Donald Trump has done an excellent job of whipping up irrational hatreds, mostly of angry whites. He has taught them that hate is now acceptable, so they feel free to get in the faces of ordinary peaceful people and scream, their faces contorted with rage, that whatever person of color is currently in front of them has ruined everything and should go back where they came from. Some of them pull out a gun and shoot people dead, which of course Trump does not believe he is at all responsible for.
It’s really, really hard to see these people with anything but contempt, but I believe we must ignore the violence, the ignorance, the beliefs in conspiracy theories and all the rest, and ask, “Do these people have a real complaint, or is it all far right fringe irrational rage?” Certainly, their understanding of the economy is weak, and they would do well to learn how to evaluate reality.
We must realize we are not going to change these people into peaceful, tolerant folks. They have been bubbling with irrational hatreds all their lives. The only chance is with the next generation, or maybe the generation after that. Take college. Today’s haters are generally under-educated, and they may not care whether their kids learn anything, let alone go to college. They may feel that college is a waste of time and money—and for them that may be true. That belief may stem from the longstanding poverty and lack of opportunity that surrounds them. It’s a reality that college might not change.
Paul Theroux is a traveler and writer who studiously avoids the rich people in his extensive world travels, and spends all his time among the poor. In The Deep South he seeks out the many poor Americans, white and black, for whom centuries of deep poverty make life a daily struggle. These are the ones who often don’t make it into government statistics on unemployment. Some of them, black and white, are angry and racist. But they do have something to say, and they have an understanding about poverty and lack of opportunity that most of us don’t. In this book they point out several ways the government has failed them, some of them unnecessary failures.
The best thing that could happen at an angry Trump rally is a calm dialogue with some of the haters. By avoiding their prejudices and asking these persons about their lives, especially their economic history, we might learn some valuable things. We know little about them because we dismiss them after hearing their prejudices and hatreds, and because we believe they are hopeless.
There isn’t a chance in the world that a Trump presidency would be anything but a disaster for such people, because he would continue to give money to the very rich, following a roundly disproven belief that this will bring universal affluence. It does no such thing, as several Republican state governors have again proven when their state revenue crashed, making it necessary to drastically cut the budgets of crucial services such like schools. But that doesn’t deter Trumpsters, who hear only Trump’s anger and false accusations, and not the lack of rationality and the contradictions in what he says.
But Democratic presidencies also err in addressing poverty and unemployment. As I have remarked here previously, my belief is that we all fail to appreciate how much automation has taken over the work we used to do, a trend well documented by Martin Ford in The Rise of the Robots. The English economist John Maynard Keynes predicted way back about 1935 that we would reach the level of automation we now have within a century. We fulfilled his prediction, but we have done almost nothing to adjust for it.
It is time for the work week to be shortened again, as it has been several times in the past. Thirty hours is about the maximum it could be; twenty would be better. The effect of a shorter week is higher employment, lower unemployment, less homelessness, more government revenue. It’s not magic. Those who have lost control of their lives will still have great difficulty recovering, and getting a job is by itself unlikely to create tolerance. But it helps.
Trump is the creature grown from the seeds of intolerance, racism, and scientific ignorance that Republicans have cultivated for decades, a monster they can no longer control. Conditions are so extreme that it is even possible that the Republican party could actually collapse and die, since it consists of too many people who are simply ignorant of how the real world works, and who are poisoned by hatreds and racism. This would be unfortunate because even Democrats need a worthy opposition party to check excesses.
Republicans need a wise philosopher to re-evaluate what conservatism should be this century, to guide them so they can come up with policies based on reality and practicality, virtually the opposite of what they now pursue.
Meantime, it would be fruitful for Dems to find out what Trump’s Republican haters can tell us about their lives, especially their work. Better understanding of their legitimate complaints might be valuable in establishing more effective policy for all of us.