Last night, conservative commentator David Brooks, said “Donald Trump is the wrong answer to the right question.” It is easy to know what he means. Americans are being left behind and Trump has an answer. His formula to correct this is to pander to one of the left behind tribes, the “angry whites,” who did not leave their small towns, attend college, and join the creative class. For these there is the hope Trump is not only asking the right question, but giving the right answer. But divide and conquer is never the right answer. Left behind is a much larger population than the working class whites of flyover country.
You can choose your left behinds. They include intercity blacks, debt ridden millennials, and any number of those who did not buy into the Democratic and Republican parties’ backed corporate world of finance and big tech. Fortunately for Hillary Clinton, her opponent, has little interest and even outright disdain for these. For this reason, she will win the election and doing so without ever asking the question of what is wrong with America.
What is wrong is government has not been there for its citizens, particularly the most vulnerable whether they are those in the likes of south Chicago or Kentucky coal country. It is not that government has no care of us, despite the rhetoric from each side about the other. It is only that a history of propping up corporations or resorting to social engineering has done no good for the majority of Americans.
Whether on account of inability or unwillingness, our leaders have opted to work systems, rather than ask what helps the individual and communities. Working the systems does nothing. Manipulate things for the benefit of the free market and you get bank and corporate bailouts, that is “socialism for the rich, capitalism for everybody else.” Manipulate the government and the market wins anyway. (Cutting regulation on the coal industry does not help miners in the era of cheap natural gas.)
This brings us to a quandary. We live in a time where it is easy to be left behind. On one hand we have a commitment to the market that encourages automation and a concern for the bottom line. Unless we are willing to cease placating corporations, we can do nothing about this. On the other, we have a large segment of the population who cannot participate in the new economy and have little choice but a reliance on the welfare state. Meanwhile the country goes through the motion of addressing the issues, but in no real or radical way. This would be fine if we had the time for it, but that is one thing we don’t have.
I am no economist, but I do have a little common sense. You can talk all you want about better schools and free education, but the benefit is a generation away. (That does not mean you don’t do these things; it is only that it provides no immediate help for those who need the help now.) You can also deregulate industry or discourage free trade to the point a few will be hired, but it will not help most of the left behinds and innovation will still have the day making the few who benefit immediately obsolete within a generation. In essence the system rewards progress and work, but it has failed to maintain the means to ensure these are available to large parts of the populace.
I do not know if there is a solution to this, but I do know that wealth in addition to being created is a resource that distributes goods and services and these are finite things. Any manipulation of policy that does not address how the population is to acquire goods and services or rewards the wealthy does nothing to help the vulnerable. I would guess solutions to these problems would have to come in radical ways and currently Donald Trump’s campaign is the only radical thing in the current election cycle.
I do not know if Trump set out to cater to the far right. My guess is he sought to control them to his advantage and ended up their puppet. Regardless it is a dangerous group to have on your side. You cannot reason with a group who have more in common with the urban poor than the white elite, but who are so blind with rage and downtrodden (a very dangerous combination) that they will replace the America of e pluribus Unum with an apartheid state. Fortunately for America the numbers are against them. Unfortunately, their impoverished state (I mean this in a literal way as I would wager a good deal are on public assistance) will not go away and their anger will be mirrored by the increasing anger of all the other left behind tribes we have in America.
The answer to the question of what is wrong with America is anger. Ask where this comes from and the answer is fear. It is the fear of a white factory worker without a job and wondering what becomes of his children. It is the fear of the African-American mother telling her child to do what the police say that he may come home alive. It is the fear of a pink slip wiping out 20 years of the dignity of labor and it is the fear of student debt that prevents our young from establishing households and families.
The next question becomes then where does anger go. In Star Wars we recall Yoda saying “fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.” This is the future of America if we do not listen to all those left behind tribes and their fears. We cannot listen to only one angry tribe as the Republican party has opted to do with its nominee for we are too diverse for such a party to have a voice. And if we lose a voice in a two party system then we are left with the oligarchy of the Democratic Party, which in spite of its rhetoric has done little but take corporate donations and throw the crumbs to the poor.
Are there any solutions? That is the final and the most important question. The answer is yes, but it is bound in looking radically at who we are and what we want ourselves to be. If we want ourselves to be fractured and fearful and a place of competing tribes of left behinds that will one day leave everyone behind, we need only to keep on the course. If instead we want to be a land that creates one from the many, that is prosperous, enduring, joyful, the world’s envy, the place that is kind to the stranger, that seeks the common good, a place that knows justice that flows like the rivers, and a land that works for peaceful habitation then we must not be like our candidates…..one asking no questions and the other having the wrong answers.