From Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump: Chasing the White Working Class

March 15Progressives, moderates, and even many conservatives are aghast at Donald Trump’s populist appeal.  As this cantankerous oaf flashes ever brighter in the political pan, they fret that his demagoguery might land him the Republican presidential nomination, and perhaps even carry him all the to the White House.

I’m not worried about the prospect of a Hail to the Trump scenario and never have been.  As far back as August, I opined that he has virtually no chance of becoming president.  I still believe that.  He lost to Ted Cruz in Iowa, just like I said he would.  And I’m sticking with my prediction that he’ll be done by the Ides of March.  Should Trump actually make it to the Oval Office, I’ll buy you all plane tickets to Canada, as promised.

That being said, the Trump phenomenon is certainly worth investigating.  After all, how are we to explain the dramatic success of this heinous cretin?  How could this man, who is not just a walking punch line, but also thoroughly repulsive in almost every way, be so popular, not just on a silly reality TV show with a dumb catch phrase, but also in the supposedly serious world of presidential politics?

As has been pointed out elsewhere, The Donald’s popularity is far from universal.  He does poorly among women, independent moderates, the under-40 crowd, and the educated.  He is almost universally loathed by minorities and Liberals.  In particular, he is scoring high marks with the white working class, a category we need to understand in both social and economic terms.

More than nine-tenths of Trump’s supporters are white.  Almost 85% are 45 or older.  Almost 60% are male.  Nearly half have no more than a high school diploma, while fewer than a fifth graduated college.  More than 40% of them favor of bombing Agrabah, a fictional country from the Disney animated children’s film Aladdin.  More than 60% think Barack Obama was not born in the United States; two-thirds believe Obama’s Muslim; well over four-fifths support Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims (as opposed a little over half of Republicans generally).  Seventy-two percent are in households earning less than $100,000 per year, and a third are in households earning less than $50,000. [source]

It would seem that the cuff linked billionaire has surged to the front of GOP polls (if not its delegate count) by using populist appeals to attract white working class voters.  But really, this is nothing new.  There is a long tradition of populist politics in U.S. history, and it hearkens all the way back to Andrew Jackson.  A brief recap of that tradition not only puts Trump into historical context, but can also reveal both the perils and possibilities of populism. Read more »

No Solace For Children

sunset.jptI sat on a friend’s living room couch, waiting for her to emerge from her bedroom contraptions.

I had arrived at the time and date requested.  But my initial visit to her room had been cut short amid the beeps and whirring of machinery.  After some brief exchanges, she began to raise herself and then asked me to summon her aide.

“Please get Dr. Reinhardt some tea while he waits for me.”

During the whole of the visit, that was the one time her eyes sparkled and she was fierce and energetic, full of bearing and dignity.  That she was truly herself.

I went to the kitchen with the aide.  She had already poured me some iced tea when I first arrived.  I retrieved the glass and said, “I think she wants you to go back in and help her come out.”  The aide smiled and returned to the bedroom laboratory.  I found a seat on the living room couch and took small sips while she helped my friend get herself together.

It took a few minutes.  Terminal lung cancer patients move slowly.  When she finally came out, it was with the help of the aide and a multi-pronged cane.  Trailing behind her was a machine that facilitated breathing; she was tethered to it by a clear plastic tube attached to her nose with fasteners looped around her ears.  She sat down gingerly and was engulfed by a wing back chair.

As we talked, we knew it would be the last time.  Adults don’t have to explain these things to each other.  She gave me a colorful pouch with a drawstring.  It contained a small gift of remembrance for a mutual friend who was out of town: polished stone jewelry from Afghanistan.  The pouch itself, made in Oman, was for me.  I asked if there was anything I could do for her.

“Take me to Oregon,” she responded. Read more »

In Memoriam: Lemmy

Ace of SpadesThe first time I heard of Motörhead was in the late 1980s.  I was a DJ at WCBN-FM, the college radio station in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  During my late night shift, someone called in a request  for “Ace of Spades” off the band’s self-titled 1980 album, their fourth.

I shuffled through the stacks and found the record.  The cover featured three guys in the desert wearing black leather and cowboy hats.  One of them had a bandalero.  Another wore a serape.

