Month: August 2016

The Hard Hat Riots and Donald Trump

At face value, the Hard Hat riots were an event in 1970, where construction workers attacked Anti-Vietnam War protestors on Wall Street. The event served as one of the reasons for Democrats to distance themselves from unions, thereby beginning a process that is still relevant today. I also see the event as an example of the distance between a young and old generation that also still affects political decisions in the US. The truth is that there was always a generation gap that existed and the other truth is that is an international phenomenon. Popular culture would not exist in her current form if there hadn’t been a group of young filmmakers, authors, and musicians telling their stories in ways that were unknown to an older group of performers and intellectuals. The same flow can be seen in politics, where a generational gap can lead to policies that reflect changing attitudes towards a multitude of issues from consumer protection to unionization, from financial reform to civil rights.

My basic assumption of the event itself has nothing to do with a generational gap though but is much rather connected to the idea that followers of Donald Trump are the spiritual descendants of this angry group of workers.

The notion that I want to express is that Donald Trump’s followers are homogenous in their anger over people, who have metaphorically left them standing in the rain by either exploiting social conservatism to pass tax cuts or who have abandoned them for a rainbow coalition. Both parties are partially at fault for the Donald Trump presidential campaign, even if the GOP is much more guilty than the Democrats.

The abandonment of the working class and it’s issues by democrats was combined with a mixture of neoliberal free-market ideology and right-wing Christian zealotry on the side of republicans, thereby leading to a loss of an actual voice for the middle class, as both parties took their base for granted, without actually delivering to them. There was never an actual plan to enforce rightwing policies like overturning Roe vs. Wade or banning Gay marriage completely, as business groups would never allow it, fearing financial losses. The journalist Thomas Friedman said it best, when he explained that conservative blue-collar Americans would for example “vote to ban abortion” and “receive a rollback in capital gains taxes”(Frank, Thomas. What’s the Matter with Kansas ? {S.7}, New York 2004.).
This betrayed structure of promising the fulfillment of personally held social wishes was one of the key factors that drove a wedge between the GOP leadership and the GOP base. The Tea party was a way of the base to tell their leaders to remember the idea of small government and responsible spending, which was swiftly co-opted by insiders in order to destroy a newly elected democratic president and make his plans impossible. This establishment manipulated their base to form as a barrier to tax increases and sane regulation, especially in the energy industry. The blue-collar base turned to the republicans twice, the first time in the Vietnam war era, the second time in the 80s, when  Reagan was their candidate. The relationship between base and leadership was always flimsy, but the pure partisan style of corrupt and out-of-touch politicians like Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and John Boehner, deeply divided by their actual adherence to forces like the Business Roundtable and the Chamber of Commerce, and the newly formed angry voters demanding opposition and radicalism on  a level that was deeply uncomfortable to corporate financiers, drove the party and their two most powerful inside groups over the edge in terms of their unity and willingness to respect each other’s political positions and metaphorical realm of action. The Christian right and Tea Party are no longer content with operating on local levels, hogtied by the local Chamber of Commerce, when it came to social policy, while the business wing lost their patience with the anger they had unleashed.

Donald Trump is a candidate prospected and strengthened by pure despair of many on the right, a candidate meant to explain that a bone once in a while in terms of populist or Christian conservative policies is no longer enough. The populism of Trump is fake, the populist sentiments of his base are not though. They would love to get rid of corporate control and turn to anybody, who seems willing or capable of giving them their dream government. This is the basic story of this campaign and this problem has to be solved, in order to return political culture to something seaming reasonable and functional enough to govern as the most powerful democracy again.

Jefferson Cowie Staying Alive – The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class A Book recommendation

This is the first entry in a planned blog on both US politics and related culture.
To begin with my work, I would like to recommend a book that served as a fascinating introduction to some of the historic events of the 1970s and 1980s and to the question, how those events helped create the current state of affairs in the US, with regard to labour and welfare policy. The book I want to recommend was published in 2010 by the historian Jefferson Cowie and tries to analyze, how the political environment of the 1970s created a framework for the almost complete destruction of organized labor and the effect of this on politics and culture. In his work, Jefferson Cowie provides a step-by-step explanation and exploration of working-class America, by discussing not only unions themselves but also cultural products that talked about or to this audience.

In the introductory essay, Cowie familiarizes the reader with a Detroit autoworker named Dewey Burton and his family, and by explaining Burton’s thoughts throughout the decade, he already explains the changing state of mind in working-class America. It is explained that Burton went from voting for George McGovern in 1972 to vote for Ronald Reagan in 1980, as did many Blue Collar voters.

In the following chapters of his work, the historian provides us with a multitude of reasons for the disillusionment in America and for the anger that made Reagan president. Cowie explains, how labour leadership was considered as old, conservative and largely out of touch with the base, they were supposedly representing. He makes this clear, by explaining how AFL-CIO leader George Meany reacted to criticism from within the labour movement and how both his cultural conservatism and pro-war stance in the Vietnam war era alienated younger union members.
The cultural conservatism is made clear in his attacks on the opening of the democratic party for anti-war liberals, homosexuals and feminists. This explanation leads to Cowie explaining, how Richard Nixon tapped into this cultural resentment by embracing pro-war midwestern and southern values and their cultural products, most notably the Country Music of Merle Haggard. This is contrasted by explaining, how the love for working-class and southern culture in the form of  “Nashville” (1976) “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977), “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), Western movies and Country Rock came to define anti-establishment 1970s culture.

In the second part of his book, Cowie explains, how the behavior of labor unions and the society’s stance towards them came to a point that made the election of an anti-union president like Ronald Reagan possible. He explores in great detail, how organized labor both were diminished and destroyed themselves by a wrong-headed approach toward the huge issues and problems after the 1973 Oil Crisis and how the traditional industries that depended on unionized workforces went under after the crisis made their operations more costly and more difficult, than they had ever been before. This state is called, quoting the social scientist Michael Harrington, as a “collective sadness”, thus referencing to this not only as a problem for labour unions, but as a problem of the society as a whole, as all parts of the US had to suffer under conditions created by he plight of the car or steel industry and the despair of the laid-off workforce. The energy problems proved to be a burden to Nixon, Ford and especially Carter, who had to abandon the Keynesian consensus, even if he unsuccessfully tried to protect organized labour. His abandonment of them in a state of crisis led to their support for his foe in 1980. The unwinding (Packer) of working-class America is also exemplified in an analysis of culture, especially music by both Bruce Springsteen and more unlikely bands like the Ramones and Devo, but also through films like “Blue Collar”(1978), “Rocky”(1976), “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and “Taxi Driver” (1975), and series like “All in the Family” (1971-1979). The book closes with the election of Reagan and the preview of the vastly different democratic party in 2008 when the next crisis came to haunt the working class.

To summarize, “Stayin’ Alive” is a beautiful and detailed analysis of the changes in the  USA of the 1970s and how those changes helped to create the current US society.