Since at least the 2000 election, populist concerns have percolated to the pages of mainstream press, only to drift from the front page back into the business section after the delegates are all counted. It’s a sort of business-as-usual mentality, occasionally giving us heart-wrenching stories of individual factory closings delivered with the same sentimental fatalism used when writing about sad but entirely unavoidable natural disasters. Or, on the other end of the rhetorical spectrum, are the dry and context-free prognostications offered up in “market watch” sections of major newspapers. Both are inaccurate and amoral ways of telling the story of the decimation of America’s middle class and the uprooting of its industrial economic base. The first has all of the saccharine condescension of an anthropologist’s personal field notes about the tribulations of an alien tribe. The other, while at least honest, is also nihilist. Both reveal the larger truth that the upper-middle-class professional prognosticators are simply talking amongst themselves. No wonder they didn’t see it coming.
To be fair, this is how the legacy press covers almost everything. Identifying who is responsible for something requires upsetting someone, and upsetting people is to be avoided at all costs. It’s not even biased as much as it is bloodless, and an element of shock is necessary to maintain the fiction that what has happened to the middle class, and also the poor, has just happened. Rather than, has been done to them, by someone or a group of someones, on purpose.
I’ve been saying for a long time that we have convinced ourselves we are powerless in order to get out of doing work. Whether out of laziness or fear, we have convinced ourselves that factories are closing, the jobs aren’t coming back, and this is the new reality that everybody (else) just has to get used to from now on. That way, we can rail against “market forces” the way you bitch about the weather when it rains on circus day: Out of a desire to comfort yourself, since there’s nothing you can do about the wind.
You know what market forces are? They’re decisions people made. Holding people accountable for those decisions is what we all have to do. I get it’s hard and it’s not much comfort knowing you have to act, have to caucus and show up and canvas and work, and knowing that if you don’t you have to feel responsible, but there’s no other way out of this.
Things will change. There’s an easy way and a hard way, and whether or not the stunned elites realize it, electing a candidate who can at least entertain the notion of being skeptical of unfair trade is the easy way. The hard way would be for the jobs of lawyers, doctors, pundits, and the Washington elite to disappear also. It’s the next logical step in the telos of a rapacious marketplace monomaniacally focused on increasing shareholder value to the detriment of actually having a consumer class.
They’ll be just as shocked to see it coming for them as they were for everybody else.