WHO ARE THOSE PEOPLE: And what's wrong with Us?

FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2017

Part 4—Kicking down, without feeling, at Them:
Was Donald J. Trump sometimes brilliant during his White House campaign?

We'd be inclined to go with "no." In Wednesday morning's New York Times, Eduardo Porter went with yes at the start of his weekly Economic Scene column:
PORTER (3/29/17): Donald J. Trump can be brilliant. On the campaign trail, his diagnosis of the raw anger and disillusionment among white working-class Americans bested the most sophisticated analyses from the professional political class.

His description of “American carnage” in his Inaugural Address—complete with “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape,” impoverished mothers and children, crime, drugs that “robbed our country of so much unrealized potential”—struck a nerve with millions of voters who feel left behind by a country buffeted by demographic, technological and social change.
According to Porter, Trump was sometimes "brilliant" on the trail. Beyond that, Porter says Trump was brilliant in a significant part of his inaugural address.

In fairness to Porter, he seems to be saying that Trump was "brilliant" in the way his presentations appealed to a certain segment of the electorate—to "millions of voters who feel left behind by a country buffeted by demographic, technological and social change."

As he continued, Porter said that "something must have happened between then and now." He noted that the health care bill Trump recently pimped would have served those millions of voters quite poorly. He notes that Trump's large proposed budget cuts would hurt those voters too.

Indeed, by paragraph 6 in his column, Porter is raising "an uncomfortably raw question: Was [Candidate Trump's] appeal to the troubled working class a con?"

We wouldn't recommend starting with "brilliant" on your way to "con." (Porter's reference to Trump as "brilliant" appears on page one of the Times hard-copy Business section. You had to look inside the section to encounter the talk of the "con.")

We wouldn't say that Candidate Trump was brilliant on the trail. To us, his health care proposals always seemed like a transparent con.

His pledge to replace Obamacare with "something terrific" never seemed brilliant at all. It always seemed like a con—or, at best, like the know-nothing pledge of a world-class ignoramus.

Candidate Trump's absurd proposals always struck us as a con. That said, we wouldn't be inclined to slime those people who may have purchased this candidate's various cons.

We wouldn't slime the "millions of voters" who may not have grasped the implausibility of the candidate's claims. In this way, we stand apart from our tribe's contemporary, unattractive, pseudo-liberal elite.

Over Here in our liberal tents, kicking down at the great unwashed has become a dominant part of our pseudo-progressive culture. We simply love kicking down at Those People.

Tribal leaders and tribal followers play this card every day. Don't even try reading comments.

Is empathy dead, as one writer has asked? It frequently seems to be dead in our high liberal tents. This helps explain why we liberals aren't well liked. This helps explain the embarrassing tribal disaster which had ended with Trump in the White House.

We've been thinking about empathy in recent weeks. Let's pick and choose some examples:

In western culture, we have the image of the young woman forced to give birth in a stable. In 1499, a craftsman gave us The Pieta. That's a foreign word for "pity."

In 1939, Steinbeck gave us Rose of Sharon (Joad), a pregnant teenage girl.

According to the leading authority, Rose of Sharon "symbolizes regrowth when she helps the starving stranger [who she agrees to feed] (see also Roman Charity, works of art based on the legend of a daughter as wet nurse to her dying father)."

The Joads were a family of "Okies." They weren't "sophisticated" or "educated," though these terms are widely misused.

In Steinbeck's formulation, we were supposed to feel for the Joads. Despite their extremely funny accents and their embarrassing lack of degrees, we were supposed to imagine that the Joads were fully human.

We were supposed to imagine that the Joads were human. And then, along came Dr. King. Less than three months before his death, he piped up with this:
DR. KING (2/4/68): Everybody can be great. Because everybody can serve.

You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.

You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
You don't have to have a college degree? Where do they find these guys?

Back in December, Sarah Kliff profiled another person deserving of empathy, feeling, pity, respect. Her subject was a 59-year-old woman in Corbin, Kentucky—a member of the white working class, an Obamacare enrollee, and (apparently) a Trump voter:
KLIFF (12/13/16): Oller renewed a 59-year-old woman’s coverage (who asked her personal information be left out of this story) just after lunchtime on a Tuesday. She and her husband received a monthly tax credit that would cover most of their premium. But they would still need to contribute $244 each month—and face a $6,000 deductible.


The deductible left her exasperated. “I am totally afraid to be sick,” she says. “I don’t have [that money] to pay upfront if I go to the hospital tomorrow.”

Her plan did offer free preventive care, an Obamacare mandate. But she skips mammograms and colonoscopies because she doesn’t think she’d have the money to pay for any follow-up care if the doctors did detect something.
She's paying $3000 per year—and she can't go to the doctor. That woman is Rose of Sharon too—except to people like Us, to whom she's another "hillbilly."

Kliff's piece explained why many Obamacare enrollees in Corbin had decided to vote for Trump. They hadn't necessarily thought that his health care stance was a con. In that assessment, we'll guess that they were wrong.

That said, we don't find it disqualifying that they made that assessment. Assuming it turns out that we were right, we'll guess that we're working with certain tools, formerly known as "advantages," that they maybe perhaps don't have.

They may not know their thermodynamics. They may have put their trust in certain music men, as our own vastly self-impressed tribe constantly does Over Here.

Over Here in our self-impressed tribe, we like to roll our eyes at people like that woman. We think she should have understood the way health care policy works.

As we make their condescending claims, we persist with the constant dumbness which defines our own tribe's behavior in the health care arena. Our tribe has been dumb about health care for decades, but we're too clueless to know that.

In terms of thermodynamics and such, our mother paid our way to Harvard, quite a few years ago. The moral giant Frank Rich also went there. We overlapped by two years.

To us, a woman who can't afford to go to the doctor is Rose of Sharon. By way of contrast, Rich has explicitly dismissed that woman as a "hillbilly."

Rich recently wrote a lengthy essay urging Us to keep loathing that woman, and to keep loathing Those People.

"No Sympathy for the Hillbilly!" Literally, that's what he said!

The lack of feeling in Rich's piece is a familiar marker of our failing, ridiculous tribe—a tribe which has been so lazy and hapless for so long that we have now actually lost an election to a candidate as hopeless as Trump.

Even after losing to Trump, our tribe can't seem to brook the idea that there may be a problem with Us! Keep loathing the hillbillies, Rich advised in his piece.

Everyone knows that our tribe is like this. Everyone knows it but Us.

No people are uninteresting: No people are uninteresting? That was Yevtushenko:
In any man who dies there dies with him
his first snow and kiss and fight
it goes with him.

There are left books and bridges
and painted canvas and machinery
Whose fate is to survive.

But what has gone is also not nothing...
As noted, that was Yevtushenko. That very much isn't Us.


  1. Somerby says: "Over Here in our liberal tents, kicking down at the great unwashed has become a dominant part of our pseudo-progressive culture. We simply love kicking down at Those People."

    The great unwashed. That is a particularly ugly term that someone pretending to have great empathy should not use. What do you suppose it means?

    Somerby emphasizes college degrees in today's post. He seems to think liberals care about degrees, that education is the basis for their contempt of others.

    Back in the 1930's, it was common for people to stop their education at the end of 8th grade. An exam had to be passed for entry to high school. Very few people went to college. Today we aim for 100% high school graduation rates and consider it a social problem when there are dropouts. Our college rates are close to 40% and about 60% of high school seniors apply and most do a couple of years in college. Times change.

    I doubt Somerby means to use the 1930s education rates as a standard for today's youth. But the reason why no one looked down on the Joad's for being uneducated is that they were at the national norm in terms of education.

    But the other reason Somerby thinks we all had empathy for the Joads is that Somerby didn't grow up in Los Angeles, where the Okies and Arkies landed at the end of their journeys away from the Dust bowl. Those who weren't turned away at the California border or redirected toward the San Joaquin valley, were herded into the San Fernando valley where they lived in tent camps and shanties in the basin of the normally dry Los Angeles river. In 1933 there was a great flood that destroyed that camp and people died as their belongings were washed away. Those who remainded worked in the valley's orange orchards and other agriculture and later at plants like Bendix.

    They were looked down on as hillbillies. The divide of the Hollywood hills separated the valley poor from the more affluent people in LA proper. The valley is still stigmatized with terms like "Valley Girls" and secessionist attempts to make it a separate city.

    But Bob Somerby, in his ignorance about people, thinks the Joads are national heroes and that admiration for Steinbeck's writing translated into empathy for Rose of Sharon (teens all over the country, forced to read the book, cry "ick" that she would nurse anyone but a baby).

    Somerby's sanctimony, aimed at the one political party that tries to help poor and working class people, displays his pathology. Many of us consider the sappy Catholic imagery an embarrassment, if not a major hypocrisy of the church. He should be ashamed of that, not of liberals who (whatever their personal feelings about the poor) try to do something to improve conditions for people.

    For shame, Somerby. While you are at it, why not castigate Sanders, who didn't care that his Bros were carrying out Russia's agenda during the last election because it advanced his personal ambitions. Read the testimony on how lies about Hillary were spread from the left, not just the right. You owe all of us an apology here, for your support for this amoral jerk who continues to pretend to be the leading light of the left with his rants and arm-waving against Trump. They both carried the same banner during the campaign and it was red.

