Tuesday, November 22, 2016

What Liberal Academics Don’t Get - Note for a discussion, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United."

Via MT on Facebook

JB note: Re the below thoughtful Merullo piece, my only comment is that having doubts about Trump's policies/character does not necessarily mean a snobby/snarky dismissal of all those who voted for him -- and indeed could express a concern for what a Trump presidency would actually do to improve their (our) lives and to bring about a greater American unity in our polarized country. See also the similar Brooks article in the http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/22/opinion/fellow-trump-critics-maybe-try-a-little-listening.html [link may be inactive non-NYT subscribers]: See Brooks text below the Merullo "What Liberal Academics Don't Get" piece.

Is a "revisionist" view of Trump becoming a "counter-trend" (even at the New York Times!)

NOVEMBER 20, 2016

image from article

All the election postmortems make me think of the disgraced former presidential candidate John Edwards, who famously talked about "the two Americas." [JB emphasis]
There are different ways to delineate these two Americas: according to race, gender, political preference, religious feeling or the lack thereof, even by dietary choices. But this past week I’ve been thinking more about the dividing line between less educated and more educated Americans.
I straddle that line because, though I’m a graduate of Phillips Exeter Academy and have two degrees from Brown University, my roots are in Revere, Mass., a rough-edged, working-class city on Boston’s northern cuff. Many of my grammar-school classmates and both my siblings have gone through life without the benefit of undergraduate degrees. Of the 14 uncles and aunts on my father’s side, not one of them had more than a year of higher education. Six of my 36 first cousins went away to college. 
When you spend a lot of time around people like that, as I do, and when you care about them enough to listen to them with respect, you come away with a much clearer appreciation for the emotions that propelled Donald Trump to victory than you do by listening to NPR, scanning your friends’ Twitter feeds, or sitting at a table in a university cafeteria with like-minded colleagues.
For those of us who see Trump as an appalling choice for the Oval Office it’s tempting to take the easy route and brand his supporters — overwhelmingly white men — as racist or misogynist. Hillary Clinton gave in to this temptation in her infamous — and politically damaging — "basket of deplorables" remark.
Certainly some of the people who voted for Trump are racists and bigots. Surely we’re within our rights to think of the white supremacists, KKK sympathizers, and woman-haters as deplorable characters, and to condemn Trump for the subtle and not-so-subtle signals he sends them.
But the Trump voters I know — and I know them well — don’t come close to fitting into that basket. The thought patterns that led them to support Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton had little to do with race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. They made their choice out of a deep-seated sense of humiliation, a feeling that they’ve been cheated out of their share of our national abundance.
I have a close friend who supports his family on a yearly salary of $48,000. In the past two decades, this man has not had a vacation that took him away from home. Every time he turns on the TV he sees advertisements with smiling men and women riding around in new cars, or drinking cocktails on a cruise ship, things and experiences he knows he will never have.
In his adult life, has there been a career politician he can point to, Republican or Democrat, who has made his situation easier?
Many people on college campuses are fond of using the term "white male privilege." I understand what they mean, of course. But try to imagine what it feels like to be a white man who lives like my friend and hear someone call you "privileged." Try, through the tightly woven curtain of intellect, to imagine that.
Try to imagine what emotions rise up when he hears a candidate say she supports the Black Lives Matter movement. What he hears is not what we in the educated half hear. He hears: "What! My life doesn’t matter?" And that message — of not mattering — is reinforced day in and day out by everything from snarky memes on Facebook, to smirks at his grammatical errors, to the kinds of looks he gets when he walks into the bank in paint-spattered work pants.
By some bizarre alchemy, Trump the billionaire knew how to speak to these people. "When I’m elected," he said early in the campaign, "we’ll say Merry Christmas again." To those of us in the better-educated America, this rings of divisiveness, perhaps even, like some of his other crude messages, of anti-Semitism. But to a lot of people in less-well-educated America, the comment sounds like this: "I know you’ve been made to feel self-conscious about everything you say, even the simplest things like a holiday greeting you’ve been using since you were 4 years old. I’m going to free you of those constraints."
People take it personally when you mock their candidate — whether the mockery is face to face, on the cover of The New Yorker, on a bumper sticker, or in a political speech. And if you’re in the less-educated group, mockery hits home in a particularly painful way. From first grade, these people have been made to feel less because they couldn’t read as well, didn’t get A’s, weren’t the ones with a star on their papers to show Mom and Dad after school. And they didn’t go to college.
And highly educated liberals thought it furthered their candidate’s cause to post Facebook memes calling Trump an idiot, a monster, a fool?
After winning the Nevada Republican caucuses, Trump said, "I love the poorly educated." We laughed and made fun. But poorly educated whites were listening. And they vote, too. For decades those people have felt ignored and belittled. During the campaign they heard a great deal about the concerns of African-Americans, gay and transgendered people, immigrants, refugees. For us, those concerns are part and parcel of a necessary compassion; they dovetail with our sense of being American. For many white voters in the other America, though, stuck in dead-end jobs and low-rent neighborhoods, those comments make them want to say, "But what about me?"
The educated elite — professors, artists, journalists, "expert" commentators — can judge the emotions behind that question as stupid and unfair, even brand them as racist or homophobic. But those feelings of exclusion are very real and not unfounded. As the saying goes, and as last week’s depressing election result clearly demonstrates, we have ignored them at our peril.

