In the spiral toward Fascism: White resentment and identity crisis

When Donald J. Trump spoke of "the forgotten men and the forgotten women" of America the morning after the election, I sensed instantly that he was dividing the country based on race. 

There was plenty in his campaign to lead both supporters and opponents to the conclusion that his message is intended to separate people along racial lines. He often protested that he has "a great relationship with the blacks" or that he loves Hispanics. Yet he made statements describing Mexican immigrants as a group of criminals and rapists and he depicted black neighborhoods as unending hells of crime and poverty. He argued that a Hispanic-American judge shouldn’t hear a case involving Trump businesses simply because of the judge’s background.

Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore

Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore

A professor at the University of California Irvine by the name of Michael Tesler decided to take a statistical look at the racial trend of Trump's support in the summer of 2016. He compared the voting preferences of Republican primary voters in 2008, 2012 and 2016 with the voter's scores on a "racial resentment" survey. The study found that the more  resentment against people of color a voter expressed, the more likely that voter was to vote for Trump in the primary. Interestingly these same voters had mostly voted for failed Republican primary contestants in 2008 and 2012. They had simmered with resentment and frustration because even the Republican nominees who lost to Barack Obama were unsatisfactory to this group.

Despite his protestations that he is "the least racist person," the terms and focus of Trumps speeches make it clear that there is a norm, which is white and Christian. Trump's repetitions of the slogans "America first!" and "Make America great again" are placed so as to imply white America. 

It has become fashionable in intellectual circles to contend that support for Donald Trump stems primarily from economic, rather than racial, tension. Yet an analysis by USA Today's Brad Heath shows that Hilary Clinton lost most unexpectedly in counties where unemployment had fallen during the Obama administration. And now everything Trump actually does harms the working class and enriches a handful of the wealthiest.

If it was about class, Trump's appeal would be very thin indeed. His support comes primarily from the frustrations and identity crisis of a group that is defined both by race and by class--that is the white, mostly Christian core of small town and suburban America.

If we want to call this group "working class" we have to reassess the term. "Working class" tends to evoke images of coal miners and line operators, but that isn't the mainstay anymore. If you look at the income distribution graphs for the US, the "working class" could conceivably be considered everyone who is not in the bottom ten percent (the very poor) and not in the top ten percent (the extremely rich). 

That gives you 80 percent of the nation, a group of people in which the top 10 percent is only ten times wealthier than than their poorest group members. That may sound like a big internal difference for a group, but in the scheme of things--when compared to the astronomical wealth of those Americans who are too wealthy to be in the group--this middle 80 percent really is a class in itself and largely they are people who actually work in one form or another for a living--thus working class. 

And if you take that middle 80 percent and divide it by race, singling out the white Christian majority of it, you have the group targeted by Trump's message. They work, they struggle, they look at the boggling wealth of the wealthy and feel the fear and the siren's pull of the mostly non-white poor. They have been told in a myriad ways in recent years that they have no culture or that their culture is shallow and silly. They have been told that they once had a divine destiny, but that was deemed morally wrong and now they are not special, not ordained in any way. They live reasonably well but feel stifled and frustrated.

Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore

Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore

I doubt Trump or even his speech writers looked much into the historical references of the "forgotten men and forgotten women" phrase, but I did. The first widely known figure to use "the forgotten man" gimmick was William Graham Summer in 1883. Summer was a social Darwinist, meaning that he promoted the idea that survival of the fittest should dictate which humans get to survive to adulthood in society. It was kind of a precursor to eugenics I suppose, the idea that they could breed "better" humans by letting the weak die of hunger and disease. 

In a speech titled "The Forgotton Man," Summer made a case that could easily have been a template for Trump's campaign strategy, claiming that hard-working people needed to be freed from the dead weight of useless poor people. 

Summer divided society into the hard-working "forgotten man" type and the "nasty, shiftless, criminal, whining, crawling, and good-for-nothing people." The second category was supposed to be that bottom ten percent that Trump degrades as well, but like Trump, Summer inflated it to appear much larger and more threatening without actually including his target audience in it.

