The rush to determine the big story of the 2016 election is on. Some folks will get stuck on the rural/urban divide or Florida’s love of third party candidates. Other’s will focus on the failure of polling, vote suppression, and Comey’s bogus email letter while Bernie fanfic spreads like polio in a libertarian anti-vax dystopia. But no matter which way you spin, this cycle's only got one really big story — Honkies, WTF?
TheTimes’ Nate Cohn didn’t say it in so many letters, but he tweeted a helpful rubric for thinking about the election.
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They’re also a scared 40% of the electorate, and between craven irresponsibilities of TV-News, and urban/suburban development that’s been hiding poor people since WWII ended, it’s not strange that Trumpian tales about cities where residents mostly just get shot, ring true. Americans are heavily networked thanks to social media, that doesn’t mean we’re connected a bit.
Within the framework of disconnected connectivity, legacy media — particularly broadcast media with its steady slide toward reality programming — was instrumental in building the bleak fantasy world of Comment Section America. Night after night TV-news links images of brown skin and crippling poverty to criminality, while making the “inner city” synonymous with "urban slum." Day after day, for decades, talk radio and cable news re-enforced those scary images, while railing against affirmative action, public assistance, and other things brown people might be getting that they might not deserve. Meanwhile, rural white poverty, extreme and pervasive as it is, goes comparatively unexamined, giving a lot of lost people plenty of non-hateful reasons to feel screwed and forgotten.
The twilight of American manufacturing happened more than 20-years ago now, and those jobs aren’t coming back. Since then the working class— every segment— has taken hit, after hit. The middle class withered, organized labor failed, and slowly but surely white people went fucking insane. The Atlantic chronicled some of this back in January, in a feature about life-expectancy-shortening spikes in suicide, and substance abuse in white, anxiety-wracked America:
“Free trade and automation undercut the bargaining positions of the working class. Political leaders, bankrolled by the wealthy, rolled back the interventionist policies of the New Deal and postwar period. Corporations, once relatively tolerant of unions, tapped a cottage industry of anti-union consultants and adopted unseemly tactics to crush any organizing drives in their workplaces.
Problems of mental health and addiction have taken a terrible toll on whites in America—though seemingly not in other wealthy nations—and the least educated among them have fared the worst.”
At this point a lot of smart people are probably (hopefully) making the jackoff motion with their dominant hand because, “Oh, boo hoo!” things are tough for working people everywhere, and when we’re talking about life expectancy and and disease, African Americans and Latinos still win the booby prize. Unfortunately, nobody experiences the relativeness of poverty, only the privation, which brings us back to that reactionary thing that happened last night, and the chilling message it should send to women, whose bodies remain a battleground, communities of color, still plagued by systemic racism, immigrants (especially darker ones who don’t look like someone a Trump might breed with), Muslims (of course), Jews (that last ad was scary), journalists generally, Katy Tur specifically, Hillary Clinton, and, at long last, Graydon Carter.
Trump’s poll-defying performance had nothing to do with religious piety, family values, being a pretend cowboy, or any of the old conservative bedrock about silent and moral majorities. His Russian linkage is positively surreal for so many of us who saw Red Dawn andRocky IV at the Drive In. Racketeering charges combined with Trump’s billionaire status, and adamant refusal to disclose income tax documents, make the Donald an unlikely champion of the fabled Occupy/Tea Party nexus. So whither this pale coalition of patriots, evangelicals and ordinary average guys?
Angry white bros are always with us. When people are so disaffected, prejudices pour in and grow to fill the void. Everybody needs somebody to blame, and this horrible drama plays itself out everywhere, all around the world. The bigger the void, the bigger the prejudice, and there’s no reason it has to be logical or make any kind of sense at all as Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi showed so deftly in his 2009 description of a Kentucky Tea Party rally — “A hall full of elderly white people in Medicare-paid scooters, railing against government spending and imagining themselves revolutionaries.”
Nous sommes au Mississippi. (You too Moscow).
If there is a bottom line, it’s this. A large, mostly homogeneous, reliably wrong, and often truly deplorable chunk of America feels the political system’s failed them. And, whether they're thoughtfully protesting neoliberal empire, or lashing out at all the wrong people over self-inflicted loss, and the absence of good paying jobs, they aren't wrong about feeling reamed. Because, unless you’re connected to that fabled 1% we’ve all been badly used. Americans spent the last half century divided six ways to Sunday, fighting culture wars one battlefield at a time, and seeming to win some important fights (one at a time), while everybody on all sides conceded one collective economic defeat after another. It's a cliche, but there’s no I in “we the people.” Sadly, nobody bothered to tell a huge swath of America, including all those angry Trump supporters out in the land of meth labs and lottery tickets.
It’s tempting, on the day after the unthinkable thing got thunk, to look to similar elections for answers. But in spite of some superficial resemblances to Bush/Gore 2000 and Truman/Dewey, 1948, there’s no good precedent for an outcome that amounts to a sniffly national temper tantrum. So the questions turn in a different direction What can satisfy this newly awakened white nationalism? And what happens if President Trump can’t deliver?
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."