Published on http://www.counterpunch.org/
“The critical question is: When, or will, Trump’s voters realize that he isn’t delivering on his promises, that his health care and tax proposals will help the wealthy at their expense, that he isn’t producing the jobs he claims? His proposed budget would slash numerous domestic programs, such as food stamps, that his supporters have relied on heavily.”
Elizabeth Drew, “Trump: The Presidency in Peril,” The New York Review of Books, June 22, 2017
Simple answer: if Donald J. Trump “makes America great again” then there will not be any lost or forgotten people. He will deliver.
What will that entail?
If President Trump manages to “make America great again” to the satisfaction of the 40% or so who voted for him then all the conditions that created a secure, angst-free middle class as well as a fluid advance to that class will have returned. The drop in middle class income and the rise in upper class income would have halted, re-positioning low and middle income households to a place where they have a fair share of the profits of globalized techno-semio capitalism. America would be great again, as Trump’s followers define greatness and Donald Trump’s visage would be carved on Mount Rushmore.
Let’s engage a willing suspension of disbelief and say Donald J. Trump’s presidency does not turn out to be a blessing to the American people, as Reince Priebus avows. Let’s say he just delivers to family and fellow moguls?
Let’s imagine that the slogan, “Make America Great Again” was always no more than an infantile polymorphous perverse “See Me! I’m Great!” Then the title question cannot be easily answered and the Lost and the Forgotten remain lost and forgotten or become forces not easily conned again.
Whether the blame for all failures to “make American great again” will fall on Liberals, Hillary, Obama, Socialists, Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, the 9th Circuit Court, The New York Times, and so on is not yet knowable. Some Americans will not hold Trump responsible for the failure of his promise but rather all the anti-Trumpians who blocked his path.
I have no expectation that Trump’s fall will bring clarity to who is right and who is wrong and thus end at least one divide in our politics. The warring divide of perceptual frames cannot be expected to dissolve even if Trump is impeached, indicted, resigns, self-destructs, or angry Liberals frog-walk him out of the Oval Office.
There will never again be a simple TV image of a guilty Nixon for all to see. We are instead in a sandstorm of blinding spins, narratives, tweets and emoji that bring no universally accepted clarity to focus.
And yet the warring of phenomenal realities cannot affect the sad conditions of everyday life within which the Lost and the Forgotten will remain, whether Trump was a con man or a champion destroyed.
The question then is how to subdue or re-enchant some 40% of the population who got out and voted for Trump in 2016, call these the Forgotten, as well as keep the Lost, including some or all of the 13.5% in poverty, in their same benumbed state of day to day survival. There are also 40% of eligible voters who did not vote. This population’s disinterest in Trump’s rise will surely be met by a disinterest in his fall. It is the Lost and the Forgotten who loom on the horizon as explosive devices.
Our legislative choice in regard to the Lost — the Lost have chosen to be lost or the Lost have been overwhelmed by conditions they cannot escape — is somewhere middle right, the momentum since Reagan, a strong right. One speaks here of mostly bad choices. Chance is held to be no more than an opportunity to win even bigger. Contrarily, one sees a web of forces, inequities of world and Chance that early on preempt choice and construct a path difficult to change without some assistance.
I see our life experiences as muddled and paradoxical as our human nature. What percentage our own bad choices play, what percentage the play of Chance, and what percentage social, political and economic conditions impervious to our personal choices seem all to be incalculable, if not by each of us then certainly incalculable by legislation.
Nevertheless, we do legislate. Whether we work governmentally to redistribute or not redistribute wealth is a matter grounded on this unknowable issue of choice and responsibility. Our tax “reform” must stand on one side or another; education, housing, transportation, health care are held to a strictly personal province or viewed as social; we choose either independence or interrelationship.
Social democracies take the high ground and act legislatively as if the Lost have faced misfortune they cannot withstand without assistance from those who have prospered. Whether conditions for both were the same or different, whether choice was there for both, and whether both worked equally hard are factors these governments judge they cannot tally. So their position is comparable to a jury that acquits in the absence of determinate proof. Better to find all innocent than all guilty.
