Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

They Said It:

This theme is, we think, probably the most important and most overlooked factor in this election. A great deal of time and energy has been expended on the part of the press, the pundits, and various politicians attempting to explain the Democrats’ dramatic fall from grace and the Republicans’ equally dramatic resurrection.  It’s all about taxes.  Or spending. Or the economy.  It’s all about the failed stimulus. Or the overreaching health care bill.  Or the temporarily shelved, but never dead Cap’n Trade bill. I t’s all about misreading the mandate and governing a center-right nation from the far left.  Or about the obstruction and destruction practiced by the “party of NO.”  It’s all about bailouts.  Or TARP. Or the “takeover” of GM.  It’s all about, well, policy.

Certainly, there are grains of truth in all of these analyses…. But none is a sufficient explanation in and of itself. All provide clues to the source of voter outrage, but it’s only when taken in their cumulative form that the true source of the problem can be understood.

This election is not about policy. It is not about any specific decision that the president took or did not take.  It’s not about any policy proposition that was shepherded through the Congress by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and translated into law.  It is not about any of the traditional factors that are generally suspected to motivate voters to punish the majority party.

No, this election is about all of those policies cumulatively, and, more important, about the single common factor that binds them all together. This election is, in short, about the will of the people and the ruling party’s contempt for that will. As the sub-head on the pollster Scott Rasmussen’s final pre-election analysis put it: “Voters don’t want to be governed from the left, right or center. They want Washington to recognize that Americans want to govern themselves.”

Stephen R. Soukup and Mark L. Melcher “Election 2010:  The Revenge of the Racist, Ignorant, Hillbillies,” Politics, et Cetera, November 1, 2010.


In her last column of 2016, published after Donald Trump was elected but (obviously) before he was inaugurated, Peggy Noonan praised the work of one of her journalistic contemporaries, a man whose efforts had helped shape her view of the presidential campaign just ended.  Noonan, of course, is an old-school conservative star, a speechwriter for Reagan and Bush 41, and one of the most respected mainstream conservative commentators over the last quarter century.

We have had our problems with Noonan’s work over the years, most especially her endorsement of Barack Obama in 2008 and her inability to grasp the profound and prognostic importance of the Tea Party movement.  Nevertheless, the longtime Wall Street Journal columnist was among the first and the most prominent orthodox conservatives to grasp the appeal and the consequence of Donald Trump’s populist message.  And in her December 29, 2016 column, she credited Chris Arnade, a bond-trader-turned-photojournalist, for inspiring her conversion.  She wrote:

I want to end this dramatic year writing of a man whose great and constructive work I discovered in 2016.  He is the photojournalist Chris Arnade.  I follow him on Twitter, where he issues great tweet-storms containing pictures and commentary about America. . . . He has spent the past year traveling through much of the country taking pictures of regular people in challenging circumstances and writing of their lives.  He is politically progressive and a week before the election angered his side, and some media folk, by foretelling the victory of Donald Trump.  The people he met were voting for him.  Many saw the America they’d grown up in slipping away.  They wanted a country that was great again.  They experienced elite disdain for Trump as evidence he might be the one to turn it around . . . .

He went to small towns and cities through the northeast and down South, through the Midwest and the Rust Belt, through forgotten places with boarded up town centers.  He met retired welders and drug addicts and valorous families getting by with nothing.  He saw modest and embittered people who’d seen the places they grew up in disappear.  He met Minnie McDonald and her granddaughter, Madison Walton, visiting the graves of Minnie’s daughters in Montezuma, Ga.  He met five little kids in Selma, Ala.  “Do you like Selma?” he asked.  All were quiet.  The littlest said, “Noooo.”  Why?  “Too many shootings, too many deaths,” said another.  Penny Springfield, a middle-aged white woman, met Mr. Arnade in the empty church where she’d buried her son Johny, who died from an overdose . . . .

In his work you see an America that is battered but standing, a society that is atomized — there are lonely people in his pictures — but holding on.  Two great and underappreciated institutions play a deep role in holding it together.

