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Tuesday, February 4, 2020
Politics ... Society ...

Tonight, President Trump gives his fourth State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. There are plenty of issues and factors that enter into a nation’s “state”: economic, military, political, cultural, technological, sociological, etc. But I think that America’s “state” can be described right now as “mean”. A lot of people are angry and are no longer holding back about it.

Robert Reich recently had an article in The Guardian about Trump’s meteoric rise to political power, discussing how he recognized and tapped into the disgruntled state of the American working class. America remains an economic dynamo and has experienced strong growth over the past decade — really over the past generation (aside from the 3 year set-back of the Great Recession of 2008). But the benefits of all that growth have been claimed largely by the wealthy and almost-wealthy.

And thus, the not-so-wealthy working class, who have been stuck with roughly the same purchasing power that they had in the 1970s (and who experience a lot more uncertainty today about keeping what they have), are increasingly convinced that “the system is rigged”, as Mr. Reich says. Both Trump and Bernie Sanders have recognized that anger and have sought to exploit it politically. Trump of course has been more successful thus far, although Bernie might get a shot this November.

Frank Bruni had a note in the NY Times this week on Joe Biden, specifically about Biden’s “nice guy” appeal. Bruni is a rather perspicacious observer of political and social trends, and I feel that he made a very good point in this article. Biden’s appeal is less in his policies and more in his concern for “the soul of the nation”. In a nutshell, Biden says that our politics, and even our daily lives, have gotten meaner and nastier in recent years. Think about how Trump started his political career, by insulting the late Senator John McCain about his Vietnam war service (and how he survived a North Vietnamese prison camp) and by picking a fight with the parents of a Muslim US Army soldier who was killed while serving in Iraq. Then think about all the uncivil “trolling” and insults and condemnation (shaming, “cancelling”, etc) that flow so freely on social media and internet sites these days. In fact, just get in your car and drive on a crowded street or highway, and count how many times you get cut-off by an aggressive driver (happens to me every day on my drive both to and from work). The streets and the “information highway” are getting meaner and meaner.

Biden of course blames Trump for the “meaning of America”, but I think this is something that has been developing for many years now. Nonetheless, Joe Biden has faith that this is not normal, this is not the real America. He wants a restoration, an America with more focus on “honesty, decency, empathy, humanity, mutual respect for differences”. Bruni said that this sounded pretty good to him, but he wondered if the participants in the Iowa Democratic caucus (held yesterday) would buy it.

From what we know thus far from Iowa (partial results available as I post this), it looks like the answer is NO. Donald Trump has dialed up the political meanness level, and the Democrats are spoiling to fight fire with fire. Democratic loyalists were outraged on Nov. 9, 2016 when they discovered that such a man could be elected President, and their outrage has only worsened since then! And perhaps an angry Bernie Sanders is just what they want (a semi-angry Pete Buddigieg is also doing pretty well, while Biden has finished a dismal 4th in the Iowa results). It looks like Biden’s appeal for a more normal and moral America has flopped. Perhaps Biden can regain his momentum in later primaries, but this is clearly not a good start for him. Nor for the idea that American needs to become less angry and mean. The question for now is whether your anger is more sympathetic to the Democrats or Republicans.

Ah yes, sympathetic anger — perhaps I’ve just coined an oxymoron! But one that fits the great contradictions of these times.

Thus my assessment of the State of the Nation tonight: MEAN.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:50 pm      

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