Do Americans Even Deserve Prosperity?

In case you hadn't heard, there's been a brouhaha in Republican circles revolving around the idea that Donald Trump's voters are a bunch of self-pitying white trash who are flocking to Trump because he gives them license to blame their self-inflicted problems on mass immigration and free trade.

Here's one juicy sample (source):

It perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn't. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about "globalists" and -- odious, stupid term -- "the Establishment," but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves.

If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy -- which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog -- you will come to an awful realization. It wasn't Beijing. It wasn't even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn't immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn't any of that.

Nothing happened to them. There wasn't some awful disaster. There wasn't a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence -- and the incomprehensible malice -- of poor white America. So the gypsum business in Garbutt ain't what it used to be. There is more to life in the 21st century than wallboard and cheap sentimentality about how the Man closed the factories down.

The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. Forget your goddamned gypsum, and, if he has a problem with that, forget Ed Burke, too. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump's speeches make them feel good. So does Oxycontin.

In part, this is just yuppie sanctimony, a morally superior way to congratulate oneself on having attended an good college and not having ever, ever experienced the slightest desire to drink domestic beer (craft excepted) or attend a tractor pull. I vlogged about that particular bit of narcissism, in relation to the trade issue, here a long time ago. How little changes! (As you'll note in my video, even President Obama has been guilty of this. Tut tut.)

But pace the snobbery, a legitimate question has been raised: are Americans even entitled to the prosperity which they increasingly believe is eluding them?

Or are we just a bunch of whiners?

After all, even the poorest Americans aren't poor by the standards of India, Africa, or China, where hundreds of millions of people live on less income per year than a working-class American family might blow on a flat-screen TV in a single afternoon. And squeezed, complaining lower-middle-class Americans would be considered comfortably off in most of Latin America or Eastern Europe. And let's not even talk about history, or what the average American family lived on in 1900 with the Pennsylvania Railroad puffing past their tarpaper shack.

Personally, I believe the answer is that no, Americans aren't entitled to any particular level of income. But they certainly are entitled to a government that seeks their economic well-being, if that's what it was elected to do.

If the government wants to serve, instead, international plutocracy, the Good of All Humanity, or some abstract concept of economic freedom, fine. But then they have to run on that platform and win elections on it. They don't get to tell us they're running to do the one thing, then do the other in office.

Americans aren't entitled to a prosperous outcome, but they are entitled to a government that's on their side, if that's what they voted for.

As for that business in the quote above about drug addicts and family chaos, that's really another subject, a distraction meant to justify contempt for white (and other?) working-class Americans. But the relevant question isn't their drug or family problems, it's whether their economic problems are their fault. And given that Joe Sixpack hasn't really had a whole lot of input on the key economic decisions that put his sort of people where they are, I'm inclined to say no.

Immigration's not my issue, so I have nothing to say about it here, but trade is, and it certainly wasn't Joe Sixpack who dreamed up NAFTA. Or Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. Or the U.S. government's acquiescence to currency manipulation from Berlin to Beijing. Or trade agreements for the multinationals, by the multinationals, of the multinationals.

Laying these problems at his door is a sick joke.