On Trump, and Where We Are Now

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It’s hard to see what’s out there.

We live in a most pregnant moment. Outside cosseted liberal circles (where I live), one may not become unpregnant. Change will come.

There is a Great Blue Rush to understand the white working class.

A hero of the moment is J D Vance, whose Hillbilly Elegy is all the rage just now. Having lived in Appalachia for fifteen years (the very buckle of the bible belt, we like to say), I caution against taking Mr. Vance too seriously. As soon as I picked up his book, it struck me as lacking in empathy for the people he describes.

Vance is mean. He castigates his kin and their fellows, and he ascribes their predicament to flaws in their own character.

In fact, the largest single cause of underperformance around here is that all of the jobs in this part of the world have left this part of the world. Until not long ago there was a garment factory near our home. Now there are none, save for chicken processing plants largely employing immigrant labor. High school kids can’t wait to graduate and get the hell out of here. Methamphetamine is the local plague.

Rather than Vance, to get yourself thinking I recommend on the left, Roy Greenslade’s Is liberalism really to blame for Britain’s (and America’s) ills? and on the right, Joan C Williams’s What so many people don’t get about the US working class. It is not impossible to understand that white working class men (this is Williams) “aren’t interested in working at McDonald’s for $15 per hour instead of $9.50.”

It’s honor. And dignity.

After the election I watched PBS pundits answer “guilty as charged” to dissing that dignity in using the shorthand “non-college educated voters.” I would add “fly over country” and, as Sherrod Brown pointed out, “rust belt” to the slurs that surely stuck in the collective craw of the Trump electorate.

So we are off on our period of Blue Guilt. In the rush of excitement to embrace globalization, Blue World has been called out. While those of us not left behind celebrate the hundreds of millions of people lifted from poverty – China, Bangladesh, Pakistan – we stand naked and guilty as charged of overlooking our own countrymen, our neighbors.

Does anyone listen to globalization’s poster boy, Tom Friedman, anymore? If so, why?

And yet: While we may be suffering from a patch of Blue Guilt, it is not emollient to embrace the entire suite of Red Resentments, particularly the unwelcome antagonism toward the very Latin American migrants who do the essential, grinding work of our country, and do it willingly, even gratefully.

Hand in unfortunate hand with the fear and resentment of that particular “other” elides the fear of Islam, because of its perceived threat of terror. Whatever your politics, it is hard to avoid that at least since the overthrow of Saddam, the United States has had a large(r than Trump’s) hand in the disruption of the Islamic neighborhood. We dodge responsibility, but we should not.

So many innocent shattered lives, in the name of humanity, deserve safe harbor. Up until now our decent and welcoming land, a land of immigrants, would have been expected to understand, and lend a hand.

Apparently no more, because now is the time of Trump.

It may be, as Mr. Greenslade suggests, that painstaking education (ever the tiresome, long term corrective, ever with the lefty whiff of condescension) is the long term answer. This election has shown that the body politic is no longer willing to wait.

In a revolution, you have to know who you can trust. Half the country trusts, half the country doesn’t, both ways.

In the tumult of lefty thought there is no guidance. Some want to close ranks, for the good of the country. Others demand that Trump fail, and fast. For the good of the country.

We know our country must heal. And we wait, on knife’s edge.

The New Populism

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The world has been waiting for Donald Trump since 9 November, 1989. It’s not often we can calculate the end of a political era to the exact day, but the breach of the Berlin Wall on that date set off a dénouement to the Cold War, a 776 day countdown to the final dissolution of the authoritarian model represented by the Soviet Union.

The ensuing interregnum had its own name, the Post Cold War period, highlighted but not defined by the 9/11 attacks. Its defining events were the Yugoslav wars, the GWOT and the continued strong dominance of neo-liberalism in the United States, which many believe led to the other defining event of the period, the 2008 financial crisis.

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During the Post Cold War period political scientists grew impatient for the world to get on with things, to get past this pause in history. Now the new era is well and truly here; out with the old, a half century’s balance of power between representative government and authoritarianism, in with the new populism.

Few get to watch an inchoate new era take form, and that is our great good fortune. I look forward to reading future writing about the underlying dynamics that set this unnamed new era in motion. It will earn its own name in due time, but whatever we call it, who on earth would have thought one of its founding fathers would be Donald Trump?

