Quote of the day II: The fuel for populist outrage


Populism is a truly democratic force, a rising up of the people to seek what the Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States term a redress of grievances.

And the people have plenty of grievances.

In the general election, of the only two candidates to draw the attention of the mainstream media only one addressed those grievances. and it was the candidate of the right.

In the primaries, the Democrats had one candidate who addressed those grievances, though from a diametrically opposite perspective, but,m as those Wikileaked emails reveal, his opponent was the hand-picked minion of the same forces that had raised popular outrage.

And in our gerrymandered political landscape, the populist won, albeit a populist whose subsequent actions have proven him to be the opposite of what he had professed, with his appointments coming from the same sectors he had excoriated during the campaign [or at least some of the pronouncements, given the utterly self-contradictory nature of many his his avowals].

An interesting take of the forces generating that populist outrage comes from political scientist and sociologist R.W. Johnson, emeritus fellow of Magdalen College at Oxford University, writing in the London Review of Books:

Between 1948 and 1973, productivity rose by 96.7 per cent and real wages by 91.3 per cent, almost exactly in step. Those were the days of plentiful hard-hat jobs in steel and the auto industry when workers could afford to send their children to college and see them rise into the middle class. But from 1973 to 2015 – the era of globalisation, when many of those jobs vanished abroad – productivity rose 73.4 per cent while wages rose by only 11.1 per cent. Trump argued that this was caused by unrestricted illegal immigration and the off-shoring of jobs, though these were only partial causes: the erosion of trade unions probably accounts for 25 to 30 per cent of the net loss in earning power. The 11 million unauthorised immigrants in the US form only part of the vast mass of non-unionised labour competing for jobs.

In any mass democracy, this would spell trouble, but it was masked for some time by more women going out to work, creating two-income households, and later by many workers taking two or three jobs. Sooner or later the stress of such a downward spiral had to be felt and the results are more and more visible. Drive across America and you will notice who operates the pumps at the gas stations. Over and over again it is white men and women in their seventies, pensioners eking out a few more dollars. Such people were unlikely to be impressed by the parade of celebrities at Hillary Clinton’s rallies – Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, Bruce Springsteen etc. The French use the expression ‘la richesse insultante’. What does it mean for someone on social security to walk past shops with watches or shoes or dresses marked in the thousands of dollars? Each price ticket says: ‘You’re just nothing, you’re a loser.’

There is no sign of any halt in the trend towards greater inequality (and a Trump victory, bringing tax cuts for the rich, will only increase it). Since 2000 the wages paid to college graduates have fallen. For men wages have risen slightly but for women they have plunged, producing an overall fall. The situation at the bottom is more serious still: the worst paid 10 per cent saw the biggest drop in wages between 1979 and 2013. At the same time, employers have slashed health benefits. In 2011, only 50 per cent of high school graduates – the peculiar America-speak for those who didn’t have a higher education or enter the middle class – got them (down from 67 per cent in 2000) and only 76 per cent of college graduates, down from 84 per cent.

Another telling figure. On average in 1965 an American CEO earned 20 times what a worker did. By 2013, on average, the number was 296 times. Marx foresaw ever greater concentrations of capital accompanied by the pauperisation of the working class. But the result has been the opposite of what Marx predicted: the rise of right-wing demagoguery. The elemental nature of this working and middle-class revolt explains why much of Trump’s support was impervious to his crass behaviour and his wish to give offence. Things that might have sunk earlier candidates did not sink him. Clinton spent scores of millions of dollars on negative ads about Trump, with no apparent effect at all.

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