Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Social Silences SHHH!

Last week I wore an Italian suit made in China. Let me say that again: I wore an Italian suit made in China. The designer's name was prominently displayed on a hanging placard attached to the left jacket sleeve, a smaller one on the vest, and a tag inside the pants. After a week with my tailor it was time to debut my newest set of threads. While I was pinning my handkerchief inside the breast pocket I noticed a made in China label. Then it hit me: the United States is powerless to affect the manufacturing decisions that allowed me to save a few hundred dollars buying this suit instead of some of the more expensive suits I passed on. In theory, we can impose tariffs or stop trade deals that have an adverse effect on American workers, but the reality is more and more companies around the globe are playing the game.

Trade deals outside of the United States impact American consumption in ways I never thought about until I had my sartorial bubble burst. This is an aspect of globalization that I've never heard mentioned by Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. The rhetoric Donald Trump used on the campaign trail was very powerful, but it's also powerless. How can we crack down on China without mentioning the European businesses that use cheap, often exploited, Chinese and Indian labor markets to produce some of goods they sell here? We can be as protectionist in our trade philosophies and policies as we want, but global commerce is going to happen with or without our consent. This isn't an argument for TPP or against it, but we have to be honest about the situation we're in. Conservatives worship at the alter of free market capitalism, but the truth is: America worships at the alter of free market consumption.

Large scale manufacturing and textile jobs are gone. No one can bring them back. We have to quit letting politicians on the right and the left lie to desperate people about this fact. Wall Street and the investment class have spoken. The market feeds on escalating productivity and declining wages. No serious person believes that markets were waiting on a Trump administration to put patriotism before profits. We have to find a way to get people to take the medicine they need and not the candy they want. Economic populism that isn't grounded in economic reality does more harm than good. You can get people to pick up their pitchforks, but after they walk around aimlessly for a few days and nothing has changed all you've done is waste their time.

If you want to see America's future all you have to do is drive through any predominantly black neighborhood. Look at who's producing the goods and providing the services. When a community or country stops producing and only consumes misery follows. Globalization has been to America what integration was to black people: a net loss. At the top some have done extraordinarily well, but for the masses the experiment has left them worse off. I recognize the "anger" many working class whites are experiencing as fear; fear related to being powerless to control your economic future. I'm not playing a linguistic game. Anger is just one of the many vehicles for fear. The truth is almost always a harder sell.

No one wants to hear that we have to adjust to a new normal. How do you convince a Dixiecrat that globalization turned their life to crap and not Juan and Maria or Jamal and Keisha? We will always have the harder job of explaining nuance to a public that would rather hear sound bites. The middle class isn't disappearing because of women, or blacks, or immigrants. Wealthy white men willfully made decisions that have hurt the average American's ability to take care of their family. A lot of people get uncomfortable if you talk about this reality in specific terms. We're taught to speak in vague terms that don't point any fingers at those above us on the socioeconomic scale, but to my knowledge none of the economic policies that have hurt the middle class or working class whites were written by, voted on, or signed into law by poor people. I'm certain working class Americans didn't lobby congress on behalf of management and ownership.

Since the election I've read a dozen articles by "experts" who, after the fact, have offered some rather brilliant insights into how Donald Trump won. I personally don't care about these articles. I also don't care about the articles progressives have been writing to explain how the articles and blogs they wrote in the months leading up to the election were right, but the people choose wrong. No one underestimated the "anger" in "rural" America, and we knew turnout was going to be important- in an unrelated story: water is still wet. Those articles, for the most part, don't have any power. I'm concerned with the articles suggesting the Democratic party needs to move away from issues specific to people of color; these articles have the potential to further weaken trust between blacks in the south and the whites in the north.

Working class whites have always fared better than the majority of working people of any color. Look at how much higher black unemployment is than white unemployment. I'm not sure why some on the left are trying to make us choose between our shared economic struggles and problems specific to members of our coalition. Identity politics are the politics of people adversely affected by their identities. I die a bit everytime someone who hasn't worked multiple jobs making less money than their uneducated white coworkers suggest that trade will make all of our lives better. It becomes painfully obvious how much work we need to do in order to strengthen our weak alliance. In essences, the northern progressives who write these articles are ready to throw in the towel on social justice for the sake of winning the next election.

We need to accept the fact that a majority of white America chose Trump's flash and rhetoric over any substance we thought we had; maybe we are too cerebral for our own good? I get lectured to by progressives who don't spend any time with self identified rednecks. Some of these people actually believe they know what my neighbors with the Trump signs in their yards want without ever talking to them. I don't know whether to chalk this up to the "elitism" that seems wedded to the academy or northern residential privilege. Trump can't make coal cheaper than natural gas, so mining jobs will continue to decline, I'm doubtful he can make any substantial changes to any of our existing trade agreements, and If he put a 'huuuge' tariff on imports he will cause more harm than good. He hasn't offered any substantive remedy to help fix our healthcare system. We know we are stuck with what we have or some lesser version of it, but many of his supporters will find out later. When they do we need to have some serious and digestible answers for them. The Democrats would be foolish to kick vulnerable people out of the tent in order to bring the Trump supporters back.

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