The first is small churches, often Pentecostal and Evangelical.  They’re in a dead strip mall or on a spur off a highway and they give everyone an embrace. . . .

The other institution that helps hold people together is McDonald’s.  Mr. Arnade didn’t intend to discover virtue in a mighty corporation, but McDonald’s “has great value to community.”  He sees an ethos of patience and respect.  “McDonald’s is nonjudgmental.”  If you have nowhere to go all day they’ll let you stay, nurse your coffee, read your paper.  “The bulk of the franchises leave people alone.  There’s a friendship that develops between the people who work there and the people who go.”  “In Natchitoches, La., there’s a twice-weekly Bible study group,” that meets at McDonald’s.  “They also have bingo games.”  There’s the Old Man table, or the Romeo Club, for Retired Old Men Eating Out.

As we ponder the current “resistance” to Donald Trump and the potential for this hostility to morph into a genuine political alternative, we find ourselves drawn, like Peggy Noonan, to Chris Arnade’s work and what it says about the state of the country.  We don’t look at Arnade’s stuff very often, but on we do on occasion.  And last week just happened to be one of those occasions.

You see, last week, President Trump tweeted a picture of himself, sitting aboard Air Force One, eating a McDonald’s meal.  And needless to say, this was a big deal to a great many people, most of whom have too much time on their hands.  First, McDonald’s itself responded – or, rather, someone with access to McDonald’s’ Twitter account responded, tweeting:  “You are actually a disgusting excuse of a president we would love to have @BarackObama back, also you have tiny hands.”  McDonald’s rather quickly deleted this tweet, apologized, and declared that its Twitter account had been “compromised.”  But that didn’t stop others from piling on.

The most interesting reaction came from Josh Barro, one of the more prominent NeverTrump millennials.  Barro is the son of a Harvard economics professor, a former intern at Grover Norquist’s Americas for Tax Reform, and a senior editor for Business Insider.  The 32-year-old made headlines last year – or at least generated headlines for himself – when he conducted a rather affected online soul-searching, which culminated in his decision to leave the GOP and become a Democrat.  In response to the McDonald’s tweet denouncing President Trump, Barro tweeted:  “This is a real brand misstep for McDonald’s.  Fat slobs with bad taste are a core Trump demographic.”

Among those who responded to Barro was none other than Chris Arnade, who both noted Barro’s ignorance of the wider nation and scorched him for his longstanding and faulty notions of elitism.  McDonald’s restaurants, Arnade declared, are a staple of the minority community.  “Go to any minority community.  McDonald’s are packed,” Arnade tweeted.  And it’s not just people gobbling up the type of food Barro finds vile.  McDonald’s are social hubs, places where the people whom Barro scorns go to meet and feel included.  They are also the means by which many young minorities break the cycle of poverty, earning paychecks, getting promotions, and receiving scholarships that pay for educational opportunities they would never otherwise have.

Arnade continued his dismantling of Barro’s snobbery, dredging out a nearly four-year-old tweet from the “journalist” that fit the pattern of the McDonald’s mockery.  “Elites,” Barro wrote in 2013, “are usually elite for good reason, and tend to have better judgment than the average person.”  This, Arnade continued, is precisely the attitude that has animated the ruling class vs. the country class meme and that made Donald Trump’s victory possible.  Using Barro’s old tweet as his platform, Arnade launched into a recitation of his own notions about “Front Row” and “Back Row” kids.  To wit:

Front Row Kids

Mobile, global, and well educated

Primary social network is via colleges and career

Intellect is primary.  View world through framework of numbers and rational arguments

Meaning (and morality) comes from careers and intellectual pursuits.

Faith is irrational.  They see themselves as beyond race and gender.

View their lives as better than their parents and their children’s lives will be better than their own.


Back Row Kids

Stay where they are born.  Education beyond a high school degree is via smaller state schools, community colleges, and trade schools.

Primary social network is via institutions beyond work such as family, geographical community, and Church.

Faith is central.  They find meaning (and morality) through the “Decency of hard work”

They have “traditional” views of race and gender.

