The Plague-Ground – Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…

Seventy million Americans voted for Donald Trump. As Wade Davis noted, that’s “4 million more than did so in 2016, inspired, one can only assume, by his personal and political record over the past four years.”

Many Canadians, myself included, are aghast at this. Can’t Americans see what a fraud Trump is?! What’s wrong with these people?!!

But they can’t all be deplorables. When some states voted for Trump by huge majorities – Wyoming, by 43 points, Oklahoma, 33, Indiana, 21 — and other states gave Biden equally large margins – Massachusetts, 36, California, 32, Vermont, 33 – this speaks to a steeper, deeper divide everywhere in the union.

At a time when, for example, middle-class Hispanics flocked to Trump despite his race-baiting insults about Hispanics (see “drug dealers, criminals, rapists”), and when the Republican candidate who picked up the largest share of the non-white vote in the last 60 years was Donald Trump, it’s time we re-assessed our own assumptions about what’s really going on.

One place to turn for that re-assessment is Toronto-born David Brooks who’s been writing about the big political and cultural issues on The New York Times opinion pages since 2003.  His column yesterday, “What the Voters are Trying to Tell Us,” recast the battle: “The Republican Party had a much better election than Trump. While Trump is losing, Republicans have picked up six House seats so far. The Democrats have yet to flip a single state  legislature.…Meanwhile, voters told Democrats that they, too, would benefit if they …played down cultural concerns of their Portlandia-graduate-schooled/defund-the-police wing.”

Brooks claims it’s not the parties’ policies that are driving voters to them or away from them. It’s the cultural wall each has built to keep the other half of the country out. The progressives (and here I count most Canadians I know) believe America’s story is about the shift from a single-race and largely single gender culture to a more diverse one. In Brooks’ words: “They see America as divided between those enlightened cosmopolitans (Democrats) who welcome the coming diverse post-industrial world and those knuckle-dragging, racist troglodytes (Republicans) who don’t.”

“The first problem with this narrative is that it is perpetually surprised by events.”

“Election after election, the emerging Democratic majority fails to emerge. The second problem is that it oversimplifies the different processes going on in America. Somehow, we have to have the racial reckoning, which is essential, while we understand the other mega-narratives people feel are driving their lives. Third, it’s just astonishingly smug, self-congratulatory and off-putting.”

One person it put off is Isabel Wilkerson, the first Black American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize in Journalism.

But that’s not her claim to fame. It’s a book she published this summer called Caste: The Origins of our Discontent. Wilkerson believes what’s hewing America is not race or class or even income inequality, at least not just those powerful forces alone. It’s not about feelings or morality. It’s because of something stronger than all of them and, until she came along, all the stronger because we didn’t know it was there.

“[But] as we go about our daily lives, caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theatre, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power – which groups have it and which do not.”

We all nod to the power of ideas to change our lives. In fact, most of us seek them out, believing that there’s no defense against the force of a new idea.

So the next time you’re nodding by the fire, I urge you to take down this book and learn just how pervasive the role of caste is in America and especially in how Americans cast their votes.

* * * * * * * * * *

If you would like to hear Roger Martin, author of When More Is Not Better, explain why too much of a good thing is not a good thing, especially efficiency, join us on November 20th at our next RamsayTalks Online. Click here for more details.

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10 replies
  1. Avatar
    Jennifer Laity says:

    Sitting at my kitchen table in the mountains of Northern Nevada, the tension here is palpable. I had voted early in my quietly Democratic enclave of Southern California and then retreated to the mountains. On the day of our arrival, Trump was scheduled to make a stop in a city just south of ours. As Airforce One touched down, the freeway was lined with thousands of pick up trucks flying the flag and huge Trump-Pence banners. On the day of the election, re-purposed military vehicles, occupied by gun-toting Trump supporters were evident in parking lots across the city. This is a country deeply and terrifyingly polarized by caste, as so eloquently clarified by Isobel Wilkerson. How a deeply flawed and bigoted billionaire has come to represent so many of both the hugely entitled and the dispossessed is something out of the Wizard of Oz. Sadly this fact, not fiction in present day America.

    Reply
    • Bob Ramsay
      Bob Ramsay says:

      Jennifer — This is a wonderful note about a scary time and place. Hopefully, you’ll be free from both by this evening or on the weekend.
      Thanks so much for sending. Cheers. Bob

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Peter Sever says:

    Well said Bob. Like many I’m baffled – why is it even close?
    Clearly his followers are deeply pissed about something and believe Trump is the lesser evil vs the vile concept of “socialism” America so hates.
    Look at his base. White men without college.
    They are somewhat justified in being fed up, they have in fact lost fiscal ground over the past decades.
    The rich are getting (much) richer. Trump’s base is not.
    It’s ironic that the rich man’s party, the Republicans, are viewed as their solution when it ought to be the Democrats.
    That, plus Trump is simply more charismatic in TV.
    For all his manifold faults and character flaws, he’s simply more entertaining albeit at a very shallow level, and a seasoned master of keeping the spotlight on himself.
    He’s a quick sugar fix when what’s needed is a change of diet.

    Here’s a 2016 CNN piece which applies. “Election 2016: Your money, your vote. The men America has left behind.”
    https://money.cnn.com/2016/05/04/news/economy/america-left-behind-white-men/

    Personally as an un-poor guy who has clawed his way from the bottom 1% in this great nation and in beloved [sic] America — I do feel deeply for the blue collar “caste.”

    It’s time for the ultra-rich to become slightly less so. As a Czech commie refugee I’m deeply un-socialist. But I’m all-in for fairness.

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Mark says:

    Brooks claims that each party has built a cultural wall to keep others out, but he only articulates one of them. I would like to hear his description of the other one. I’ll watch the PBS News Hour tonight to see if he elaborates.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Ian Tuck says:

      I’d be very surprised if he does. Brooks has been on the side of the ruling class for decades, only popping up to infrequently take the side of a composite caricature of what he imagines the “common man” to be, by making up a trip to an imaginary imaginary diner he’s only ever visited in his own mind. This allows him to pretend that he hasn’t for more than quarter of a century been one of the elites that he so frequently castigates. For years he was a cheerleader for the worst impulses of the Reaganites/Bushes, so forgive me if I find little purchase for his takeaways about this election (much like most of the conclusions he draws, they’re completely unsupported, and at odds with the actual facts on the ground).

      As for “Caste”, it was an interesting read, but its failure (in my opinion) to grapple with capitalism’s role in colonialism and class is a gaping hole in Wilkerson’s thesis.

      Reply

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