Are we facing an American "Brexit"?

 Is it Enough to Defeat our US Version in an Election?

Or Should we be going Deeper

To Heal the Fear, Rage, & Disgust

Beneath the Trump Campaign?

In the wake of the victory of Brexit, already many American  commentators are wondering whether it portends the victory of a similar movement in the United States, typified by voters for Donald Trump.

What are the similarities? Brexit voters were motivated by two feelings that trumped the experts’ warnings of economic disaster that would flow from leaving Europe.  The two feelings were fear and disgust.

1) Fear of losing their country –-   their culture --  especially to a wave of immigrants.

2)  Disgust that the political process of the European Union was undemocratic and deadlocked -- unable to cope with the collapse of the Greek economy, or the flood of refugees, or the aggressive behavior of old/new Russia.

Notably, though some polls had predicted a vote for Brexit, the numbers were considerably higher. Many “Leave” voters evidently masked their socially disreputable opinions when pollsters asked how they intended to vote. And notably, though younger voters strongly opposed Brexit, they voted in smaller proportions than their elders.

To many,  that sounds like US politics: Fear and resentment of “outsiders” at the bottom, disgust with deadlock at the top and the lessening of actual democracy. Should we doubt the accuracy of polls that report only a minority of US voters feeling like Brexit voters? Should we expect younger Americans to stay home instead of voting?

Some of these commentators have pointed out that in the UK, “minority” communities strongly opposed Brexit.  In the US, the “minority” communities are a far larger proportion of the voting population than they are in Britain. So the “Brexit” vote in America is much less likely to win a national election than it was in the UK.

But should Americans be satisfied with the continuing presence of a big minority of frightened, angry, resentful, and disgusted voters?

The deep issue in the US is not Donald Trump himself but the existence of that band of voters. Most  of them are not economically desperate right now, but may feel their economic futures blocked and frustrated.  (Surveys suggest their average income of Trump voters is around $72,000 per household; of Clinton & Sanders voters, about $61, 000.) The Trump voters tend to be considerably older than, especially, Sanders voters.  Having already lived through a generation of worsening inequality and the disappearance of the industrial economy in which they grew up, they may feel far more fear than hope.

What is clear –- but is mostly either ignored or scorned by progressive commentators -- is that they are culturally and psychologically desperate. They are feeling marginalized, thrust out of dignity and respect in “their own” country. They see cultural honor and respect going to communities they see as the “new un-Americans” (Blacks, Mexicans, immigrants, Muslims, gays, uppity women, etc). They feel themselves treated with contempt. They respond with a kind of internal "Brexit" -- keep these upstart communities out -- physically where possible (the anti-immigrant "wall") and culturally for sure. 

Their fear and fury grows every time progressives dance their jig of joy that precisely these upstart communities will soon outnumber the old insiders.

It is easy to label their fears as “racist, chauvinist, misogynist,” etc. At one level, an accurate description. At that level, labels of contempt.

But if we seek to create a healthy America, we need to go deeper.

It would betray the long stumble of America toward fuller democracy if we were to abandon our insistence on affirming and empowering the “new” cultures. But does that require marginalizing the old ones?

Can we respond to their sense of exclusion and marginalization?   -- Respond with compassion and creativity, not simply proclaiming our moral superiority over these “contemptible racists”?

Can we create a public policy of social respect for them without obeying or supporting their first impulses to despise and attack the “new Americans”?

That won’t be easy. Still, let me try to sketch the barest notion of what a policy of mutual respect might be.

Imagine a Federal program that empowers both “new” and “old” Americans,  both economically and culturally.

Imagine a Federal program to pay for two kinds of projects to be undertaken by co-ops formed by groups of at least 200 households living close to each other in cities or rural areas:  -- perhaps in the boundaries of an elementary-school district. This money would assist co-ops, not individual households. The national support would encourage democratic communities, not isolated individualism

• Money to pay for solar or wind collectors to be emplaced by the neighborhood co-op, and for the co-op to train and hire local people to actually do the solarization.

• Money to pay for twice-a-year neighborhood cultural festivals where the same neighborhood coops would bring together musicians, story-tellers, cooks, crafts-workers, and other exemplars of the neighborhood culture for a week of celebration.

Looking more deeply at each of these:

(1) Offering support for neighborhood wind and solar co-ops would greatly accelerate our efforts to get beyond the fossil-fuel economy that is bringing on modern Plagues: droughts and floods, asthma and cancer. It would heal us both from scorching our planet as a whole and from poisoning the air and water of many local and regional communities.

The initial Federal solarization grants would cover the initial costs both of the collectors themselves and of the workers who would be trained to install them. Once in place, the collectors would reduce prices for the purchase of electric power, making it much cheaper than coal-based energy.

