I would like to share with Thom's followers my observations on the tumultous year we have just witnessed. I also want to thank Thom for helping us all make sense of the chaos.
The Big Picture
Globalization is under attack. It is the revenge of the Nativists. Across the world, people voted for nationalistic populists who promised to save them by erecting walls and cutting off ties with the rest of the world. Transnational corporations who have benefited the most from the global economy are the new bogeymen. It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary setback for globalists or the beginnings of retreat from a world order created out of the ashes of World War II.
DSA Presidential Election
A year ago, I predicted the American presidential race would come down to a choice between hope and hate. After the most divisive election since the Civil War, the result was also divided. Clinton won the popular vote 48 to 46%, making her the winner in every other functioning democracy in the world except America. Thanks to the Electoral College, an 18th century relic of slavery and the Founders’ distrust of “We, the People,” Donald J Trump will become our next President instead. So, I guess hope and hate fought to a draw, except that hate actually gets to govern.
Trump won on the basis of a new brand of anti-global populism, which also swept the UK with the Brexit vote and brought Duterte to power in the Philippines, to name only two examples. People have had it up to here with elites living the high life while their lives are mired in perpetual debt. The populists view globalization as a threat to their economic livelihoods and their cultural identities. Trump stirred these two strains into a toxin that blamed immigrants and minorities for the economic plight of the white working class. He used the classic principle of divide and conquer to get his followers to turn their fear, anger and hate against Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, gays and anyone else who is not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. In Trump’s DSA, you’re welcome only if you are White. “Everyone else should get the hell out and go back to where they came from!” Trump even wants Native Americans to hightail it back across the Bering Strait and take their gambling casinos with them.
In the greatest con job in the history of America (and that’s saying a lot), Trump convinced just enough people that he was their working class celebrity hero come to their rescue. This from a man born in the lap of luxury who has never had to work an honest day of manual labor in his entire life! A man who dodges his tax obligations, hates unions, stiffs his contractors, and sexually harasses his female employees. This is the man who will save the working class? Forty-six percent of Americans bought this line. P.T. Barnum was right: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Journalist H.L. Mencken’s observation also comes to mind: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” Judging by the Billionaire Boys Club that Trump has assembled for a Cabinet, the working class better not bend over, to use one of Trump’s favorite campaign rally lines.
Are Americans really as divided as our politics suggest? Let me count the ways:
- Democrat vs. Republican
- Progressive vs. Conservative
- Urban vs. Rural
- Free trade vs. Protectionism
- Pro-choice vs. Pro-life
- Christian vs. Muslim vs. Jew
- Raise taxes vs. Cut taxes
- Public vs. Private Education
- Public Health vs. Privatization
- Black Lives Matter vs. Police Unions
- Carbon vs. Renewables
- Environmentalists vs. Polluters
- Organic vs. GMO
- Peaceniks vs. Hawks
- Conservation vs. Consumption
- Developers vs. NIMBYs
- Football vs. Soccer
- Rock vs. Country
- Mini vs. Maxi
- Paper vs. Plastic
- Boxers vs. Briefs
We disagree about virtually everything these days and do it more vehemently and profanely than ever before. We have huge bullhorns weaponized by social media and the entertainment industry to dispense our hateful opinions for all to hear.
To illustrate how divided we are, Americans in California voted for the first Afro-Indian-American Senator in history, banned sales of military-style ammunition and legalized recreational cannabis, while voters in Alabama elected candidates endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, legalized open carry of weapons and banned a woman’s right to abortion. Californians actually have more in common with Australians than Alabamans, and arguably, the Aussie accent is easier on the ears.
Perhaps that’s why a nascent Cal Exit movement has started in California in Trump’s toxic wake. We would become the sixth largest economy in the world and if we could persuade Oregon, Washington and Hawaii to join us, we would rival Germany for the fourth largest economy in the world and become the Chile of North America. Of course, I’m dreaming, but what a fantasy!
