Archive for the ‘Livin’ in the USA’ Category


There have been many attempts to explain why Trump voters remain loyal to him. Given that Trump is an obvious bully, con man, hypocrite, boastful sexual predator, overt racist, pathological liar, and a rich kid who’s never done a day’s work in his life, many “analyses” get stuck at the “what in hell is wrong with these people?” stage. There are, however, some common analyses that make sense in part. We’ll get to them shortly.

But let’s first take a look at the best psychological explanation I’ve seen of why Trump voters haven’t fled him in horror. It’s “A Neuroscientist Explains What Could Be Wrong with Trump Supporters’ Brains,” by Bobby Azarian, a scientist affiliated with George Mason University. Azarian cites four reasons why many of Trump’s voters stick with him. (We’d encourage you to read the entire article.)

  1. Azarian quotes psychologist David Dunning as follows regarding how woefully misinformed many Trump voters are: “The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment.” Azarian adds, “Essentially, they’re not smart enough to realize they’re dumb.” (Obviously, not all Trump voters fall into this category. Azarian doesn’t add, but should, that desperation and frustration will often lead people to take a chance, even a remote chance, on damn near anything that promises relief.)
  2. The second component in loyalty to Trump is fearfulness: A great many of Trump’s followers, especially die-hard conservatives, are fear driven. As Azarian puts it, “Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. . . . These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Mexican immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch.”
  3. Fear of death increases the effectiveness of Trump’s fear mongering. Azarian notes, “[W]hen people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis . . . By constantly emphasizing [supposed] existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric.”
  4. The fourth reason for Trump’s hold on his core voters is his showmanship: he’s a master at keeping his audience engaged. As Azarian says, “His showmanship and simple messages clearly resonate at a visceral level. . . . He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained.”

There are other factors in Trump’s support that Azarian doesn’t mention, though many others have; the following are all commonly cited, and all have some validity.

An important factor is that conservatives, more so than progressives, tend to live inside a media bubble, that is, they seek out news and opinion outlets that reinforce their pre-existing beliefs, fears, and prejudices, and “cluster around,” as a 2014 Pew report put it, a small number of news sources or, often, a single news source: Fox News. Not coincidentally, Fox and other right-wing media outfits, such as Breitbart and Sinclair Broadcasting, deliberately and consistently trigger Trump supporters’ fear response. Trump supporters tend to live in a news/opinion echo chamber where it’s “all fear all of the time.”

Another factor in Trump’s continuing support is that a great many Trump voters are in real economic distress; many are stuck on or near the lowest level of need: basic survival. Economic insecurity is the rule in the United States now — as an example of this, approximately 60% of Americans say they couldn’t handle an unexpected $500 expense without going into debt. Billionaire trust fund baby Trump talks about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” and pretends that he’s a friend of those who work for a living, and many working people are so stressed and desperate that they grasp at the straws he throws them as they sink ever further into the economic quicksand.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if the Democrats weren’t controlled by corporatists (those funded by and serving the interests of the corporate world and the 1% who by and large own it). The corporate Democrats have controlled the party for roughly four decades, and when in power (Clinton and Obama) have done essentially nothing to address the ever-more-urgent problem of economic inequality and the despair and anger it spawns, even when they’ve had huge majorities in Congress. Instead, they’ve focused on identity politics issues that do not in the slightest threaten the financial interests of their corporate backers. (Of course, issues such as LGBT and women’s rights must be addressed — but it’s absolutely crazy to make them your primary focus while ignoring the 800-pound gorilla of economic inequality.) The corporate Democrats appear to be (and to a great extent are) elitists who are unconcerned about the economic well-being of average people, and who have been skating by for decades on the anemic message that “we’re not as bad as the Republicans,” while standing for essentially nothing.

That explains the astoundingly low rate of voter participation in American elections. In 2016, only 59% of those eligible voted — in a presidential election; in midterms the percentage is much lower — and a good majority of those who didn’t vote were low-income people, many of whom could have been reached with a message about jobs  and reducing economic inequality. The corporate Democrats wouldn’t even touch those and related issues, such as healthcare for all, and as a result huge numbers of people sat on their hands or voted for third-party candidates — or voted for Trump. (In the 2016 election, 41% of those eligible didn’t vote; Clinton received the votes of 28% of those eligible; Trump 26%; and about 5% went to minor party candidates.)

