Thursday, May 3, 2018

Job Loss and Right-Wing Nationalism

In good times, people can be generous, even toward outsiders.

In bad times people tend to draw back into their own communities, focus support on their own kind and become hostile toward outsiders.

People who feel that things are going badly for them can still be very generous to people like them, for example, the farmers who recently shipped hundreds of tons of alfalfa to other farmers whose pastures had been devastated by wildfires. But they are anything but generous to outsiders. If there's a plague, kill the Jews, or if there aren't any Jews around, pick some marginal old woman, declare her a witch and burn her.

Thomas Edsall has a round-up of all the social science linking the loss of manufacturing jobs to right-wing nationalism, and while no single piece of this research is convincing in itself, the overall picture is pretty grim. On industrial robots in Europe:
robot shock increases support for nationalist and radical right parties. . . . both technology and trade seem to drive structural changes which are consequential for voting behavior.
and in the US:
some of the places where Trump made the biggest gains relative to McCain or Romney are in the heartland of heavy manufacturing where robots did lead to losses of manufacturing jobs.
And likewise in places where jobs were lost to foreign trade, anger is turned not against the politicians who gave us free trade, but toward convenient outsiders:
Rather than directly opposing free trade policies, individuals in import-exposed communities tend to target scapegoats such as immigrants and minorities. This drives support for right-wing candidates, as they compete electorally by targeting out-groups.
Edsall summarizes:
In other words, job losses and plant closings are a political gold mine for the Republican Party, crucial to their victories in House and presidential races and almost certainly in Senate, gubernatorial and state legislative races as well.
The whole argument about whether economic turmoil or racism is behind support for Trump is moot, because insecurity and racism are strongly linked. Obviously there are racists who will always vote their prejudices no matter what else is happening, but what carried Trump into the White House was a wave of insecurity and resentment among white working people. Trump showed that by deflecting that anxiety away from Republican policies and toward outsiders and unspecified "elites," a white majority can be created for winning elections.

If you ask me, the left in America now is much too focused on racism itself, as if it existed in a vacuum, and not enough on creating a more secure and comfortable world for working people.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

"If you ask me, the left in America now is much too focused on racism itself, as if it existed in a vacuum, and not enough on creating a more secure and comfortable world for working people."

It's something of a damned if you do, damned if you don't, situation.

Compared to most other developed countries, America is strange in that there is no major party that falls firmly on the side of "the left". What we consider "leftist" behavior as exhibited by the Democratic party is more akin to "centrist" behavior from a global perspective. In America, championing for expanded workers' rights, increased social programs and benefits, et cetera, has traditionally been political suicide, seemingly because our culture has a powerful ingrained resistance to all things "socialist" in leaning.

Democrats fear that if they came out and really pushed for things like expanded welfare, guaranteed employment, a fair living wage, et cetera, they would spook a lot of their wealthier and more traditional voters by being too "radical" in their liberalism. But at the same time, if they keep being timid and insisting on not upsetting the status quo too much, then they're just going to keep alienating their working class voters who need things to change in order for them to not suffer.

Of course, even if America is willing to move more toward the left, there's the question of who could even lead us in that direction. The best leaders the American left seems to be able to muster up are unelectable nutjobs like Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein. It's not enough to simply lean further to the left ideologically and rhetorically - we need people who can actually implement real government policy in logical and effective ways.