They view their lives as worse than their parents and their children’s lives will be worse than their own.

Barro’s tweet, Arnade continued, is a “version of the belief” held by many of “the elites” that they are smarter, of “better judgment,” and therefore simply better than the lesser folks.  These lesser folks, of course, are “not educated” and are therefore “lesser/lacking.”  In spite of everything that has happened over the last few years – from the Tea Party to the election of Donald Trump – the elitist “front-row kids” still see themselves as better than the rest of the country and therefore deserving of better lives.  You may recall that in the aftermath of Trump’s victory last November, the mainstream press flagellated itself for its inability to “understand” the “common people” and vowed to do better.  And yet, the attitude still persists.  The lucky few still see the rest of their fellow countrymen as “fat slobs with bad taste,” even as they cannot fathom how anyone would vote for Trump.

Unfortunately, Barro was hardly alone in reminding us all just what the beautiful people think of the rest of the country this past week.  Frank Rich, the former drama critic for the New York Times and the current drama queen for the New Yorker, penned a long, tedious, and entirely predictable piece about how the Democrats should quit trying to win back Trump voters and just move forward with their agenda, harnessing “their own anger” to chart a political course without Trump supporters.  The first half of the column – which is long, dreary, and hardly worth your time – is the usual “what is wrong with these people,” leftist pap.  Rich despises the great unwashed and doesn’t understand why anyone anywhere would care what they have to say.  Eventually, though, he gets to heart of the argument, the source of his detestation of the masses and thus the reason he doesn’t think that Democrats have any business trying to win back these lost working-class voters.  He writes:

Liberals now looking to commune with the Trump base should check out the conscientious effort to do exactly that by the Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild.  As we learn in her election-year best seller, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, she poured her compassion, her anthropological sensibility, and five years of her life into “a journey to the heart of the American right.”  Determined to burst out of her own “political bubble,” Hochschild uprooted herself to the red enclave of Lake Charles, Louisiana, where, as she reports, there are no color-coded recycling bins or gluten-free restaurant entrées.  There she befriended and chronicled tea-party members who would all end up voting for Trump.  Hochschild liked the people she met, who in turn reciprocated with a “teasing, good-hearted acceptance of a stranger from Berkeley.”  And lest liberal readers fear that she was making nice with bigots in the thrall of their notorious neighbor David Duke, she offers reassurances that her tea-partyers “were generally silent about blacks.”  (Around her, anyway.)

Hochschild’s mission was inspired by Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?  She wanted “to scale the empathy wall” and “unlock the door to the Great Paradox” of why working-class voters cast ballots for politicians actively opposed to their interests.  Louisiana is America’s ground zero for industrial pollution and toxic waste; the stretch of oil and petrochemical plants along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is not known as “cancer alley” for nothing.  Nonetheless, the kindly natives befriended by Hochschild not only turned out for Trump but have consistently voted for local politicians like Steve Scalise (No. 3 in Paul Ryan’s current House leadership), former senator David Vitter, and former governor Bobby Jindal, who rewarded poison-spewing corporations with tax breaks and deregulation even as Louisiana’s starved public institutions struggled to elevate the health and education of a populace that ranks near the bottom in both among the 50 states.  Hochschild’s newfound friends, some of them in dire health, have no explanation for this paradox, only lame, don’t – wanna–rock – Big Oil’s – tanker excuses.  Similarly unpersuasive is their rationale for hating the federal government, given that it foots the bill for 44 percent of their state’s budget. . . .

Hochschild anticipated that Williams directive, too.  She’s never smug.  But for all her fond acceptance of her new Louisiana pals, and for all her generosity in portraying them as virtually untainted by racism, it’s not clear what such noble efforts yielded beyond a book, many happy memories of cultural tourism, and confirmation that nothing will change anytime soon.  Her Louisianans will keep voting for candidates who will sabotage their health and their children’s education; they will not be deterred by an empathic Berkeley visitor, let alone Democratic politicians.

