Saturday, November 19, 2016

From What's the Matter with Kansas: Heartland Pt 4

The next section of the book looks at the formation of the Republican control in Kansas. This quote might be one the most meaningful in the entire book:
Out here, remember, the gravity of discontent pulls to the right, to the right, farther to the right. The standard reaction of Kansas to the vulgar machinations of the state's self-perpetuating ruling class, to its cronyism and its brazen flaunting of its wealth, to its business scandals and the grinding destruction of farm communities, is to push ever deeper into the alienated right wing world of the culture wars.
So the way to cope with the unfairness of the universe, is to assert your righteousness and victimhood. Fox News feeds your knowledge that you are "unfairly and outrageously persecuted." It becomes identity. They become the victims of "unspeakable persecution by the ruling class, that is, liberals." By taking on the role of victim, conservatives are absolved of responsibility for their failures and justifies their rage and hatred for "depraved liberal elite". Worse, there are even those like Dwight Sutherland Jr from Kansas City, who argue splinter issues like abortion, gun control and evolution is Democratic strategy to keep conservatives in check. (I'm really not sure what the man is smokin'.)

The author also takes a look at Kansas City media figure Jack Cashill who is a class warrior. On the one hand he criticizes privilege, while with the other hand he fawns over the region's business leaders. His skill lies in the ability to "make sense of the average person's disgruntlement while exempting laisssez-faire capitalism from any culpability." Mutual outrage against a common enemy like liberals allows disparate members of the community to be united.

Significantly, Cashill argued that by 1994, after two years of Democrat leadership in Washington, the Midwest "were said to be living under an imposed federal regime that we were unable to question and powerless to control. Like the vanquished Confederacy under reconstruction, we were a conquered people." So all that assistance with federal jobs (and benefits), help with schools, aid to the housing authority and prosecution of a corrupt governor were turned into being called control!

Tim Golba works on the line at the Pepsi bottling company, making it his life's mission to help increase the power of Kansas' conservative moment through Kansans for Life during the 80s and 90s. He recruited hard-line abortion conservatives. For him, it's all about principals: "They're all these business people, they have a ton of money, some of the wealthiest people in the country, but we've been able to beat them because they have no base." He believes Kansans don't vote for economic issues such as taxes or the economy. They vote to strike a blow for the cultural war. The same can be said for Trump's presidency. He has only a vague understanding of foreign policy, how to build a cabinet, how to fund infrastructure, or how to make taxes fair. But voters saw voting for him as a blow in the cultural war, despite his millions.

Then there's Kay O'Connor who argued women's suffrage was a symptom of America's moral decline. She thinks government unions, especially teacher's unions, cause problems. She thinks tax cuts and free enterprise is going to fix most everything. She opposes progressive taxes, which she thinks is theft but is not wealthy herself. Her solution to urban decline is school vouchers and the low-wage economy. Market forces will fix it all. (OMG -- really????!!!!) In her world, everyone has a place and should be happy in their station. She undermines women, declaring she is obedient to my husband in all things moral". Despite this conservative Christian stance, she runs her campaign, is authoritative and is every bit an equal despite her determination to restore some sort of mythic social order of the past.

Mark Gietzen, director of a Wichita Christian singles network, served as chairman of the local Republican party in the 90s. The Summer of Mercy changed the party forever, according to him. Thousands of conservative recruits campaigned door to door, for the first time, building a social movement that "shouted their fighting creed to every resident of the city, sharpening the differences, polarizing the electorate, letting everyone know the stakes." Meanwhile, the rival movement that traditionally spoke for the working class became Clinton's New Democrats. While the intent had been to accommodate the right with an emphasis on free market. Instead, they looked "dispirited, weak, spent." By removing basic economic issues from the table, only social issues were left to distinguish the parties. Soon pamphlets like Is It a Sin for a Christian to Be a Registered Democrat Voter in America Today? began circulating. And you wonder why Hillary Clinton couldn't win the heartland? Think about it. The Democratic party is about to make the same mistake again. Today I heard the man trying to be the new party chair arguing all the things we have in common like infrastructure and we need to work together. The Democratic party has forgotten what should have been learning from Bill Clinton's New Democratics. This talk from a one down position is going to look dispirited, weak and spent. And they will run right over us, building the wall, setting up Muslim interment camps, and putting more gilding in Trump Tower.

Ultimately, as a result of the Democratic representative at the time voting for NAFTA which was originally proposed by republicans, republicans began separating themselves from Democrats by issues of abortions and guns. The next election was won by a Republican. "The inversion was complete: the Democrat could only count on support from the professional people who felt embarrassed by the Summer of Mercy and its aftermath." The polarization of the Heartland from the coasts was complete.

Side trip: Denny's, somewhere in the Deep South

Somewhere in the deep south last night, a conversation took place. On one side of the table sat a white, 50-something high school graduate who draws like Donatello, loves comic books, and works at a textile mill on the second shift (previously introduced as True Heart).

On the another side of the table sat my beloved Transgender priest Cameron, the mural artist, past Presbyterian now Episcopalian, was a factory worker currently (for the last 13 years if you don't count sporadic art commissions), late in life post-graduate school educated partner.