The only rays of hope are that there’s a revolt in the Democratic Party against the corporatists; Trump’s hardcore supporters are a minority of, at most, 35% to 40% of those most likely to vote; Trump is so loathsome, vicious, and dangerous that people opposed to him can’t wait to get to the polls; and Trump’s economic policies will screw his working class supporters in short order, and some of them will realize it — eventually.

These are small rays of hope, but they’re better than none.

 


Thomas Frank

“I don’t like Amazon, and I don’t like Donald Trump either. I would approve enthusiastically if a president started enforcing antitrust laws, but that’s not what Trump is proposing to do. What we are being offered instead is a choice between the worst president of our lifetimes and one of the most rapacious corporate enterprises in the country. And, eagerly, we are lining up with one or the other.

“This in turn seems to me an almost perfect representation of the wretched choices available to Americans these days, as well as the megadoses of self-deception we are swallowing in order to make them. It is everything that is wrong with our politics, and it extends from the most sweeping matters of state right down to the individual reader.

“. . . [T]his [is] where we are now in the world’s greatest democracy. We have the billionaire Republicans, with their bigotry and their war on all things public, and the billionaire Democrats, with their oblivious ideology of globe and technology. To the common people, assembled in all our majesty, the momentous question is posed: who do you hate more?”

Thomas Frank, in his wonderful piece in The Guardian,Trump’s enemy is not your friend

(U.S. readers might not be aware of this, but The Guardian [formerly  The Manchester Guardian] is the single best news source on the Internet, including sources hidden behind a paywall [e.g., New York Times or Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post]; The Guardian is the best source, period. I like them enough that I occasionally contribute money to them. The only other news outlet that I would unreservedly recommend is The Intercept, which due to lesser financial resources posts fewer stories than The Guardian, but whose journalism is arguably of even higher quality. For opinion mixed with news, you won’t do better than Truthdig.)


This morning I had coffee with a friend who’s a CPA, and we talked for over an hour about the economy, and especially about how those of us who work for a living are getting screwed. There are almost innumerable ways — pick an area, any area — but for now we’ll stick to the purely economic. Here are few of the things we talked about:

  • Dividends and capital gains (basically profits from selling stocks and bonds) are only taxed at about half the rate of money earned through work. If you work for a living in the USA, you’re probably paying about twice the amount of income tax (as a percentage of income) as a trust fund kid who’s never worked a day in his life.
  • If you work for a living and have to spend all, or nearly all, of the money you earn, you’ll pay a much higher effective tax rate on the necessities of life than wealthy people. Here’s why (to keep things simple, we’ll only talk about sales taxes here): If you live in an area with an 8% sales tax rate, make $2,000 a month, and spend $1,000 of it on such things as clothing, food, car parts, and beer (mustn’t forget the beer), you’ll end up paying 4% of your income in sales taxes. If you’re a trust funder with an income of $20,000 a month from dividends and capital gains (i.e., income not derived from useful work), and similarly spend $1,000 on clothing etc., your effective tax rate on those necessities will only be .4% of your income — one-tenth the rate of a $2,000-a-month wage earner.
  • If unemployment is low, and wage growth starts to outstrip the rate of inflation, the Federal Reserve Board will raise the prime rate to create more unemployment and keep wages down (as it’s doing at present). How does an increase in the prime rate do this? It “cools the economy” by making it more expensive for businesses to borrow and then spend the borrowed money on new facilities, machinery, or wages for new workers. It also raises the cost of consumer borrowing, especially as regards home mortgages. And the higher the mortgage interest rate, the fewer mortgages are taken out; this puts a damper on new construction and so decreases the number of construction jobs and also jobs in the industries that supply construction firms. Hence “economy cooled” and wages held down.
  • If you work for a living, have little or no savings (as is typical), and have to borrow money for a medical or other emergency, you’ll likely do so on a credit card, on which you’ll be paying sky high interest, probably in the 15% to 20% range, if not higher. If you’re wealthy and decide to borrow money, you’ll likely pay an interest rate in the low to mid single digits.
  • Under Trump’s much vaunted tax cut, 83% of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1% of Americans.  The rest of us get crumbs and will have to pick up the tab in fairly short order, in the form of goods-and-services price inflation and higher interest rates on credit cards and mortgages. In essence, Trump’s tax cut is a massive wealth transfer from those who do useful work to the ultra-rich, who don’t. (Disgustingly, some working class people are happy to scarf up crumbs and lick their masters’ boots and grovel like dogs.) And if you think giving the rich ever more money is somehow a good idea, that’s been de facto federal policy since the time of Reagan; and how has that worked out for you? Yes, it has! Good boy! What a good boy! Lick up those crumbs! Good boy!

