Friday, December 16, 2016

Middle America's Middle Finger

I am from a small town in the Midwest and I have a pretty good idea of why Trump won. That is not to say that I support his self-serving, hate-driven agendas in any way, but rather, that I think that I might understand how he achieved what many thought was impossible. 

Pictured: not a prop from a dystopian science-fiction movie.

In actuality, it seems that the only people who really thought that it was impossible were so-called "establishment Democrats" who live in metropolitan areas on the east and west coasts, many of whom think that $4,000/month rent for a two-bedroom apartment is reasonable and who have never attended a public school in their lives. These people exist in an entirely different economy than the rest of America, and they likely have very different political concerns. Of course, these isolated bubbles happen to be where almost all of our nationally broadcast media and public policy originates. From there, it is then disseminated throughout the United States and the world. By the time it reaches Middle America, it seldom resembles any reality with which the people who actually live there are otherwise familiar. The America that is depicted on film and television and represented in Washington is not the country that they know and love, and because it seems that they have no voice in media or politics, this causes a great deal of frustration. 

Imagine that Washington, DC and the metropolitan media hubs are like lighthouse-keepers on tiny islands. All they can see is the ocean around them. To them, the waters may look perfectly calm, but there could very well be a hurricane just beyond the horizon. From atop their distant towers, they are not privy to the experiences of the rural working class. To them, the rest of the nation is flyover country, a place that is populated entirely by ignorant hicks. Middle Americans, in turn, see them as "coastal elites" for thinking that they're so much better.

Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of people on both sides of this equation who fit the stereotypes embarrassingly well, but when I go back to the town where I grew up, it's not like everybody there is a toothless meth-head and/or a NASCAR fan. On the other hand, I don't exactly see a booming economy, either. People who go to college usually don't come back, mostly because there is very little demand for skilled labor in places like this. In fact, that may be why so many of them associate intellectualism with elitism: most of the smart people tend to leave town in search of better pay, which only makes the folks back home feel worse about their situation. 

Small-town America is home to a lot of people who shop at Walmart and eat at McDonald's because it's all they can afford, in part because nearly all of the local businesses that once offered decent jobs have been driven under by places like McDonald's and Walmart. Chain stores and restaurants take money out of the community and send it back to corporate. For a long time, nobody noticed that money leaving. Now there aren't very many jobs left, and those that do still exist don't pay very well. This is the product of simple supply-and-demand economics. When people are desperate for work, employers set the rates for labor. Don't want to work for minimum wage? Guess what... Somebody else almost certainly will. There's that "free-market" economy at work again.

That said, as an educated person from a small town, I believe that there are five interrelated explanations for why Trump won the election:

1. Unemployed and underemployed white people bought into the myth that by expelling all illegal immigrants, there will suddenly be millions of good jobs (and government services) that will open up, which can then be filled by people like them, the hard-working "real Americans" who still believe in the American Dream. I see this as little more than racism and xenophobia masquerading as patriotism, perpetuated by ignorance. It also gives a dangerous amount of authority to the law enforcement personnel tasked with detaining illegal immigrants for deportation.

2. People also believe that Trump, as some kind of negotiating genius, will get corporations to relocate their manufacturing facilities back to the U.S., thereby revitalizing the blue-collar middle class. Also, by cutting EPA regulations, the logic is that more companies will want to build their toxic factories in the United States, which will put a new shine on the rust belt by putting unskilled laborers like them back to work. And if you believe any of that, Trump also has a bridge that he's looking to sell. Seriously, though, that's pretty much how a privatized infrastructure plan would work. He and his cronies would be selling bridges, roads and railways to the American people at prices guaranteed to turn a healthy profit. I'm not sure where most Trump supporters figure that money is going to come from, especially after he cuts tax rates on the wealthiest Americans. Either way, it is completely illogical to think that the privatization of any public trust could possibly save taxpayers money. It never has and it never will. And I'm sorry to say, but those factory jobs aren't coming back, not if the bottom line is all about profits.

3. A lot of people think that by electing someone who is completely unqualified, a supposed "outsider," it's like throwing a wrench into the already broken machine of Washington politics. It is a disruption of the status quo, which has been bleeding the middle class dry for decades. What was essentially a protest vote may cause the media outlets on the east and west coast to finally pay attention, however superficially, to the plight of rural America. At its most extreme, this is a vote that is fundamentally motivated by a desire for self-destruction and anarchy, in the same vein as an angry white dude shooting a bunch of innocent people with the intent of being killed by the police. It's the fuck-all vote.

4. Many will claim that they voted for him simply because he is not Hillary Clinton. I get that. But come on. As if he's not a corrupt and habitually dishonest corporate tool who has been bought and paid for by Wall Street... he's Donald Fucking Trump. Of course, "not Clinton" may also be code for the unsubstantiated rumor that he has a penis. Besides, I'm pretty sure that this particular voting demographic thinks that if you let a woman be President, then it's only a matter of time before they'll want equal pay and equal rights, too. Who do you think built that glass ceiling in the first place?

5. Some people just vote Republican like it's their blindly patriotic duty, like going to church on Sunday or giving a shit about baseball, and as of this election cycle, Trump is ostensibly a Republican and will support conservative values -- you know, values like social darwinism, self-interest, corporate profits over people or the environment, restricting abortion rights (but only because it gets them votes), and short-term gains over long-term stability. 

I guess what I'm saying is: thanks a lot, you selfish assholes.

So there it is. That's how we got into this mess, and why we, as a nation, are now bracing for impact. It is only a matter of time before even the most misinformed Trump voters realize that they've been tricked. I say this as a "rural elite," that is, someone who would love to see small-town America flourish. That said, I'm also realistic enough to recognize the damage that corporate America has already done, and I don't understand why people think that Donald Trump of all people would do anything to change a system of exploitation that has only made the rich get richer at the expense of everyone else. He is who he is because of that system. For most American corporations and the sociopaths like him who run them, values are only an expression of profits, and the interests of shareholders always supersede those of the consumer or the employee. By electing someone who intends to blur the already murky boundaries between government and big business, we have, by definition, elected a fascist. I suspect that more people would understand why that's a bad thing if our education system wasn't such a mess, but there I go being all elite again.

Even now, I think most of his supporters know damn well that he will not make America great -- not now, not ever. Of course, it's really the "again" part that many conservatives are so desperate to conserve -- a golden age for some and a gilded age for many. Forty-six percent of voting Americans opted for one last attempt to bring back the "good old days," a mythologized time in the recent past when white, male heteronormative privilege wasn't a source of shame, when women and minorities "knew their place." That may not be specifically why they voted, but it's certainly what they voted for

The long con is to distract us into fighting each other while they start more wars on behalf of oil companies and aggressively isolationist trade policies, and our country and its government is sold off piece-by-piece to the detriment of average Americans. Never mind that it is our federally preserved land that holds much of this nation's identity, or that all that shit people buy at Walmart comes from China, who also holds over a trillion dollars of our national debt. I did the math, and that would pay my rent for over EIGHTY THREE MILLION YEARS. If Trump plays hardball with China, it is the already economically vulnerable in this nation who will suffer the most. I am not exaggerating when I say that he could easily destroy the American economy -- just like all of the businesses that he's bankrupted. But I guess that'll teach those coastal elites, right?

I also see Trump as the last desperate grasp for power by the absolute worst of the Baby Boom generation. He is all of their egotism, short-sightedness, greed, vulgarity, violence and anti-intellectualism wrapped into one package. Merry Christmas, America!

Put a hairpiece on it, you get the idea.

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