A Norwegian Immigrant on the US Election

As a Norwegian citizen having lived in the US for the last 6 years not allowed to vote, elections have been a bit of a theatre to me, allowing perhaps, for a more neutral take on things.

In one picture; The election was lost by the democrats, not won.

It wasn’t actually lost, but

Not that the candidates would have committed to the same strategy if the popular vote count.

Only 53.1% of Americans voted, compared to 62.3% in 2008 and 78.2% at Norway’s last election in 2013. More importantly, Hillary focused her entire campaign on why people should stop Trump, at the expense of talking about why she should be president. Democrats railroaded their Best candidate in favor of someone who is profoundly unlikeable. Trump didn’t even do well, receiving less votes than McCain did in 2008.

It’s clear both sides were equally terrified of the other; The democrats for the potential the all the outrageous things Trump promised becoming reality, which they can’t be blamed for given how much viral vitriol they were presented with through the media (why? it generates more ad revenue, although that might change), and the republicans for the status quo and fear of losing their jobs.

How did Trump get as much support as he did?

The exit polls paint a clear picture; 45+ year old white working class men without higher education voted in droves for him, with the view that immigrants are taking their jobs and that the economy is poor. But this picture is incorrect; there’s only 5% unemployment, 2% inflation, Trump voters earn as much or more than Clinton voters and immigration doesn’t hurt the economy.

Software Developers are becoming Truck Drivers. (OK, most Americans still work in retail, but the narrative still holds)

I believe it’s based in a legitimate fear of becoming obsolete, not at the hand of immigrants as Trump would have you believe, rather, their truck driver jobs being replaced by AI and automation created by liberal white collar programmers. A phenomenon not limited to the US, a UK report told us that a large portion of students are chasing jobs that could be rendered obsolete through automation by the time they graduate.

It doesn’t help that some of the “sharing economy”(independent contractor exploitation) companies spearheading this change break laws in disfavor of the worker to see the hyper-growth required by their investors.

It’s proven that people who feel useful in society are much happier and on average live 15% longer than those who don’t - soldiers returning to the US make a telling case study; abroad they were helpful to their fellow soldiers and shared strong comradery, coming back to the US their skillset is much less useful and many civilians see the military efforts as wasteful to the economy, sending many veterans into drug abuse, depression and suicide (veterans have a twice as high suicide rate as US civilians.)

Trump voters are afraid, but I don’t believe the majority of them are racist, and I feel bad for many of them having had to stomach Trump’s campaign because they think his policies and platform are what they want.

What can be done to help them?

Fellow Norwegian “jernfrost” (iron frost) wrote the following on Hacker News which rings true with my experience;

I grew up in a rustbelt like industrial town in Norway. We has shipyards, glass factory, paper mill, textile industry, lock systems etc. Almost all of it got closed down and moved overseas as I grew up.
But we never ended up in the deep pit blue collar America ended up in, because government took a very active stance early to fight this with active policies. In towns where factories died, they moved public sector jobs from the capital.
People got a lot of retraining for new jobs. There is a strong system for vocational training in technical jobs like Germany so people could get skills for more advanced jobs which was easier to keep when competing against asian industrial giants.
Our government offers free university education, so even less well off blue collar families could send their kids to good schools. And when economic times got harder it never hit blue collar works as hard as in America because we have free universal healthcare, heavily subsidized childcare, good pensions for everybody.
The people vocalizing their opinion by voting for Trump are beyond the age where education can be the key (old dogs and new tricks, etc.). There isn’t a will to go to an educational program.
Basically the welfare system we built up saved our blue collar workers. Yet Americans pretend that there is no solution to this problem except attacking minorities, Mexico, China etc.
It is rich people like Trump and their agenda, which has made sure that blue collar workers in America have felt the influence of globalization harder than many other blue collar workers in the west.

And it’s not due to our oil money, the oil-less Scandinavian countries have seen the same narrative unfold. True, top marginal personal income tax can approach 60% in Scandinavia, but in certain US states it can get close to 50%.

On the upside, the resources to adapt the European model are there on paper, American GDP per capita is $56,084, higher than the other Scandinavian countries, what’s holding the US back?

America spends as much on healthcare as Norway

~$8000/year per capita, but in Norway and most of Europe, healthcare is free and universal. I see no other explanation; the American healthcare system has become extremely inefficient by letting private insurance companies supply it.