•••••

Berlin Wall photo from EarthPhotos.com. Other photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Brexit Shock in London on the Morning After

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Friends and others I talked with here felt gently optimistic about the prospects for Remain this time yesterday. Even as British TV coverage started up at 10:00 last night, BBC1 entered the fray with a wink and a nudge, ‘we think we’ve got this remain thing in the bag’ kind of undertone.

The Brexit vote saw the highest UK-wide turnout of the past two decades and the people we know told us just about all their friends and most of the people they know favored Remain, convincing them that the Leave camp was, as was the popular view, made up mostly of older people who remembered a ‘good old days’ that never existed.

The solid Leave result reinforces a couple of ideas.

First, it adds weight to the emerging consensus that in today’s atomized, web-driven information seeking, we really do get information that tends to reinforce our beliefs. It was obvious to my entire cadre that the only correct-thinking way to vote was Remain, but we only turned up with 48 per cent of the vote.

Second, this is a real and tenacious revolution against the establishment that may well spread across west. Just yesterday we were joking that with a leave vote the U.K. could have the honor of kicking off Donald Tusk’s ‘end of western civilization,’ which could then be followed by Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, the end of the EU and shortly after surely the apocalypse. Yesterday, that was a joke.

Will the EU or the UK be the first to pull apart? As to the UK, politicians were staking out their positions before the last votes were counted. Here is Nicola Sturgeon on the Scottish vote: “Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain in the EU, and I welcome that endorsement of our European status.”

And from Wales, Plaid Cymru leader, Leanne Wood: “With Scotland voting to remain and a second independence referendum now on the cards, it is clear that the UK cannot continue in its current form. Wales, its economy and its communities will soon be at the full mercy of the Westminster elite and robust action must be taken to mitigate the impact of this.”

The centrifuge spins within the parties too. Labour’s leader is widely derided and it was the Tories’ slow motion disintegration kicked the whole thing off in the first place. The Prime Minister has resigned, not so much the honorable choice as the only one after driving the bus over the cliff. 

It’s the 10:00 hour on the morning after and London has awoken to market shock, reassurances from the central bank and, as from one of my friends, “I despair! I really fear for the future of my children and their generation.”

Let’s hold that thought for now. I’m going to wander down to Westminster and see what I can see.

Parliamentary Protest Pun

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Love this seemingly equivocal protest poster that I screen-grabbed earlier today from the Guardian. In Icelandic “thing” means “assembly,” and the parliament is known as the Althing, or Alþing in the local alphabet. So this very clever, mild-appearing protester is stealth-calling for dissolution of parliament.

Chekov’s Gun

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Imagine last Sunday as screenplay:

Fade up as a massive C-130 cargo plane thunders overhead. Aboard is the lead negotiator in fraught talks with a longtime American adversary. There are exactly thirty days until the deadline for a nuclear deal that the President of the United States seeks as his legacy. The negotiator, who is also the Secretary of State, is being airlifted home for surgery after an accident. Blue emergency lights and that two-tone European ambulance wail, and fade to black.

Fade up on muted yellow lights and low, mournful music. It is the very same day in Washington, and the president’s second in command is laid low, gut-punched with bereavement over the death of his son. In the movie it is clear the Vice President of the United States, in his grief, will be incommunicado for days.

A cacophony erupts as the gauzy yellow at the Vice Presidential residence becomes the yellow of midnight oil burning at the United States Capitol building where the Senate, in rancorous, extraordinary Sunday session, debates whether it has unilaterally compromised American national security and laid the United States open to enemy attack. It is still the very same day. Which could only happen in the movies.

•••••

Sure it’s all a coincidence but it makes me uneasy. If the events of Sunday, 31 May were a movie, by the end of Act One Chekov’s gun would lie squarely in the center of the table. Something “no one could have foreseen” would be about to occur.

One Big, Tough President

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Nothing wins respect like arresting children for defending the founder of your republic.

Turkish police arrest boy, 16, for insulting Erdogan

The boy’s speech, given to commemorate the killing of a Turkish soldier by Islamists in the 1920s, was recorded on video and broadcast by Dogan News Agency.

In it, he defends secularism and the principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic.