Thursday, November 9, 2017

Faith Is the Substance of Things Hoped For

There's a good new article at Politico on how people in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, who voted for Trump feel about him now.  The headline pretty much says it all: "Johnstown Never Believed Trump Would Help. They Love Him Anyway."

There's nothing surprising in the piece, but it's worth reviewing anyway.  The first thing I noticed was that the defenses his fans offer for Trump are exactly, word for word, the defenses Obama voters made for him.
“I think he’s doing a great job, and I just wish the hell they’d leave him alone and let him do it,” Schilling said. “He shouldn’t have to take any shit from anybody.”
“Everybody I talk to,” [Del Signore] said, “realizes it’s not Trump who’s dragging his feet. Trump’s probably the most diligent, hardest-working president we’ve ever had in our lifetimes. It’s not like he sleeps in till noon and goes golfing every weekend, like the last president did.”
Reporter Michael Kruse speaks up:
I stopped him, informing him that, yes, Barack Obama liked to golf, but Trump in fact does golf a lot, too—more, in fact.

Del Signore was surprised to hear this.
“Does he?” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
He did not linger on this topic, smiling and changing the subject with a quip. “If I was married to his wife,” Del Signore said, “I don’t think I’d go anywhere.”

He added: “Some of these things are like that thing he said to Billy, Billy Bob, Billy Bud”—searching, unsuccessfully, for the name Billy Bush—“on the bus, that comment he made.” Del Signore shrugged. “He’s a human male. I’m glad he wasn’t saying, ‘Hey, I like little boys.’ You know? So he’s not perfect.”
That's how you do it: when you're confronted with an inconvenient fact, make a joke, change the subject.  (Barack ended the wars!  No, he didn't.  He fixed the economy!  No, he didn't.  Well, those Republicans keep picking on his wife and kids.  And he got Bin Laden.  Sure, he's not perfect; sure, he's a bit of a disappointment.  But at least he's not Bush.)
“They always say they want to bring the steel mills back,” Frear said, “but they’re going to have to do a lot of work to bring the steel mills back.”

He hasn’t built the wall yet, either. “I don’t care about his wall,” said Frear, 76. “I mean, if he gets his wall—I don’t give a shit, you know? But he has a good idea: Keep ’em out.”

He also hasn’t repealed Obamacare. “That’s Congress,” she said.
And the drug scourge here continues unabated. “And it’s not going to improve for a long time,” she said, “until people learn, which they won’t.

“But I like him,” Frear reiterated. “Because he does what he says.”
As she has already admitted, Trump doesn't do what he says.  But she likes him, just as Obama's fans like him, and that's what matters.
Next to Bala was a gray-haired man who told me he voted for Trump and was happy so far because “he’s kept his promises.”

I asked which ones.

“Border security.” But there’s no wall yet. “No fault of his,” the man said.

What else? “Getting rid of Obamacare.” But he hasn’t. “Well, he’s tried to.”

What else? “Defunding Planned Parenthood.” But he didn’t. “Not his fault again,” the man said.

I asked for his name. “Bill K.,” he said. He wouldn’t give me his last name. “I don’t trust you,” he said.
As Kruse says, "They don’t mind his intemperate tweets. They don’t mind the specter of scandal, which they dismiss as trifling nonsense. They don’t mind his nuclear saber-rattling with North Korea, saying they feel safer under Trump than they did under Obama."

Of course they don't mind those scandals, if they were real -- which they claim not to believe, because of the Fake News, but I think they believe them and like them just fine.  The sexy stuff is okay because it proves he's what they consider a normal man, a real man, but the scandals are mostly about money, and a rich guy who cheats and lies and gouges to get ahead is fine with them, as long as they can believe he's on their side -- and they'll believe it no matter what.  Even his failure to come through on his promises is not so bad, because they have plenty of bad guys to blame, and their sense of grievance is stoked some more.  (We've seen the same pattern with Clinton apologists for the past year: it's not her fault, it's the Russians, it's the she-devil Sarandon, it's Bernie Sanders the rootless cosmopolitan, it's the sexist Bernie Bros, it's traitors stabbing her in the back just to make a buck.)
So many people in so many other areas of the country watch with dismay and existential alarm Trump’s Twitter hijinks, his petty feuds, his penchant for butting into areas where the president has no explicit, policy-relevant role. All of that only animates his supporters here. For them, Trump is their megaphone. He is the scriptwriter. He is a singularly effective, intuitive creator of a limitless loop of grievance and discontent that keeps them in absolute lockstep.
That counts for even more.  Trump speaks for them, especially at his most obnoxious.  When liberals are outraged by his antics, his fans are delighted, not just because he said what he said, but because he made the Politically Correct liberal snowflakes mad.  Just as liberals got all excited when Obama did a little strutting and posturing on the campaign trail, or when some Democratic pol or pundit says something that shuts down the GOP, eviscerates them, schools them; when the Stupid Rethugs are angered and offended by hearing The Truth.  It's why they crow with joy over homophobic anti-Trump jokes; jokes about the size of his hands and the supposedly corresponding tiny wee-wee; jokes about cheese and orange and bad hair and how mentally ill he is.  If Obama was mostly more subdued, his fans put that down to how classy he was, but secretly they wish he had gone on Twitter and put the Rethugs in their place.  If he had, they'd be as thrilled as Trump fans are when Trump says something naughty, something provocative, something a schoolteacher would paddle him for saying in fourth grade.