The neoliberal, market rule view prefers the low ground — the Lost should assume responsibility for their dire straits and not look to those who have made the right choices for assistance. What is a mess of incalculable variables is here reduced to a certainty. The Lost have willingly lost themselves. The choice they have made is not to work hard and not to overcome by their own will inequitable conditions.
Such determinate judgment forges an austere but proud and bold politics. The way to invigorate the Lost is to bring them to their knees and force them to get up under their own steam. If they cannot, they are of no use in helping the Winners “grow” the society. And so, the Lost in a market rule society are like weeds in a gated garden of prosperity.
An economics that will inevitably create a lost class must find an alibi discourse to exonerate itself and at the same time lay all blame on the Lost themselves.
However, whatever percentages of the Lost were drawn to Donald Trump as a savior, we cannot expect that President Trump will actually do them any good. It is also probable that Trump will make it tougher for the Lost, not easier, though awareness of what lies outside a daily struggle for survival is part of what the Lost have lost. An absence of Trump created improvements in lives already filled with absence may not register.
While the Lost have lost any self-image, the Forgotten are aware of losing a self-image that they connect with the Golden Age of Middle Class Well-Being.
The Forgotten recall being at the head of the table and now see that place taken from them. By whom? What Donald Trump has done is point out the usurpers and promised to “deconstruct” them. I do not believe the Forgotten are blaming their own bad choices for their fallen state. They are rightly looking for external factors but these are in a maze of economic and ideological entanglements that our political campaigns are not designed to handle. There is no incentive to handle such entanglements, certainly not by our duopoly.
Those espousing a market rule’s determination of winning and losing are not going to disclose the problems of this rule. Neither is the U.S. electorate disposed to deal with entrenched foundational problems arising from an economic system that is too revered to be suspect. Only those who question this economic faith are suspect, a suspicion that made Bernie Sanders an unlikely choice of the Forgotten.
The easiest beginning to bring the Lost out of survival mode is a nationalized basic income, Finland style. The Lost and the Forgotten would be aided by President Trump also advocating taxing the wealthy or a Robin Hood tax on all Wall Street transactions. He could also increase the earned income tax credit, increase the Alternative Minimum Tax as well as the Estate Tax. An infrastructure improvement program could look more like a WPA project than a frontier for private sector profiteering. He could also excise profit from prisons, education, water, warfare, and health care and at the same time constrain profits in pharmaceuticals, energy, advertising, credit card usury, and financial services.
None of this is at all probable because the non-ideological Trump is not going to stand behind anything that will injure his own wealth standing. Monetizing the presidency may or may not be what his supporters expected.
It is possible that the Forgotten People will find themselves another redeemer, someone who combines the demagogue’s populist appeal with a determined ideological intent. In other words, a demagogue who skillfully and intelligently pursues a course of dictatorial control not hampered by pathological narcissism and a willful ignorance, someone who would never say, “I know words. I’m good with words.”
“All the public attention on VR has focused on visual experiences and putting on a headset and being inside a digital space,” said Narula, who started Improbable in 2012. “What’s even more mind-blowing and is more of a turning point is going from being digitally immersed in an environment that’s as complicated as a video game to being digitally immersed in something that is reality.”
Ari Levy, “Virtual Reality Technology is Going Way Beyond Video Games,” CNBC, Nov.5, 2016
Disappointment, bitterness, frustration, increased anxieties may lead to nothing, rather like the way medieval peasants fell into a stupor for fifteen hundred years. But Twitter wasn’t around then, nor any of the outlets of populist anger. Our duopoly may consider that the great expectations we have regarding an ever magnificently expanding cybertech may actually anesthetize before a post-Trump electorate builds up to any condition that might ignite. We are already mired in a confusion of perceptions and reactions in a viral web that offers the illusions of personal empowerment.
Can this not be a way to detour and deflect a potential explosion of both the Lost and the Forgotten?
The plot here is simple: Trump’s electoral success means those who felt helpless now feel a personal agency compliments of that success; when awareness creeps in that their situation remains the same or has gotten worse, they return to a psychological state of learned helplessness.
