Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Myth of Unity

Last week the workers at a Mississippi Nissan auto plant voted against unionizing. In the country as a whole union membership is at an all-time low. At the same time the pay of working people is more or less what it has been for the last 50 years while the pay of plant managers, bank managers, and managers in all sorts of other branches of business has skyrocketed.
There are many reasons for this disproportionate enrichment of the upper-class and the stagnant wages of the people who produce things, or who do the paperwork necessary to keep this economy going. But surely one of them is the belief on the part of many working people that management is on their side and that unions are not.
This is just one example of what is striking about the American political landscape. Large numbers of voters do not seem to see where their interests lie. Donald Trump, a multimillionaire, who wants to cut the taxes on the rich and reduce assistance to the poor, the unemployed, the sick and the elderly, has the support of millions of Americans who work hard for a scanty living. They expect their lot to be alleviated by the representative of a class that is responsible for their deprivations in the first place.
Donald Trump is a member of the class of employers. Both in real life and in Reality TV he takes great pleasure in firing employees. Like other employers he is interested in depressing wages. Any person of limited income who supports Donald Trump is voting against his or her pressing interests.
People voting against their interest is a common phenomenon in our political system. There has been vocal support for abolishing Obama care among people who had health insurance for the first time thanks to this law. There is opposition to Social Security and other social safety net features among its beneficiaries. A lot of voters don't seem to know when they are relatively well-off.
These many different instances of voters being unaware of where their interests lie are a consequence of a grand deception that many Americans have bought into. Americans think of themselves as one people, "united under God." Politicians constantly talk about what "the American people will not stand for" or what "the American people demand." We have one flag and that flag is very important to many people. We have one national anthem (which few people can sing all the way through.) We have one government.
This mythology about being one nation, one people, might be fairly innocuous. People believe all sorts of weird stuff and that does not really matter. You may believe that there should not be fluoride in the drinking water. But there are other ways in which you can protect your children's teeth. You may think that your children will grow up more peaceful if they don't play with guns. (But when they are grown, those same children may still sign up to serve in the military.)
The mythology of national unity becomes destructive and dangerous when it obscures the divisions of our nation which makes some groups the enemies of others. In many situations the people who manage a workplace have interests diametrically opposed to the people who work for them. They do not belong to the same nation in any important sense.
Nissan built its auto plants in Mississippi where many people are very poor and good jobs are hard to get. That allowed them to recruit a docile workforce – people who thought that Nissan management cared for them, when in fact it only wanted people willing to work for low wages.
Donald Trump wanted to get elected and to be loved. The people who voted for him thought that they belong to the same nation and shared the same interest. They did not understand that it was reasonable for them to be cautious before trusting a millionaire real estate operator to be their best champion.
As long as the myth of one America is powerful among us, voters will ignore the fact that while we have one government, that government has very different relationships to different groups. Our government is largely run and concerned about the interests of large businesses. The interests of the little people, the interests of the people supporting Donald Trump are very far down on the government's list of interests.
The government's interests are in the first place those of white males. If you are a black male, the government is less often and less fervently on your side. Most of the time it doesn't pay attention to you.
In a way everyone knows this. Black Americans know this when the government's police becomes a mortal danger to them. Women know it when the government drags its feet making sure that equal wages for equal work for women becomes a reality. Native Americans, long the victims of broken promises by the US government, know this. Working class men, proudly wearing their Marine Corps t-shirts, nevertheless know that they do no have to live paycheck to paycheck.
But then they turn their back on these facts when they reaffirm a mythical unity on Presidents Day or the Fourth of July. They start thinking again about America as a unified nation. That is a more comfortable thought. Living in a world of constant struggle where suspicions are often justified and there are few people you can trust without careful examination is much harder than living in a world where we are all together and all unified and we can be sure that the other Americans care as much about us as we care about them.
It is difficult for the many young men and women, and for their families, in our Armed forces, many of them in acute danger, to think that they are fighting, not for a united America but for a ruling class using them for its own purposes.
But the united America is a myth. It is important to see the truth that America consists of many nations whose interests are at cross purposes. Some are more powerful and they get most of what they want. Most of us are not powerful and we get very little.
Wake up , America!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Buying a pig in a poke.