Obamacare, a boon for the poor, is far from perfect having put additional strain on the lower middle class, many of which are just above the federal income cutoff for subsidies;

The US median wage is $28K/yr for males and $19K/yr for females after tax in California. Rent is ~$1K/month, leaving you with $16K/yr (male) and $7K/yr (female) for everything else. Obamacare health plans have a maximum out-of-pocket of $7K/yr - If you get seriously sick, you stand a real risk of not being able to afford care.

On a personal note, my health insurance premiums being self-employed nearly doubled from ~$120 to $250/month under the Obama administration.

Similarly, when sending your kids to college, the lower middle class often finds itself “Too poor for college, too rich for financial aid“ and navigating the maze of scholarships and grants nearly requires a degree on its own.

The lower middle class is taking a disproportionate brunt of the cost of the poor’s welfare. 
Having 19.3% of the budget allocated to the military isn’t helping either, a military that recently demanded enlistment bonuses back from its veterans. Republicans are overwhelmingly those who enlist, so It’s understandable why a lot of people feel they are being screwed.

15 REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

With the reasons for concern having gotten a fair amount of coverage, and looking at Trump’s contract with the American voter, they are not unfounded, but I thought I’d look at the reasons for optimism from a liberal point of view.

Democratic millennials
  1. Millennials are overwhelmingly liberal.
  2. Automation can eventually lead to guaranteed basic income, which could be very effective in reducing fear across the board. This election could be a symptom of growing pains before entering a golden age for humanity.
  3. Virtualization can enable to people to work from low cost of living rural areas and earn white collar wages if the workforce is willing to reeducate.
  4. There have been peaceful protests. An understandable and healthy reaction to the outlandish claims, hopefully it will send a clear signal to Trump.
  5. Trump and Obama had a good 90 minute meeting, initially only scheduled for 10 minutes. Seems like Obama went Goethe on his ass; “Overrate man and you promote him to what he can be”, something to keep in mind dealing with your enemies.
  6. Money didn’t buy the election, democracy kinda works. The Trump campaign spent half of what the Clinton campaign did.
  7. The Trump campaign wasn’t very religious or wishy-washy about abortion.
  8. Putin is happy with the result, at least we’re not being nuked by Russia?..
  9. Trump is a former Democrat. His values have far more in common with traditional moderate or liberal values than he does a traditional conservative.
  10. We’ve become more aware that we’re building echo chambers through social media. I don’t blame technology, It’s not Facebook’s job to educate us and present us with a balanced view of politics, if it tried to do so, it would fail to be neutral and go out of business. Let’s blame ourselves instead, go read the Reddit Conservative board if you dare.
  11. Regulation that protect the disabled might not be easy to get rid off. 
    The Reagan administration failed to repeal the 1975 Education for All Handicapped Children Act, and when it moved to weaken the law through regulation, a massive backlash ensued, and it backed off trying to change special education law.
  12. The filibuster is still alive, but it’s not immortal.
  13. Michael Flynn, Trump’s military advisor, has ensured the US will come rescue Norway should anyone attack us ;p
  14. Google is banning fake news sites from using its ad network, Facebook might follow suit.
  15. EMIGRATING TO GERMANY IS ONLY $666
    You could decide to stay behind and fight the good fight, move to Arkansas and take a teacher job at a high-school, but even though the grass is greener where you water it, you still need water :p
    Norwegian.no one way ticket 160 EUR
    Sending your CV to German companies via LinkedIn 0 EUR
    The Blue Card is valid for 4 years. 6 weeks processing time 135 EUR
    Bachelor recognized as German equivalent. 3 months processing, 200 EUR
    One biometric passport photo 6 EUR
    Turn your American driver’s license into a German Führerschein 90 EUR
    You’ll get that money back in a month in rent savings;
     Average San Francisco one 1 bedroom apt $2800/month vs Berlin $750 (you can find a room for down to $320 - cheaper than Oakland).

The bigger picture: A tale of Lizards

…“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see…”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?” “No,” said Ford, who by this time was a little more rational and coherent than he had been, having finally had the coffee forced down him, “nothing so simple. Nothing anything like so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t people get rid of the lizards?”
“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?”
“What?”
“I said,” said Ford, with an increasing air of urgency creeping into his voice, “have you got any gin?”
“I’ll look. Tell me about the lizards.”
Ford shrugged again.
“Some people say that the lizards are the best thing that ever happened to them,” he said. “They’re completely wrong of course, completely and utterly wrong, but someone’s got to say it.”
“But that’s terrible,” said Arthur.
“Listen, bud,” said Ford, “if I had one Altairian dollar for every time I heard one bit of the Universe look at another bit of the Universe and say ‘That’s terrible’ I wouldn’t be sitting here like a lemon looking for a gin.”

― Douglas Adams, “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”