Monday, November 30, 2015

The Killing of Middle America

I frequently note that the Republican Party has turned duping working class whites into voting against their own best financial and social interest into an art form.   The GOP wants to kill unions - the cornerstone of Middle America's financial security in the 1950's through at least part of the 1970's - completely, to slash the social safety net, kill efforts to raise the minimum wage, slash regulations so that large corporations and businesses can loot the economy even more thoroughly, and, of course, give massive tax cuts to the wealthy.  The result of the GOP agenda is literally killing less educated middle class whites who are seeing longevity fall.   A piece in Salon looks at the phenomenon and the slow suicide these people are committing by allowing themselves to be duped through plays on religion, race and other prejudices to vote for their real enemies.  Like the author, I have lost friends who refuse to see that their own so-called conservatism is destroying their future.  Here are column highlights: 
I have a friend I grew up with in white, working class rural Nevada. He was one of the coolest guys I knew, and I admired him. We reconnected a few years ago, and he has become a rightwing warrior, filled with rage and spouting a startling amount of hate for Mexicans, Muslims, the government and most especially Barack Obama. He has advanced little in his career, and because of my public embrace of liberalism, we aren’t friends anymore. I still check his Facebook page on occasion, because I want to understand what happened to him, and what happened to people like him, with whom I share a common past, but a very different present.

A recent, shocking study has laid bare the cost of his (and many others) nonstop, futile outrage. Middle-aged, white people between ages 45 and 54, and specifically those with a high school education or less, have seen increased sickness and early death. This is the only demographic to see this kind of increase in mortality anywhere in the first world. They are dying sooner than they should in a merciless war they’ve declared on themselves.

The much-covered study has generated plenty of chattering among fancy people about underlying causes, from economics to failing masculinity, demographics and divorce, to a growing powerlessness among the white working class, but I think most of the answers have failed to nail it. Middle-aged white America is reaping the fruit of two decades of outrage and hate aimed at minority groups, government programs, unions and anyone who dares to point out the dysfunction of “wholesome, Christian” America. They vote against any program that aims to tackle our social or financial problems as a society, instead opting for the same bootstrap, libertarian, anti-government rhetoric that has failed us since the days of Ronald Reagan. In short, they are committing suicide en masse via the voting booth.

[T]he elevated death rates are being driven by a small subset of the white working class.  . . . . There is no better example of extremism and hopelessness of the white working class than the current standard bearer in the GOP primary. Donald Trump leads with less-educated, working-class white people—the same group that is driving the increased mortality overall. Like a half empty bottle of Scotch, they are reaching for Trump out of desperation, outrage and xenophobia, because they have no idea what else to do. Their jobs are gone, wages are flat and the very idea of building a middle class life with a high school education is folly these days. Thus they have turned to ever more extreme rightwing politics, and with every win things only get worse.

The saddest part is working class America benefits the most from an activist, effective and liberal government, something they fight hardest against.  . . . . It’s not all their fault. They’ve been fed a steady stream of total nonsense that both enrages and distracts them from reality. . . . . From coffee cups at Starbucks to the removal of Confederate Flags to Syrian refugees, it doesn’t even matter so long as we fit in our two minutes worth of hate. It’s all an elaborate stage production, manufactured by Fox News, talk radio and rightwing politicians, that fills the lives of the working class with terrorists, feminist, atheists and gay people, convenient groups used to distract from who is really screwing them over this week. The votes of the working class have been neutralized or co-opted with tidy scapegoats, the Second Amendment, Jesus and white victimhood.

As a voting bloc white America turned the reins of society over to angry assholes, out-of-control corporations and pandering politicians thinking their community would be spared, but once the beast was unleashed, it was never going to be satisfied.

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