I’ve spent the last several months arguing that people need to be morally accountable for the way they act as citizens. If they vote for someone as fundamentally evil as Donald Trump (a word I try not to use carelessly) then they share direct personal responsibility for what he does.
(And if I vote for Barack Obama and someone tells me he’s been indiscriminately sending drones to attack civilians in Pakistan, I’m responsible for taking that claim seriously. I need to determine if it’s true, assess the choices he had — including the choice of not doing anything at all — and if I conclude he behaved immorally, I’m responsible for speaking out.)
So heaven knows there’s plenty about Trump voters that I simply can’t abide. But this post is different.
It’s about something I think some Trump voters understood that I did not understand. Something, for once, that’s actually true.
In my “paying work,” I spent yesterday writing about the emergence of the Chinese renminbi as an international currency for transacting business and for foreign exchange trading. Among other things, China is establishing global financial infrastructure that makes it easier for people to do business in renminbi instead of dollars if they wish. Just last month they authorized the first bank inside the US to help businesses do that.
So, in my research, I came across this organization called “The Working Group on U.S. RMB Trading and Clearing.” In your dreams you couldn’t think up an organization more obscure than that, right? Gotta be run by some bank types you never heard of, right?
So I go to their website and who are the co-chairs? Michael Bloomberg. And Mary Schapiro, who ran the SEC for Barack Obama and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for Bill Clinton. That’s who. They are, of course, thrilled by the renminbi’s progress.
Now you know damn few Trump voters have heard of the “The Working Group on U.S. RMB Trading and Clearing.” (I can think of one: Peter Navarro, the one U.S. economist engaged in a torrid mutual love affair with Donald Trump. When I heard Trump chose him as his economic advisor, I wasn’t a bit surprised: Navarro wrote this.)
But Trump stands up and says, quote: “For those who control the levers of power in Washington and for the global special interests, they partner with these people that don’t have your good in mind.”
And he shows pictures of Jewish financiers… and me and the Anti-Defamation League and a whole lot of other people who know some 20th century history think to ourselves: That sounds just like what Hitler and Goebbels used to say. Donald Trump must’ve been surfing the Internet at 3 a.m. and came across the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the ur-text of modern anti-Semitism.
And every neo-Nazi in America says to himself, he gets it! Finally an American politician understands! It’s the Jews!
(And of course it isn’t the Jews. Co-chair Timothy Geithner (of course!)… his mother came over on the Mayflower. Co-chair Henry Paulson (yeah, him too) was raised as a Christian Scientist. Co-chair Thomas Donohue, the guy that turned the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into one of the most powerful forces for right-wing politics in America, is as Irish as they come. I shouldn’t have to even tell you this — but, in America 2016, I do.)
I’m not even saying there shouldn’t be more renminbi trading. But when insanely busy people like Bloomberg and Schapiro prioritize this, it’s hard to believe they’re thinking much about American workers.
For the past 30 years there has been a global consensus in favor of open markets and free trade, and both parties have shared it. Republicans, because it raised profits and lowered worker incomes. “New” Democrats, exemplified by Bill Clinton, because they wanted to take America into the future. They were open to the world. They imagined they could spread liberal values: we’d build peaceful, market-oriented democracies that don’t fight each other.
Above all, they were confident that Americans were up to the challenge. Everyone would thrive.
“Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.” Remember?
But it turned out we weren’t up to the challenge. The world is changing far faster and in more difficult ways that most Americans — probably most humans — can handle.
Fact is: the globalized, technology-driven free market no longer thinks many Americans are worth a living wage. It just doesn’t think they deserve enough money to raise their families.
Now, I actually believed (and to some extent still believe) the conventional economic notion that, overall, trade increases wealth. Globally, liberalization of markets has raised literally billions of people out of poverty. Capitalism has done for them what nothing else ever could. That’s a fact. (A new protectionism will hurt them badly. It’ll hurt a lot of people here, too, who now depend on exports. And at some point, it’ll probably hurt me: many of my clients are now global.)
But in America, globalization disadvantages millions of people in ways they just can’t overcome. It destroys — correction: has destroyed — their lives and communities. That’s a fact, too. Those wonderful little education and retraining programs Democrats squeezed through Congress were utterly helpless against the tsunami that was unleashed on those people.
About the only people who opposed it were the fading labor movement… and assorted cranks (Ross Perot) and America First paleo-bigots (Pat Buchanan). But, with the benefit of hindsight, once massive government-enforced downward redistribution of wealth was ruled out, what happened seems almost inevitable.
Today, globalization is pretty much done wreaking its havoc. The barn door has been open for decades. Forget even finding the horses.
But technology is just getting started. The number one job in probably half of America’s states is driving. Trucks. Cabs. Whatever. Four million Americans are paid to drive. Driving long-haul trucks is one of the best jobs still available for people without a four-year college education.
And the Obama administration spent the whole last year greasing the wheels for self-driving cars. For crying out loud, David Plouffe went to work for Uber, which is running self-driving cars all over Pittsburgh right now. How much you wanna bet Barack Obama will spend a whole lot of time in Silicon Valley after he leaves office?
Probably the best thing Trump could do to preserve American jobs would be to ban self-driving cars. But of course neither party would ever do that.
(In the technology community, an awful lot of the most interesting problems — the ones that attract the most venture capital and the smartest engineers — seem to coincide with putting lots of people out of work. Hardly anybody finds “helping the displaced” to be an especially interesting problem. Funny that.)
And there’s the point. Whether it’s globalization or technology, whether their intentions were noble or not, it’s pretty hard to tell someone in Allentown, Pennsylvania that America’s leaders and so-called meritocratic elites “have your good in mind.”
When I see Michael Bloomberg, I see a pretty benign guy who wants gun control and taxes on sugary soda, and put those cool red tables into Times Square, and likes bike lanes. I doubt that’s what a lot of Trump voters in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin see. Should they?
You wonder why some of them voted as they did? Maybe they’re thinking: I’ve done everything else I can think of, and nothing worked. (Maybe some of them would tell you: I even voted for a weird black guy named Hussein from Harvard and Kenya.)
For them, Trump is what Bill Clinton once was: he seems to authentically feel their pain.
Telling someone in that position that “Trump is a con man”… well, I know how I felt when Sarah Palin stood up and said, “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya’?”
They’re not hearing “Trump University,” and they’re certainly not hearing “Nazi.” They’re hearing “he gets my life.” That’s a powerful thing.
We all know Trump can’t bring giant steel mills back from China any more than Pacific Islanders could coax American pilots to return by building fake “cargo cult” landing strips after World War II. But I think, deep down, a lot of Trump’s voters know that, too. We all know that Trump is crazy or damn close (put politely: “he lacks the temperament to be President.”). Deep down, some of Trump’s voters know that too. They’re that desperate.
People are complicated. I know perfectly well there’s plenty of racial (and cultural and religious) resentment mixed in with all of this. It’s wicked hard, probably impossible, to tease out the proportions. Especially as Trump’s alt-right minions poison the Internet and relentlessly harass Jewish journalists who dare to criticize Der Amerikaführer. With sociopathic amorality, Trump has unleashed an epidemic of bigotry that is terrifying: “deplorable” doesn’t begin to describe it.
But if it was only that, Hillary Clinton would be drafting her inaugural address.
The question is: What are we going to do about it?