Since Summer's day, several American presidents have played with the rhetorical concept that there is some group of Americans who do not complain, who work hard quietly and ask nothing of society, a mythical deserving class. Reagan's "silent majority" was one of the more blatant but that never reached the level of Trump's appeal to white people in small towns and suburbs to see themselves as the unsung victims in society. 

One world leader did go this far and built a fast-rising, brilliant and brutal regime based on exactly this concept. He started it with a book entitled in translation "My Struggle," which sought to teach his fellow white citizens to see themselves as wronged and to instill a righteous thirst for revolutionary vengeance.

That was, of course, Adolf Hitler. And while I'm sure,. you've probably seen Trump compared to Hitler so many times in the past few months that you find this predictable and even boring, I want to call your focused attention to something that is NOT merely a rhetorical comparison, using exaggerated connections. 

I have been watching the reactions of white Americans and others of similar Caucasian-Christian background around the world with growing unease. 

A year ago, it was a dull throbbing drumbeat, occasionally mentioned but generally ignored. Since the election it has been steadily ramping up. That is the modern concept of white people as silent social victims. And it is not limited to the United States.

Last year I might have seen a comment along the lines of, "You say 'prejudice' but you're just virtue signalling," once every week or so.  Now a day doesn't go by when I don't run across some version of the argument: "So called 'white privilege' is an quitter's excuse. When you get right down to it everyone has some sort of disadvantage. The only question is who tries harder." 

Creative Commons image by Fibonacci Blue 

Creative Commons image by Fibonacci Blue 

The trend is easily observable both on-line and in the real world. Even my ESL students in a small Bohemian backwater have heard the arguments and some nod along with them and say that Trump has finally allowed people to say "what everyone was thinking all along."

On a few occasions, I joined one of these discussions and laid out the host of facts demonstrating that white privilege is alive and well. I cited statistics showing systematic disadvantages that still plague people of color. I gave my own personal experience as a white woman with a significant disability. I have experienced both sides of the privilege paradigm. I know what it is like to not have the privileges of others. And I have seen white privilege work even for me in many situations, including when I fervently wished it wouldn't.

I never see any indication that my reasoned arguments sway anyone who has already fallen under the spell of this rhetoric. And I rarely go to the mat over it anymore, though I do make a point of speaking up against it. The eventual exhausted silence of people who know better is one of the the things this kind of propaganda counts on. 

But the other thing it counts on is our lack of understanding for the identity crisis of the white working class. I am certainly not going to subscribe to a doctrine that says they are the victims of the past fifty years of domination by mythical "liberals" and people of color grabbing all the hard-earned spoils. But they do have grievances against the corporate-tilted economy which leave them vulnerable to scapegoating propaganda.

Across the board, that middle 80 percent of Americans have lost wealth and income in recent decades. Even the top bracket-the 80th to 90th percentile of the US economy, the people just poorer than the top ten percent of all Americans--has declined in wealth. Their financial strength has seeped toward the wealthiest ten percent.

To say this may seem like whining. The top half of this middle 80 percent is not suffering terribly in material terms. They have large homes, on average several vehicles, security, travel, health care, college education...

Why would they complain?

Because their fortunes are declining, not growing and the American ethos is all about growth and making sure one's children have it better and easier than the current generation. And for decades that has clearly been impossible for the middle 80 percent... especially for those who are white.

Why do I say "especially for those who were white?" Again, I'm not talking about the poor white victims.

The white people were in that middle 80 percent and they lost ground. But with the growth of populations of color as well as civil rights laws and expanded educational opportunities for two generations, some people of color have seen improvement in their circumstances over the past few decades. Not the majority of people of color, but a few.. It isn't improvement of their wealth bracket but rather that some individuals have climbed the ladder of wealth brackets to take their places along side those white members who were already there. 

Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore 

Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore 

White people did not lose ground to people of color. The white middle 80 percent lost ground to the white top 10 percent. But if you're living in a suburb where you can't see the top 10 percent and you can see the newly well-off black people next door as well as your own slowly eroding security, it is easy to draw the wrong conclusions. 

Add to that several harsh generation gaps that have cut white Americans off from cultural roots and created a sense of empty identity. Pile on top the misinterpretation of integrated history to be a litany of white collective guilt. And there is a recipe for resentment, anger and frustration that we are now seeing rise like an unstoppable chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar.

