Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Diagnosis

I don't agree with Glenn Greenwald about much of anything, but this piece is spot-on. So many pull quotes, so little time. Let's start here (NSFW, but with merit):
Corrupt elites always try to persuade people to continue to submit to their dominance in exchange for protection from forces that are even worse. That’s their game. But at some point, they themselves, and their prevailing order, become so destructive, so deceitful, so toxic, that their victims are willing to gamble that the alternatives will not be worse, or at least, they decide to embrace the satisfaction of spitting in the faces of those who have displayed nothing but contempt and condescension for them.

There is no single, unifying explanation for Brexit, Trumpism, or the growing extremism of various stripes throughout the West, but this sense of angry impotence — an inability to see any option other than smashing those responsible for their plight — is undoubtedly a major factor. As Bevins put it, supporters of Trump, Brexit, and other anti-establishment movements “are motivated not so much by whether they think the projects will actually work, but more by their desire to say FUCK YOU” to those they believe (with very good reason) have failed them.
The discontent in the land is real and it's understandable. If your manufacturing job is being replaced by a robot, or your IT gig by an H1-B visa holder, or your construction job by someone who may or may not be here legally, you're gonna be angry. And you won't be alone. I had my roof replaced two years ago; every member of the work crew was from Mexico, or Central America. On the days I stop for coffee on my way into work, I see similar work crews getting their coffee and sports drinks on their way to whatever worksite they have. I wasn't checking to see if the work crew on my roofing job had their paperwork in order; I do know that labor is a large component of the cost of the job and it was less expensive precisely because these guys were doing the work. That's why they are here.

My office has a major IT project going on right now. We now have a dozen or so contractors in the building who are working on the project and most of them are from the Indian subcontinent. I'm not asking them for their papers, either. They are here to do a job and, I assume, to do it for a lower price. Are there U.S. citizens who could do this work? Most likely. But they aren't in my office.

But won't this upcoming election clarify matters? Back to Greenwald:
But that is exactly the choice presented not only by Brexit but also Western elections generally, including the 2016 Clinton v. Trump general election (just look at the powerful array of Wall Street tycoons and war-loving neocons that — long before Trump — viewed the former Democratic New York senator and secretary of state as their best hope for having their agenda and interests served). When democracy is preserved only in form, structured to change little to nothing about power distribution, people naturally seek alternatives for the redress of their grievances, particularly when they suffer.

More importantly still — and directly contrary to what establishment liberals love to claim in order to demonize all who reject their authority — economic suffering and xenophobia/racism are not mutually exclusive. The opposite is true: The former fuels the latter, as sustained economic misery makes people more receptive to tribalistic scapegoating. That’s precisely why plutocratic policies that deprive huge portions of the population of basic opportunity and hope are so dangerous. Claiming that supporters of Brexit or Trump or Corbyn or Sanders or anti-establishment European parties on the left and right are motivated only by hatred but not genuine economic suffering and political oppression is a transparent tactic for exonerating status quo institutions and evading responsibility for doing anything about their core corruption.
I've never been part of the elite, but some of my college classmates have found their way into the elite over the years. I know a guy who became a millionaire bond trader and another guy who is a huge player in the entertainment industry. Both of these guys are now fabulously wealthy and powerful. Had I gone back to my alma mater over reunion weekend earlier this month, I could have visited with both of them and it would have been a pleasant conversation. I don't want to take away what they have; it wouldn't change the basic calculus. Along the line, both of them recognized opportunities and were able to take advantage. I begrudge them nothing.

And yet, and yet. . . it simply won't do to pretend that a lot of other people of my generation have been left behind. And while class distinctions in America are significantly more fluid than they are in the United Kingdom, class is a factor. And distance. Back to Greenwald:
There are many factors explaining why establishment journalists now have almost no ability to stem the tide of anti-establishment rage, even when it’s irrational and driven by ignoble impulses. Part of it is that the internet and social media have rendered them irrelevant, unnecessary to disseminate ideas. Part of it is that they have nothing to say to people who are suffering and angry — due to their distance from them — other than to scorn them as hateful losers. Part of it is that journalists — like anyone else — tend to react with bitterness and rage, not self-assessment, as they lose influence and stature.

But a major factor is that many people recognize that establishment journalists are an integral part of the very institutions and corrupted elite circles that are authors of their plight. Rather than mediating or informing these political conflicts, journalists are agents of the forces that are oppressing people. And when journalists react to their anger and suffering by telling them that it’s invalid and merely the byproduct of their stupidity and primitive resentments, that only reinforces the perception that journalists are their enemy, thus rendering journalistic opinion increasingly irrelevant.
It explains why my local newscast continues to insist that an online poll saying people want to revote on Brexit has meaning, even though there's substantial evidence that many of the votes are the result of a 4Chan prank. Change is hard and there's a good chance things will get worse. Is there any reason to assume that maintaining the status quo will help things get better? The Brexit vote suggests people are coming to their own conclusions about that.

7 comments:

R.A. Crankbait said...

"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security."

We are reaching the insufferable level - especially the insufferable hubris.

jerrye92002 said...

It has been my contention that if this becomes a "status quo" election then Hillary is toast. I don't think there is that much stomach for a third Obama term, and Bernieville doesn't hold that much charm for people-- the vast majority-- who think the US is already headed in that wrong direction.

Bike Bubba said...

I understand the frustration with immigration being more or less unlimited, but it strikes me as well that we have a huge problem with a lot of people being more or less unemployable. I'm thinking the Wal-mart shoppers carrying 150 extra pounds of fat and such--you see them at Wal-mart, but where do they work, if anywhere?

Mr. D said...

I'm thinking the Wal-mart shoppers carrying 150 extra pounds of fat and such--you see them at Wal-mart, but where do they work, if anywhere?

Why don't you ask them?

jerrye92002 said...

I'm guessing that most of the unemployables are not only currently receiving government checks, but have been made unemployable by long dependence on such. Most immigrants, OTOH, want to come here to work, whether they find it or not.

Bike Bubba said...

Mark--I have at times. Very often, "disability." I also noted that even at the place I worked in Waseca, they weren't getting hired. The distribution of weights at Wal-mart is just strikingly different than anything I've seen anywhere else.

R.A. Crankbait said...

Having spent way too much time in hospitals (and hospital cafeterias) the last 10 years, I'm amazed at the number of nurses and healthcare professionals that are morbidly obese, and smokers as well. You'd think that if there was anyone who was in a position to see the long-term effects and harm of over-eating smoking, it would be nurses, yet the double-cheeseburgers and fries are popular items in the commissary.