits have steadily declined, and whose prospects for the future look no better. What I do doubt, though, is that Trump’s economic pitch – to bring back the good old days of American factory work – is up there among the main reasons why he’s getting such huge support from these people.

I doubt it because blue-collar America didn’t just start declining now; it started in the 1980s, and even a little before. Where have these working-class whites been all this time with their demands to reverse free trade?

These Trump voters are Republicans and right-leaning Independents; why have they been supporting pro-free-trade, pro-1%, anti-union, anti-safety-net Republicans for decades? Why did they, and why do they still, worship Reagan, who broke the mold on this economic policy, and who did more to screw American workers, not to mention the American poor, than any other president?

GOP’s old name for Trump’s economics

Before Trump, the Republicans had a term for the complaint that workers were getting hammered and Wall Street was the enemy: “class warfare.” Only Democrats preached class warfare, and the white working class wasn’t having it – if they voted, they voted Republican.

So why have they suddenly woken up? Why, for the first time since they left the Democrats and flocked to Reagan in 1980 (if they hadn’t left as part of Nixon’s “silent majority” in 1968, or as part of his 1972 landslide over the Bernie Sanders of the day, George McGovern) are they talking like proletarians?

Because the new, working-class economics that Trump is serving them comes packaged in the good old Republican wrapping that they always grab for – hatred of Washington, politicians, the media, the Democrats, Obama, the Clintons, immigrants, Muslims, as well as blacks, women and gays who aren’t grateful for all their advantages.

Plus, many if not most of them really like Trump’s style, which is also new. Many respect his wealth, seeing it as proof of his ability and believing he’ll use it to get them a better break. Many also see his beautiful women and his exciting life, and hero-worship him.

Take away Trump’s Republican political and social themes, take away his personality, his billions and his celebrity and make him a Democrat running against free trade and for bringing back factory jobs to America – would working-class whites be interested? I don’t think so.

Sander NY rally
Sanders at rally in Manhattan, September 18, 2015. Photo: Michael Vadon

I know, Bernie Sanders also appealed to working-class whites with the same basic approach to trade and jobs. But I’m convinced that many of these people didn’t know he was a holdover from the late-‘60s New Left, and that once they found out – as they most certainly would have in a general election – they would have fled in droves to the Republicans, to the Libertarians or stayed home.

By and large, America’s working-class, high-school-educated whites are not proletarians, or anyway that is not an important part of their identity. No, they’re nationalists. And nationalists need enemies. That’s what the Republicans have given them, it sure as hell is what Trump has given them, and this is the decisive reason they love Trump.

Protectionist economics? That’s icing on the cake.

I have to wonder if these voters even believe it, if they believe there’s something a president can do to get their jobs back from overseas, to rebuild the factories and revive industrial unions and guarantee their employment, good wages and benefits, regular raises and the rest of what was once on offer in blue-collar America. It’s gone. It’s been dying in pieces for almost 40 years. The technological revolution and globalization killed it off; how do you reverse that combined force?

Anybody who tells Americans with no more than a high school diploma that there’s a way to get them into the middle class – other than by upgrading their education – is lying through his teeth. Leave that to Trump; Democrats don’t have to imitate him.

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For further reading:

Shhh, don’t tell Donald: Trump is not the first Republican to champion white working class, MarketWatch

Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump. Here’s why, The Guardian

Head of the class, New Yorker

New data: Why white working class voters back Trump, Newsweek

What Democrats still don’t get about George McGovern, New Republic

 

 

 

 

Brexit’s lesson for the Left: There really is such a thing as too many immigrants

brexit

As disastrous as the Brexit vote was (so disastrous that I can’t believe Britain will go ahead and actually leave the EU), there was one message sent by the “Leave” camp that I think progressives in Europe and the U.S. should heed: There is a limit to how many immigrants a country should try to absorb.

For all the xenophobia in the “Leave” campaign, the average, working-class, white Britons outside the big cities, who made up the bulk of the “Leave” vote, cannot be blamed for feeling that their country is being swamped by immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Middle East. They can’t be blamed for fearing the future in an EU where everybody living in it has “freedom of movement” from one country to another, and to which masses in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East are desperate to arrive. Some 630,000 immigrants settled in Britain last year – 1% of the population – after the same number moved there the year before. In the U.S. last year, 1.7 million newcomers arrived, about 0.5% of the population.

It’s the “common people” – the whites who tend not to have college degrees, whose income puts them in the precarious middle class or lower, and who tend to live away from the big cities or certainly from the more prosperous urban neighborhoods – who believe that their jobs and wage levels are threatened by the new arrivals. Whether or not that threat is real – different economists say different things – the cosmopolitan achievers don’t have to worry about it.

Also, it’s the whites of the heartland, who’ve grown up in fairly homogeneous, conservative communities, who tend to care most about such things as national character – language, culture, patriotism – and who feel alienated when they see the immigrant population growing up around them. For liberal college students and professionals in the big cities, white and non-white, their idea of the national character is diversity, or multiculturalism; more immigration doesn’t change the country for them.

Incidentally, it’s not just struggling whites who have a problem with mass immigration; in America, poor and lower-middle-class blacks have been known to bridle at Mexican immigrants moving into their neighborhoods. Also at Korean immigrants opening up shops in their communities. (The enmity between poorer blacks and the new immigrants in their midst is known to run both ways.)

It’s not racism

You don’t have to be a racist in Britain or America to think there are too many immigrants coming in. Over the years I’ve been surprised to hear some of my ultra-liberal Jewish friends in L.A., two of whom have had close personal relations with Mexicans their whole adult lives, say with a lack of enthusiasm that around the city they seem to hear as much Spanish as English.

Any one of them would rather cut off their arm than vote for Trump. But not so the whites of Middle America. They feel inundated by foreign arrivals,   especially Latinos, and the Obama administration offers them no relief, so along comes Trump who speaks to the worst in them and promises to wall off Mexico and kick out 11 million illegal immigrants. Finally, they figure, somebody’s listening to them.

Maybe the cosmopolitan liberals in the U.S., Britain and Europe should recognize that the Brexiters, Trump voters, Le Pen supporters and the like, even though they’ve chosen radical, destructive, xenophobic solutions, do have a real problem: There are too many immigrants around for their comfort.  Racist appeals should not be listened to, but appeals of economic fear and bruised national identity should be, especially when they’re coming from such a huge number of people in the West, from tens upon tens of millions of citizens who evidently feel very insecure at home.

So Western liberals should listen to the white people who mistakenly voted for Brexit, who voted Trump and will again, who support Le Pen in France, Wilders in Holland, Pegida in Germany and the other European anti-immigration  movements – and show a little solidarity. Stop being afraid of being called racists; it’s not racist to say there should be limits on immigration and that these limits have been passed. It’s not even “nationalistic” to say this, it’s just a matter of recognizing that nations are different and want to remain different, at least to some extent, which is something progressives need to learn.

Western left-liberals should come out for reasonable curbs on new immigration – and stop handing the field to demagogues who turn vulnerable people’s frustrations into fascism, and who offer not limits but expulsion, walls and disastrous retreat from the world.