Trumpism Isn’t The Solution for the Rust Belt
By: Todd Smekens
BLOG – My immediate goal at Muncie Voice back in 2011 was to hold our local press accountable for yellow journalism (muckraking). Researching globalization and learning about neoliberalism was not even on the radar, but one thing led to another. They are all connected. We make poor decisions when we solely look at symptoms, without analyzing the causes and conditions. Locally, we’ve watched our school system suffer annually for over a decade, but refuse to look beyond decaying buildings, lost enrollment, poor morale and multi-million dollar deficits. We scapegoat school board members and replace superintendents, hoping this will change our problems – it won’t.
Our community fully supported Donald Trump for president. Populist uprisings coupled with democrats staying home, resulted in a landslide of victories for conservatives. Trump’s bully mentality and wanting to “Make America Great Again” by “Draining the Swamp” in Washington, appeals to populist rage – those who’ve been disenfranchised by both political parties.
However, I’m already seeing articles claiming the “white working class” got duped by Trump and he hasn’t even taken office. Trump’s policies will punish “scapegoats”, but he’ll reinforce “trickle-down economics” by cutting taxes on the richest Americans (including himself), while privatizing or eliminating programs designed to serve the poorest people. His misdirected attacks against globalization will not help Middletown, USA.
The Media Should be Debunking this Myth
I wrote recently, the neoliberal policies implemented by Reagan and Thatcher in the 80’s, basically gave the richest Oligarchs the reins of Western economies. The idea was government would get out of their way, allowing them to make our countries extremely wealthy. This new wealth would then magically “trickle-down” to everyone. I’ve shared plenty of articles on social media about this flawed theory. Thomas Piketty wrote a book debunking the myth of supply side economics, yet our Ball anointed local university economist still advocates for these failed policies.
Anyone with a pulse can see Wall Street financial markets booming to record highs, while town after town across America and England are struggling. The flawed Chicago school of economic theories actually work in reverse – it made the rich, richer, eliminated the middle class, and created a whole new class of working poor.
Progressives grasp the concept plaguing Western society – an economic system built on greed actually destroys our planet and society. Even our pope writes about income and wealth inequalities being, “the moral crisis of our times”. Hillary Clinton called herself a pragmatic progressive who believes in incremental changes. It’s too late for minor changes when our economic system is destroying the planet (please refer to Jeffrey Sachs).
I recently came across an article written by Aditya Chakrabortty for the Guardian titled, Rust-belt romantics don’t get it: the middle class is being wiped out too – here’s a quote:
Since Brexit and especially after Donald Trump, the quack analysts have been out in force, holding aloft their quack explanations. It is apparently all the fault of the white working classes. They got left behind and cast aside in the past two decades of globalization – now they’re making the rest of us pay.
Our Muncie journalists don’t qualify as “quack analysts”. Neither do their big brothers in Indianapolis (The IndyStar) or their parent (USA Today). Rust Belters know Bill Clinton signed NAFTA which gutted communities across the Midwest and Eastern US. Hillary Clinton represented more of the same pro-Wall Street policies. Donald Trump wanted to tear up trade deals and bring jobs back from China. He also wanted to “flush Washington insiders”. Telling voters the system is “rigged against them” sure rang true to Americans.
While it might be easy to follow, a more detailed analysis shows neither candidate actually represented an end to neoliberal policies causing our pain and discomfort. In fact, Trump will make sure even more wealth and power concentrates in fewer hands than before, and some of those hurting under forty years of failed policies will hurt even more under Trump when he slashes government programs.
Cultural Wars Are Misdirected Anger
Simplicity is convenient when Americans suffer from laziness. Simplicity might work in some areas, but sociopolitical-economic practices are anything but simple. Americans have been trained with spoon feedings of information in 5th grade sound bytes. We actually believe that reading the newspaper or watching 15 minutes of “news and information” makes us informed. Mark Twain once said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed.”
We also want our meals served quickly at drive thru windows, or nuke prepackaged meals in 3 minutes or less…we’re lazy consumers. Cultural wars are simple explanations for lazy people. Scapegoating and blaming are quick methods to rationalize what’s happening. We think, “Our former employers have moved to Mexico or China, so globalization must be the cause of our problems.”
Our laziness is compounded by fears and prejudice helping us reach conclusions like:
“Minorities vote for democrats who give them free stuff.”
“Minorities don’t want to work because they’re lazy.”
“Minorities get abortions and democrats support abortions.”
“Liberals want to take away my guns.”
“Our government can no longer afford to pay for these freeloaders.”
“Liberals own the media and the political establishment.”
Aditya captures the oversimplification of using cultural wars as a scapegoat, writing:
It also seeks to turn a larger and wider economic process into a smaller and more trivial culture war. It pits the middle classes against the working classes, and the poor whites against the poor blacks. All the while, since 2008 the single biggest economic story across Britain and the US and other rich countries has been achingly slow growth and austerity for the masses, alongside state-subsidised riches for the very wealthiest.
We’re seeing these cultural wars played out all across the country – women against men; secular vs religious people; police vs black citizens; alt-right vs blacks; urban vs rural; city vs county; West Wing vs Left Wing; republicans against democrats; etc., etc.
These cultural wars will escalate as life becomes even more difficult for people in the coming months under an ever more oppressive government. Neofascism is the fusion of a corporate state with our government. I’ve heard people refer to the USA as, “An oil company with a military”.
