A throwaway line by a well-meaning journalist reveals the gulf in understanding between the political / media establishment and the struggling Americans who are not just drawn but actively pushed into the arms of Donald Trump
On his live blog of Night 3 of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Andrew Sullivan notes:
Rick Scott is up first. He’s informing us that the U.S. economy isn’t growing. That’s not true.
Yeah, okay. One point to Hillary Clinton, I guess. Except that for millions of Americans, the economy may as well not be growing. For millions of Americans, the economy is utterly stagnant – or at least the end of the labour market which they occupy is stagnant.
One of the reasons that so many people are enraged by the political class – and willing to give Donald Trump the time of day – is the airy way which their entirely legitimate concerns are dismissed by the elite.
There is a howl of pain emanating from the squeezed American lower middle and working classes – a cry that the economy is not working for them, not making it possible for them to achieve the American dream. But what is the establishment’s response? Too often, their response is simply to sniff that the dumb idiots have their facts wrong, that the economy is actually growing very nicely (for artisan bread makers and graphic designers and people working in the professional service sector), and that the dumb hicks should just shut up and stop complaining.
We see exactly the same thing with immigration. As Tucker Carlson wrote so memorably (and accurately) back in January:
On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.
And the scary thing is that it is the so-called “compassionate” liberals and progressive conservatives most likely to hold these dismissive views of the concerns of the squeezed middle and working classes. It is the people who make such a sanctimonious show of supposedly caring about equality that happily bank the many gifts that Obama’s economic recovery has bestowed upon them while looking with disgust and contempt at the complaints of their fellow Americans who are being left behind.
If that is how the elite really want to continue behaving then fine – it is their prerogative. But they cannot feign surprise and dismay when struggling Americans then lose faith in their leadership and their policy prescriptions, and go looking for something, anything else.
As it happens, I don’t think for a moment that Andrew Sullivan is indifferent to the suffering of America’s struggling working poor. He is a blogging hero of mine, and someone whom I respect enormously. But he is also very much part of the media elite and lives a life very far removed from those who struggle and live paycheck to paycheck. One can understand his instinctive irritation on hearing Rick Scott falsely state that America’s economy is not growing under President Obama.
But what we need now from the establishment is an enormous effort to find empathy for those Americans who have not seen an economic recovery since 2008, no matter what the top line GDP figures say. When hard-working people are hurting and living precariously at a time of their lives when they had been raised to believe they should be enjoying the fruits of the American dream, it is not enough to summarily dismiss their concerns, even – perhaps especially – when they are poorly or angrily articulated.
The Republican Party has already failed to learn this lesson of empathy and humility. Donald Trump is their punishment. The American Left and non-aligned conservatives and libertarians can scarcely afford to make the same mistake.
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