I could go on, but won’t.

To put it simply, the economic deck is stacked against those who work do useful work, especially those who do useful work, won’t exploit others, and have some self-respect.

 


Paul Morantz

“Is America First that much different from Deutschland uber alles?”

–Paul Morantz, “The Cult of Trump


Teodrose Fikre

 

“Discount anyone who talks about social justice if they do not speak about economic inequalities. They want you to hack at branches while disregarding the root of iniquities. Economic imbalances are at the core of most of society’s ills. Crime, drug abuse, broken families, homelessness, suicides and high incarceration, in large part, can be traced back to the hopelessness that hunger and poverty inculcate in the minds of those who struggle in indigence. A vast majority of Americans are one or two paychecks away from insolvency and destitution; our nation has been turned into a vast pyramid scheme where wealth is transferred from the many who languish to the few who flourish. Focus like a laser on this issue and pay no attention to frauds who try to convince you that your enemy are people who are struggling just like you.”

— Teodrose Fikre, “Forget Tribalism, Disavow Politics and Stand Up for Inclusive Justice” (on Truthdig)


(API) — The White House announced today that, following his prolonged search for legal representation, President Trump has retained as chief legal counsel veteran litigator Saul Goodman. Trump, after tweeting, “I hire nothing but the BEST people,” praised Goodman as “very incredible, very fantastic, a bigly talent and an amazing patriot. NO COLLUSION! JOBS!”

Republican commentators were quick to heap praise upon Trump, with Sean Hannity saying that this “bold choice” showed what “a different kind of president” Trump is, and that it exemplified his “out of the box thinking” — remarks almost identical to those Hannity made after Trump strangled a Miniature Schnauzer on Christmas Eve and sodomized it’s corpse on live national television.

Several Fox News pundits were equally effusive about Trump’s other new “out of the box” appointees: Gustavo Fring as DEA administrator;  Walter White as Science Adviser; Jesse Pinkman as National Institute of Health administrator; Skyler White as Treasury Secretary; Tuco Salamanca as Press Secretary; and an individual known only as “Todd” as Secretary of State.

Laura Ingraham enthused about Walter White’s appointment as Science Adviser, noting White’s extensive “hands on scientific expertise”; Neil Cavuto praised new DEA czar Fring’s  “executive experience,” and noted that Fring would conduct America’s drug policy “like a business”; and Tucker Carlson extolled Salamanca’s appointment as Press Secretary, saying that he “really knows how to deliver a message.”

The day’s only sour note was the refusal of security expert Michael Ehrmantraut to accept appointment as Homeland Security chief. While pointedly refusing to cite Trump by name, Ehrmantraut stated that while he had the “highest respect” for some of the new appointees, citing Fring’s “coolness” and “professionalism,” he refused to endanger the nation by taking orders from a “moron.” Following Erhmantraut’s refusal, Trump tweeted that “Mummified Mike” was “a LIAR! LIAR,” “really, really bad at his job,” and that he had “never offered it to him in the first place. NO COLLUSION! JOBS!”


Illustration from American Heretic's Dictionary

DRUG ADDICTION, n. A popular method of dealing with day-to-day living in the United States.

* * *

— from The American Heretic’s Dictionary (revised & expanded), the 21st-century successor to Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary. (The link goes to 50 sample definitions and illustrations.)

American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover