Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Trump: The retreat from reality

Published:Wednesday | August 3, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Donald Trump
C. Jama Adams
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Donald Trump represents an extreme response to the uncertainty that many people across the world are experiencing. The core of his response is rage, blame and an attempt to retreat from the frightening but potentially transformative reality of the times. This is an all too human response and one that is also evident in Jamaica, even if not in so evident a form.

A Trumpian world view is based on incorrectly believing that the world - in this case America - was once perfect and that the beloved leader, who makes emotional appeals and is sketchy on details, has the power to recreate those 'good old days'. This is a view you can still hear among certain people - both 'uptown' and 'down town' in Jamaica and in the United States, Turkey and Pakistan, among other places.

In this lost world, America was strong and feared by all, it was highly productive and there were no foreigners. The situation, of course, was far more complex than that. The United States, a country of mostly immigrants from its inception, emerged from World War II a politically and economically dominant and experienced incredible growth from then until the mid-1970s. It was also a very racist and sexist culture and until the mid-1960s very opposed to foreigners who were not of Western European heritage; West Indians, Mexicans, Chinese, Indians and other people of color were not allowed to enter as legal immigrants in large numbers.

 

immigrant

 

To its credit, the United States, even with its messy democratic process, is able, so far, to correct its undemocratic excesses. Led by its historically oppressed groups, such as Black Americans, there was what continues to be an epic fight for civil rights, for all, for the Black, the woman, the religious, the immigrant, the LBGT and the developmentally-challenged. The country haltingly embraced and protected its long existing diversity.

At the same time, science and technology were facilitating massive changes in how we lived and thought of each other. The cost of communicating and traveling began to drop and in a less noted development so did the cost of productivity as the thinking machines became more available. Decent paying jobs for the unskilled and the semi-skilled began to disappear. From the mid-seventies to now wages did not rise but profits did. These developments began to make it more difficult for a significant amount of Americans, including white ones, to earn a living wage doing meaningful, or for that matter, any kind of work.

The social net began to fray and the unease began to rise. The elites took more of the wealth and laid siege on the state in its role of ensuring that there was dignity, protection and assistance for all. Reagan, Bill Clinton - yes, Bill Clinton - who decimated welfare and justice rights, and who freed the banks to plunder and The Bushes' all continued this attack on community. The Blacks and the women suffered as they always have but many whites suffered too, and for many of them, especially working class men, this was new.

 

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The response of the elites to the discomfort of these anxious whites was as old as the republic; distract the poor by scapegoating some low status group. So the poor became responsible for their sad lot because in the United States poverty is your fault, a result of your laziness. Focus on the Blacks with their violent ways and lack of discipline. Drug abuse and victimhood became tempting, if costly, ways of managing the loss of work and dignity. Allow a few to be successful, withhold facts and when that is not possible lie and keep repeating the lie.

Trump then is the product of a process that has been unfolding for centuries. He makes promises that cannot be delivered on. The thinking machines have significantly resulted in the destruction of well-paying jobs for the unskilled and the semi-skilled. These jobs cannot be brought back. The cruel paradox here is the elites, having underfunded education and having not developed efficient school systems, has resulted in a lack of trained applicants for the well-paying jobs that do exist. The short-term solution is to import talent. Send me your teachers, your doctors, your nurses and computer specialists yearning to make money.

The solution to this complex and combustible combination of loss of status, declining quality of life and jobless economic growth is not easy. So the temptation is to displace the rage felt unto the Mexicans, the Muslims, the Blacks and the women. It is to also make promises that cannot be met but appeal to the wish to be great without having to accept the new reality.

Trump is the embodiment of the problem but he is not the solution. It is most definitely not about him, as versions of him exist in our midst. There are those who hold us to their bosom and ask us not to think as they will think (not) for us. There are those who steal and tell us our eyes are lying. There are those know the truth but remain silent. Where are our leaders, where are those that are ethical, that care, that speak to truth and can help us to be caring and productive?