Our politics are broken and toxic: How both party elites betrayed our trust, birthed Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump

tags: election 2016, Bernie Sanders, Trump

Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale and the author of "Liberal Racism" (1997) and "The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York" (1990).

Last May, in one of the most revelatory columns I’ve seen about what’s happened to the Republican base, Thomas Edsall recalled that “In the fall of 1969, Merle Haggard topped the Billboard country charts for four weeks with “Okie from Muskogee,” the song that quickly became the anthem of red America, even before we called it that.”

“’We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, we don’t take our trips on LSD, we don’t burn our draft cards down on Main Street, we like livin’ right and bein’ free,’ Haggard declared. ‘We don’t make a party out of lovin’, we like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo.’”

“Times have changed,” Edsall observed. “Today Muskogee, Oklahoma., a city of 38,863, has nine drug treatment centers and a court specifically devoted to drug offenders. A search for “metamphetamine arrest” on the website of the Muskogee Phoenix, the local newspaper, produces 316 hits.

“In 2013 just under two-thirds of the births in the city of Muskogee, 62.6 percent, were to unwed mothers, including 48.3 percent of the births to white mothers. The teenage birthrate in Oklahoma was 47.3 per 1,000; in Muskogee, it’s 59.2, almost twice the national rate, which is 29.7.”

Almost if Edsall were anticipating the irony that people being fleeced by casino financing and predatory marketing have wound up lionizing a financer of casinos and a predatory marketer, he noted that “Muskogee County voted decisively for Ronald Reagan in 1984 and for Republican presidential candidates in the last three elections. In 2012, Romney beat Obama 57.4 to 42.6.”

Edsall also noted that while riots in Baltimore last year became “a vehicle for conservatives to point to the city as an emblem of the failure of liberalism and the Democratic Party,” in places like Muskogee the “worsening conditions in working-class white Republican communities indicate that the conservative moral agenda has not decisively won the battle for the hearts of America’s youth.”

In another, even-more substantial column called “Why Trump Now,” Edsall notes that “the share of the gross national product going to labor as opposed to… capital fell from 68.8 percent in 1970 to 60.7 percent by 2013” and that the number of manufacturing jobs dropped by 36 percent, from 19.3 million in 1979 to 12.3 million in 2015, while the population increased by 43 percent, from 225 million to 321 million.

“In other words, the economic basis for voter anger has been building over forty years,” including the stagnation of net upward mobility after 2000 and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, which has “imposed far larger costs on American workers than most economists anticipated.”

Then came the financial collapse of 2008, “which many people left and right felt was caused by reckless financial engineering on Wall Street” and which left those who’d not “benefited from the previous boom years” to become “easy pickings for populist rhetoric” because “trust in government was destroyed” by a “widespread sense that all the elites in Washington and New York conspired to bail out the miscreants who caused the disaster and then gave them bonuses, while the rest of us lost our houses or saw their value, the biggest and often only asset of Americans, plummet, lost our jobs or saw them frozen and stagnant, and then saw gaping inequality grow even more.”

Read entire article at Salon

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