Trump has been elected and some have taken his election as a sign that it is now more possible to vent racial resentments. But instead of releasing tension this has only intensified the tenor of the frustration. In the end, we may find that Trump is the least of our worries and that a much greater danger threatens the nation and the rest of the western world. 

In the study of ethnic conflicts around the world, it has becomeclear that violence between ordinary people stems most often from the resentment of a privileged portion of the society when it sees its monopoly on power slipping. According to a paper in World Politics in 2010, a statistical analysis of 157 cases of ethnic violence--including that in Chad, Lebanon and the Balkans in the 1990s--showed that the decline of privileged groups is highly correlated to extreme violence.

Most unfortunately Trump is only a symptom of a disease--one that has spread well beyond the borders of the United States. It is past time, we acknowledged this. Simple suppression of racial tension and resentment will likely result in a more explosive reaction. It will take much more to avert violence and strengthen our open, multi-racial society to meet the challenges of climate change and resource shift. 

It is time to listen to one another. It is time to seek allies across racial lines. If Trump and his ilk wish to divide us by race, that is the first thing we must resist. 

If democracy is losing, let's change the rules of the game

I know discussing "elections" can be like being forced to take a math test with something smelly smeared on it.

Now the stakes are much higher than a grade in math class. Tackling fair elections may be the only way to save our own lives, avert climate disaster and have any hope of a vibrant and successful community.

Creative Commons image by  James McNellis

Creative Commons image by  James McNellis

So grab a cup of tea and settle in. I'm going to make this as painless humanly possible.

What stops us from having universal health care, rail-based public transportation, economically sound and family-friendly immigration policies, a fair and environmentally responsive tax system, solar energy as high a priority as coal or oil, sober leadership for those who choose to fight for our country and a host of other things most developed countries have that we don't? 

People will say various things in response to that questin--the two-party system, the swamp, politicians, corporate money in politics, etc... Essentially though, they all come down to the same thing. The people in office are not responsive to the voters.

American public opinion has been percentage-wise vastly more progressive than our elected representatives for decades. Sure, there are Americans with non-progressive viewpoints. I'll bet some readers of my blog don't identify as progressive. But given your tolerance for my posts, it is very unlikely that you are happy voters of the Democrats or Republicans. You may be more fiscally conservative than progressive or concerned with individual freedom or interested in living wages.

Whatever your stance, if it is not directly in alignment with one of the major parties, we share the same number one problem.

That is our system of voting. 

Now I am not dissing the founding fathers. They did pretty darn good for their time. They only had a few European examples of semi-democracy to go on and they took some ideas for the US constitutin from the Iroquois.

Creative Commons image by Alisdare Hickson

Creative Commons image by Alisdare Hickson

Still--due respect to the founding fathers granted--let's face it. As good as it was for its time the Electoral College was a system set up to handle the problem of carrying ballots on horseback over hundreds of miles of open country. And the party system was also based on a pre-technological world. 

We have better options today.

The primary reason for changing our voting system is that it would allow for representatives who more accurately reflect the views of the citizens to be elected. And it would mean that those representatives would be more responsive to the concerns of constituents, because they would know that party loyalty will not balance out lack of popularity among voters. 

You are no doubt familiar with the concept of "spoilers" in elections. That's where you have two main candidates for a position, one from the Democrats and one from the Republicans. And then along comes a third party candidate.

If the third candidate is a Green, it is possible that some of the voters who vote for the Green would not have stayed home if the Green didn't exist. They might have voted for the Democrat. If the candidate is a Libertarian, the voters for that candidate might have voted for the Republican if the Libertarian didn't exist.  

The logic is that if you are a concerned and responsible voter, who really cares about your country, and you go to vote, you must vote for a major party candidate who has a "real chance of winning," because a vote for a third party candidate is just like staying home. It means your vote is wasted and it could have been used to help the better of the two major party candidates.

Creative Commons image by Master Steve Rapport

Creative Commons image by Master Steve Rapport

And when the worse of the two major party candidates bears a striking political resemblance to an early-years Hitler or Stalin, that becomes a real problem. 

