Dec. 22nd, 2015

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... well this has been a long time since I last posted.

Lately I've been pondering the Trump rise a lot. It really bothers me. Not per se because OMG CONSERVATIVE. More because it's shaping the Republican party into some kind of place where white supremacists are having a big voice[1]. I'm not particularly keen on populism and direct democracy - mob behaviour is dumb by default. But the demogogue has a long tradition of shaping the mob to their whims, which is what Trump is doing, and he's taking things in a bad direction. (N.b.: not Nazi-ism. Nor, strictly, 20th century fascism. But very much in the same family tree as fascism. Call it a young second cousin, a 21st century American fascism). Trump and Sanders, however, are essentially the same: radical authoritarian populists - one on the right, one on the left[2].

But the interesting thing is why populism. The Atlantic has a great essay on this - - it's worth reading.

A few trends I have observed: the US is largely breaking into four major demographic segments:

  • College educated vs non-college educated. This, unfortunately, has a strong linkage with employment rates in bad times.
  • Rural vs urban.

These axes are not, generally, independent: urban areas have more college-level jobs.

Let me be clear to my urban readers, who grew up urban - rural America is, in many, many ways a different country. If you don't bear that in mind, you will fail to grasp the rationales behind their voting and desires and thus dismiss them as irrational.

As an example:

In the country, guns are a healthy and normal part of life. A common rural activity is to go hunting in the fall; this is a ritual establishing your connection to the land and to your hunting buddies. It affirms your ruralness and your understanding of nature and the way things are without civilization. You are taking part in the pioneer tradition stemming back to the 1600s. Further, the ownership of guns provided directly for your forebears in the tradition to join the Continental Army and serve as an irregular militia.

By controlling and/or denying the right to own and use guns freely, you deny the identity of Being Rural; you deny their freedom to participate in the tradition reaching back to the very foundation of the United States. It is, without any shadow of a doubt, un-American.

Feel free to critique this, of course. It's not per se hewing to reality; it's a genuine cultural myth and ritual. But if you don't grasp the deep linkage of rural life to this myth, you can't grasp the essence of the resentment.

An example:

Let's talk transit and car size. In the rural Rocky Mountain West, it can take between 6 and 12 hours to go between state boundary and state boundary. Any settled area persists in nodules, with thin linkages of roads between them (in the Midwest, there are farms between the town areas). I grew up in a town of ~4000 people; there were 3ish towns in a valley stretching 50 miles, with a total population of maybe 10K - all of these effectively in towns. Winters are often tough: over a foot of snow is normal.

The basic implication is that when you have to go anywhere that isn't in town, you drive. Transit systems subsist on density; there is no density; ergo, no transit system. Next, because driving is a big effort, you want a larger car to store groceries, kids, etc, in order to reduce trips. Because there is a lot of snow, you want something high off the ground (here is where you cross off sedan type cars). This leaves vans, SUVs, and trucks. A SUV is a nicer van in many ways: more windows, more seats. So you're left with SUVs and trucks. Trucks turn out to be very useful if you have to transport goods, something that becomes more needed when you have so much driving to do with fewer stores (and fewer delivery options). That then roughly describes the American rural West automobile distribution: trucks and SUVs, with scattering of other vehicles.

If you want to restrict the SUV, you've then restricted a useful mode of transportation. Hence the pushback. Same for trucks.

Note, of course, that a certain amount of snark from old-timers will occur at the gleaming truck with fancy rims... a good truck is a bit dirty, because you're using it for functionality, not to show off.

Mind you: American carmakers have been driving an image of trucks + the West + cowboys + masculinity for years. That complects the situation.

One of the fundamental grumbles of the rural conservative is that the government is controlling or wanting to control too much: e.g., rules on cars (more expensive cars); rules on guns (assault on identity); rules on development (can't sell my farm and survive); limits on hunting (assault on identity). It's a complex matter, because at the same time, other controls are strongly asserted; e.g., immigration should be controlled.

I'm going to argue this: consistency is a fools game in politics. Everyone asserts their self-interest and identity, arguing for what they believe is the betterment. Consistency is nice, but ultimately, comfort and betterment is desired over consistent application.

That said: let's talk immigration perceptions.

The perception is that there are a lot of illegals, taking vital services that American citizens paid for (they paid for the services, ergo, it's theirs), and these illegals are not paying taxes. The country has issues paying for services[3]; the illegals are burdening the system inappropriately. Therefore, throw the bums out and the country will improve.

Worse, a class of immigrants (Muslims) are known to have blown people up based on their religion. Thus, this class of immigrants needs to be stopped, in case it happens here again (San Bernadino, 9/11). For that matter, let's monitor them and stop them from even showing up.

A certain perception is that the US has filled up: we've settled from sea to shining sea, time to shut the gates and sort ourselves out. We've had a century of interventionism and multiculturalist approaches; this hasn't accomplished much for rural America[4], so let's can it and start over.

One lesson of Trump's success is this: the monied interests of the Republican party have not addressed and served the issues of rural America well. Worse, Murdoch has pushed certain agendas and popularized them; Trump is generally reflecting the moanings of Murdoch's O'Reilly and so forth over the past 15 years. That popular conservative thought has become a monoculture is largely the fault of those hiring the conservative talking heads.

A long-running theme in American thought is a distrust of intellectuals. I don't have time or sources to work through that; but it is playing out strongly in the Trumpian & populist discourse.

So we have a multiheaded situation:

  • Rural needs are not usually not understood by the urban demographic and dismissed as rubes.
  • Republican thought has become a popular monoculture via Murdoch.
  • Trump has taken the Fox pieces, run with them, and is addressing the rural complaints squarely.
  • Trump and his supporters are promoting a Strongman view of government

A final commentary - rural populism is going to be a force in the US until the rural places finally collapse or people in government address their needs head on. My reckoning is that urban populism ala Sanders will remain until the people complaining have their needs addressed.

Welcome to the 2016 elections.

[1] It's been a common and untrue canard among liberals to assert that the US Republican party has been this for years. That has generally been wrong, except for the far fringe. It's more correct to assert that the Republicans have not ejected their fringe, who happen to agree & vote with with the Republicans on things like gun control.

[2] I've seen a lot of libertarian types roll to Sanders. Does not make sense, given democratic socialism's big government approaches. But oookay.

[3] This is factual, sadly.

[4] suicide rates for rural Americans are a growing problem. Not to mention meth, alcoholism, etc. Globalization has largely meant "send farm, mine, factory overseas and lose job" in the public perception.


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