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From the Institute: Taking the Nostalgia of Trump Supporters Seriously
Nostalgia often arises out of a real experience of loss. It needs to be addressed and redirected, not ridiculed or denounced. And that applies to the nostalgia that motivates a considerable number of Trump supporters.
By Stephanie Coontz

That some of these same voters have now turned to Trump says as much about the failure of liberalism as about the strength of racism.

In recent years politicians have belatedly discovered the issues of income inequality and job insecurity. But the housing bubble, financial meltdown, and Great Recession of the past decade were merely symptoms, not causes, of an economic, political and technological upheaval that started more than 40 years ago, overturning the arrangements that governed relations between capital and labor during the postwar era. The “turbo-capitalism” that emerged from that upheaval has created unprecedented opportunities and new sources of wealth for individuals with the professional credentials, personal flexibility, or financial resources to take advantage of them. But it has progressively dismantled the workplace compacts, business practices, and regulatory frameworks that for the previous 30 years had protected the job security and wage gains of workers and sustained stable middle class communities.

To effectively combat the racism that Donald Trump plays upon, we need to understand that white blue-collar workers only began to achieve economic advancement and social respect in the aftermath of the New Deal and World War II. For centuries, white manual laborers and manufacturing workers had been looked down upon – and held down – by American elites. While white workers were encouraged to think of themselves as better than Blacks, Native Americans, and Latinos, and given significant advantages over them, they were nonetheless disparaged by white elites, and their attempts to improve their own wages and working conditions were routinely met with violence by employers and silence by politicians.

Only after the political reorganization triggered by the New Deal and the economic boom following World War II were white blue-collar workers finally able to claim a share of the American dream. This was largely a result of the growth of the previously-persecuted labor movement as well as of the government’s enforcement of new limits on corporate prerogatives. That white workers came late to the American dream made it all the more precious to them and was a factor in their mistrust of the social protests of the 1960s.

Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating. To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home.
Some polls are pretty amazing. There was one conducted in the South right before the presidential elections. Just Southern whites, I think, were asked about the economic plans of the two candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Southern whites said they preferred Romney’s plan, but when asked about its particular components, they opposed every one. Well, that’s the effect of good propaganda: getting people not to think in terms of their own interests, let alone the interest of communities and the class they’re part of. Overcoming that takes a lot of work. I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s not going to happen easily.
Well, at the Republican convention, they’re exploiting personal tragedy for political gain, because, for decades, study after study has established just what you noted, that higher immigration is associated with lower crime rates. As an example, from 1990 to 2013, the share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent. At the same time, the undocumented population more than tripled, from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. But what happened to crime rates? They went down. FBI data indicate that violent crime dropped by 48 percent, and rates of property crime fell by 41 percent. That runs counter to the narrative being spun at the Republican National Convention.