There have been street protests in the streets of the capitals of cosmopolitan America. The people protesting are understandably upset that a thug like Trump has been elected. I'm glad this kind of spontaneous resistance is arising, but these protests are futile and will aggravate the problem if they continue to be simply the expression of tribal cosmopolitans who see themselves outraged at the stupidity of racist, white America. This will just widen the divide that keeps the Ninety-nine percent divided and conquered by the One Percent
Blue cosmopolitans still don't get it If they think so many white working class people voted for Trump primarily because it's about race. It's first and foremost about identity loss. There are various kinds of Identity loss, but what's pertinent here is the kind that happens to people who come from traditional cultures in which all the supports that held that traditional culture together have been destroyed. Cosmopolitans feel badly about this kind of thing when it happens to aboriginal peoples, but have little compassion for it when it happens to white Americans.
But the phenomenon is essentially the same. One's sense of Self and human dignity are deeply fragilized when one's old cultural habitat is destroyed and there is no suitable new habitat that they can move into. People react to this kind of loss passively in self-destructive behaviors like substance abuse, which is a huge problem in Red America. Or they react actively with rage. Rage can be the healthier choice if it can be channeled constructively.
Global capitalism has destroyed the old habitat for these folks, and it has not provided a new one, and so they understandably rage against Blue elites, most of whom are doing just fine in the new global habitat. And then add to all of this the contempt that comes from Blue elites who call them racist, and it's understandable why they might react with rage toward their candidate whom they see as not having a clue.
Is race a part of it? Of course it is, but I think that for most people who voted for Trump in those purple counties in the upper Midwest and elsewhere, they are more aggravating factors than causal factors. Race plays a role in the sense described by Arlie Hochschild in her book about the Tea Party in Louisiana called Inside the Sacrifice Zone that I posted about last week:
The deep story that Hochschild creates for the Tea Party is a parable of the white American Dream. It begins with an image of a long line of people marching across a vast landscape. The Tea Partiers—white, older, Christian, predominantly male, many lacking college degrees—are somewhere in the middle of the line. They trudge wearily, but with resolve, up a hill. Ahead, beyond the ridge, lies wealth, success, dignity. Far behind them the line is composed of people of color, women, immigrants, refugees. As pensions are reduced and layoffs absorbed, the line slows, then stalls.
An even greater indignity follows: people begin cutting them in line. Many are those who had long stood behind them—blacks, women, immigrants, even Syrian refugees, all now aided by the federal government. Next an even more astonishing figure jumps ahead of them: a brown pelican, the Louisiana state bird, “fluttering its long, oil-drenched wings.” Thanks to environmental protections, it is granted higher social status than, say, an oil rig worker. The pelican, writes Hochschild, needs clean fish to eat, clean water to dive in, oil-free marshes, and protection from coastal erosion. That’s why it’s in line ahead of you. But really, it’s just an animal and you’re a human being. (From Nathaniel Rich's review of Arlie Hochschild's Inside the Sacrifice Zone in the NYRB)
Global capitalism hs destroyed the pelican's habitat, too, but restoring the pelican habitat is a higher priority for Blues than helping displaced working-class Whites to build something where they can live in dignity. So if I'm a white working class guy from the heartland, I'm not angry at you because you are black or brown; I"m angry at the government because they are changing the rules so that you and the pelicans can cut ahead of me in line. Whether this is a story that accurately represents reality is not relevant; it's the story that animates the rage, and having some kind of graduate level seminar to challenge the validity of the story is not going to change anything. You change the story by telling a better one, one that more robustly explains the reality of their situation and that redirects their anger in a more productive way.
Blue cosmopolitans need to understand that the Reds will keep winning so long as Blues keep pushing these folks into the arms of Red demagogues. Rabbi Michael Lerner gets it:
It turns out that shaming the supporters of Donald J. Trump is not a good political strategy.
Though job loss and economic stagnation played a role in his victory, so did shame. As the principal investigator on a study of the middle class for the National Institute of Mental Health, I found that working people’s stress is often intensified by shame at their failure to “make it” in what they are taught is a meritocratic American economy.
The right has been very successful at persuading working people that they are vulnerable not because they themselves have failed, but because of the selfishness of some other villain (African-Americans, feminists, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, liberals, progressives; the list keeps growing).
Instead of challenging this ideology of shame, the left has buttressed it by blaming white people as a whole for slavery, genocide of the Native Americans and a host of other sins, as though whiteness itself was something about which people ought to be ashamed. The rage many white working-class people feel in response is rooted in the sense that once again, as has happened to them throughout their lives, they are being misunderstood.
Exactly. Blue cosmopolitans have to learn that many if not most of these aggrieved whites are potential allies if they are approached in the right way. I think Sanders understands this. Despite his being a Jewish socialist with a heavy New York accent, he has been very successful in obtaining the support of poor working class whites in rural Vermont. He does it because he is an honest, decent man, and he does it by emphasizing the justice issues, and deemphasizing the divisive culture-war issues. It's about respectfully agreeing to disagree on the second and finding common ground on the first.
I'm not sure the cosmopolitan left is politically mature enough to reach out to people for whom so far they have consistently demonstrated such smug contempt. A new story has to be told, but it won't be developed by anyone from the cosmopolitan left; It has to be told by people from the heartland, Ideally by a coalition of Black, Brown, and White heartlanders. This new story, if it is to avoid continued Progressive futility, will help all working people to understand who the real enemy is, and it will be a story not just about blowing up something that is bad, but about building up something that is good and just.