On a third side sat me, the youngest 50 something, over educated, under payed therapist. A couple of tables away sat the usual Trump voters, staring at us suspiciously, guy smaller than the physically born guy at my table. You know the type. The "I want to punch you in the nose" person with his date. Yes, he listened to the entire conversation. No, it isn't coincidence that several times True Heart turned to stare him down or to remind the guy that he's much bigger.

The wake of the election has rolled over our friends. While main stream America resumes their normal lives, we live on MSNBC and CNN, with occasional forays to enemy camps like The Hannity Show (radio) or Fox News to see what the other side is thinking. But even those closest to us are watching 60 Minutes as if the president-elect speaks truth and preaching "lets all get along". Meanwhile, Trump spent the week appointing a cabinet which promises to be racist, terrifying prowar, and more interested in lining his own pockets than serving the people. So when True Heart facebooked a reminder of when he gets off work and where to find him, we went.

True Heart is not part of the elite. His parents are comfortably middle class, but after a divorce and five years of unemployment (ever wonder what happened when textile mills closed in the south - the great untold story) he lives with a friend, lives paycheck to paycheck, and works long hours in a textile mill. Wages in textile mills were never what they were with Labor Unions up north. Now they are even worse than they used to be. But after five years of unemployment, when this company found out the hard way that their oversees saving program had to come home when they couldn't find people with experience to do the job...unlike most folks in ended industries....True Heart went back to work. He'd spent most of the night on his knees and belly crawling around in machine oil, and since he wanted to give us a hug, found a throw away vest to keep it off of us.

So we dissected the election, the fear, the ominous warning signs. We talked about George Takei who has been teaching classes for years about the Japanese interment camps but has suddenly been invited on to Fox MSNBC and interviewed by the NYTimes and Washington Post and tells us:
"Stop and consider these words. The internment was a dark chapter of American history, in which 120,000 people, including me and my family, lost our homes, our livelihoods, and our freedoms because we happened to look like the people who bombed Pearl Harbor. Higbie speaks of the internment in the abstract, as a “precedent” or a policy, ignoring the true human tragedy that occurred."
It was our friend, Misbehavin' who, before her death, created the logo for George "It's OK to be Takai" in the Star Trek communicator shape and rainbow colors on t-shirts. There were only a few exactly like that because of copy write laws, before they marketed similar but less illegal versions. I have the original. I have to wonder what she would say now. I promise it would have been loud and in your face.

We talked about risk, our friends making plans to leave the country. I can't leave, I said. Too many cats. I'm too old. All excuses. Truth is, my job is here. Cameron agreed, and did True Heart. Despite our awareness of danger, we stay. But we aren't putting our heads back in the sand. We won't ever go back to "normal" while this man is president. Or Pence is VP.

And I wonder. How many more conversations are out there? Plans being laid to hide friends who are at risk of deportation. Finding ways to support civil rights? Americans' wait and see attitude got us here...and I fear where it will take us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Building of an Us or Them in the Heartland of America Pt 3

This morning President Obama cautioned against nationalism built around an us or them. As a marriage and family therapist, I have to say that anything built around an us or them is dangerous. And it touches the next blog entry I wanted to make anyway, as I work my way through What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America.

Bear in mind that the author obviously has to simplify, and I am going to simplify what he writes. It's obviously far more complicated than what I lay out here. But I am on a journey to understand my country. And this leg of the journey takes us to Wichita, Kansas. That's where the Us and Them became defined by the judgement of those who came to believe political parties should define morals, and forever left behind the division between the state and the church. Former Republican senator Sam Brownback didn't believe Kansans care about economic issues because the cause of poverty is spiritual rather than "mechanistic". He said Kansans have "set their sights on grander things,like the purity of the nation. Good wages, fair play in farm county, the fate of the small town, even the one we live in --all these things are distant second to evolution, which we will strike from the books, and public education, which we will undermine in a hundred inventive ways."

So let's go sideways, for a moment. Mr Trump appointed someone to his cabinet who doesn't believe in climate change. Someone who is a known to have support a website that is anti-black, anti-woman, anti-Latino and anti-everything that is not male and white. Hmmm.... looks like we are getting a glimpse of how this began.

Operation Rescue. Remember them? It was the "Summer of Mercy." Abortion was firmly supported by the people of Kansas until busloads of evangelical Christians arrive that July, 1991. (Before, it was Atlanta in 1988 and Los Angeles in 1990). While there were obviously people on both sides of the question of abortion, it was Operation Rescue that made those contradictions manifest. They "set up a conflict so unresolvable that everyone in the state would eventually have to choose up sides and join the fight." I would add eventually the nation. It is the attitude of if you're not for us then you are against us.

So Pat Roberts gets involved, declaring "We will not rest until every safe in his mother's womb." The Christian right piled on and made their views manifest coast to coast on the airwaves. And these are the people who then became extremely politically active. Further, no one works harder than those who pushing extreme political action for the "the Kingdom of God."

