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.