Every single American I know has been in that very unpleasant bind while voting, whether they chose to buck the system and vote for an outsider or to tow the line and hope for the best. Whether you're one of those people who says we should vote for the Democrats to avoid people like Trump or one of those who says we have to vote our conscience, we aren't really two different camps. We've been through the same anxiety and frustration.

A change in voting system is an issue that a vast swath of Americans can get behind. Our political, strategy and policy differences don't matter in this, because in the end a voting system that allows each voter to vote their conscience without fear of spoilers is a system in which everyone wins.

Well, almost everyone. The top brass of the Democratic and Republican parties and their corporate backers will lose. And we'll all drink to that just before we part ways and start having a real democracy in which it isn't a dire problem that we disagree on everything else.

So, here in a nutshell is the technical explanation you've been waiting for:

Score Run-off Voting is a system in which the voter gives every candidate on the ballot a score. It's kind of like a beauty contest except it's a policy contest. You rate each candidate on how much you like their stated policies, track-record, ethics and statements. You have a scale of, for instance, 5 to 1, and you look at each candidate in turn and decide if you like them a lot, a little, or don't care, dislike them a little or a lot.   

Let's say you score an independent candidate as a 5 (because you know them well and believe in everything they stand for), a Green as a 4 and a Libertarian as a 4 (because you like most of their policies but not all), a Democrat as a 3 (because you aren't crazy about them but could survive them) and Trump as 1 (because your child will die of type 1 diabetes if he repeals the ACA).

Your scores along with everyone else's scores contribute to each candidate's overall score. You have supported the Democrat over the Republican and you have given support to several possible candidates, while giving the most support to the one you want most. Those scores will be tallied by a fairly simple computer program and two top winners will emerge. 

The computer will then run-off those two candidates using your score for each.

If--as Democrats and Republicans are always predicting--the top two candidates are still the Democrat and the Republican, then when those two are run-off your vote, in the example above, will be a vote for the Democrat. If you gave the Democrat a 3 and the Republican a 1, you have essentially voted for the Democrat in the run-off. 

But because the fear of spoilers would be taken away and the two major parties would no longer have a stranglehold on resources or an argument to journalists and voters claiming that other candidates are irrelevant, it is altogether possible in local and national races that the run-off could be between, say, your favorite independent and the Libertarian you sort of liked. In that case your vote in the run-off would go to the independent and even if she didn't win, you'd be better off than you are now.

Score Run-off Voting has a difficult and technical name and this whole thing may seem like a little technical issue, but in reality everything else develops from the voting system. That is why I argue that if there is one single issue to focus your finite energy for political involvement on, this should be it. Whether you're concerned about the environment or education or Black Lives Matter or health care or a living wage. it all comes down to this. 

We must have a realistic hope of electing those who back policies we need and a guarantee of un-electing those who don't follow through. 

Here are the reasons why:

  • Score Run-off Voting is the system that would actually break the two-party stranglehold on elections. Some other run-of or "approval" systems would help and can be supported as interim measures, but this one is the clincher.
  • It would undermine corporate influence.
  • And it is achievable. Through state-level initiatives for Score Run-off Voting the change can be made within a few years, whereas strategies such as "taking back the Democratic Party" or building up another party have an outlook of decades and a small probability of success. 

There are currently initiatives in Oregon for Score Run-off Voting and interest growing across the country. 

Staring down my ballot

I envision Americans all over the world--Americans living abroad that is--sitting and staring at this letter the way I am. Americans abroad get to vote quite a bit early.

I'm sitting at the kitchen table with the envelope in front of me. I am glad it made it given the funky postal system these days. I'm also grief stricken. And terrified. I hate the damn thing. And I'm grateful that this at least remains to us.

A ballot.

How many people fought for this? Women. People of various colors. People with disabilities. Immigrants. If you belittle it, you are either an ass or just plain ignorant of history.

We all know that.

It's a great thing to have a ballot. My neighbors and my husband don't get one. The issue of who will be the next American president will impact them nearly as much as it impacts me. But they don't get a vote. I do.

And I don't know what in Hades to do with it.

I do know it's one in a hundred million. My ballot does not mean squat. If I ball it up and throw it away in disgust no one will care. Clinton will win or Trump will win, whether I do it or not.

