This is the week of the Thanksgiving holiday in the US. For many in our increasingly unequal society it is not a happy holiday.
Triangulation has been the byword for President Obama’s party — a kind of centrism embraced by Democrats who did the work of the Republicans in the economic sphere while adopting a left-leaning social agenda. The author of this … none other than recent presidential candidate Hillary’s husband Bill Clinton.
It decimated the working class but then, it was assumed, they had nowhere else to go but the Democratic party. NAFTA, bank deregulation in lockstep with the Republicans and the results: job losses, the mortgage crisis as banks gambled on mortgage paper and the ensuing loss of homes for those most vulnerable.
The total of manufacturing jobs in the US numbered around 18 million before NAFTA; within a half-dozen years after, they were sinking rapidly down to 12 million. In the postwar years (after WW II) 1 in 4 American workers had a manufacturing job; now it is less than 1 in 10.
So along came the second Bush. Had it been the middle ages, he would have been promptly named Bush the Mad, to distinguish him from his genteel father. Eight years, hundreds of thousands of unnecessary lives lost, an economic crisis thanks to Bill Clinton’s prior bank deregulation and the country was ready for ‘hope and change’. They got ‘more of the same’.
Who can blame them then? Along comes a pied piper by the name of Trump … he is going to bring jobs back, cancel TPP and NAFTA — though he is now soft-peddling the latter — put America first, and ‘make America great again’.
When election victories became more important to the Democrats than their working class core constituency, it was only a matter of time. Trump will be remembered for understanding this better than anyone else, better than his Republican rivals, certainly better than his opponent, who he blamed squarely for the troubles faced by the working class. Trump the Canny he would have been known as in the Middle Ages, and the canny generally win.
How things have changed in the US: In the 1970s, the area around Union Station (the principal train hub in Chicago) was a little shabby with old low-rise buildings spreading westwards. There was never a panhandler in sight or a homeless person. The country took care of its poor. Then came the Reagan revolution, cutting taxes and spending, followed not long after by Bill Clinton’s triangulation or rather strangulation of the poor through welfare reform. Yes, he balanced the budget as Hillary asserted often but on whose backs?
Go to the Union Station now and new gleaming high-rises meet the eye — all shiny glass and steel. But every street corner has beggars (panhandlers is the euphemism) and the numbers keep increasing. Then there are the pathetic homeless carrying all their belongings in plastic bags or shopping carts.
Whatever Trump does, it is not going to be easy to bring jobs back. Not only have these been shipped abroad but technology has changed. Robots on the shop floor are replacing humans, and robots don’t need breaks or sick leave or vacation time.
As for the panhandlers, heaven help them. The ‘more tax cuts’ mantra means less for them.
A common measure of civilization is how well a society looks after its weakest and most vulnerable. The new crop of leaders shows little promise in that regard.
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor. A frequent contributor to the print and electronic media, his work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.