Friday, November 11, 2016
It's the End of the World As We Know It
Who ever thought that the two songs Trump used throughout his campaign, REM's End of the World and Rolling Stone's You Can't Always Get What You Want would prove so prophetic. Both actually fit with his message. The first in that he obviously was referring to the breakdown of conservative society in America, and the second in direct response to the liberalization of America taking place.
Allegations of voter suppression may have set the stage for his upset victory but what sealed the deal was all the liberal reform taking place in a country that is historically slow to accept change. Just when it seemed most Americans had come to accept our first Black President, giving him an approval rating well in excess of 50 per cent, along comes Black Lives Matter, the Transgender movement and a Supreme Court decision that sanctions gay marriage across the country. All worthy causes, but we had to expect a "whitelash," as Van Jones put it. A major segment of our society simply wasn't ready to accept these changes all at once, and shouted out emphatically, No More!
We cheered cities as they raised minimum wages, opening up public bathrooms to transgenders and giving Black Lives Matter free reign without taking into account how much this galled rural and suburban Americans. All the while, these outlying conservatives were fed a steady stream of news saying how these liberal forces were destroying the country as they knew it, with Trump and his surrogates reinforcing this message on the campaign trail.
Ultimately, this presidential race was determined by social issues, not the economy as Bill Clinton once emphatically stated. Midwesterners are enjoying relatively low unemployment rates, so it is not like they are out of work. They may be paying too high health insurance premiums or carrying too much personal debt, but they have jobs. This notion that NAFTA sucked the life out of the Midwest, as Michael Moore intoned, is absurd. Jobs have come back, not necessarily the same ones they had before, but jobs just the same. The citizens of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are all enjoying average salaries above $50,000 per year. Ohio and Michigan above $45,000. Granted, only Minnesota is above the national average, but if you can't get by on 45 grand per year, you need to look at your budget. Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi all have significantly lower average salaries.
What appears to have driven the conservative electorate this year was the fear a new liberal Supreme Court judge would institutionalize liberal America. Mitch McConnell would make Machiavelli smile. It is very much the same thing that led to Nixon's victory in 1968 and Ronald Reagan's landslide in 1980. Make America Great Again wasn't so much about restoring the economy of this country, which is doing fine, but about a restoration of conservative values. No more marriage equality. Certainly no more transgender bathrooms. No more affirmative action. No more illegal immigrants and unwanted refugees living off the largesse of this country, and so on.
This was something liberals didn't understand because they looked at the polls that said more than half the country supported gay marriage. They dismissed the stories of caterers being forced to bake cakes for gay weddings or the pizza parlor that refused to serve gays as aberrations. When you look at the nearly one million dollars Memories Pizza got in donations you see that these isolated incidents were actually harbingers of a conservative backlash.
Americans prefer to live in their own Private Idahos, to borrow from the B-52s, and when you infringe on these private domains you face "whitelash." Hence the Gadsden Flag, "Don't Tread on Me." We can shout and scream how awful this is, but all you have to do is look at an election map like this and see there are a lot more "Private Idahos" out there than we could ever imagine driving across this great land of ours.
This Nativism is nothing new and Eric Foner cites it for the reason Reconstruction came screeching to a halt in 1876. It was a similarly split election where Rutherford B. Hayes won out over Samuel Tilden in the electoral college, despite losing the popular vote. It led to the Compromise of 1877 that formally ended the Reconstruction of the Southern states. These recalcitrant states were essentially allowed to go back to the practices they had before, turning slavery into sharecropping, but they had a very hard time restoring the antebellum lifestyle.
I have to hold out some hope because President Obama and President-elect Trump appeared to have a cordial first meeting. Hard to believe this was the first time these two men had actually met, given all the nasty words spoken between them, but Trump said that he was impressed by Obama and that the 90-minute meeting could have gone on longer as far as he was concerned. Surprising for a man who generally doesn't want to spend more than 10 or 15 minutes in a meeting.
Then again, autocrats can be quite charming when they need to be, as can psychopaths, so there is no reason to relax one's guard. Obama appeared to be forcing a lot of words out of his mouth at the press conference afterward. He couldn't remember Melania by name, referring to her as the new First Lady. He also had to summon his inner fortitude to praise Trump for his openness during the meeting. It was a lot like the meeting Trump had with the President of Mexico in September. We can't expect for one moment that he will go back on many of the things he said during the campaign. It will be wise for Obama to grant Hillary immunity from any further investigations, as Rudy Giuliani continues to insist she must be prosecuted. Trump's more vociferous supporters are demanding her head, although it is doubtful he would pursue it.
His victory also means we can expect a Republican Congress to take up gay marriage and other divisive social issues in their next session as they believe they have a sympathetic man in the White House to pass their bills. We can also expect Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which so many conservatives believe to be the bane of our health care system. As for Cuba and Iran, Congress might not find such a sympathetic figure in the White House, as Trump has nothing against Cuba, and if he wants to stay friends with Vladimir Putin he won't touch the Iran Nuclear Deal, as this was a multilateral deal instigated by Russia, in the spirit of rapprochement in the region.
For President Donald Trump now comes the hard part -- how to govern when you have such an unruly cross segment of society, and in Congress, which believes he represents their Nativism. Trump struck an oddly conciliatory tone with Obama that suggested that he is open to bargaining, as he always is.