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.
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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.