Despite all these differences, however, I notice that when I travel around our nation, as I frequently do for business, the people I encounter daily do not act like my hostile opponent. For the most part, Americans mind their own business and treat others politely. It is only when we feel threatened that the deep divisions that sunder us come into play. Economic anxiety leads to anger which leads to hatred towards a scapegoat which leads us to the Alt-Right and Trumpism. You might think that the working class would reject an oligarch like Trump, but instead they worship him. They reserve their real contempt for those they perceive to be below them on the social ladder. The Russian author Pushkin explained this best when he observed about the serfs of feudal Russia, “The poor are miserable until they find someone who is even more miserable than they are, and then they are happy.” So Trump supporters are dancing in the streets and committing hate crimes smugly assured that at least they are better off than the people Trump promises to run out of the country.
I realize this is purely wishful thinking, but here are a few of my modest proposals to reform the broken electoral process in the DSA:
- Abolish the Electoral College and have a direct popular vote for President, just like every other elected office in America and the rest of the world. What can possibly be wrong with majority rule based on one person, one vote? What’s the valid argument against this principle?
- Guarantee citizens the right to vote
Believe it or not, our constitution does not include a guaranteed right to vote, despite describing elections. The reason for this was that back in 1787, only white males who owned property were allowed to vote. They constituted less than 20% of the population, but had all the power. Voting rights were left to states to decide, encouraging more of them to abridge voting rights for political advantage, leaving millions of Americans without representation. Photo ID and restricted voter registration laws, coupled with antiquated voting systems, have thrown millions of citizens off the voting rolls or relegated them to a provisional ballot that never gets counted. We could make voting as simple as paying a bill, but the politicians won’t do it. You have to ask yourself why they are so hell-bent on preventing people from exercising the most precious right granted by a democracy?
- Get money out of politics.
The obscene sum of money spent on a two-year presidential election represents real government waste and fraud. Over a billion dollars to listen to candidates insult each other and the electorate’s intelligence on the public airwaves? It’s no wonder we abhor politicians. Elections should be confined to no more than 12 months and dark money and legalized political bribery must be outlawed.
- Require politicians to adhere to Truth in Advertising laws.
Advertisements on the public airwaves must comply with laws that require advertisers to tell the truth about the products they pitch. This prevents someone from claiming that their snake oil cures cancer. But politicians exempted themselves from these laws. Political ads are the only ones on TV that can lie with total impunity, under the fig leaf of free speech. If political ads had to comply with truth in advertising, we would clean up the worst abuses of our election process. For that matter, so-called “News” programs should also have to conform to Truth in Advertising instead of propagating fake news and one-sided opinion. Fox News should be required to rebrand as GOP TV (GOPTV) and MSNBC should have to rebrand as the Democratic News Channel (DNC). At least that way, the public would know what they are watching.
Free trade was a big buzz word in 2016, with a decidedly negative connotation. From both the left and right, free trade came under attack for the loss of American jobs and the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession. Calls for a return to protectionist tariffs abounded on the campaign trail.
According to economists, the data says that free trade has been a boon to the global economy, enabling the free flow of goods and creating a burst of development in Asia, Latin America and Africa, which had been left behind in the past. The problem is that free trade did not benefit nations equally. Some came out winners, while others lost. For America, the real problem with free trade, dating back to its origins with Richard Nixon in the 1970s, is that we were not trading goods with other nations, but trading American jobs for cheap imported goods. Transnational corporations, who largely wrote the free trade agreements under which we operate today, allowed themselves to trade high-paying factory jobs in America for low wage labor in China and then import those cheaper goods back to America duty-free, with only the shipping charges to pay. This policy has cost America over 15 million manufacturing jobs.
The result is that America is running a $750-billion-dollar trade deficit with the rest of the world. No other nation comes close to this deficit, nor would any other nation tolerate such imbalance. So why does the DSA? Because it benefits powerful U.S.-based transnational corporations who operate global businesses to maximize profits at all costs by searching for the cheapest sources of labor, the lowest cost producers of raw materials and the most sheltered tax havens, all while bequeathing the disasters they leave in their wake for governments to clean up at the public expense. It’s called privatizing the profits and socializing the costs. They actually teach how to do this in some of the leading business schools these days.
