Here we are in one of the most bizarre presidential campaigns in a land marked by bizarre politics. In many cases, the underlying reason for the periodic upheavals is race. Yankee slavers hauled terrified captives to a strange land where they were put to work on plantations. The plantation-owning Southern aristocracy dominated the agrarian south. Farming in the north was mostly small family farms. Industrial cities grew and a diverse economy grew in contrast to southern agrarianism.
Black people were looked on as inferior and deserved their servitude. The divided country compromised and made a black person worth 3/5th of a white in the Constitution, that standard of democracy. The race problem became the dominant issue in the nineteenth century and remains so today.
The split has always been marked by violence. The tragedy of the Civil War continued after the war with Jim Crow making his mark across the country. Some change came with the great migration of African-Americans from the rural south to the urban north. Race turmoil came with the migration. The civil rights era focused on the south, but the racial divide is as deep in the north as in the north. Race violence seems to be nationwide.
I was stationed in Alabama when I was in the Army in the early 1960s. I was shocked by the segregation. I was more shocked by the segregation in Chicago. The African-Americans moved north to find opportunity. Some found opportunity, but Jim Crow moved north with them. Things are now changing. We have an African-American President who made his home in Chicago. Black people have more opportunity now than at any other time, but it is not enough.
The divides remain. White cops shooting blacks, blacks shooting cops. Rioting comes in cycles, mostly when the weather is hot. Poor people don’t have air conditioning. Much of the hysteria around race violence is fueled by television news. “If it bleeds, it leads”. People watch these relatively isolated incidents and feel it is happening just down the street. Chicago’s south side is something of an aberration; gang violence reinforced by a corrupt police department. After all, we are talking about Cook County with its rich history of corruption and crime.
The black neighborhoods are a different place. Being stopped for driving while black is no joke. It is a means of race-based repression. The lynchings have not really stopped; the racist bully cops who are a small part of every police department have assumed the role. No longer is it a rope, it’s a nine millimeter handgun in the hands of a rogue police officer.
All this brings me to the Republicans. Our national economy is changing. Many working class people are politically conservative, wanting more stability in a changing economy that is leaving them behind. Good paying industrial jobs are drying up.
A good example is here in Denver. Gates Rubber is gone, the production moved out of the country. The former Gates factory which used to dominate South Denver is being replaced with expensive apartment complexes. Today, the jobs are in offices and restaurants. The office people move into the apartments, the poorly paid workers move to decaying suburbs or cram themselves into tiny apartments on Capitol Hill.
There is one growing industry here, marijuana. Jobs are being created and rents for warehouses for grow operations are going up. The warehouses were built for thriving small businesses doing light manufacturing and supporting the construction industry. The Great Recession created by our friends who run things from lower Manhattan killed many of those small businesses. The working class lost out again.
The white working class is angry. Many of the jobs are gone, the opportunity for small businesses has shrunk, and immigrants seem to be taking the jobs at the bottom. Until this year, the Republican Party has failed to capitalize on this growing disaffection. The party’s emphasis has been to enrich the wealthy, ignore the poor, take their safety nets away, and keep the minimum wage at poverty level. Uh, oh, here comes Mr. Trump. It is hard to tell what he really believes, but his rhetoric has focused on returning to some past that was better for those angry people than the present. He mocks the liberal ideals of social progress and seems to advocate a return to a dominant, imperialistic America returning to the industrial prosperity of post-World War II America when white people were firmly in control. He also wants to remove all constraints on free-wheeling development without regard to social or environmental consequences. More jobs.
His own record doesn’t support his rhetoric, but the discontent he is exploiting overrules his inconsistencies. Democrats want a well-regulated welfare state, and Republicans want to make rich people richer. Disaffected workers are turning to a man who advocates strength, control, and more jobs by rebuilding the industrial economy that has moved to China. No more free trade, the USA will regain former worker’s prosperity with protectionism.
The rich will get richer, but the workers will regain what was lost in the shift to a global economy. Trump and Putin will share the spoils of the new nationalism. Europe can muddle along, but the rest of the world is there to be shared by the U.S. and Russia.
The voting bloc Trump tapped into was enough to get him nominated, but he will probably lose to Ms. Clinton. Her problem is much the same as the old Republicans. She is a reformer who has always worked for those at the margins, however working class economic problems persist. Those problems created the Trump phenomenon, and solutions are hard to come by. The Obamas promote college for everyone, but who is going to do the work? There needs to be some way to build a good life for the workers. How? This is the twenty first century dilemma.