Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Tale of Two Brothers

My relationship with my brother mirrors the relationship between our political parties - and changes in politics, worldwide.

Back in 1980, I went to visit my hippie brother.  It did not go well.   While we were only seven years apart in age, we were never close.  I suspect he was none-too-pleased to go from being the "only son" to one-of-three, and seeing what bloody murder we younger boys got away with as kids - things he would have been beaten for when he was growing up.  I guess I can't blame him for that.   But by the time I was of a cognizant age, he had gone off to school, so we were never very close.

In a reaction to my Dad's values (and the values of my Dad's generation) my brother decided to "reject materialism" and go live on a commune in an unheated barn in Vermont, following the dictates of a cult-like leader.   I went to work for General Motors.   Perhaps both are cults, but one has a better retirement plan and health insurance.   While he was carrying around Chairman Mao's "little red book", I was reading John Delorean's On a Clear Day You can See General Motors.

He would rail about how awful America was - how we were doing awful things in the world (which of course, no other country, particularly the Soviet Union, was doing).   He blathered on about the rights of the "workers" and whatnot.  I explained to him that if he came down to the factory and started spouting that commie crapola to "the workers" that they would stomp his hippie ass to the floor.  And they would have, too.   I understood this, having worked on the factory floor, sweating and laboring (and drinking) with the fellows in the forge plant in the searing heat.  Yes, a few might be Democrats, but most were pretty conservative in their values, particularly social values.

You see, "the workers" are really quite conservative.  They don't want to overthrow the system, but rather profit from it.   At least back then, not rocking the boat was name of the game.   And many, if not most, voted for Nixon, and in 1980, would vote for Reagan.

This schism in politics goes back to the Civil War, reconstruction, and the reform and progressive movements in the early part of the 20th Century.   The Republican party was not only the party of big business, but the party of the North - and the party in favor of the abolition of slavery.   Teddy Roosevelt, who many compare to Trump (a poor comparison, IMHO) was a progressive and reformer, even if his party (and his anointed successor, Taft) were in the pockets of big business.

In terms of politics, they would be considered "liberal" back then, and indeed, even into the late 20th century, there was a "liberal" wing of the Republican party, which believed in big, efficient government, run along the lines of modern management principles. Governor George Romney of Massachusetts and Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York embodied this Republican-lead liberal thinking - an example of the corporate socialism of the era.  Benevolent Billionaires would lead us all to salvation.

A lot has changed since then, hasn't it?   In the early part of the 20th century, the Democratic party started to align with the labor movement in the North - creating a schism with the more conservative "Dixiecrats" of the South.   Hard to believe, but "The Solid South" in the 1950's and 1960's meant solid Democrat with nary a Republican elected to office. Today, it has switched entirely as the parties, to some extent, have switched policies.

The Democrats have moved further and further to the left, alienating many of their former labor supporters.   Blue-collar workers might strike for more pay, but they are less interested in transgender rights and cradle-to-grave socialism, particularly when it is paid for in taxes taken out of their fat union-wage paychecks.   Worse yet, the Democrats' embracing "free trade" and internationalism, as well as multiculturalism alienated this working class demographic not only in terms of economic matters, but social ones.

This did not go unnoticed by the Republicans.   Nor is it a scenario limited to just the United States, but as I noted, a trend going on worldwide.   Worldwide, we are seeing the rise of nationalism in many countries - Johnson in the UK, Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Duterte in the Phillipines.   People are craving right-wing strongmen who will put their country first.   And parallel to this is a worldwide trend in migration, as people from third-world countries flock to the West, as conditions in their home countries deteriorate.

In a recent article online, two authors point out that the election of Boris Johnson in the UK was based on these trends.   The traditional "labor" voters in the midlands were not enthused by promises of a socialist utopia.   Turns out they were more concerned about immigration and the fast pace of change.   They didn't like seeing foreign faces in their hometowns, or radical changes in government or social values.   Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.   It is part and parcel of this yearning for "the good old days" that is popular over here as well.

Change is a good thing, but rapid changes to society can cause people to feel disoriented and detached.   And in the last decade or so, we've seen dramatic changes in our social values and patterns of behavior.  And we've seen dramatic changes in our country.   To someone living in the "heartland" of America, this is all mystifying.