New jobs would help lift up the actual neighborliness of the neighborhood. The Federal grant money would also go to a small part-time staff chosen by the neighborhood co-op, both for dealing with technical issues of solar-collector upkeep and efficiency,  and for helping the co-op become a strong political and economic force in its community.

(2) Offering the cultural-festival part of this program to neighborhoods all across the country would enrich American diversity diversity and give the many different American subcultures – old and new – fresh air to gather a sense of dignity that each “belongs” in the cultural eco-system.  It would undercut at its root the fear, resentment, and disgust that has grown into the Trumpist movement.

These specific proposals point toward other possible programs  based on the same principles: That we must share both our economic abundance and the abundances of our cultures, with enough money to make the sharing real. That national abundance must go toward revivifying local communities. That affirming the cultural "eco-system" of grass-roots diversity must go hand in hand with healing the intertwined biological eco-systems that make up our planet.

The money would actually go to local cooks, performers, crafts-workers, story-tellers, etc., with some money reserved for the neighborhood co-op to bring a regional or national hero of the local culture.

The support for cultural festivals might, in a New York neighborhood, mean bomba music and Puerto Rican food. In rural Tennessee, it might mean country music and a rifle range. In San Francisco, it might mean support for a co-operatively owned and operated gay bar. Each neighborhood might gulp at the other’s choices, but all would be affirming the right to these choices.

Such a program –- cooperative in cological, economic and cultural spheres -- could end the marginalization of both the old and new Americas, without giving either of them domineering power over the other. It could feed money to the grass roots and pavement tops of America, in ways that would affirm and build on their myriad differences, encouraging neighborliness as well as a new economy based on sharing rather than domination, based on healing Mother Earth instead of wounding her, burning her.

Diamonds (that is, money) cannot trump Trump or his Trumpery.  Clubs (that is, coercion  -- violent or nonviolent) cannot trump Trump or his Trumpery. Even spades (hard work and the labor movement) cannot trump Trump or his Trumpery. Only hearts can trump Trump and his Trumpery.

That is, only turning our hearts to what is moving and enraging Trump’s supporters can trump Trump and the trumpery he spews into the body politic. And that is the real issue facing America -- far deeper than one presidential election.

Universal: 

Jewish and Interfaith Topics: 

8 Comments

Your outline of the problem

<p>Your outline of the problem is absolutely brilliant, riveting,and resonating with truth and understanding. Your two ideas for solutions first struck me as lightweight. But the more I think about them, the more I think they are just right, in all the senses of that word: 1--Speaks to the right, 2--Smart, correct answers, 3--Morally appropriate. Kudoes. Certainly made me donate. Wish I could give more!</p>

Brexit and New Americans

<p>Dear Reb Arthur, there is no doubt that you continue to share your great vision for the future of America and much more. Your focus here on the similarities between the vote in Great Britain and the election here is on the mark. Fear and disgust about sums it up. But it is your answer that is transcendent. "Respond to their sense of exclusion and marginalization with compassion and creativity." Extraordinary words of wisdom to replace increasing isolation with a developing unity. I'm not sure that this group would react positively to a liberal program like solar/wind energy. Maybe better to begin with a broader version of Hillary's infrastructure proposal that brings together federal, state and local court government to create and implement a program that provides new jobs in every congressional district managed locally by an arm of county government allocated irrespective of party.?</p>

"Rifle ranges"

The point of this proposal is that at the neighborhood level, so long as  people are not committing crimes we affirm their exploration and celebration of their own culture. There are American subcultures that for the sake of hunting or of marksmanship enjoy firing rifles.It's possible, e.g.,  to ban assault weapons and still affirm those subcultures.

Brexit

Thank you, Arthur, for your continued wisdom and compassion. I haven't taken the time recently to read your newsletters and realize that is my loss....for once again, I am moved and heartened by your words. Thank you for articulating a Third Way. I will forward this to my friends at EQAT, for their current campaign fits beautifully with your vision.