Maybe they’ve got a ZZ Top kinda thing going on, I thought to myself as I slapped the album on the platter.

No.  They did’t sound like ZZ Top. Read more »

Donald Trump is Not a Fascist or Your Next President

TrumpBack in August, I published a piece dismissive of Donald Trump’s chances of gaining the White House.  I called those who feared he would become our next president “worry warts.”

My basic contention was that Trump is involved in a quadrennial rite: announcing his presidential candidacy as a way of garnering free publicity.  Furthermore, pursuing attention isn’t just a way to soothe his massive ego.  Publicity is very important to him because at this point he’s a commercial pitchman much more than he is a real estate developer, and the brand he mostly sells is himself.  In this way, he’s fundamentally no different than Michael Jordan or Kim Kardashian.  It also helps explain why he has previously “run” for president in 1988, 2000, 2004, and 2012, along with short-lived efforts to run for New York state governor in and 2006 and 2014.  Free publicity.

In that August essay, I also asserted that most of Trump’s supporters, which really aren’t that many when you crunch the numbers, don’t actually agree with his vague platform. They’re just buying his brash brand. He’ll start to fade by the end of the year, I said. He’ll be done for good in February or March of 2016, I said.

Well, it’s now mid-December, and Trump’s shadowy specter has not faded from our eyes.  Indeed, his numbers are up.  Furthermore, the longer he remains on the political scene, the more outlandish his political statements seem to get, leading many to brand him a fascist.

So now Donald Trump is going to be our next president, and he’s a fascist .

Golly gee willikers, Batman!  That sounds dastardly.  I sure hope he doesn’t pick The Joker as his running mate!

But hold on a second.  Before we shoot that Bat Signal floodlight into the nighttime sky, as if we’re engulfed in some comic book version of the burning of the Reichstag, let’s think about it rationally. Read more »

Guest Blogger Shayla Swift on Child Sexual Assault

Shayla Swift is an educator, a social justice historian, and an advocate for victims of sexual violence.  She is also the Executive Director of Speak Truth to Sexual Violence.  When she is not fighting hard for social change (always) she might be found in a dojo actually fighting, er, training several martial arts practices and overusing the word “rad.”

Last month, the Associated Press broke a story about child sexual assault cases in the military, and the staggering number of plea agreements the Judge Advocate General makes in lieu of going to trial.  What’s more, the general public can only find out about such cases after an arduous freedom of information search process.

The story was profoundly disturbing, raising all sorts of red flags.  It seemed to be yet another case of military’s shady handling of sexual violence, even against children.  It was a moment that called for something more than the vagaries.

What is really going on beyond the surface? Read more »

The New Republican and Democratic Parties

DemublicansIn the 150 years since the end of the U.S. Civil War, the Republicans and Democrats have maintained a relentless stranglehold on every level of American politics nearly everywhere at all times.  While a handful of upstart third parties and independent candidates have periodically made waves, none has ever come close to capturing the White House, or earned more than a brief smattering of Congressional seats.  Likewise, nearly ever state and local government has remained under the duopoly’s exclusive domain.

However, in order to maintain absolute control of American politics and fend off challenges from pesky third parties, the Democrats and Republicans needed to remain somewhat agile.  The times change, and in the endless quest to crest 50%, the parties must change with them.

Since the Civil War, both parties have shown themselves flexible enough to roll with the changes.  The Civil War, the Great Depression, and Civil Rights era each upended the political landscape, leading political constituencies to shift, and forcing the Democrats and Republicans to substantially and permanently reorient themselves.

Now, several decades removed from the last major reshuffling of the two major parties, we may be witnessing yet another major transformation of the duopoly as the elephant and the donkey struggle to remain relevant amid important social changes.  The convulsions of such a shift are reflected in the tumultuous spectacle of the parties’ presidential nomination processes.

The Republicans are in a state of disarray, with inexperienced outsiders currently leading the pack while career politicians struggle to find their way.  Meanwhile, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, also faces a serious threat from an outsider, independent socialist Bernie Sanders.

