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The more things change…



We went down to L.A. for Thanksgiving last week and I was pretty much off the grid until I got home yesterday. It was nice not being barraged by the 24/7 news cycle for a change. No social media, no T.V., not even newspapers.

But I’m back now, and if I’d expected anything about this regime to be different, I was sorely disappointed. (Of course, I hadn’t expected anything to be different!) Trump once again turned into the insulter-in-chief by calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas”–and at a gathering of Native Americans! It would have been nice, I thought, if they’d walked out on him in protest, but I suppose being in the revered Oval Office is rather inhibiting. It was gratifying, therefore, to learn that, a little later, one of the Native Americans, Russell Begaye, told CNN he had found Trump’s slur “culturally insensitive.” (I would have used stronger language.)

Of course it was insensitive. Trump grew up in a household where expletives for minority groups were common. And now, we have this furor over the tax bill, with some Republican Senators saying, at this point, they’ll vote against it. I think everybody understands that Trump’s proposed bill has one purpose only: to let him brag that he “got something done” in his first year of office. It doesn’t matter what “it” is. It doesn’t matter if it hurts the economy, or adds to the deficit, or raises taxes on the middle class while lowering taxes on billionaires. None of that matters to this P.R.-obsessed president, who sells himself the way he sells all his other crap–steaks, college degrees, schmatas–with exaggerated claims and hype.

On the long drive back from L.A. (nearly eight hours), I had the car radio turned on and heard about the hassle with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. Warren started that agency after the Great Bush Recession, when lack of government oversight of Wall Street Banks caused the worst financial collapse in nearly eighty years. Republicans, of course, loathe any kind of government action that might help ordinary people, so during the George W. Bush years, they did their best to let banks run rampant. The result was predictable: millions of Americans (including me) lost their life savings, jobs and homes. When Obama was elected, he moved quickly to restore some degree of oversight over lending institutions, and Warren’s CFPB was part of that effort. Now, Trump wants to kill it, and so does the tea party Republican he appointed to head it, Mick Mulvaney.

I swear, I will never understand why working class Republicans admire and support Trump. He is so antithetical to their interests. However, I do want to at least try and grasp where they’re coming from, so I picked up a book, Hillbilly Elegy, by a self-confessed “hillbilly” named J.D. Vance. It’s all about growing up in the dying red state coal mining and manufacturing districts of eastern Kentucky, where opioid addiction, adultery, out-of-wedlock children, violence and crime are rampant, where so many people drop out of school, where “Christian” values are professed all the time, yet routinely violated, and where people’s anger and resentment expresses itself as anti-Democrat energy and pro-Trump votes. Vance–who was one of the few to escape this insane cycle (he got his law degree from Yale)–tries to explain the bizarre, self-defeating behavior of his family and friends, but he has a hard time avoiding the logical conclusion: these people are crazy. Still, he loves them, and wants us to see them with our hearts, as well as our intellects.

Well, okay. Still, that doesn’t make me feel any better about them: the white, unemployed, gun-toting meth addicts with bad teeth who denounce black “welfare queens” but who themselves live on welfare and food stamps, and joke about never having held down a job. That may sound like a stereotype, but it’s not: Vance himself describes these people, over and over–and nearly every one of them voted for Trump.

What are we to do with them? There are no easy answers. They’re not really educable: drugs, emotional instability, peer pressure and religious propaganda conspire to prevent them from rational thinking. The worse they feel, economically and culturally, the worse they behave: when Trump lies with impunity (now he’s claiming that the Access Hollywood tape was fake), they rally to his side. Why? Jealousy, I think. There they are, living in trailer parks and dilapidated shacks, drinking beer for breakfast and physically abusing their wives and kids (so Vance reports), while the elite Hollywood media steals their money and looks down on them, literally, as “flyover country.”

Look, I just got back from five days in Malibu, and spent considerable time in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, all those havens of the rich and powerful. I saw the mansions, the gated communities, the Lamborghinis and Porsches on the P.C.H. I, too, resent the unfair distribution of wealth that enables these people to avoid paying taxes, and that rewards CEOs making 1,000 times more than their average employees, a system that pays a movie star $20 million while Wal-Mart workers depend on welfare to supplement their meager salaries. There is something very disheartening about seeing the concentration of wealth in L.A. and then returning to Oakland, where so many people are living day-to-day, struggling to make ends meet.

At the same time, I don’t see Republicans as the answer for anything! We may not be able to completely redesign the current economic system, but we can at least fix it around the edges, first and foremost by raising taxes on the super-rich and guaranteeing healthcare for all, which Democrats obviously want to do. Why don’t Trump voters see that he’s against these things–that he will never, ever move against his class? Why don’t Trump voters see that what little they have in the way of entitlements, including their healthcare, is on the chopping block, because Republicans don’t want them to have anything, unless they can afford to pay top dollar? Why don’t they see that they’re being lied to, taken advantage of, hustled and conned by one of the biggest con artists in American history? Well, J.D. Vance knows why–but he has no solutions, either.

So here I am, back on the grid, and you know what? It’s good to be back, good to rip apart this rogue regime and continue to try and unseat this dangerous president. Thank you for reading my blog.


  1. Glad you are back.

  2. Dear Alain, thank you!

  3. Steve, I think you’ll get more explanation from this great Adam Serwer piece at The Atlantic:

  4. Bill Dyer says:

    I think a local author did a better analysis of this subject than Hillbilly Elegy:

  5. Thanks Bill Dyer. I haven’t read the book, but I did go through a bunch of the comments, so I think I get the gist. One of the comments was interesting: it was from a Louisianian who didn’t vote for Trump, but thought the book was condescending to Red Staters. He gave a warning to liberals to think carefully before they criticize these people, lest liberalism be overthrown by the angry masses. This is a very powerful argument, one that I struggle with. On the one hand, I think these “hillbillies” (to use JD Vance’s term) are horrible, awful ignoramuses, whom the Republican Party is taking advantage of to advance their corporatist, billionaire donor class. On the other hand–as all authors attest–once you get to know them, they’re “just people” like you and me. While this dichotomy is impossible to resolve, for me the bottom line is political: We simply have to out-vote them. And that means voter registration drives: to get Blacks, Hispanics and young people to the polls. That way, we don’t need to figure out who’s good, who’s bad, who’s right, who’s wrong. We just need to win elections so we can have a liberal agenda and un-do the damage the Trump regime has inflicted on America.

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