This is why Trump goes on these rambling rants against windmills, toilets, and light bulbs.   He doesn't give a rat's ass about these things, but the "working class" Joe doesn't like the idea of government-mandated regulations and energy-saving products, even if they save money in the long run.   LED light bulbs cost a lot of money to buy (although you can buy them at Dollar Tree - guess how much?) but over time, they last longer and are less hassle to deal with - and they produce a lot less heat as well, saving energy in terms of air conditioning costs.   But the average Joe only sees that the 50 cent lightbulb is now $7 thanks to the "gubment" who is systematically outlawing his way of life.   At least that is the perception - and in politics, perception is everything.

I noted before that I was not in favor of gay marriage because I felt that this sort of backlash would occur.   There were a lot of people who felt very neutral or accepting of gays, but when pushed into a corner, would feel threatened and lash out.   Today we are going to ridiculous extremes to be sensitive to the needs of smaller and more obscure minorities.   A teacher is fired for calling a transgender student by the wrong pronoun, and the school principle says he can't imagine a worse thing happening to a person - not the teacher, the student.   Myself, coming from the era where gays were beaten up with regularity, can think of far worse things than being called by the wrong pronoun.

The ridiculousness goes on.  A contract employee for Nike sues the company for $1.1 million because they called him/her by the wrong pronoun.   Is it any wonder that people think things are spinning out of control?

We see this in the incidents reported in the press.  People lash out at anything perceived as "different" or alien to their experience.   A columnist in Italy complains that the Catholic church bells in her home town have been replaced by amplified Islamic calls-to-prayer several times a day.   She is castigated as "Islamophobic" - but no one bothers to ask how many Cathedrals there are in Tehran, or indeed any Islamic country.  People are frightened of change, and that is to be expected.

But we suppress this fright, and it goes underground, to the Internet and other odious places.   Incidents of racial and religious violence result.   People are attacking or vandalizing mosques and temples.  A woman runs over a 14-year-old student because "she looked Mexican" and the response is muted.   We are getting used to reactionary violence at this point.   We hope it will get better, but it probably won't.

What is the answer to all of this?   I am not sure anyone really knows.  But I think somewhere along the line we stopped listening to people who disagree with us and instead posited that massive social change was the only solution to what were, in retrospect, pretty trivial social problems.   Democrats talk at people, not to them.  And they stopped listening, long, long ago.

It is not much different than back in 1980, when folks like my brother - who never worked in a factory or joined a union (as I did) - decided they knew what was best for "the workers" by dint of their college education and sophistication.   If the workers didn't appreciate socialism, it was only because they were too dumb to understand it.   This sort of condescending attitude only insured more lost votes.

Some have argued that the political divide in this country isn't between Left and Right, Democrats and Republicans, but the educated "elite" and the impoverished working class.   Leftists protest buses in San Francisco, which is ironic, as they otherwise would support public transportation. But the buses in question aren't for the general public, but are restricted for upper-class educated Google and Apple workers.   It smacks of elitism, and that is what is sticking in their craw.

The Democrats argue that if we make college free, everyone will go to college and thus make more money and become part of the elite themselves.  But this argument fails to address the basic fact that not all college degrees are alike and if everyone went to college, then college means much less.  You can't make everyone richer simply by sending them to school.

Others have pointed out that we still have a huge need for skilled workers in manufacturing and the service sector.   Someone has to install and maintain your HVAC unit.  Someone has to build your house, drive a truck, cook your meals, and so on and so forth.   Not all of this work, particularly in the service sector, can be automated.   And someone with a degree in philosophy isn't qualified to do this work, unless they are repairing old Italian cars.

This lie - and it is a lie - that anyone can join the elite simply by going to college, has cost a lot of young people an awful lot of money in student loan debt that cannot be paid back on low-wage jobs (or is difficult to pay back, anyway).   Many of these kids would have been better off becoming an ASE certified mechanic, a welder, an HVAC tech or some other job for which there is high demand (read the classifieds sometime, it is illuminating).  These are jobs that pay well, and can lead to owning your own business, down the road.

But not only that, the idea of "free college" and student loan forgiveness sort of tilts in favor of the very rich.  The kid from a middle-class family gets a free ride through college - or his loans forgiven after four years of partying.  You might understand why the guy who spent four years in the military serving multiple tours in Afghanistan or Iraq might not think this is a swell idea or a good use of his tax dollars.

The left is pandering to the left - to the college educated, the wealthy, the urban, the elite.  They are not listening to "the workers" anymore than my brother did, waving around his little red book of communist ideals.

It was no accident that Hillary lost Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.    She didn't even campaign in these States, but assumed they would vote for her, "because they had to."  They assumed unionism would carry the day, even as unions (and high-paying union jobs) disappeared from these States. People were losing their standard of living, and the Democrats' pressing issue was transgender bathroom rights.

