The Irony of Trump
Joel Looper

Your essay has inspired me to write a long post, and I agree with many of your points. However, I think that your reference to the electorate’s “illogic” is key to beginning to resolve these economic problems.

Accordingly, this is why education — and not the education that has been getting (in many cases, such as at Middlebury, deservedly) bad press — is so important to addressing this in-fighting between citizens on any number of issues, but particularly illegal immigration. I’m talking about that unfashionable education that does not demean other people’s points of view but interrogates them. It is an education that teaches people to think about why they feel a certain way, develop arguments based upon facts and nuanced realities, and to consider the “other side” without devolving into labels like “you’re an elite!” or “you’re a racist!” These cries ultimately say, “You don’t understand me, and you don’t want to.” When people ask, “How am I to converse with such people?” they reveal that they’ve been denied a valuable opportunity to learn how to conduct such uncomfortable yet civil discourse if they are college-educated. Then, perhaps, they might not look down upon those without college degrees. This kind of education can start in high schools, too, if people don’t want college degrees and pursue the trade occupations that should be respected as equally useful to society. Thinking critically is not only for “elite” college kids — and many of them are not even being taught to think critically.

Universities and educational philosophies at large need to emphasize the importance of diverse intellectual positions. Then, we might begin to acknowledge the diverse concerns of America’s cross-sections without ranking their aggrievements. Then, we might not merely pay lip service to the importance of class and geography to addressing the seriously divisive thought and countering the convenient adherence to “alternative” or incomplete/uncomfortable “facts” on both “sides.” And only then, perhaps, will those without college degrees might feel a modicum of sympathy toward immigrants or their fellow citizens/legal residents instead of rightly feeling utterly disrespected. This applies, by the way, to all citizens in dire straits and illegal immigrants, not just “white male coal miners.” There are plenty of POC small-business owners and factory workers who have been equally ignored and harmed in more rural areas. Many of them — or at least more than liberals would care to acknowledge despite polling data — voted for Trump.

The real enemies are straight-up corporations and the “corporations are people” legal protections that have given them tremendous lobbying and ideological power. I am reluctant to conflate corporations so easily with “the establishment,” since, frankly, I find “the establishment” to be a sloppy throwback to the failures of the ’60s counterculture. Like the “globalism” that is here to stay, it is another monolithic category that is divisive and unhelpful, since it puts centrist politicians — many of whom are not Great Evildoers — in a terrible position and makes them vulnerable to Tea Partyers (or now extremely Leftist progressives) in their states. In the case of the Tea Party, we’ve seen how GOP congressional leaders don’t know what to do with the semitruck they’ve caught: they only know how to not represent their constituents, flout democratic norms, endanger anyone who isn’t rich, fantasize about time-travel, and take even more money from corporate interests — sometimes literally issuing statements written by oil companies, for example, in the case of Pruitt. Of course, as someone will undoubtedly point out, Democrats take corporate money, too. This is why we need to discuss campaign-finance reform, not that anyone is interested in that. Even more than Trump, this lack of education, or its lack of interest in education, is the real “disaster.” And it helps the further-right GOP hide behind the notion that they are protecting “American culture” while actively doing all of its people a disservice.

Education might help us study the history of the culture concept (only formulated in the early 20th century), our history of political thought, and perhaps our history just in general that isn’t 100% hostile to “dead white men.” Education might help us redirect our conversations about NAFTA, but do so by using the widespread, amorphous distrust of such treaties including TPP to examine not just the “unquestionable evils” of neoliberalism but how to exploit its less nefarious aspects. You justly outline serious problems of global worker exploitation, but how many wholly protectionist countries, for example, are doing all that well economically speaking, or even “culturally” speaking? Why don’t articles like these call for the protection of and reestablishment of unions?

Doing these things could foment a bipartisan civic effort to allocate (ir)responsibility appropriately. Corporate bankers who defraud people should be prosecuted; corporations are outsourcing jobs (and not “suffering” when doing so); corporations disrupt community cohesion; corporations evade taxes; corporations are embracing automation instead of embracing a future where individuals with valuable skills (college-degreed or often otherwise) could be on the vanguard of industries like renewable energy, fixing literally crumbling infrastructure, or reconfiguring the electric grid; corporations do not care about the health or welfare of their employees (see Cancer Alley among other places); corporations fund the notion that a person has to be sick and indignant to have the petrol and chemical jobs that kill them.

Corporations are not identical to the government even if they have undue influence upon it. So attack actual corporations and teach those who inadvertently support them (uneducated GOP voters) what they’re actually doing and how to fight them. But these people also need to feel heard: cultivating that feeling was Trump’s great and successful con. Federal, state, and local Democrats need to go to these flyover, “waste-of-time” places, even if they may not win those elections in 2018. To help illustrate, as you write, the connections between disenfranchised illegals and the working class, Democrats need to model the discourse and behavior that will actually allow for advancement. In other words, they need to model empathy and to challenge black/white, protectionist/global, even right/left dichotomies that serve no one but our nefarious Congress.

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