In our democracy it is quite acceptable for candidates to misrepresent themselves. No one is terribly outraged if, once elected, politicians act in ways contrary to their promises during their campaign. Obama got elected on slogans like "Change." He gave the impression of being concerned about the middle class – people who work hard but barely earn enough to get by. As soon as he got elected he chose his advisers from Wall Street, from Goldman Sachs, where concern about the middle class is not high on the agenda. This change did not arouse a great deal of protest. We have allowed our politicians to misrepresent themselves for a long time. We accept that kind of deception.
It is not terribly surprising that, once inaugurated as president, Donald Trump’s primary allegiance is to millionaires instead of to the working people to whom he appealed during his campaign.
Nor is it surprising that he proves inept in his relationships with Congress or the Republican Party of which he is now the nominal head. His experience as a real estate tycoon did not give him the opportunity to acquire political skills. We have always known that. We should not be surprised that the candidate elected because he is not a politician will then lack some of the skills politicians acquire in the course of their careers.
Trump in office has been notorious for his misrepresentations of facts. He does not hesitate to distort reality. He is willing to claim polling numbers, or approval by the public, or phone calls from leaders all of which are completely false. Anyone who followed him on the campaign trail is not going to be very surprised by that although the extent of his untruthfulness is startling.
And anyway, politicians have low regard for the truth. Remember – as one notorious example of government lying – the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration had pictures of to justify the invasion of Iraq? It turned out there were no such weapons.
But Donald Trump in the White House shows himself to be incapacitated in ways that we did not have reasons to expect.
Many voters thought that managing a multi-million dollar real estate empire would prepare him for managing the US government. But it turns out that he is completely incapable of doing that. Managing a large enterprise requires planning. A view of goals, of accepted management practices, of constructing a staff to execute the leader's commands – that and more is needed for running a complex set of institutions. During the campaign Trump promised all sorts of actions in order to create jobs, in order to preserve jobs, in order to ease conflicts in foreign affairs. There were suggestions of action plans.
But those turn out to be nonexistent. Trump is flailing around following momentary impulses. He has not managed so far to construct an administration that is unified around a set of plans. In order to understand the trajectory of this new administration one must study chaos theory. What is happening is incomprehensible. What will happen is unpredictable.
Not only does the Trump administration not seem to have any clear plans about how to run the country, it appears that the president is unable to stick to one thought while he's talking. Even his pronouncements lack focus. The beginning of the paragraph often addresses government policy and before you know it, Trump is talking about his popularity and how much everybody loves him.
Here is one example of how the president talks
: "Asked about his tax policy, Trump said, “I want to achieve growth. We’re the highest-taxed nation in the world, essentially, you know, of the size. But we’re the highest taxed nation in the world. We have - nobody knows what the number is. I mean, it used to be, when we talked during the debate, $2.5 trillion, right, when the most elegant person - right? I call him Mr. Elegant. I mean, that was a great debate. We did such a great job...”" (Dianne Williamson in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, 8/3/2017)
This kind of incoherence is not only alarming because it is not limited only to the president's speech but pervades his career as a president so far. It appears that this man is unable to focus.
I do not think that that was obvious during the campaign. There are important aspects of the person of Donald Trump that the ordinary voter was unable to see.
That raises worries that go far beyond the person and career of the current president. His trajectory suggests that the way we go about selecting candidates allows them to conceal effectively shortcomings which would definitely disqualify them from the job for which they are running. If it had been clear during the campaign that this man is unable to focus on any particular thought for more than 30 seconds, some people would have voted differently for fear that this inability to stick to a topic would disqualify him from being at the head of our government. But I don't think many people knew that.
The presupposition of our democracy is that voters are informed about their choices before they cast their ballot. Uninformed voting does not make a democracy. Political campaigns are supposed to allow the voters to inform themselves about the candidates.
But now it seems that the kind of campaigns we run leave the voters ill informed. It seems that our kind of campaigns have just allowed us to elect a president who lacks elementary requirements for the presidency – the ability to hone in on a subject and to remain attentive to it for more than 30 seconds.
The election of Donald Trump as president shows that serious handicaps of the candidates may remain hidden from the voting public. It demonstrates a major weakness in our political processes. It is quite unclear at the moment how to change those in order to avoid further elections of people unqualified for the office.