People were seeing foreign faces in their hometowns, speaking foreign tongues. Change is hard to deal with, and dramatic change even moreso. People are flocking to the border in "caravans" - something not seen ever before.  And yet, anyone who sounds the alarm is dismissed as a racist buffoon.  The Democrats' solution?   Abolish ICE.  Open borders.  Let 'em all in!

It is no wonder Trump won. And the way things are going, it looks like Trump will win again.   I ran into someone the other day who confidently predicted that when the smoke clears, Biden will get the nod and win in November.  I am not so sure.  The Democrats will beat the crap out of each other between now and then.  Much time and money will be wasted on an inexperienced Pete Buttigieg, before people come to their senses and realize that America isn't ready for a gay President, no matter how many big-money donors he has, or how "centrist" his politics are.   Mayor of South Bend isn't a sufficient credential.

And while I am sure Joe Biden is a nice and honorable guy, let's face it - he isn't the most telegenic person around, and an easy punching-bag for Trump, who will convince the vast majority of Americas than there was some sort of "there" there in the Ukraine.  Trump is master at turning the tables on other people.  You call him a crook, and by the end of the day, he has crowds chanting "Lock Him Up!" - talking about you.   You call him out on "fake news" coming from Russia and spread on Facebook, and he twists the term around to mean anything from the mainstream media.

Come to think of it, exactly what were Hunter Biden's credentials in joining the board of an energy company?  It is akin to Chelsea Clinton being offered six-figure jobs right out of college.   It is the sort of rank corruption we expect from Trump, but not from Democrats.  Well, Democrats other than Hillary, anyway.  It is an example of this elitism that Trump and his ilk tap into.  Never mind that Trump does it himself on a grander scale.   Like I said, he is master at painting others with their own brush.

Maybe I am wrong - let's hope so, anyway.   But either way, I think the election will be very close, if it is a Biden-Trump match.   If any of the other candidates are nominated, I believe Trump will win in a landslide.  Bernie Sanders is the Corbyn of the Democratic Party.  Well, at least he isn't antisemitic.  There's that, I guess.

It's been 40 years, but my brother and I still are far apart - not that we were ever that close.  He's a big Sanders fan, and convinced that only extreme radical change to the very fabric of our society will accomplish anything.   Of course, it has been 40 years, and such radical change hasn't taken place.  What changes have occurred are, in part, one reason why we are so divided today as a country.

Myself, I am not a big fan of radical change, either to the Left or Right.  And sadly, since the left has held out for "my way or the highway" the far-right has succeeded in accomplishing radical change, one incremental step at a time.  It may not be noticeable right now, but Donald Trump has pushed through nominations of Federal district court and appeals judges, as well as two Supreme Court Justices (and a third is likely if he is re-elected).   And we wonder why the religious right likes Trump.   They have their eye on the ball - playing the real game, not the game of protesting and losing elections but being "morally right".

So, in a way, it doesn't matter who wins the next election.  Any push to the left will be met with lawsuits and obstructionism, much as Obamacare is presently being litigated as "unconstitutional" in the courts.  And friendly courts will likely strike down any attempts at a radical leftist overhaul of society, even assuming the Democrats could take both houses of Congress and the Presidency.

The leftist manifesto of the last five decades has failed - the "We smart people know what's best for you little people" doesn't resonate with the very people it was designed to "help".  The fervent Trump supporter isn't interested in electric cars, green lightbulbs, windmills, or transgender bathrooms.  What's more, they distrust people who claim to know what's best for them, particularly if they are not one of them.

This is why they like Trump - and why Trump goes off on these mystifying rants about toilets that the left-leaning media mocks, but does not fully understand.  His followers do.  Toilets and lightbulbs - they are dog-whistles for "too much government regulation."  And the Trump voter who has to flush twice with his newfangled "low water" toilet gets this.  The left does not, and in fact, disdains it.

And maybe that is the difference between me and my brother.  He spent (and is still spending) a lifetime in Academia, getting degree after degree, teaching young students liberal ideas, and holding forth on "the rights of the workers".  Myself, having worked in union plants and being a union member at one time, see things a little differently - or at least, I see how "the workers" actually feel about these things.

So long as the Left is so far removed from the constituency they claim to be helping, they will ultimately fail.  And Lord help us, if they succeed - because like most revolutions, the end result won't help the people they claim to help, very much.