Roland Merullo, a former faculty member at Bennington and Amherst Colleges, teaches in the low-residency M.F.A. program at Lesley University. He is the author of the novel Breakfast With Buddha (Algonquin Books, 2007).
David Brooks, Fellow Trump Critics, Maybe Try a Little Listening, New York TimesNOV. 22, 2016 [original article contains links]

I’ve been thinking a lot about the best imaginable Trump voter. This is the Trump
supporter who wasn’t motivated by racism or bigotry. This is the one who cringed
every time Donald Trump did something cruel, vulgar or misogynistic.

But this voter needed somebody to change the systems that are failing her. She
needed somebody to change the public school system that serves the suburban
children of professors, journalists and lawyers but has left her kids under­skilled and
underpaid. She needed some way to protect herself from the tech executives who
give exciting speeches about disruption but don’t know anything about the people
actually being disrupted.

She is one of those people whom Joan C. Williams writes about in The Harvard
Business Review who admires rich people but disdains professionals — the teachers
who condescend to her, the doctors who don’t make time for her, the activists whose
definition of social justice never seems to include the suffering people like her

This voter wants leaders tough enough to crack through the reigning
dysfunction, and sure enough, Trump’s appointments so far represent the densest
concentration of hyper-­macho belligerence outside a drill sergeant retirement home.

This voter wants a philosophic change of course, and Trump offers that, too.
The two party establishments are mired in their orthodoxies, but Trump and his
appointees are embodiments of the nationalism espoused by Pat Buchanan, the most
influential public intellectual in America today.

Buchanan’s organizing worldview is embodied in visceral form in the person of
Steve Bannon.

“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in
Asia,” Bannon said in his Hollywood Reporter interview. The new political
movement, he said, is “everything related to jobs.”

He vowed to drive conservatives crazy with a gigantic spending program to
create jobs. He vowed to use that money to create a new New Deal that will win over
40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote, creating a neo­-Jacksonian majority that
will govern for 50 years.

It’s not my cup of tea, but I can see why some good people might be willing to
tolerate Trump and Bannon’s personalities in order to pursue it.

Thinking about this best voter has helped me take an emotional pause. Many of
my fellow Trump critics are expressing outrage, depression, bewilderment or
disgust. They’re marching or writing essays: Should we normalize Trump or fight the

It all seems so useless during this transition moment. It’s all a series of
narcissistic displays and discussions about our own emotional states.

It seems like the first thing to do is really learn what this election is teaching us.
Second, this seems like a moment for some low­-passion wonkery. It’s stupid to react
to every Trump tweet outrage with your own predictable howls. It’s silly to treat
politics and governance purely on cultural grounds, as a high school popularity
contest, where my sort of people denigrates your sort of people.

We’ve arrived at the moment of actual governing. We’ve arrived at the moment
when Trump has to turn his vague notions into concrete proposals.

Trump promised to rip up the Iran deal, but he seems to be realizing there are
six other signatories and we’ve lost leverage with the Iranians because we already
gave them back their money.

Trump promises to repeal Obamacare, but how do you do that when it has
already been woven into the fabric of every health care system in America?

Whether it’s reforming immigration or trade policy, his governing challenge is
going to be astoundingly hard and complicated. Surely this is not the moment to get
swept up in our own moral superiority, but rather to understand the specificity of
the proposals he comes up with and to offer concrete amendments and alternatives
to address the same problems.

Finally, surely a little universal humility is in order. Orthodox Republicans
spent the last 30 years talking grandly about entrepreneurialism while the social
fabric around their core voters disintegrated. Maybe a little government action
would have helped?

The Democratic Party is losing badly on the local, state and national levels. If
you were a football team you’d be 2­8. Maybe you can do better than responding
with the sentiment: Sadly, the country isn’t good enough for us.

Those of us in the opinion class have been complaining that Trump voters are
post-­truth, that they don’t have a respect for expertise. Well, the experts created a
school system that doesn’t produce skilled graduates. The experts designed
Obamacare exchanges that are failing. Maybe those of us in the professional class
need to win back some credibility the old-­fashioned way, with effective reform.

There will be plenty of time to be disgusted with Trump’s bigotry, narcissism
and incompetence. It’s tempting to get so caught up in his outrage du jour that you
never have to do any self­-examination. But let’s be honest: It wouldn’t kill us Trump
critics to take a break from our never­-ending umbrage to engage in a little listening.

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