Thanks for going below the surface and suggesting positive steps

<p>Dear Arthur, I so appreciate your suggestion that we ask why people experience themselves as marginalized (mainly, because they are, but we need to give full weight to the structures that make them so). It's as mistaken to note that there is some racism attached to populism and then reduce the movement to racism as it is to note there is racism attached to the policies of the economic elite and believe that's all there is to say about what motivates the one percent! The Guardian a couple days ago names the class dynamic in the Brexit vote as very, very clear. I also appreciate your vision of celebration multiple cultures. I found out in researching my new book Viking Economics that it's happening in Norway -- alongside the growing number of high schoolers wearing a hajib is a growing number of young ethnic Norwegians re-discovering their old folk dances! Fascinating to see what can happen when a people push back the dominance of the one percent so, in addition to old un-dispelled fearfulness, they can respond to changes in multiple and healthy ways. George</p>

Submitted on behalf of Jenny Hanniver

Thank you for a thoughtful essay--as always. I was born in 1936 into a white Protestant family whose maternal English immigrants arrived in the US in the early 1700s.  During childhood I learned many of my most visionary ethical and social justice values, along with a valuable knowledge of Judeo-Christian scripture, from a Midwest liberal Methodist upbringing and my parents.  It was after my father's company moved us to Florida in 1950 that I became disillusioned with the local varieties of racially bigoted, anti-Semitic Southern Protestantism.  The 50s were also the era of the disgustingly-named "Moral Rearmament" and McCarthyism, Joe not Gene. So I quit attending church, became a Seeker for 2 years, converting in college to Unitarianism just in time for our Unitarian Fellowship to be arrested in 1956 for civil rights activities. I was told not to come back to the U of Florida for my final year, but realized I'd found a religion that supported my beliefs, and finished my undergraduate degree Cum Laude elsewhere.

Like you, I'm old enough to remember vividly that when white families prospered, people of color definitely did not, "miscegenation" was a crime in the South, anti-Jewish exclusion still existed, and GLBTQ persons were outlaws. Other than speculation about Liberace on TV and a few smarmy jokes, gays were so invisible I never met one until college.  I'm glad my gay friends have been able to marry and live openly, and that some--but not most--people of color were able to rise during the era of the Voting Rights Act, at least until Reaganomics and the banksters grabbed their livelihoods, then their homes.  There is a human tendency to ride a swinging pendulum, but it's not a good ride if the ones on the downswing feel resentment and hostility to those passing by on the upswing.  It leads to rigidity and deliberate forgetfulness of the insults and perils, low wages and squalor, faced by every generation of immigrants who fled war, oppression and famine, arriving here nearly penniless. The earlier ones came to a twofaced Janus society promising idealistic liberty and justice but already besmirched by genocide of the natives (largely from European diseases but also from endless wars), kidnapping and chattel enslavement of Africans.  Post-Civil War immigrants had to endure hardscrabble farming on thin soil, sweatshops, mills, mines and other menial work--unions not allowed.  The "empty" land and "prosperous" economy elevated a few who rode on the bent backs of the most vulnerable.  

It's always been that way. My Scots-Irish Fulton ancestors fled Ireland in 1790 and my great-great-grandfather, along with four other youths from Ireland, pioneered Clarion County, PA without conflict, since the natives had already fled westward--or died from smallpox after first contact with white fur traders who got pelts for iron trade hatchets dug up by the family's plow and later, by strip mines that ruined the land.  In the 1840s and the father of 16 children, that Irish immigrant became a conductor, with his Scottish-born wife and eldest children, on the Underground Railroad.  My father, a LaFollette Progressive, was inspired by the family's attachment to social justice and, as a child reading my great-grandfather's family history, so was I.  It leads me to think that other families who have reasonably complete knowledge of why their immigrant ancestors came here, what they endured, and some of the good causes they espoused, have maintained the desire to help newcomers and those who've never been able to rise.  But most don't have much idea of where they came from or why they left.  Some, like my German great-grandmother on my mother's side, may have known but couldn't leave a memoir because she was illiterate in German and English and probably too tired from overwork, many children, and taking on the orphaned children of German Corners, Iowa--changed, sadly, to "Liberty Corners" during World War One.  

But Americans are all immigrants, even Native Americans a long time ago, and we need to regain the roots of all our people by honoring their heritage.  One way, as you suggest, is to expand festivals.  When my family lived in Northern Virginia in the 1970s I was Music Director of Alexandria's Mount Vernon UU Church and on the committee that organized the Arlington Folk Festival.  While the festival's great attraction was a fabulous West African fabric display and the daily African American fashion show, it offered dance, song, and other arts and crafts besides African, from Scotland, Germany, Poland, Italy, Hungary, China and other European and Asian countries, and historical memorabilia of Civil War Confederate soldiers.  Perhaps the last was meant to honor the British heritage, but being of Abolitionist & Union descent I wanted something that reflected higher ideals, and volunteered the church choir in a concert of early American Protestant hymnody from the Ainsworth (Pilgrims') Psaltery, and the New England Harmony & Sacred Harp shape-note hymnals.  After we moved to Harrisburg, that tradition continued during the Folk Festival and I hope it's still extant.  
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Some changes.

I've somewhat revised some of this essay, and its title -- but the comments above still apply. Thanks to all!  -- Shalom, Reb Arhur

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