Personally I very much doubt that an outsider such as Sanders, Donald Trump, or Ben Carson will emerge to claim the nomination of either party.  Party nominating procedures and the oceans of money flowing to mainstream candidates make it rather unlikely.  However, these outsiders’ surprising successes thus far may be an indication of something greater than their own charisma.  It may very well signal the fourth major shift in America’s two-party system since the Civil War. 

How and why is such a shift occurring? And what might the two parties look like after the dust settles? To answer those questions, we should be begin with a brief history of the duopoly itself. Read more »

My Second Book: Welcome to the Oglala Nation

Reinhart book cover (photo by Reinhardt)I’m happy to announce that my second book was recently published by the University of Nebraska Press.  Special thanks to editor Matthew Bokovoy, editorial assistant Heather Stauffer, and the entire UNP staff for all of their help and professionalism during the past several years in shepherding this project to completion.

The book is entitled Welcome to the Oglala Nation: A Documentary Reader in Oglala Lakota Political History.  The UN Press website for the book is here.  The Amazon page for the book is here. Read more »

The Pope and Kim Davis Sittin’ in a Tree . . .

APReutersSo lunatic bigot Kim Davis, she of the weekend jailing and teary and breathless public breakdown (oh, the little sacrifices we must make to preserve narrow minded discrimination in the age of who-gives-a-shit enlightenment), had an audience with the Pope.

In case you forgot, Kim Davis is not Catholic.  She’s Protestant.  An Apostlic Pentacostal Christian to be exact.  If you’re curious, it’s a view of Christianity that places one’s personal experience with God at the forefront, and believes that people of deep faith receive miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit and occasionally display their faith with fun stuff like speaking in tongues.

In other words, theologically speaking, it’s about as different as you can get from Roman Catholicism while still being Christian.  You know, the kind of divide that precipitated brutal religious wars no that long ago.

Catholicism, after all, is pretty strict in maintaining that salvation cannot be had solely through a personal relationship with God.  Rather, you need an interlocutor sanctioned by the Church.  That is, a priest who can take your confessions and grant you various blessings.

Man in the collar’s got a hot line to Jesus that you can’t access without his help.

In a strict Catholic interpretation, Kim Davis is likely going to Hell.  In a loosey goosey Apostlic Pentacostal interpretation, Old Papa Francis just might be the goddamned anti-Christ.

Of course the Devil is, as they say, in the details.

But why then?  Why did the leader of the Catholic Church meet with this Holy Roller?  Read more »

In Memoriam: Yogi Berra

As a boy of 8 and 9 and 10, growing up in the Bronx, I was a big New York Yankees fan.  When you grow up in the Bronx, that’s really all there is to brag about.  A zoo and the Yankees.

Nearly every game aired on channel 11 WPIX, and I watched as many as I could, which was nearly all of them.

The Yankees are by far the most successful team in the history of American sports.  Not even close.  They’re probably the most successful team in the world.  For this reason, rooting for the Yankees has often been equated with rooting for a large, wealthy corporation like IBM or GM.  I’ve always thought it’s a very poor analogy.

Rooting for the Yankees is actually like rooting for the United States.  Each in their own way, the Yankees and United States are the 300 lb. gorilla, that most powerful of entities winning far more than anyone else.  Their wealth creates many advantages.  Supporters expect them to win, and they usually do.  Opponents absolutely revel in their defeats.

All that success means you will be adored by some non-natives who are tired of losing and want to bask in your glory, even if it must be from afar.  But mostly you are hated.  Anywhere you go in America, some people love the Yankees and many more hate them.  Just like the United States is either loved or hated everywhere else in the world.

Who hates IBM? Read more »

Is the Syrian Refugee Crisis the Worst Since WWII?

refugeesThere’s a new meme infecting the internet.

The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

It’s all over the place.  Just google the words “worst refugee crisis.”  Don’t even put “Syria” or “WWII” in the search bar.  What follows is a string of mainstream media articles labeling the current Syrian refugee crisis as the worst since the big deuce.  It has become conventional wisdom.

But is the flood of humanity currently vacating Syria really the worst refugee crisis of the last 70 years? Read more »

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