Hear the Hater Complaints

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.

Ending Economic Decay

The writer Paul Theroux is like no other. He’s prolific, and a restless world traveler, and he has no interest in the places where people have money. His travels have taken him to the poorest parts of the world. His most recent travel book is Deep South, a chronicle of slow trips through the forgotten places left behind by the interstate highways, with factories abandoned after business moved to Bangladesh. There is no money, no work.

And yet every single day, the world’s money flows in great flooding cascades of cash, billions upon billions, in and out of laundering facilities on small islands and banking nations like Switzerland. Theroux quotes the 19th century Portuguese writer Almeida Garrett, who observed the poverty in his own country and posed the question, “I ask the political economists…if they have ever calculated the number of individuals who must be condemned to misery, overwork…and utter penury in order to produce one rich man.” Garrett understood money well.

Our government could begin improving our economy by addressing the blatant violations of law by some of our richest citizens and corporations. Hiding money offshore is illegal, and should be punished with prison sentences, which would—ahem—“encourage” moral behavior, since nothing else does. Corporations that move headquarters overseas should be treated like foreign corporations, complete with import duties on their products and fees for usage of US infrastructure. Most important, since foreign corporations are already forbidden from influencing the American legal process, the lobbying they now do should result in significant penalties, including prison, if continued.

It is part of our great unfinished business to do something about our national poverty. The poorest Americans, in cities like Detroit as well as the obscure decaying towns of the rural south, lack the essentials for a decent life, and it’s not because of laziness or moral failure. It is because there is no work or money to be had. Millions live in severe unrelieved poverty, and it’s not their fault.

Where is the wealth? We all know. Half of all our national income goes to a few very rich people who have no need for more money, but keep it hidden anyway. The US is the richest nation in the history of the world, and yet we have failed completely to provide work and essential income for those millions of people in the poorest parts of the rural south and elsewhere. They don’t want or need to be rich; they would never be wealthy in the common use of the term, but were once wealthy enough. Now they are not even that.

The federal government does spend money to help poor people, but what people need is a way to build their own future. We need new laws and rules that prevent abusive capture of money by the very rich, regulations that encourage domestic industry, plus modern work week hours and living wage laws.

National health care insurance is probably the most important single thing we could do to improve the lives of the poor. A healthier population sharply reduces the significant money lost to illness and death. Not only would it save billions of dollars and millions of lives, it would remove a major disadvantage for companies that compete in markets where national health care is the norm.

When we look at the deep poverty found in the rural south, we see that every part of life is affected by this poverty. That includes the schools. The young do not receive a modern education because desolate state and local economies cannot adequately fund schools. If all Americans are to be educated well, funding must be equal for every student in the country. This cannot happen if a significant part of funding comes from the coffers of very poor states like Mississippi. With equal funding we would have a much better work force, ready for business rejuvenated by improved laws, as well as an intelligent and informed citizenry able to bring more wisdom to the world. This would in time diminish the scourge of ignorance from bad education, of belief in superstition and magic, and of failure to understand science we see even in certain members of Congress.

Austerity, whether a result of unaddressed economic evils or of backward bank practices that prevail in Europe, results in a downward spiral for the people. Investment in the economy, such as with President Obama’s 2009 fiscal stimulus and the Affordable Care Act, has the effect of putting money in the hands of lower income citizens, who cannot afford to hoard it. The money circulates, and improves the local economy.

Dragging the moribund economy of the old south into the 21st century is more important than we commonly believe. Those who suffer include the crabby rednecks who hate Obama, but who deserve a better roll of the dice along with the rest of us, and it will only happen with bold national practices like those I mention here. For nearly a half century, money has been taken out of the hands of these everyday Americans and put in the hideaways of the very rich. This has created unrelieved cruel poverty, and it must end.