"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Today's Must-Read: It's Not About Jobs

Thought-provoking and fairly depressing article on why Trump won as many votes as he did:

The story we’ve told ourselves — that working-class whites flocked to Trump due to job worries or free trade or economic populism — is basically wrong, the research papers released this week suggest.

They did flock to Trump. But the reason they did so in enough numbers for Trump to win wasn’t anxiety about the economy. It was anxiety about Mexicans, Muslims and blacks.

Here’s how they put it in academese: “What stands out most, however, is the attitudes that became more strongly related to the vote in 2016: attitudes about immigration, feelings toward black people, and feelings toward Muslims,” writes George Washington University professor John Sides. He notes that the media focused on less-educated whites, but negative racial attitudes fueled by Trump were a big motivator for college-educated whites, too.

A substantial share of Trump voters “appeared to embrace a conception of American identity predicated on birthplace and especially Christian faith,” Sides found.

I have to confess that racism/ethnocentrism is something I don't understand, except on an intellectual level. Partly, it's the way I was raised: although my parents held all the biases they were raised with, they were at pains not to pass them on -- we were taught to take people as people. So, when I left my lily-white, heavily Christian small town (there were two Jewish families in town; the first African-Americans moved in the year I went away to college) and started meeting and befriending all sorts of different people, my parents welcomed my Jewish girlfriend, my Cuban best friend, and my black friends.

And partly it's because I know too much about how we came to be what we are: given that we are all descended from a small group of women who lived in East Africa about 200,000 years ago (based on evidence from mitochondrial DNA), and given that the genetic difference between human races is too small to measure (hell, the difference between us and chimpanzees is less than 2%), and given that casual miscegenation has been an ongoing phenomenon throughout human history (and even before we were writing things down: non-African humans living today carry between 2-4% Neanderthal genes), that kind of racial attitude just isn't much of a motivator with me.

But those attitudes are ingrained in American society, it seems: racial prejudice, sadly, is not something we as a people are not going to put to rest anytime soon. It's gotten to be such a sensitive subject that we don't want to talk about it, which is not going to help solve the problem.

And so we have mountebanks like Donald Trump who use those attitudes, who play on them to get the support they need to win elections. It's not just Trump: although I'm generally reluctant to deal in broad generalizations, the Republican party has staked out that territory for itself -- the "party of Lincoln" hasn't been that since 1964. They've deliberately sought out the extreme Christianists (remember the "Moral Majority" and how Reagan thought he could use them to deliver his agenda? Tail wags dog.), the unregenerate Confederate apologists, and the out-and-out racists.

And of course, there are always new scary people: in recent years, it's been gays and Latinos, and now it's Muslims and trans folk. (It's gotten pretty extreme: have you noticed how American attitudes toward Europe have changed in the past twenty years?)

Yes, there is what seems to be an almost hard-wired "us/them" component to our psychology (that's something that goes way back, to the beginnings of sociality -- sociality and fiercely defended group territories go hand in hand) but given our much-touted intelligence, we ought to be able to work past that.

Apparently not.

At any rate, read the whole thing -- it's sobering, to say the least.

Via Digby, who sums it up nicely:

This is an inconvenient story and nobody wants to hear it because economic determinism does not explain it. And if there's any true state religion in America, on all sides of the political spectrum, it's economic determinism. Money explains everything.

Except it doesn't. Humans are complicated creatures motivated by many things and money is only one of them.

It's not even the best one.

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