And here we have the heart of the ruling class’s disdain for the country class.  The members of the country class, you see, are just too stupid to understand their own best interest.  They think they know what they want from politicians, but they’re wrong.  They don’t really know.  They’ve been duped, had, taken to the cleaners.  Republicans are charlatans who fool their voters into wrongly believing things that are simply untrue.  And the dumdums fall for it every time!  If only the idiots/morons/hillbillies could be as smart as Josh Barro or Frank Rich, then they would understand their real interests and would, therefore, always vote Democratic, rendering the GOP a political nonentity.  The fact that they don’t know their own real interests, though, which is proven by the mere fact that they don’t vote the way Frank Rich would have them, is frustrating.  And it’s enough to drive Barro and Rich – among countless others – to fits of apoplexy.

The good news for the frustrated ruling class is that relief may, at long last, be on the way.  The complete and utter asininity of the Trump administration may well sour voters on self-rule permanently, or at least long enough to allow the responsible people to gain back control of the institutions from the barbarians.  Or at least that’s what they tell us.

In a recent column, Jennifer Rubin, ostensibly a conservative but one of the most aggressive and intemperate NeverTrumpers alive, wrote that the little people may be on the verge of realizing that their electoral decisions have been really poorly made and that their true interests lie with new – and presumably less populist – alternatives.  She put it this way:

President Trump ran as a different kind of Republican, putting together a collection of evangelical Christian, rural and working-class voters who felt betrayed by government.  He was the outsider, agitating for an agenda that did not promote corporate profits at the expense of workers and vowing, for example, to leave entitlements alone.  His vision was nativist, nationalist, protectionist and paternalistic.  Big government for the little guy, in other words.

His two biggest initiatives so far — health-care reform and his budget — tell a vastly different story.  This is old-style right-wing politics on steroids.  Transfer wealth to the rich via Medicaid cuts for the poor and tax breaks to the rich.  Deploy health spending accounts, where 70 percent of money comes from those making more than $100,000.

The budget is even less generous to Trump’s base. The Post noted that the listed of abolished programs included “the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which disburses more than $3 billion annually to help heat homes in the winter.  It also proposed abolishing the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides roughly $3 billion for targeted projects related to affordable housing, community development and homelessness programs, among other things.:  . . .

The budget, like the health-care plan, strikes at the heart of Trump’s campaign promises, which did not envision a libertarian evisceration of government.  Trump leaves the details to others, but the details undermine his appeal to working-class voters, his core support.  Either he never meant to be a different kind of Republican or his team has used his rhetorical routine to mask a budget that is less populist than any other in the modern era.  Democrats would be wise to start analyzing the budget’s real-world impact — quantifying cuts to each state and  to programs that serve people making, say, less than $75,000.  What expenses are shifting onto the backs of working-class and middle-class people?  What protections are eliminated?  This is not going to match up with the beneficent image Trump tried to cultivate . . . .

Democrats would do well to focus on the clash between Trump, protector-of-the-little-guy, and Trump, friend-of-the-rich-and-powerful.

Now, as far as Ms. Rubin is concerned, this is standard, objective analysis.  Donald Trump isn’t who he said he was, and by extension, voters are going to be unhappy.  The problem, of course, is that this is simply the same old story, told from only a slightly different perspective.  Rubin assumes – without evidence – that Trump voters care about the budget.  She assumes – without evidence – that they care predominantly about what they get from the government above all else.  She assumes – without evidence – that Trump voters don’t really care about his promises to “drain the swamp.”  In short, she assumes – without evidence – that Trump voters have the same priorities that she does, despite the fact that she hates Trump and they love him.  Rubin spends a great amount of time and her entire column-space arguing that voters could turn on Trump, and indeed that’s a possibility.  But she assumes they’ll turn on him not because he failed to do what he said he would, but because they were too stupid to sort through his sometimes contradictory campaign promises.  She – like almost everyone else in the mainstream press – assumes that Trump voters were simply too stupid to know what they were voting for, and now they’re in for a shock.

