U.S. mid-term elec­tions and the un­em­ploy­ment con­ver­sa­tion

The Telegram (St. John’s) - - OPINION - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer’s new book is “Grow­ing Pains: The Fu­ture of Democ­racy (and Work).”

Barack Obama said of the U.S. mid-term elec­tions that “the char­ac­ter of our coun­try is on the bal­lot,” and the out­come proved him right. The United States is a psy­cho­log­i­cal bas­ket case, more deeply and an­grily di­vided than at any time since the Viet­nam War.

It’s not evenly di­vided, of course. The pop­u­lar vote saw the Democrats lead the Repub­li­cans na­tion­wide by an eight per cent mar­gin, but that trans­lated into only a mod­est gain in seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and in state elec­tions be­cause of the ex­ten­sive ger­ry­man­der­ing of elec­toral dis­tricts in Repub­li­can-ruled states.

The more im­por­tant truth is that the Repub­li­can Party is now al­most en­tirely in the hands of “white na­tion­al­ists,”, and to­tally con­trolled by Don­ald Trump. It’s no longer “con­ser­va­tive.” It’s rad­i­cal right, with an anti-im­mi­grant, racist agenda and an au­thor­i­tar­ian style — and about 90 per cent of the Repub­li­cans in Con­gress are white males.

The Demo­cratic Party is multi-cul­tural, fem­i­nist (84 of the 100 women elected to the new House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives are Democrats), and even so­cial­ist. Only one-third of the Democrats in the new Con­gress will be white men — and al­most half the Democrats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives can be classed as Demo­cratic So­cial­ists.

Trump will get lit­tle fur­ther leg­is­la­tion through Con­gress, and a Demo­cratic-con­trolled House will be able to sub­poena his tax re­turns and in­ves­ti­gate his ties to Rus­sia, but he didn’t lose spec­tac­u­larly on Tues­day. In­deed, he pro­claimed that it was “a great vic­tory” (be­cause that’s what he al­ways does, win or lose).

But Trump didn’t lose all that badly, ei­ther. The Repub­li­cans’ losses were within the nor­mal range for a gov­ern­ing party in mid-term elec­tions, so the po­lit­i­cal civil war con­tin­ues un­abated.

The di­vi­sions will con­tinue and even deepen be­cause nei­ther of the ma­jor Amer­i­can par­ties un­der­stands what is mak­ing Amer­i­cans so an­gry and un­happy. Trump knows that it is fun­da­men­tally about jobs, but he is bark­ing up the wrong tree when he blames it on “off-shoring” and free trade and promises to make the for­eign­ers give the jobs back.

Many Democrats sus­pect what the real prob­lem is, but they won’t dis­cuss it openly be­cause they have no idea how to deal with it.

What is re­ally de­stroy­ing Amer­i­can jobs is au­to­ma­tion.

It’s de­stroy­ing jobs in other de­vel­oped coun­tries too, with sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal con­se­quences. The Leave side won the Brexit ref­er­en­dum in the United King­dom be­cause of strong sup­port in the post-in­dus­trial waste­lands of north­ern and cen­tral Eng­land. The neo-fas­cist can­di­date in the last French pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Ma­rine Le Pen, got one-third of the vote be­cause of her pop­u­lar­ity in the French equiv­a­lent of the U.S. Rust Belt.

But the process is far­thest ad­vanced in the United States, which has lost one-third of its man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs – eight mil­lion jobs – in the past 25 years. Only two mil­lion of those jobs were lost be­cause the fac­to­ries were off-shored to Mex­ico or China, and that hap­pened mostly in the 1990s. The rest were sim­ply abol­ished by au­to­ma­tion.

The Rust Belt went first, be­cause assem­bly-line man­u­fac­tur­ing is the eas­i­est thing in the world to au­to­mate. The re­tail jobs are go­ing now, be­cause of Ama­zon and its ilk. The next big chunk to dis­ap­pear will be the 4.5 mil­lion driv­ing jobs in the United States, lost to self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles. Et cetera.

The “of­fi­cial” U.S. un­em­ploy­ment rate of 3.7 per cent is a fan­tasy.

The pro­por­tion of Amer­i­can males of prime work­ing age (25-54) who are ac­tu­ally not work­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ni­cholas Eber­stadt of the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, is 17.5 per­cent. Or at least that’s what it was when he did his big study two years ago.

Maybe the al­legedly boom­ing econ­omy of the past cou­ple of years has brought that num­ber down a bit, but it’s a safe bet that it’s still around 14-15 per cent. This is a rate of un­em­ploy­ment last seen in the Great De­pres­sion of the 1930s. Why isn’t there blood in the streets? There cer­tainly was in the 1930s.

The Great De­pres­sion led to the rise of pop­ulism, the tri­umph of fas­cism and the catas­tro­phe of the Sec­ond World War, so al­most all de­vel­oped West­ern coun­tries cre­ated wel­fare states in the 1950s and 1960s in or­der to avoid go­ing down that road again.

The econ­omy might tank again, but at least peo­ple would not be so des­per­ate and so vul­ner­a­ble to pop­ulist ap­peals.

It kind of worked: there is plenty of anger among the un­em­ployed (and the un­der-em­ployed), but they do not turn to vi­o­lence. They do vote, how­ever, and their votes are driven by anger.

Un­til the ma­jor par­ties can ac­knowl­edge that it is the com­put­ers that are killing the jobs (and that it prob­a­bly can’t be stopped), the anger will con­tinue to grow.

You can’t be­gin to fix the prob­lem un­til you un­der­stand it.


U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in the East Room of the White House Wed­nes­day.

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