Trump Supporters and Dignity

A stab at the question from a Democrat whose friends alternate between Bernie and the candidate she names "old Hilda Baggins."
Thing is, Trump supporters don’t vote against their best interests, democrats just don’t understand the interest they care about most.

It’s dignity.


America is terrible at giving its citizens dignity and meaning. We have, with the internet, the power for more people to be appreciated than ever before, yet we use it primarily to shame each other. Shaming Trump supporters for being “ignorant bigots” is the worst thing you can do, because their entire motivation in voting for Trump is to alleviate the shame they are already carrying. If you add to their shame, they will dig in further.

It is, obviously, difficult to think about ways to reduce shame on a national level but we have to start finding ways to have more appreciation for each other, even those we disagree with. At the most basic level we can start by not explicitly shaming people. We can stop calling them ignorant. We can stop mocking them on the internet. We can stop calling them out on twitter.
I wonder.

"America is terrible at giving its citizens dignity and meaning." Well, it doesn't try. The Catholic Church tries to help people find dignity and meaning. America sets you free to find your own, in whatever way you like. The American project is about liberty: your dignity is assumed to be guaranteed by your status as a free man or woman.

Whatever esteem you aspire to beyond that, that's for you to build somehow. How? That's up to you, too.

Along the way, you're expected to shift for yourself somehow too. Here's where the trouble comes along: increasingly because of technology, those who earn first in unskilled and now in many skilled ways face competition from the poorest places on earth. Increasingly, because of technology, you also compete with robots that can work 24 hours a day at a fraction of the cost of a human worker.

If you think dignity comes from work, you're in bad shape. But dignity is at least tied up with work, because work is how you get resources, and your status in the community depends on your ability to wield resources. We expect you to pay for everything you use. If you own a home, we expect you to pay taxes on it every year, and will take it from you the minute you can't. If dignity includes having security in a place in the world, it depends in America on having the ability to earn adequate resources.

Probably it does everywhere, really, no matter what schemes are set up to mask that fact.

It's an interesting stab, in any case. The author, one Emma Lindsay -- good Scottish name, that -- deserves credit for having written it. Just the moment at which she proposes to look beyond racism, rather than stopping with it as sufficient cause to condemn, is stunning coming at this time and place and from someone of her particular 'tribe.'

Maybe there's some value to all this Trump business after all. It's at least stimulating some interesting thoughts.


Edith Hook said...

I posted comments on the Noonan thread that could just as easily have been posted here. I come from a background that emphasized maturation, accomplishment, responsibility, and self actualization. I don't think any of this matters without the dignity of value added employment. I utterly reject the notion that most Americans have not tried to adapt to the ever changing economic environment. Here is a comment(by Jane) that I came across years ago, maybe somewhat out of date, but you will get my drift.
"Let's see, the electronic manufacturing jobs went to Japan decades ago, then all the labor intensive manufacturing jobs went to Asia, the rest were automated; half of our IT jobs went to India. Agriculture, construction, landscaping, housekeeping, restaurant jobs went to illegals.
When manufacturing jobs started to disappear, people went into construction, distribution, transportation, retail, or back to school for IT and Finance. Then the dotcom bust and outsourcing killed off job prospects for IT grads, leaving Finance and Real Estate. Now that Wall Street and Real Estate have imploded, dragging with it Retail, distribution, and what's left of manufacturing, construction...what else is left?"
The government (maybe giving each other flu shots)! Or Punditry and activism!

Christopher B said...

No, she's substantially correct.

Prior to 1964, every citizen was assumed to be equal in political dignity and autonomy. The default position was that people had to be persuaded to change their political views. In that era, some citizens were denied the ability to express that dignity and autonomy. It was a unique and grievous evil that required remedy but along the way certain people discovered that the remedy applied was a useful tool to be used against to their political opponents.

We're now living in a society were people are no longer persuaded to change how they think politically but coerced.

David Foster said...

This applies to the political propaganda of both sides. I saw a FB meme from a conservative friend that said implies that Sanders voters are all kids too lazy to want to work for a living.

