Wednesday, November 09, 2016

What Ails America?

The surprising electoral victory of Donald Trump confirms that the anti-globalization movement is strong in America. The bulk of the people who voted for him came from rural America, small towns in which people have seen their jobs and businesses disappear, their kids move away, their communities disintegrate, and their lives come to seem hopeless. Their despair and anger was effectively harnessed by Mr. Trump who directed it against immigrants, Muslims, Latinos, women, Jews, Blacks, and most of all "elites" who were cast as condescending cosmopolitans who did not pay attention to the plight of small town Americans. Those people came out to vote on Tuesday for an unlikely champion, billionaire businessman, Donald Trump, who crisscrossed the country in his private jet to deliver his message of economic populism, nativism, and anti-elitism. 

The folks who voted for him in large numbers did not believe that what ails them could be fixed by more government bureaucrats, a more generous welfare state, and technocrats in Washington making rules for them to abide by. And they are probably right. Expanding the liberal welfare state is not going to fix what ails rural America. The problems small towns are experiencing stem from larger economic forces that no politician is really able to control. Globalization led by corporate capitalism is the force that has dislocated factory jobs and shipped them to low wage countries. Global corporate capitalism is the force that closed small family-owned farms and shops and replaced them with giant agribusinesses and big-box stores. Global corporate capitalism is the force that is replacing workers with robots. Reckless corporate capitalism is what caused the Great Recession. Corporate capitalism in the form of fossil fuel companies is the source of global warming and climate change, environmental pollution and degradation, deforestation, and species extinction. Corporate capitalism is also a major driver of militarism both to feed the military-industrial complex and the surveillance intelligence-complex in America and its allies, and well as the major arms seller to the world. Globalized Corporate Capitalism is the proverbial "man behind the curtain" we are not supposed to notice. What Donald Trump was able to do was to draw people's attention away from the curtain and send them off looking for "others" to blame for their economic despair.

Bernie Sanders would have focused people's attention on that curtain, and pulled it back so more folks could understand the real reasons why their communities are collapsing. But he was blocked from getting the nomination by the Democratic party establishment whose members did clearly try to "rig the vote" for Hillary Clinton.  But Hillary would at least have taken some of his progressive agenda on board, she would have stood by her Wall Street friends, but may have moderated their greed, which is why he and Elizabeth Warren, and people like me, ended up supporting Clinton's bid for the presidency. But we lost the bet, by underestimating the strength of the economic populist message that Trump was able to put his own brand on.

But now we will have a Republican controlled Congress and Mr. Trump in the Oval office. Trump conned the American public into trusting him to "Make America Great Again,"  but now needs to figure out what his real policies are going to be. He will have lots of advice from the Republicans who did not desert him. They will give policy advice from the standard Republican playbook: repeal regulations, lower taxes on the rich, reduce the size of government, have a pro-business agenda, increase military spending etc. These policies will do nothing to fix what ails small town America; they will only cede more power to corporate capitalism whose reign of destruction will continue. The velocity of economic and social change will not slow, economic dislocation will continue, communities will disintegrate, people will lose their identities, and the planet will continue to cook, because the real driver of these changes will remain firmly in the driver's seat. To be fair, this would also have been true had Clinton been victorious, but there would have been somewhat more done to mitigate the damage. 

So what about small town Americans who put their faith in Mr. Trump? I suspect that they are going to be disappointed again. They learned not to trust the liberal elites to fix their problems with more "big government" programs. Then they learned they could not trust establishment Republicans to fix their problems either. Now they are about to learn that they have been fooled again, this time by a con artist who sold them a bright shiny lie, a dream that he can't deliver.  Progressives should not be happy about this. The racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism that he unleashed  and normalized is only going to get worse. Anti-immigration and nativist movements in Western Europe will be emboldened. And the reign of corporate globalization will continue.

What are progressives to do? We need to mobilize and continue to try to break through the haze of disinformation to expose the true source of the malaise that propelled Trump into power. There is work to be done! Don't cry, mobilize!