Usually I churn through two or three books a month, along with the Austin newspaper everyday, the Wall Street Journal six days a week, and the New York Times on Sunday. Oh yes, plus two amateur radio magazines each month! In addition, another guilty pleasure, The New Yorker, comes every week. OK, I'm human and there are times when they pile up, and occasionally, I get behind and my wife, Diana, asks me to go ahead and chuck the stack into the recycle. But usually, at least I get a chance to scan most of them in the mornings with one or two cups of coffee while the house is quiet and my comprehension is at its best, which isn't saying much.
As a person interested in how to use words, and as one who tries to send out something interesting every week or two in blog form, I cut out notes and articles to use as starters for something that might be of interest to the legions of you faithful readers (OK, so I exaggerate a tad). Recently, a short piece in the September 6 issue of The Journal described America's growing political divisions. Between 1995 and mid 2017, a little over twenty years, a gap of substantial significance has developed between US Citizens regarding immigration and social change. Using the two major political parties as base points, with regard to immigration, those identifying as Republicans felt that immigration strengthened the U.S. actually increased from about 35% to 45%, still a minority position, while Democrats' similar posture nearly doubled from 45% to nearly 80%. Nearly every economist will point out that immigration historically benefits the economy as newcomers bring personal drive and both take the less desirable jobs as well as providing brilliant innovators and tireless entrepreneurs.
Underlying the stark statistics were fundamental trends. "Members of the two political parties seem to inhabit two separate worlds of differing social and cultural values." These are the exact words from the Journal article ... I could not express it any better. Less than one-third of R's are comfortable with societal changes that make the U.S. more diverse, while over 75% of D's are okay with these transitions. The divergences are different from the traditional low/high tax and small/big government philosophies, and can be tracked along geographic, educational, and religious lines. Rural Americans and those without a college degree are notably more pessimistic on the economy and more conservative socially.
These two groups are making up an increasingly large share of the Republican Party. Democrats are only half as likely to attend church as Republicans, and more than eight times more concerned about climate change. Democrats see the division as rooted in economics, an income gap between rich and poor. The Republicans on the other hand view the split as socially and culturally based. This is a key development. More on this later.
When I was growing up in three separate small towns in eastern Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and southern West Virginia, the communities were solidly Democratic, the stronghold of the "working man." Things have changed now. These areas went for Trump by nearly three-to-one. The job situation was part of it. People believed there was a "war on coal" even though automation in the mines and low prices of natural gas, now being used in many power plants rather than the thermal coal, were main driving forces. Many of the manufacturing jobs were gone; folks felt that foreign trade deals had undercut them, and wanted more concern about domestic manufacturing. As a general rule, their educational levels were lower.
Equally important, although no one ever said it publicly, were social and cultural concerns. Many people felt uncomfortable with the rapid rate of change of society. They felt national Democrats were more worried with same-sex marriage and gay rights than with jobs, and that all those "other people" who didn't go to their church or who didn't speak English well if at all somehow could not be real Americans; that the "pointy-headed liberals" with university degrees had their heads in a cloud. There is no doubt that Donald Trump cannily captured their fears and concerns as he rode a swell of anger. Hillary Clinton never seemed to be able to reach out from her stronghold on the two coasts and "uppity young women," to quote some.
Clinton represented the status quo and simply didn't connect with middle America. She got sick and took a week off the campaign while Donald Trump campaigned non-stop, like a whirlwind, gaining strength from the aroused crowds as he used inflammatory words and tireless populist speech to paint her into an elitist position apart from the people with his simplistic promises to shake things up: "Drain the Swamp," and "Make America Great Again." Trump stalked around the stage during the debates like a leering voyeur. Looking back, Clinton would have done much better departing from her calm and much practiced debate preparation, and simply shouting at him to "get away from me, you creep." Trump, who apparently disdained much preparation at all for the debates, had dominated every cable-TV news channel with what seemed to be a series of clever one-word mocking terms against every primary foe. His continuous simplistic promises to "fix" it and to bring in the "best people" to take care of China, North Korea, and Iran and ... whatever was the issue of the day ... resonated with his base. He first promised to release his tax forms but then changed his mind with the logic that "the people don't care; they voted for me" didn't seem to dent a permanent support level of 30-35% that nothing seemed to affect. Perhaps it still doesn't!
The Democratic Party seems rudderless. Unless it can get new leadership along with a message of hope and pragmatic solutions that connect with the mainly white voters in the vast non-urban part of America between New Jersey and the Sierra Nevada, those areas will continue to elect Representatives and Senators as well as state governors, and that coalition will continue to control the redistricting every ten years to the benefit of the Republican party as more Democrats live in cities while the rural areas are more Republican. We will see more "Wisconsins" where the Republicans gained just over 48% of the statewide vote but 60 of 99 statehouse representatives and total control over the legislature because of the way the districts were drawn.
Democrats seem to be counting on a "Hispanic wave" in Texas and other states based on seemingly inexorable demographic trends; that new leaders will emerge with fresh ideas. We shall see. Don't hold your breath. Where I live (near blue-dot Austin), Anglos already are a minority statewide, but outside of the major cities a cascade of rural and suburban voters send wave after wave of more and more conservative Republicans into office. The Republican primaries are a contest to see who can out-right-flank whom.
The world is watching to see if this populist and nationalist shift in America will continue. Can we bridge our internal chasm in social and world views? If we continue to lose jobs to global competition (some of which clearly is protectionist and needs to be addressed), automation and technological change, what direction will the US take? Is the answer to erect protection against imports and immigration, to cut social services and build up the military while income inequality continues to widen? Internationally, stresses are growing with tectonic shifts vis-a-vis a growing and powerful Asia, led by a muscular China, with India not far behind and a population explosion underway in Africa. Pariah states like North Korea and a festering Middle East threaten war that might not be containable.
We now have a President "unlike anyone any of us has seen in our lifetimes," to quote Bob Shieffer of CBS News. Oh, that's one of those Fake News organizations. Mr. Trump is an insecure and self-centered man, a fiery counter-puncher whose administration has been one chaotic development after another and which has an as-yet unseen web of possible business entanglements and lack of transparency. Now the possible termination or resignation of the Secretary of State is discussed openly.
Will he fix the "fake news," which is every news organization in the world other than Fox News and Friends, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Alex Jones? Is it really statesmanship to throw the acid of "fake news" against the wall so his base can reject anything they don't like. Are Hannity, Limbaugh, and Jones the "great people" he will bring in?
Will he "fix" North Korea and "Little Rocket Man" with the best people? Will the deal with Iran to stop their nuclear weapons program be cancelled? Will that "fix" Iran? Did the "best people" advise the President? Will he get Mexico to pay for a "big beautiful wall?" Will he "fix China" with more of the best people?
I feel that something is going to happen, and it ain't good. What do we have to lose? A lot.
All the while Robert Mueller and several congressional committees continue their fact-based work. Hopefully the fundamental girders of the Constitutional foundation of the country will protect us.
Please feel free to post a comment here on the blog, or email me directly at <email@example.com> with any remarks. Also, I'll very much appreciate your recommendation of "Contact Sport" and/or "Reunion" to friends and book clubs. In addition, I'd be pleased to appear at book clubs and/or radio clubs within a two-hour drive of Austin to discuss either book.