Trump’s call to renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA and TPP and to slap a 5-15% tariff on imports played well during the campaign, but it may never happen. If we did impose new tariffs, it is certain our trading partners would retaliate with their own tariffs, causing prices of imports to rise and risking a trade war that would send the global economy into another deep recession.
A better idea would be to impose the social costs of lost jobs on those companies that choose to dump their American workers in search of cheap labor. Like most European countries currently require, America should force companies who engage in mass layoffs in order to ship jobs overseas to pay the full cost of unemployment insurance for as long as it takes for their laid off workers to find new jobs. They should also be forced to pay for retraining these workers to help them find new careers. If companies knew they were financially responsible for the livelihood of their displaced workers, they would rethink their desire to chase slave wage labor around the globe.
No year in review is complete without a look back at some of the memorable moments we won’t soon forget, even if we wished we could.
To Hillary Clinton:
You came so agonizingly close and yet could not shatter the thickest glass ceiling of them all. As the first female candidate for President, you had to run against a misogynist celebrity, the FBI, the Russians, and even your husband’s twenty- year old infidelities. Thanks for trying so relentlessly and for going high when Trump went so very low. My disappointment is that I will probably never live to see a woman become President.
To Bernie Sanders:
You gave voice to 40 years of progressive frustration over the corporatization of America and came oh, so close to pulling off a bigger upset even than Trump. I hope you lead the fight against the privatization of our country; I’ll be right there with you.
To Donald J Trump:
Since we share a given name in common, I have a very personal interest in your performance as President. Depending on how you do, my name will either gain a sudden burst of popularity (no one in America has named a son Donald in 40 years) or it will go down in infamy, never to be used again, like he who must not be named. Gulp!
To American Women:
I confess I do not fully understand the female mind, as the women in my life will testify. But this year I am utterly baffled that so many White women voters supported a confessed serial sexual predator instead of the first female candidate for President. Trump trounced Clinton by 30 percentage points among White males, which was completely understandable, but Trump also won the vote among White women by 11 percentage points. That’s like African-Americans voting for the KKK, Native Americans voting for General Custer, or Mexican-Americans voting for Sam Houston. In an attempt to understand this, I turned to the wisest woman I know, my mother. She explained that women don’t stick together like men do and too many married women just go along with whatever their husband wants. If this is true, I despair that America will ever elect a woman president.
To Outgoing President Barack Obama:
Thank you for your service to our country. You took over during one of the darkest moments of modern times and managed to rescue us from the Great Recession, extract us from the quagmire of Iraq, give Americans universal health care, reestablish relations with Cuba and negotiate treaties to ban nuclear weapons in Iran and to combat climate change across the globe. You did all this without a single vote from Republicans in Congress, who fought to obstruct everything you attempted. When the history books are written 100 years from now, you will not only be recognized as our first African-American president, but also as one of our greatest Presidents. In my lifetime, I think you rank right up there with John Kennedy as one of the two best Presidents I have every personally witnessed.
To the 2016 Word of the Year: Surreal (adj. strange because of combining elements that are never found together in reality)
It certainly was a surreal kind of year. At times, we couldn’t tell reality from fiction, with all the fake news and bizarre pronouncements. Among the more surreal moments for me was watching the Republican Party choose its nominee based on the size of his hands instead of his brain. (I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to explain that to my 4-year-old granddaughter). The Cubs finally winning the World Series after a 108-year drought and the Cavs finally winning their first NBA Championship for Lebron were also pretty surreal moments for sports fans.
To Pokémon Go:
The year’s hit game featured the first world-wide adoption of augmented reality, in which digital elements are superimposed over real places, leading hordes of Pokémon players to wander around with their heads buried in their smart phones, trying to catch them all. Like many innovations, augmented reality came to life as a game, but it has huge potential to change much more as it develops. Many experts predict that augmenting reality will be a bigger deal than the virtual reality goggles that hip trendsetters were seen wearing in public this past year. Watch for 3-D holograms to be the next big thing on the horizon.
All the best for 2017. We will need all the courage and resolve we can muster to survive Trumpism.