Which is probably true of many of them, but I know several Sanders supporters who are not kids and who work very hard. It is just not wise to underrate the opposition, and it is rare that you will change someone's views by insulting them.

Political speech needs to be thought of a both dialog and as marketing; too often, it is just about emotional venting and the assertion of moral superiority.

Texan99 said...

Insults aside, sometimes a persuasive political argument is about showing that you'd be better off if you changed what you want from a candidate, and sometimes about showing that a particular candidate isn't likely to give you what you say you want.

I'm not interested in shaming anyone who supports Trump. I understand his appeal very well. I worry that it will prove illusory, but I understand that they believe the alternatives are proven disappointments, whereas with this new wildcard there's at least a chance for change. Because Trump is primarily a populist, and I am firmly against many common populist policies (e.g. tariffs) but fervently in favor of others (free markets), my truce with Trump will always be uneasy, but I find a lot of common ground with his supporters. I don't feel nearly as strongly about many immigration issues as a lot of conservatives or populists, but I can agree that immigration policy as we've been practicing it for a while now is insane, and almost any change there might well spark useful discussion about alternatives, as in "Are open borders important enough to you to give up the minimum wage and the welfare state?"

Texan99 said...

PS, on the other hand Trump appears to have repudiated his immigration stance lately, and it's hard to tell where that leaves us with him.

David Foster said...

What has happened, I believe, is that people who work for a living...and who do not have extremely scarce skills (or credentials allowing them to simulate such skills) have been hit more or less simultaneously by 5 factors:

1) The falling costs of ocean shipping and air freight have created much more direct competition with people in low-wage countries.

2) The Internet has also enabled such competition with physically-remote people in industries not involving physical goods (viz reading of medical images and certain forms of legal research)

3) Expanded immigration (legal and illegal) creates more competition for people who work on specific sites (construction, lawn care), and the competition is often with people whose cost of living is relatively low as their families are still back in the Home Country.

4) H-1B visas create competition with people whose residency in the US is entirely at the will of their employer

5) Automation continues to reduce labor content across a whole range of jobs: I'm not one of those who believes 'the robots are going to take all the jobs', but the long-term trends are continuing and maybe accelerating a bit

6) Public policies that are hostile to business creation and especially to manufacturing. There has also been considerable hostility toward manufacturing among cultural elites, as I've written about previously.

Edith Hook said...

Getting back to the theme of the article, I forgot integrity and civic responsibility as a character trait. I don't mean to suggest that only people who collect wages have dignity and value.
I am pretty much in sync with David's comment. I would only add that this is climbing the food chain. Who is going to be the tax payer? Who is going to be the consumer? Who is going to commit to a mortgage, and education, a long term capital investment without some sort of stable income stream and confidence in the future.

Oh and free college education!!! Ugh, this drives me crazy. What is the point if you don't know what the jobs of the future are going to look like? This is what we need to be talking about. That, and the reality that you may have to reinvent yourself more than once or twice in a life time. In my youth, one of the end all occupations was being a pharmacist. Now they're just supervisors.

Edith Hook said...

"and who do not have extremely scarce skills (or credentials allowing them to simulate such skills) have been hit more or less simultaneously by 5 factors":

I have a friend who is a hospital administrator. On the overnight shift, they send scans and tests to Hawaii to be interpreted. Why not Singapore, India, Germany? Why not send a schematic, SOW(Statement of Work), or spec to a Design Engineer overseas?

Grim said...

Good points, Mr. Foster, especially #4: "...competition with people whose residency in the US is entirely at the will of their employer."

That is a huge incentive to knuckle under to your employer on every other negotiated benefit of employment, compared with citizen workers.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I agree that it is not the government's job to provide its citizens with dignity. It is also, however, not its job to undermine the dignity of its citizens, which many working people feel is happening.

Some of this is not so much a change as a revelation, as the gradual expansion of mass-media informs us what people in other parts of the country have, and what they think of us.

Tom said...

Of David's list, 3, 4, and 6 are directly impacted by government policies. A platform that addressed them would go a long way toward mitigating the effects of the rest, I think, and toward appealing to Trump's base.

David Foster said...