I know that feeling too, and I'm not immune to it.  What disturbs me, as I've said before, is not so much the transgressive "humor" as that neither side has anything better to offer after they've let off steam.  And that won't help anyone or fix anything.  So, for example, it was educational -- I was totally schooled -- to read the comments under one of Marcy Wheeler's tweets yesterday.
Though she went on to clarify, "Do think there is difference bt ICIJ & WL. Not clear there is between ICIJ & Intercept. But people should have some basis for distinguishing", many of her commenters ignored it and attacked Wikileaks and Edward Snowden, confused the Paradise Papers with the Panama Papers, and generally dodged her request for a workable distinction between good leaks and bad leaks.  They also quibbled over how many Democrats had objected to Snowden, often claiming that Wheeler had said "all" instead of "most" Democrats.  (I don't know about even "most" Democrats, but I do know that both Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned Snowden, mostly dishonestly.)  And so on: these steely-eyed, reality-based types, probably well-educated and well-informed compared to the average American, could not grasp a simple question because it might have required them to engage in some self-examination.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose tweet led me to Kruse's article, remarked "Re: Trump and economic insecurity..."  I admit, I'm not sure what he meant by that.  It's true that Kruse found a fair amount of open racism among the Jonestown Trump voters he talked to.
Schilling looked at her husband, Dave McCabe, who’s 67 and a retired high school basketball coach. She nodded at me. “Tell him,” she said to McCabe, “what you said the NFL is …”

McCabe looked momentarily wary. He laughed a little. “I don’t remember saying that,” he said unconvincingly.

Schilling was having none of it. “You’re the one that told me, liar,” she said.

She looked at me.

The NFL?

“Niggers for life,” Schilling said.

“For life,” McCabe added.
That's just about exactly as funny as a joke about Mike Pence "taking a knee" for Donald Trump.  (What's funnier is Maggie Frear, who told Kruse, "if I was the boss of these teams, I would tell ’em, ‘You get your asses out there and you play, or you’re not here anymore.’ They’re paying their salaries, for God’s sake."  Those NFL players are not supposed to be playing when they're taking a knee, nor does Frear want them to: she wants them to genuflect properly to the holy flag, which has nothing I can see to do with playing the game.  Del Signore, whose remarks follow Frears', has equally irrelevant complaints.)

But here's the thing: Kruse also details the extent of "economic insecurity" around Jonestown, which is felt by the Trump voters he talked to.  Unemployment, for example, is relatively low, but still higher than the national average.  The heroin crisis is in full swing too, with 94 overdose deaths last year in the county.  Significantly, given many whites' complaints about entitled, lazy blacks,
Some of the later-in-life blue-collar workers who are still here can be loath to learn new trades. “We’ve heard when working with some of the miners that they are reluctant because they’re very accustomed to the mining industry,” said Linda Thomson, the president of JARI, a nonprofit economic development agency in Johnstown that provides precisely the kind of retraining, supported by a combination of private, state and federal funding, that could prepare somebody for a job in [Bill] Polacek’s [manufacturing] plant. “They really do want to go back into the mines. So we’ve seen resistance to some retraining.”
Bill Polacek, the manufacturer mentioned in that paragraph, told Kruse,
“Right now, if I could find 150 people, I’d put them to work,” ... He needs machinists. He needs welders. “But it’s hard to find people,” he said—people with the requisite skills, people who can pass a drug test.

“We just don’t have the workforce,” said Liston, the city manager. “If they are employable, and have a skill set, basically they already moved out of the area.”
I don't think I quite believe Polacek here: his complaints are typical for employers trying to excuse their failure to provide jobs, but in context his excuses seem reasonable enough.  So yes, racism and economic insecurity are in the mix.  I'm not sure how liberal/left homophobia relates to economic insecurity; maybe its apologists would like to make a case.  I don't think it's that hard to condemn the racism while trying to do something about the economy, but as Polacek indicates, it's not as simple as one could wish to fix the economy.  Trump has no interest in doing it, but neither did Obama or Clinton, except for themselves and their wealthy donors and cronies.  Just like the Trump voters, Democratic apologists were full of excuses and distractions, not to mention mere misrepresentation of Obama's record -- when they didn't just shoot themselves in the foot by touting record corporate profits and stock prices as evidence of Obama's economic greatness.  So it's not exactly surprising that even many working- and middle-class whites who'd voted for Obama decided they wanted a change; their self-deception is not greater than that of Democrats.