As you know, we have spent and will continue to spend a great deal of time and effort trying to decipher the Trump “resistance” movement, doing our best to determine whether it is a new, left-leaning version of the Tea Party or just the expected spasms of a ruling-class parasite rejected by its host.  Obviously, we’re not sure about the answer at this point, and we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.  But given the reactions documented in these pages this week, we are more and more beginning to suspect that the “resistance” is something of a farce.

Over the course of the last three presidencies, the opposition party – once left for dead – has capitalized on the in-power party’s arrogance and overreach to reinvigorate itself and to take control of at least part of the government.  In 1994, the Gingrich-led Republicans turned Bill and Hillary’s healthcare debacle into the first Republican Congressional majority in half-a-century.  In 2006, the Democrats rallied behind the calm and cunning leadership of then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel to take power back from the GOP and to express the nation’s frustration with never-ending, never-victorious war in the Middle East.  In 2010, the Republicans surged back into the House majority, again in response to healthcare overreach – Barack Obama’s – and then consolidated their power in another landslide four years later.  The presumption among Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans is that that this pattern will repeat itself again in 2018, that Trump’s ludicrous governance will result in a reworked and resurgent Democratic Party.

On paper, of course, this makes perfect sense.  Trump is a political novice and he leads a party that knows neither what it wants nor how to get it.  There is every reason to expect that he and they will overreach and spark a backlash.

In practice, however, it seems that “the elites” – the Democratic establishment, the mainstream press, academia, and the leaders of the opposition “resistance” – are doing their very best to ensure that any Trump overreach or blunders are overshadowed by his opponents’ cluelessness.  Jen Rubin may not know it, and Frank Rich may not know it, and Josh Barro may not know it, but the single most important issue in American politics today isn’t the budget or health care or Syria or anything else policy-related.  The biggest issue is STILL the sheer hatred that the American ruling class has for those over whom it purports to rule.

At the beginning of this piece, we noted that Peggy Noonan was once among those whom the country class detested; that she neither understood nor sympathized with the frustration felt by the country class.  But that changed.  Donald Trump was, in part, responsible for that change, and so was Chris Arnade.  But they weren’t alone.  Both the arrogant ruling class and the frustrated country class played a big part in her conversion, in her eventual realization that government of, by, and for the people is threatened like never before by a class of people who have never done anything to earn the people’s respect but still seem to feel entitled to it.

Obviously, right now, we don’t have the foggiest idea whether Donald Trump’s presidency will be a monumental success, an equally colossal failure, or something in between.  We do, however, get the impression that his presidency will follow a different course than did his immediate predecessors’.  And despite his . . . well . . . uniqueness, our belief is that his presidency may well be defined not by him, but by his opposition.  The people who want to defenestrate Trump still don’t seem to grasp even the simplest basic reasons why he was able to upend the establishment and shock the political world.  They know it had something to do with “those people,” the flyover sorts who don’t know any better.  But they don’t know what it is about them that drove them to Trump.  They delegitimized the Tea Party from the start.  Then they did the same to Trump.  And they did so because that allowed them to acknowledge the populist surge, without pinpointing its cause, which would, of course, have required looking in a mirror.

In 1994, The Gingrich Republicans sensed the mood of the country and developed a plan to capitalize on that mood.  In 2006, the Democrats did the same, as did the Republicans again in 2010 and 2014.  The Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans have no intention of doing the same this time around.  They have no intention of sensing the mood of the country, for that would require self-reflection, something for which they are ill-equipped.  Instead they believe – all evidence to the contrary – that they can win back their lost power by repeatedly calling the voters stupid and promising to provide them with the insight they lack because of that stupidity.

In the end, Trump may destroy the Republican Party, just like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama destroyed the Democratic Party before him.  And given that, it is quite possible that the Republicans will lose control of Congress next year.

That said, something feels different this time around.  The opposition to the president is more stubborn, more unbending, less willing to learn anything from its past mistakes.  And why should it?  After all, who cares what a bunch of fat slobs with bad state think anyway?


Copyright 2017. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct., Lincoln NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.