    1. The Russian flag is a tricolor: white, blue, red.

    2. Funny he should mention it. I just reread Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" last week. Don't ask me why.
      If we want insight into how Trump won, the book we should all be reading is Robert Penn Warren's "All The King's Men".
      No, it is not about Watergate, but a novel based on Louisiana's populist governor, Huey Long.
      All Huey Long did was listen to what angry people were saying, and repeat it back to them in their own language.
      What a novel idea!

    3. imp is the politifact of this blog. Has he never heard the saying "In Russia we have only one color -- red!"

    4. This just in from Axios:
      Allen went on, “The senior official . . . said the White House was operating on similar principles to the Trump campaign: ‘We rode something until it didn’t work any more,’ the official said. ‘We recognized it didn’t work, we changed it, we adjusted it and then we kind of got better . . . [T]his was much more entrepreneurial.’ In the White House, he said, ‘we’re going to keep adjusting until we get it right.’ ”

  2. As Bob has said many times over the years, "Divide and conquer."
    I read a piece yesterday saying that the Bernie Bros were prodded along by Russian interference, with the goal of dividing the Democratic party. That was followed by their activity in the general election. That has been the strategy of the Koch Brothers and their alliance of ultra rich right wing fanatics. Is it possible that Frank Rich is paid by these people? Is it possible that we are being conned?
    No; our tribe is too smart for that.

  3. I know older people who won't visit a doctor because hospitals are where people go to die. They have endless stories about people who went into the hospital and never came home.

    Should we emulate them because their view is so widespread and because of empathy for their fear of illness or should we call them ignorant and try to change their minds so they don't avoid routine procedures that would improve their quality of life?

    Should that woman get her mammogram? Maybe. Should she get that colonoscopy? Definitely. Should she avoid health care because the doctor might find something treatable and she might accrue some death to treat it? Yes, because he life may depend on it. Is she stupid in her reasoning. Yes, much more stupid and incapable of reasoning than those liberals who Somerby considers the problem in our last election. We will take her a casserole when she returns from the hospital, since that is what empathetic people do, aside from forcing her to get some health insurance.

    1. typo: should be "debt to treat it" -- sorry

    2. I agree. This woman's story has been held up as the example of a victim of Ocare. Poor lady CAN'T go to the doctor even though she pays $3,000 per year for insurance. Um, no. She CHOOSES not to go to the doctor for routine no cost/low cost care while projecting that every visit will lead to follow-up care that she won't be able to afford. Sorry, but a $6,000 deductible is a pittance compared to say, maybe, a LIFE SAVING procedure or treatment.

  4. I still like Bob's blog, but I don't fully agree with his narrative of the last few months. It was liberals/Democrats who wanted to help those "hillbillies" (as Bob puts it) by creating the ACA in the first place, and libs/Dems who pushed back against the Repub AHCA disaster. Even the "elite" liberal TV pundits argued for preserving the ACA. That hardly shows contempt for those voters either. And many of the problems that exist with the ACA were deliberately caused by the Repubs in Congress. And who was it recently who said "We're going to let the ACA explode and blame the Democrats"? Dems know it needs fixing, but who is it who won't agree to help fix it???
    If there are liberal pundits/journalists who claim to find racism/sexism at the heart of all/most Trump voters, then all I can say is that I don't identify with those TV people, nor do any of my liberal friends. Not one of them looks down on conservative voters. We shake our heads at their choice of a con man, but there is no contempt in our hearts.
    And I hope that somewhere there is a conservative blogger urging conservatives to not be so tribal and hate the liberals, accusing them of being commies/traitors/un-American/elitists. Why, that might be why liberals hate conservatives...

    1. I meant to add: The country hates liberals/Dems so much, they gave us the popular vote total...

  5. Somerby cites MLK:

    "You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve."

    Anyone can serve others. But how much better can they serve if they develop some skills and expertise. Is MLK arguing that doctors should have no training when they serve the sick? I sincerely doubt it. Is he arguing that those who build bridges should not know what they are doing? His speech is an exhortation for all to serve regardless of their means, but it is not an argument against education.

    MLK said, in his Nobel prize speech: "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”

    He supported education. He didn't believe it was unnecessary -- he believed it was a human right.

    1. If Somerby is tired of his college degree, I think they might be happy to take it back.

  6. Biden is claiming that the 2016 Democratic campaign didn't focus enough on the middle class and those working white men who were so angry they just had to vote for Trump. What a guy!

