Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Getting Past the Fast Food Decoy

Nails it again
Paul Krugman identifies a fascinating and vexing problem--and that goes to the heart of what passes for "conservatism" in America and what is at the core of contemporary populism. What currently passes for conservatism in America  is a strange alliance between business-oriented voters driven by an aggressive, free-market ideology and those who suffer most from those policies, such as working-class whites. This latter group is guided primarily by fear, anxiety, and resentment that are the result of a (relative) loss of status and accelerated cultural change. Contempory consumer capitalism is one of the least conservative ideologies in the world, perhaps second only to Marxist-Leninism.  And yet so-called "values" voters have--until this past primary season--voted for candidates funded by the Koch brothers and their ideological fellow-travelers. 

When upheavals occur in the economic, political, or cultural spheres, people as a whole become spooked, like herd animals that can sense danger and are moved by a primal fear that can trigger panic. The minority of voters who voted for Donald were willing to place a hell of a big bet that he would do anything worthwhile and that he wouldn't do much greater harm than the status quo. Indeed, an astonishingly high number of Trump voters don't think he'll do a good job according to exit polls. A sense of desperation drove these decisions. 

The Republican Party, for many decades, but especially since the Goldwater insurrection, has served as not just the party of business, but also the party of fear and racial resentment. This trend has accelerated at an astonishing rate. While its ideology remained free-market fundamentalism,  its core of voters are motivated by anger, fear, and resentment. This sense of anger, fear, and resentment, apparent from so long ago, was a part of the reason that I left the Republican Party. I find anger, fear, and resentment are the worst guides to policy and conduct. Fear is intended to serve as a warning system, not as a guidance system; anger is designed to be a tool for dealing with immediate threats, not a permanent mode of perceiving the world,  nursed by repeatedly pushing its on-button. And resentment is the reaction of those who surrender to their reality by nursing grievance instead of taking action. The inferiority complex cultivated by many who want to call themselves conservative is--whatever its original justification--a crutch that has been adopted as a permanent fixture of their reality. 

All of this is not to say that middle America isn't suffering through difficult times. Growing income inequality, declining life expectancy, loss of quality schools and other government services, and the loss of quality jobs are among many problems that are all too real. Democrats know this, but they have been far too passive about these slowly unfolding disasters. However, Republican policies have been disastrous. See, for example, Sam Brownback's Kansas, or how Terry Branstad has presided over the slow, continued decline of Iowa via their pro-business, free-market ideologies that parade as conservative. Contrast these states with the relative prosperity of New York or California. In California, it is the Jesuit seminarian turned life-long Democratic politician, Jerry Brown, who has overseen a resurgence and not the movie star-turned-Republican governor, Arnold Schwartzenager. Somehow that message has been sold in those states, and they've benefited. 

So, we need to get past the fast food decoy and work with those who are alienated from the system to bring them back into the fold for the benefit of all Americans. 

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