I also meant to include:

7) Runaway education-based credentialism. This prevents may individuals from fulfilling their true potential, and prevents the economy as a whole from getting the full benefits of that potential.

Tomorrow is Monday, and there will be someone in a factory who would have made an excellent department manager, but who won't get the job because the job posting says 'College Degree Required.' There will be a bank branch manager who *does* have a degree, but won't get the Regional Manager job she wants (and would do very well) because she doesn't have an MBA. And there is someone who does have an MBA but won't get the investment banking or consulting job he wants because his degree wasn't from an Ivy League school.

David Foster said...

Regarding the cultural hostility to manufacturing that I mentioned in #6, here's the post I wrote on the subject in 2010:

Edith Hook said...

Good article

One of my favorite programs is ‘Ultimate Restorations”, a program that documents the restoration of fabulous machines from the golden age. I teared up when I saw Kansas City’s restored 1927 Ahrens Fox fire engine and the relaunch of the Cangarda, the last American steam yacht. These artifacts took an unprecedented level of experience and craftsmanship that used to be common place, created without high tech CNC. The loss of these big brains is very frightening to me. That said, I think that standardized interchangeable parts is one of the major milestones of human history and the heart and soul of mass production, aka material well being. We work very hard to produce products that are dimension ally, functionally, materially identical each time, every time regardless of machine operator, whether on machine A or machine B, regardless of whether it was last week or ten years ago. It is also a Catch22 because the craftsman was replaced by the assembly worker performing repetitive work, supposedly an automoton, a mindless human being. I think this contributes to the public looking down on manufacturing, especially credentialed elites who don't really add value. Sorry for going off topic.

David Foster said...

Not off-topic at all. What I have seen is various writers arguing that manufacturing used to be mainly about "brawn" and it will now be about a smaller number of people who must have "brains." I don't think these people understand the degree to which mass production manufacturing has *always* required a substantial number of people doing brainwork, sometimes mixed with physical work and sometimes not: production planners, industrial engineers, inventory control specialists, procurement people, etc, in addition to highly skilled trades such as toolmakers.

See "Myths of the Knowledge Society," in which I take on some comments by Rich Karlgaard and Walter Wriston, who should have known better:

raven said...

David, the comment on how folks avoided manufacturing workers at parties was slightly startling- those are the types I seek out, on the very rare occasions I go to gathering of that sort. People who make, build , invent, are interesting folks.

David Foster said...

"America is terrible at giving its citizens dignity and meaning"

Reminds me of something Sebastian Haffner said in his memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars. When the economic situation improved and the political chaos died down (during the Stressemann chancellorship)...

"The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness."

But…and I think this is a particuarly important point…a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

"A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk."

"To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis."

I think that in America today, we have a considerable number of people who have gotten used to having maybe not the *entire* content of their emotional lives delivered by the public sphere, but a big part thereof.

Texan99 said...

When my poor old aunt let my cousins stick her in assisted living, everyone kept trying to persuade her that she should love it there. There were people to take care of her every need. Certainly she needed help she couldn't get if she continued to live alone in a small town with all her relatives hours away. But the help came from institutional strangers who forced it on her according to their own agenda, which depended heavily on efficiency and the convenience of her caregivers. She hated every minute, the more so because she was surrounded by people who expected her both to be grateful and to identify with the mindset and mission of her nannies, which is to say to submit passively to their program of assistance. If she tried to explain what it meant to her to be deprived of her dignity, she hit a brick wall. After all, there was only so much time and money to lavish attention on her. Why couldn't she just go along? Couldn't she be grateful?

Edith Hook said...

Texan, Great Analogy

David, I agree that there was a lot of brain output (the kind that comes from hands on, in the trenches experience) in early manufacturing and I suppose that standardization reduced a lot of the need for it.
How do you see the emergence of Big data and its impact on a level playing field?

