Desperation Politics

Desperation Politics

Desperation Politics

By William Turner

 

 

It’s sort of not their fault. It seems clear that some percentage of

Trump supporters had legitimate grievances – anxiety about losing

their white privilege prominently not being one of them. It’s always

been okay to be white so you can just shut up about that.

 

But one can understand the concerns of coal miners who are worried

about their livelihoods, which would make anyone nervous. The problem

is not that they’re worried, but that they fell for the blandishments

of the Donald about what the problem is and how best to solve it.

 

A recent story in the press tells us about a woman who works for

Carrier Corporation who believed the Donald when he said he was going

to save her job. Now, a year later, she is about to lose her job.

 

To anyone who is familiar with the history of capitalism, this is as

predictable as sunrise. Of course she’s about to lose her job, and not

to some nefarious undocumented immigrant, but to a robot. Deskilling

has been a key tactic of capitalists from the beginning – take as much

of the skill as possible out of any task in order to make workers more

interchangeable and thus cheaper. At every opportunity, substitute

machines for humans because machines don’t need breaks or sleep and

they don’t complain or form unions.

 

Howls about “conservative” conspiracies to keep the masses uneducated

are overblown, but it is true that they do not want too much

information about the ugly side of the history of capitalism to

circulate. When the contretemps erupted a year or so ago about the

history curriculum in Colorado, the “conservatives” on the school

board explicitly wanted history teachers to talk about the “advantages

of the free market system,” and apparently not about the

disadvantages.

 

Since Nixon, “conservatives” have done an excellent job of keeping

ordinary people in a perpetual, pointless tizzy over abstract social

issues to distract them from the concrete harm their policies actually

do to most people. We see a lot of information circulating recently

about the point that productivity has continued to increase at a

pretty steady rate since the end of World War II, but that the

concomitant wage increases that workers should expect to result from

increases in productivity pretty much stopped during the 1970s.

 

We know what happened, or scholars do – in the 1970s, businesses

started to push back against the regulatory regime that started with

the New Deal and hit an apogee of sorts when Nixon acceded to the

Democrats in Congress by signing bills to create the Environmental

Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health

Administration (OSHA), lobbying and funding propaganda campaigns to

convince people that environmental protections and workplace safety

measures resulted in widespread job losses. Recall that, during the

Obama administration, the bills that Republicans offered under the

guise of “job creation” mostly rolled back regulations.

 

The correlation, if any, between regulatory regimes and employment is

ambiguous at best and very much a matter of debate. Republicans claim

that regulations kill jobs solely because they are tools of big

business. They certainly do not have the best interests of coal miners

or ordinary Carrier employees at heart.

 

They are more than happy to offer absurdly simplistic solutions that

ill informed voters are too likely to fall for – “bringing coal back”

was always completely idiotic to anyone who knew anything about the

multiple reasons why demand for coal is declining – still – around the

world. But the Donald and his keen instinct for the bullshit line that

will sell best at any given moment was more than happy to tell coal

miners that he was going to save their entire industry, and they were

desperate enough to fall for it.

 

This is a large, systemic problem and the solution is far from clear,

beyond the obvious choice of electing anyone but Republicans while we

look for concrete solutions.