Mandos

Both/and

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As I said in comments on a previous thread, I’m not totally surprised by the Trump victory. Nor am I going to run around with my hands in the air screaming that this is the final end of the world, or that the USA is going to collapse into a fascist dictatorship, etc, etc. The problem with totalitarian moments is that you often can’t 100% recognize them until they’ve arrived, and there’s an opportunity cost crying wolf if they don’t. (That cost being, obviously, that no one will believe you when it counts. The dilemma being, once again, that you can’t easily know in advance that it does…)

What I am a little surprised by are the attempts at explanation that try to produce a One True Cause of the Trump victory, in opposition to all the other One True Causes. The most popular two I’ll call the Whitelash Hypothesis and the Revenge of the Globalized. In the Whitelash Hypothesis, white voters in “flyover country” walk into the polling booths, rub their hands with glee, and vote for whomever will promise to oppress the people that white people love oppressing, because white. (I’m being facetious here, of course.) The Revenge of the Globalized, however, is when the victims of free trade, that being the workers in Rust Belt factories, lash out at whoever happens to be ruling at the time in protest of their jobs being shipped to China — and it was a Democratic president who never did anything about the costs of globalization who lost the election for a Hillary Clinton allied to globalization’s architects.

The Whitelash Hypothesis is supported by the idea that actually, yes, Trump supporters were better off than average, and that lower-income quintiles tended to go for Clinton — if this were a backlash against neoliberalism, why wouldn’t it have been the other way around? Those who believe it was the Revenge of the Globalized argue in return that it is a sense of economic security that has been removed from populations that had once felt secure, and the possibility of loss creates reactionary politics.

And what is surprising to me is that these things are placed in opposition to one another, as though they weren’t interdependent variables that both had an effect on the outcome. The truth is that electorally-crucial segments of the American population have become more insecure and more reactionary as a result. Those segments tend to be a largely-white population that was secure and is willing to pass severe judgement on an entire political order they perceive as not designed around their security and dignity as the Staatsvolk, but rather designed by people who wish to displace them as the Staatsvolk by people whose existence at the best of times is benignly auxiliary.

And that globalization as currently practiced results in this effect is essentially undeniable. The truth is, globalization made it impossible for a largely-white US working class that had benefited from a kind of industrialization to prosper in those industries. It was never enough to say that the steelworks job shipped overseas could be supplemented by retraining. As has been pointed out countless times, you’re not going to turn a 50-year-old auto plant worker into a Javascript developer, and he’s not going to find a job trying to do that. Wal-Mart is not a substitute either.

People are particularly up in arms about the prominence of Steve Bannon, the publisher of the execrable Breitbart. He’s a terrible human being. But that shouldn’t stop you from listening to what he says about himself, where he claims that his nationalism is first and foremost economic:

He absolutely — mockingly — rejects the idea that this is a racial line. “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he tells me. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver” — by “we” he means the Trump White House — “we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

And what he wants to do economically:

“Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” he says. “It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”

I’ve already seen people mock his references to outdated “shipyards and ironworks”, which sounds all so 19th century. They’re missing the point. It doesn’t matter if it’s a literal ironworks, it just means some place where a man can make a living and support his family doing something he thinks is real — without having to be creative, without having to spend his life in school. That’s the vision Bannon wants to sell here, amidst everything else. That’s the vision that, if he succeeds, will make Trumpism immortal.

Finally, I get to say a morbid “I told you so”. I used to comment on mainstream economics blogs like Brad DeLong and Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, trying to tell them how this would go, that mainstream suppression of the populist anti-globalization left would result in the rise of more dangerous and intolerant forms of right-wing populism. And lo, it has. They variously argued that to say so was to commit racism against the Chinese (why shouldn’t a Chinese person have the industrial job an American did?!?), or they would simply say that the results of globalization were something to be compensated for by a strong welfare state (haha). The politics of economic dignity and sense of self-worth completely escaped their consciousnesses, and some of these people were, yes, fairly powerful and influential people. I eventually seemed to have been silently banned from those places. DeLong is trying to figure out how to convince the Trump government to adopt the same old, basically.

The truth is, until you figure out how to give less educated but previously prosperous people not merely compensatory social welfare but a sense of self-worth, you need to consider doing economic globalization another way, if at all. Unfortunately, in the USA, the world’s biggest military and industrial power, those people tend to be white, they tend to believe certain things about their place in the world that reflects white privilege, and they’re tired of apologizing for it. Both/and.

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This page contains a single entry by Mandos published on November 19, 2016 3:38 PM.

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