I don't get political, I mean actually election-political, on my blog very often and I swear I'm not even doing that now. I'm not going to tell you how to vote because I don't know how to vote this time around. 

"Knock me over with a feather!" I can hear some of you shouting. "Arie doesn't have a political opinion for once."

Oh, I've got opinions. I've got a gazillion of them. That isn't the problem. 

I'm going to hazard a guess here. I'll bet I don't have very many readers who are Trump supporters. (Except you, Andy. And we love you anyway.) He's sort of a family member and you know how that goes.

But the rest of you... well, who reads my blog? According to my Google stats some people actually do, for which I am immensely grateful.

And from comments I'm guessing some of you are general treehuggers, like me, and you know you're not voting for Trump. Then there are the non-Americans who read my blog, and you wouldn't be voting for Trump even if you could. There are quite a few people with disabilities who read my blog and Trump would just as soon see us dead. Same goes for my Romani and otherwise non-white readers.

A lot of readers are also variously Pagan and Goddess inclined. Now one could theoretically argue about whether or not Trump will make America "great" again, but we know for sure he'll make it Christian-or-else again, so that sort of settles who Pagans aren't voting for.  

Therefore, I'm not going to tell anyone not to vote for Trump because it's pretty safe to assume that no one reading this is planning on it, except possibly that guy Andy. And he's only reading this to humor my mother.

Instead I'm going to commiserate with you.

Because if you aren't voting for Trump, what are  you going to do?

Okay, there's the question. Vote for Clinton or don't vote for Clinton? Clinton is one of the least popular politicians in history even before the election and with good reason. You may be one of those desperate people demanding that every decent person vote for Clinton because "if you don't, you're signing the country over to Trump and thus signing your own death warrant!" 

I get it. I really do. When I look at Trump. I think of course there's no choice. That Green on the ballot might as well not even be there. No real choice.

And then I put my head in my hands and cry. Because... remember all those people I mentioned, the ones who fought for this ballot. And now the ballot is as good as useless. There's no real choice. 

Every single election in my adult life (that's since 1996) I've been told, "There's no choice. Just vote AGAINST that guy!" whichever guy it was. Who I was supposed to vote for did not matter.

So, we grit our teeth and do our duty. We vote for slime, for lies, for candidates who care as much about us as they do about the gum they stepped on when they got out of their LImo last night. 

It's only harder this time because we had hope for a little while. I knew it wouldn't last. Admit it. So did you.

If we were right about the way the political system works, if you actually believed what Sanders was saying (including Bernie Sanders himself), you had to know that he would never be allowed to compete for actual votes cast by people.

He said the system is broken and rigged. And it is. So Clinton participated in a blatantly rigged primary to deny us our right to vote. And now we'll vote for her because... we have no f---ing choice!

I try to comfort myself. Clinton mentioned climate change. She actually MENTIONED it. Bernie did that at least. He has forced her to at least say a few taboo words. We all know she won't do what needs to be done, that she doesn't care and that these are all just words to her, but maybe I should throw my vote her way as a sort of "thank you" for the mention of the single most important security crisis facing us (according to official US military analysis and everyone else worth their salt). At least she didn't completely ignore reality. 

And I do have a daughter. She's seven and she's into Lego Friends, who first rush home to change their clothes and put on make-up every time they are called out to rescue endangered animals. Think about what it would mean if the president is a woman--a woman who does not even make coquettish noises every two sentences. My daughter could grow to her teenage years with this woman's face as the supreme power in the world. That is worth something isn't it? No matter how much of a liar and conscienceless shell she may be.

That is something to vote FOR, isn't it?

My gut feels like a sack of rotten potatoes. If you've ever smelled rotten potatoes--really rotten--you know what I'm talking about this election.

So, good luck when you get your ballots, America. You've got my sympathy which ever way you toss your lack of choice. Just remember that NOT voting is still part of the game and there may be consequences.

I'm going to go out tonight and wish on a star. I wish just once in my life to vote FOR a president, rather than against. Even if my choice doesn't win. Please just once. I want to cast my vote for a candidate I trust and admire. 

And that wish is light in the darkness. We may have to fight for the right to vote, really vote, all over again. Don't forget. It's been done before.