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  8. Trump's actions make more sense if you consider that he believes in the conspiracy theory about a deep state. He is not appointing staff to key positions and ignoring the career professionals because he considers this all to be part of the deep state. He ignores Russia as a traditional enemy of the US because he believes there is a common enemy instead that is behind a global conspiracy to run the world, and it consists of Jews and associated monied interests who are manipulating everything to enrich themselves, independent of national boundaries. He considers Obama and Hillary to be part of that global conspiracy, and probably Merkel and May and other European leaders too. Russia has traditionally hated and persecuted Jews, so that makes them natural allies. Trump's personal association with his son-in-law gives him no immunity to this belief -- witness Hitler's own Jewish heritage which he tried to eradicate within himself by killing Jews. Trump will make exceptions but that doesn't invalidate his belief in this larger conspiracy which he believes has been running the US through its series of presidents and its entrenched bureaucracy of government workers. That's what they mean by "draining the swamp" -- not getting rid of Wall Street, but getting rid of the bureaucracy and the intelligence community.

    Health care bills and budgets and infrastructure bills are secondary to this overarching goal of getting rid of the influence of the global conspiracy -- even if it means turning us over to Russian control instead. The Russians too are fighting that global enemy so they are good guys.

    Obviously this is wacko but it is a belief system that permits us to make some sense of Trump's priorities, and those of Bannon and his co-conspirators. Trump may think of himself as a patriot. How's that for empathy, Somerby?

    1. Over in InfoWars land, they refer to the succession of American presidencies and our political parties as the Uni-party and they believe it is run by one set of folks.

    2. I didn't know Alex Jones is a Bernie Bro.

    3. You must have been out to lunch during last week's Senate hearing.

  9. I was in Corbin, KY on business a few weeks back. The city has a funky downtown that seems to not have been blighted by the Wal-Marts. Beautiful surrounding area. Economy "felt" sound; expect buoyed by nearby University. Folks, as everywhere, were real nice. Kept my thoughts about Trump to myself.

    1. That is the best way to deal with people, in my honest opintion. Most people are good, not trouble makers and they will figure out what Trump is the more they see of him. Why call them sexist/racist? Especially when they problably are not. And they don't read blog and don't have time to get 'alternative Fox News'... We can critisize them for that for sure. Make them watch Maddow ;-)

  10. ISTM that empathy moves the two parties to basically different types of action. For Democrats, the preferred action is giving things to people: money, government health care, etc. For Republicans, the preferred action is maintaining a country where people can get jobs and support themselves, so they don't need government support.

    1. When Republicans get around to patent reform, which will drastically reduce consumer costs while unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of small businesspeople to flourish, so people can get jobs and support themselves, you let us know.

    2. D in C more accurate characterization of the GOP agenda is the transfer of more and more wealth to fewer and fewer people.

    3. "For Republicans, the preferred action is maintaining a country where people can get jobs and support themselves, so they don't need government support."

      So when you look in the mirror, does it say "sucker" forward or backward on your forehead?

    4. If the government actually supported people with a livable amount, conservatives might have some standing for their complaint. Government benefits help people around the edges but they still have to take care of themselves largely on their own. The few who cannot live on our streets and you can see their quality of life. Would even a conservative consider that a lifestyle anyone would choose?

  11. In any moral assessment, the truth counts.

    Are these good natured people who were simply concerned over
    their healthcare, who really had a good reason to believe Trump
    had their back on this, really typical of the sort of person who
    voted for Trump and why?

    At best, this is called "special pleading."

  12. Trump wasn't brilliant but he was woke, and his opponents were stupid.

    1. And his supporters are bigots.

      Sorry if that hurts your feelings, but I'm not paid by the corporate-owned media to make believe that isn't true.

    2. Nothing you people say hurts anyone's feelings because you are not respected as a moral authority. Your whining did help Trump win. He got the presidency and you got to indulge SJW temper tantrums.

    3. @1:27, someone who uses the term SJW tags himself with a label that disqualifies everything he says in a comment. It marks you as a bigot. Somerby doesn't like that term, but anyone who calls striving for social justice a "temper tantrum" has earned that label. Even if he is a troll, lives in Russia, and is earning a few measly kopeks for writing trash.

  13. Its funny Bob should mention the Joads. Been forty years in that magnificent library in a small town in India I read the book. What affected me then was the drive and the passion for hard work among all folks.

    The Dems lost because they never asked for any sacrifice. They made promises and they offer freebies.

    Hillary election would have been a Obama THIRD term. Media withstanding, Obama lost, not Hillary. It was the message, not the messenger. And that is why and that is how Trump won.

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