As to your comment on the German mindset that emerged between the wars, it reminded me of the Baby Boomers, I know, who are stuck in what they imagine to be their once upon a time, heroic hippie youth. I see them as having a craving for drama and an inability to accept their real lives as mundane, ala Walter Mitty.
We evolved big brains capable of making life and death decisions in milliseconds. Compared to most of human history, many people, who live in the west, are fairly coddled, living pretty safe, secure, and uneventful lives as couch potatoes, could it be, even empty lives? Opening up the electric bill is about as exciting as it gets. Think about how common place it is to have a 5 generation picture on the mantel. Maybe many folks crave drama and that is why media revolves around melodrama, and all this huge investment in faux outrage is a pathetic substitute for real life drama and adventure.
Or maybe, the manufactured drama (as in hoaxes, for example) is an occasion to bond, like sports.

Edith Hook said...

This artice echos what I have been saying ab out Trump.

I also realize that Trump is just the vessel. I understand that there are limits to what any political figure can accomplish given the forces that are arrayed against the regular folks, yet there is Trump throwing a rope to them.

David Foster said...

Edith...good piece. But while it's true that the people in question may *think* Trump is throwing a rope to them, it's not clear that it is a rope that will carry any weight. Yes, you can ban US companies from "shipping jobs abroad"...but most consumers will react by simply buying a lower-priced imported product made by a non-US company. You could always raise tariffs on imports, of course...but how do you raise tariffs on imports (or erect substantial non-tariff barriers) without also destroying, say, the export of Boeing aircraft and GE turbines to those same countries, at the expense of the people who had jobs building those airplanes and those turbines?

I don't see any evidence that Trump has thought through these kinds of issues, at all.

David Foster said...

I keep thinking of something said by Edward Porter Alexander, who was Lee's artillery commander at Gettysburg and later became a railroad president. He said that the steamboat, the railroad, and the telegraph had changed the environment to such a degree as to make "a new planet out of the one George Washington knew," that state sovereignty was "utterly incompatible" with commerce as enabled by such technologies, and that change in environment required change in political institutions.

For the steamboat, the railroad, and the telegraph, substitute inexpensive container freight, fast air transportation, and the Internet.

But what is the "therefore"?...It is certainly not a world government, even of a federal sort analogous to the present US system.

Edith Hook said...

Well, I guess Mr. Alexander was correct and I expect the emergence of increasingly powerful transnational authorities in the future. I understand the reasons and the tradeoffs, but color me reluctant. At least in the 19th century, the centralization of power and homogenization was between regions with an American civic religion in common, not so with "The One World Order". I am sure the Commerce Uber Alles crowd will have no problem sacrificing the sovereignty, values, rights, jobs, and economic well being of America's working people in increments.
Already with the Federal Government, life changing decisions are less and less in the hands of the people affected,or by people who have skin in the game and hands on; in the trenches knowledge, as opposed to an unaccountable, indifferent, remote, credentialed and book learned technocrat, in another state, or country, or even on another continent. As Boris Johnson stated,” To a greater or lesser extent, the story of this Euro-election has been the rise of the minor parties……..united by a VISCERAL dislike of the EU bureaucracy: its arrogance, its remoteness, its expense, its endless condescension and its manic and messianic belief in its right to legislate for all 500 million people in the EU.” And Boris doesn't even bring up the cooption/corruption angle.

As for Trump and tariffs, I have the impression that he is talking about a level playing field. In any case, my point is that he is the one who has responded to their concerns, the people who have been left behind and who fear for their children. It is a shame that we don't have a public figure who can articulate the pros and cons in a way that is understood by most.

Ymar Sakar said...

Propaganda is not primarily for convincing the enemy. People who saw WWII posters should have learned that by now. It reflects a very distorted and inadequate comprehension of the Art of Propaganda.

More than half of it is designed to defend and motivate your own side.

Grim said...

Heh. That's true, of course, but it's not true from the perspective of US doctrine. American doctrine defines propaganda as enemy action. Thus, nothing we do -- pointed at our own population or the enemy's -- can be propaganda. (We call it "public diplomacy" or "IO" or "PSYOP" or whatever else we decide to name it instead. Advertising. Marketing!)

You're right, though. The two big truths about propaganda are these:

1) The main target is your own side, and especially gaining obedience and maintaining political will to continue the conflict.

2) The best tool is repetition. Your arguments should be good, but more importantly, they should be short and frequently repeated.