We’ve operated like this for some time. Meanwhile, we the people, have no representation in local, state or federal offices. Our republican and democratic parties are so beholden to moneyed masters motivated to maintain the status quo, or pro-wealth policies, they are incapable of serving their constituents.
Community Schools Were Democratic Backbone
Looking closer at how neoliberalism is negatively impacting our local school system, we can see how neoliberal policies are negatively affecting our democratic institutions. Historically, parents and teachers were the primary decision makers for our schools. Property owners pay taxes to fund our school system, then elect a board to manage the school corporation. This was dramatically changed under neoliberal policies, but local residents aren’t fully aware how this fundamental democratic institution has been changed. Wait until school privatization advocate, Betsy DeVos, takes her Trump appointed seat as education secretary in January.
Read Aditya’s analysis of what is happening in England:
Consider the deprofessionalisation going on right now in our schools, so that nearly half of all teachers are planning to leave. Think about the middle classes working for the private sector and the impossible targets they have to follow just so their bosses and shareholders can enjoy the dividends. This isn’t globalisation: this is Big Finance and its copyists, trampling over workers, families, communities.
“Deprofessionalisation” means the stripping of “educational and professional” requirements from teachers. The goal of neoliberalism is elimination of unions. We’ve already seen this take place in the private sector. In addition, policy and lawmakers have intentionally lowered teaching standards. Charter schools retrain educated professionals. They pay these folks less than union teachers in privately owned charter schools. Some policy makers want to eliminate teachers altogether by using computers with classroom babysitters (refer to Bill Gates). Politicians have attacked the teaching profession for decades, so it should be of no surprise potential teachers have opted for other careers leaving us with a teacher shortage.
Further compounding the problem with our local school corporation, lawmakers in Indianapolis control the purse strings. Don’t forget, we gave up local financial control in exchange for property tax caps. Six years after that decision, we’ve learned it exclusively aided commercial investors, not residential owners. Despite years of cutting expenses, our school system still suffers with an $11 million deficit, so further cuts are imminent. Do you think new faces on the board will offer meaningful change? Remember, the end goal is eliminating unions.
Muncie residents have experienced the ill effects of neoliberalism for decades – when the automotive sector vanished, it took the Middle Class with it. Globalization wasn’t the culprit – the goal was to seek non-union shops where workers could be exploited and favorable regulations (no regulations) meant more profits for corporations/shareholders.
When the middle class vanishes in America, so do local governments. When the government should be helping the middle class, our federal government turned off the financial spigot (austerity), while lavishing the 1% with bailouts, treasury money, credits and subsidies. Washington and the entrenched wealth surrounding it, is literally a giant vacuüm extracting income and wealth from every community across America. We used to have wealthy business men in Muncie who invested locally. Those folks have been replaced by outside corporations who extract dollars from our local community.
Muncie residents are slowly awakening to the gaming of the system.
Local taxpayers are getting squeezed…less income with rising expenses. Those on fixed incomes are hurting the worst. Not only do we fund local government units, we also subsidize a layer of non-government organizations (NGOs) created by the Ball family – the university, hospital, charter school, fitness clubs, chamber of commerce, cultural centers, business incubators, etc. These opaque institutions are subsidized by taxpayers because they are non-profit corporations owning property. Over 52% of all property in Muncie is owned by tax-exempt organizations who pay nothing in taxes. This isn’t a sustainable model.
Although our extremely low wellness rankings say we need insurance badly, health insurance is a luxury too many people cannot afford.
None of our problems are the fault of globalization. We’re literally being squeezed to death by poorly devised policies, yet wealthy mouthpieces blame us for not achieving the American Dream. Do you really think blaming or hating others will improve our quality of life? Will deporting Muslims and Mexicans alter the oppression we feel from policies enriching the 1% who control our government?
Isolationism Isn’t the Solution
Trumpism is a form of ‘authoritarian fascism’ promoting nationalism and isolationism (neofascism). The campaign slogans captured decades of resentment – populist fears lurking below the surface. However, we’re learning that “Drain the Swamp” was nothing more than rhetoric since Trump/Pence are draining the swamp right into the White House. They’re exchanging one specie of swamp monster for another. The problem is systemic…hiring the same people who created the unequal system won’t improve our lives. My prediction is it will get much worse.
Looking at the Muncie school corporation example, the school board was the most heated race in this year’s election. The morale of both existing and former teachers is at an all time low. Parents are frustrated, so they transfer their student to county schools. This contributes to the declining revenue at Muncie Community Schools. The administration has been in cost cutting mode for over a decade.
As Aditya points out in his article, communities in England are facing the same issues. They are unavoidable. We can change faces on the school board, but guess what? The fresh new faces will stare down at a multi-million dollar deficit, decaying buildings, overworked and underpaid parents, and a teacher union protecting its members. Add to this, market forces outside our community want to privatize public schools to end teacher unions forever.
There are no local fixes for what ails our community. Trumpism will not fix our school system…it will get much worse. This might seem like a cynical analysis of our situation – hopelessness is not popular. Being hopeless creates fear and frustration leading to anger and rage. This is where we are at today. Remember this, we are all human beings. Unity comes from our pain. Change comes from pain. When we stop attacking each other, and work together, we can make progress and fight back against oppressive policies. However, in order for us to come together politically, we’ll have to abandon old ideas, prejudices, and fears. We’ll need leaders who can build bridges and unite, not manipulate others with fear and hate. Honesty and integrity will prevail over political rhetoric.