Cyberspace, and especially the advances in AI, robotics and virtual reality, offer a return to personal agency, the price being total withdrawal from a “Real World” surround, especially one in which the Lost and the Forgotten are more deeply lost, more deeply forgotten.
“A few weeks ago, following the Republican Iowa caucuses, I pointed out an eerie correlation in the voting data. It seems that Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest.”
Jeff, Guo, “Death predicts whether people vote for Donald Trump,” Washington Post, March 4, 2016
It is possible that if President Trump has a full four year term, the number of The Forgotten and The Lost may suffer attrition due to unattended health problems, incarceration, heroin and opiod addiction, casualties of war, suicide, lethal confusion, catatonia, fugue, and other psychological disorders the DSM 6 will describe.
We can expect an even greater increase in psychopathologies as economic anxieties and insecurities deleteriously affect mental health. Parallel to that will be a rising need to identify and remove such casualties “for their own protection” as they can be tagged as “a danger to themselves and others.”
Suicide is on the increase inexplicable among middle-aged white people. Washington Post reports an addiction crisis along the “backbone of America.” (Joel Achenbach and Dan Keating, “The “Unnatural Causes: Sick and Dying in Small-Town America. Unnatural Causes: Sick and dying in small-town America: A new divide in American death.” The series banner captures the threat: “Drugs, alcohol, marketing and lax federal oversight are working to defy modern trends of mortality, perhaps most starkly among middle-aged white women.“
Prosecutors, who have scant oversight in their determinations, may pull more of the disaffected off the streets as felons. Some may be removed, as the Baker Act in Florida, for example, allows for an involuntary commitment of those identified as mentally ill. “The likelihood that an arrest would lead to a felony charge doubled…” over the period 1994 to 2008. Decentralized prosecutorial decisions have thus already responded to the need of a severely divided Have/Have Not society to contain the “Losers.”
How likely is it that President Trump, a man who feeds on adulation, will take on the mantle of American Warrior and start a war around which we can all rally? And who will fight that war?
Norman Mailer once wrote that wars are a convenient way to export a generation that is proving disruptive or a liability. However, Nate Silver has polled Trump supporters as on average, older, whiter and less-educated than the rest of the U.S. so the battlefield may not be the locus of their dissolution. But the impoverished stand as always as the ready “cannon fodder” of war. We expect an at-home besieged President Trump to use war at some point as a rallying flag but it does not leave the “tool box” as a tool to detour and diminish the toxic fallout of this president’s reign.
If the hype and spin regarding domestic violence were to kick up to homegrown militia level once again then it is possible that a Law & Order candidate who conducts a war right here in the homeland will corral the post-Trump supporters.
A powerful militant faction supported by a president might handily have a Liberal/Leftist faction “going to the mattresses,” as colorfully phrased in The Godfather to mean going into hiding. It would be foolish for all those who laughed at Trump’s candidacy from the get go to think now that those he has roused to action would dissolve rather than go on to create a regime of power.
“I know no safe depositary of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
—Thomas Jefferson to William C. Jarvis, 1820.
What happens to the Lost and the Forgotten within an economic/political complex that axiomatically produces both?
You can take the “you need to break a few eggs to make an omelet” approach, the eggs being the Lost and Forgotten, the omelet, profit to shareholders. You can take the free to choose/self-empowered approach and wait for the Lost and Forgotten to get their act together.
That’s the low ground we occupy. We can go to higher ground and work and educate toward awareness of the causes of immiseration of so many, rather like turning the lights on in a dark closet in which someone is being struck on the head and cannot see where or who the striker is. Illuminating the causes requires what Holmes referred to as a “three pipe solution.”
Clearly, if our educational system from grade school onward had done a better job of representing interpretive skills leading to understanding so many now would not be so easily swayed by trumpery.
This of course is a long range solution, actually beginning with Jefferson, but abandoned as education served other ends than political enlightenment. A failure here has meant we now reap the whirlwind of not only a president who abuses any rational way of knowing but also a constituency of the Lost and the Forgotten who perceive reason, purpose and recuperation in such abuses.