I’ve been quite troubled lately with all the talk of America’s fall.
First, I’m American. Second, I served in the military. Third, well, I’ve just read a lot about social cohesion, social unrest, and the various causes of the disintegration of a government and country. It’s troubling to imagine that happening to us.
So I was happy to hear another angle on America’s fall on Sam Harris’s podcast. The guest was Jack Goldstone, and the comforting idea was actually quite strange.
This my paraphrasing of what Goldstone said.
- When you have a society that works for honor, and the richest try to make their communities strong, the world does well
- When the elite tries to hoard their money, the country falls
- People try to accumulate more wealth
- They try to prevent public services
- People feel like they’re being left behind, and forgotten, and they turn against the government, the elites
- They end up joining various types of radical and extremist groups
- Trump wasn’t the cause; this was already happening
- He tapped into it and exacerbated it
- The cause is the changes in tech and society
- The post-WWII people grew up when manual labor was key to everything
- They became comfortable, and they were respected
- As they got older, the economy switched to finance and technology
- The digital economy doesn’t need as many people, and doesn’t give as much respect to manual labor
- So they’re not able to
- Reduction in social mobility
- Reduction in quality of life
- The big metro areas have lots of diversity and need to manage that diversity
- So the regular people see everything going to the elites
- And they start looking for a solution
- And then the populist strongman steps in
- Donald Trump steps in as a pro-wrestling reality-tv star, and that’s it
- It’s the people getting left behind who are setting the direction; in this case towards revolution
- We’ve been through this before with Carnegies and such
- But before there were lots of jobs as a result in steel and railroads, etc
- But with finance and tech, only the top benefits
- It’s not that people are rich that’s the problem; it’s that regular people don’t have the basics of education and healthcare and financial safety for their kids
- People mostly compare themselves to the people around them
- If the rich spends their money on society it’s fine
- The problem is when they spend it on just themselves
- So now we see the Yellow Vests, Chile, people in Brazil, etc.
- The people are fighting back
A lot of this is really fascinating to me.
First, it takes a bit of the sting out of America falling if you map it onto a common trend that hits many civilizations. Doesn’t mean I like it, but it feels less personal. Like being struck with a bad disease rather than being the victim of a hate crime.
Second, a lot of what he says echoes what many have been saying about Trump supporters for years. And in fact many Trump supporters have been trying to tell us the same thing as well.
Basically, they feel discarded. They feel condescended to. They feel disrespected. And they’re angry at the elites as a result of this.
It is a profound failure on the left to not understand this, and time to pay attention. People need to have pride. You take that away from them and they become dangerous. Not just dangerous as individuals, but vulnerable to someone who will come in and lead them to recovering that lost pride.
This is what just happened to our country, and what may have come remarkably close to ending it.
The single most important issue we have right now, regarding the stability of our country, is millions of poor, rural white people who no longer have any pride. They feel completely disenfranchised and replaced by everyone. Immigrants, tech people, people living on the coasts. Elites.
And they are lashing out. We see that.
Now we can feel free to look down on them, and blame them, and point at them as the problem. And you might be right in some ways. They had their time, you might say.
Sure, but don’t just think about them. Think about their effect on the world. It’s not healthy to have millions of angry young men in a country who feel like something has been stolen from them. It’s dangerous. It will lead to more of what we saw at the capitol, and I fear—in Oaklahoma City.
Trump, or someone like him, will rise up and lead these people. He will speak the healing words of, “You deserve better.”, and those words will enable good people to do horrible things, just as with other religions.
Our risk isn’t the Trump-type. Our issue isn’t the white people. It’s the roles that they’re falling into that cause repeated patterns. The forgotten and angry, combined with the populist strongman. That’s the pattern we must immunize against.
The way to heal this is through empathy and conversation. Stop with the name-calling. You’re playing right into it.
To fix this country we must find a way to:
- Have the hard conversations, with empathy, and
- Lift up those who are hurting without pride, and give them their pride back
If we don’t do it as a country, they’ll find someone who will.