Moderate Kansans pushed back, telling the Wichita Eagle: "They want women to return to a time...when white gloves were required attire at afternoon teas, and when women were kept in their place by being taught that the men in their lives always knew best." Soon the moderate pushbacks made the Conservatives who were anti-abortion believe "that society's real victims were evangelical Christians."

Ultimately, this division became a class war: "Not in the way tastes-and-values way our punditry defines class."

So those "with the lowest per capita income and lowest median housing values consistently generated the strongest support for the conservative faction. The areas with the highest income and highest real estate values ....were just as reliably loyal to the moderate machine." So the situation completely flipped from what it was forty years before. Previously, those who were the most desperate were also the most radical.

Conservatives came to define class as a matter of authenticity: "Class is about what one drives and where one shops and how one prays, and only secondarily about the work one does or the income one makes. What makes one a member of the noble proletariat is not work per se, but unpretentiousness, humility and the rest of the qualities that our punditry claims to spy in the red states that voted for George Bush." Let's just substitute the words Donald Trump. He talks like them and wears a ball cap like them, so therefore he's one of them.

"Our culture and our schools and our government, backlashers insist, are controlled by an over educated ruling class that is contemptuous of the beliefs and practices of the masses of ordinary people. Those who run American, the theory holds, are despicable, self-important show-offs. They are effete, to use a favorite backlash term. They are arrogant. They are snobs. They are liberals." And that becomes "Liberals, in other words, are parasites."

By breaking down social class definitions to authenticity instead of privilege and money, conservatives began rallying behind the very corporations and tax laws that cause them harm. But that's a different blog entry.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Understanding the Heartland Pt 2

So first I read Hill Billy Elegy because the author was on MSNBC. Yeah, I'm a bleeding heart libral who gets her news from the Elite. I check their facts. I read their sources. I can't listen to Fox 2 minutes.

Then I watched a commentator that I didn't like so much, the bastard voted 3rd party and I'm not real patient with people who throw their vote away in this election, but he talked about What's the Matter with Kansas? How the Conservatives Won the Heartland. It was published in 2004, but really is fleshing out a lot of those missing pieces.

Let's step over to the back burner a moment. I'll tie it in, I promise.

We moved to Arkansas when I was ten. My daddy decided he was going from Conservative Methodism to the Church of Christ (many believe they approximate a cult). He started attending college at Harding University. He got a preaching job for $100 a week he drove to Possum Grape Arkansas and preached Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night. Several families in the congregation were chicken farmers, and I've spent my fair share of time in a chicken house helping to collect eggs on a Sunday afternoon. Long, narrow buildings full of noise and odors. Those are all gone now, replaced by the same buildings owned by Tyson foods.

Let's talk about my book.

In Kansas it was farms, or companies like Boeing. There were no labor unions to protect people when Boeing decided to become a virtual corporation. They "outsourced", asking cities to bid against each other. They moved production overseas, picked fights with unions.Then 9/11 happened and the demand for planes plummeted.

"The culprit is the conservatives' beloved free-market capitalism, a system that, at its most unrestrained, has little use for small town merchants or the agricultural system that supported the small towns in the first place. Deregulated capitalism is what has allowed Wal-Mart to crush local businesses across Kansas and, even more important, what has driven agriculture, the state's raison d'etre, to a state of near collapse."

I knew some of this, but not all because I believed that capitalism was sacred. Here's what else he says: "But in reality the interests of [farmers and agribusiness] are more like those of the chicken and Colonel Sanders of backlash lore. And Colonel Sanders has been on an unbroken winning streak now for twenty-some years, with farm legislation, trade policy, and a regulatory climate all crafted to strengthen the conglomerates while weakening the farmer."

He goes on to say; "Farming is a field uniquely unsuited to the freewheeling whirl of the open market. There are millions of farmers, and they are naturally disorganized; they can't coordinate their plans one with another. Not only are they easily victimized by powerful middlemen...but when they find themselves in a tough situation -- when, say, the price they are getting for wheat is low -- farmers do not have the option of cutting back production, as every other industry does. Instead, each of those millions of farmers work harder, competes better, becomes more efficient, cranks out more of the commodity in question....and thus makes the glut even worse and pushes the prices still lower."

That's why the New Deal research on my previous blog. It brought price supports and acreage set-asides and loan guarantees. But agribusiness likes low farm prices because it means high profits for them. The Regan-Clinton area deregulatory climate led to to the ironically named Freedom to Farm Act which threw all the acreage into open cultivation and basically finished off the New Deal. Farmers didn't even seem to understand what this would mean. They over produced, prices plummeted, and everyone failed except the largest and most efficient farms. Finally it got so bad government stepped in again. But the largest farms got the most help.

But we don't need any of the government interference.

That's where I am now.

Understanding the Heartland

First a note of housekeeping. I do not tolerate trolls. My views are not up for debate. I have changed my setting so I moderate comments because if I don't like it, I get rid of it. My blog, my thoughts, my rules. I like readers, but the writing is for me.

Back to writing....

When things happen that I don't understand, my "go to" to research. Guess that makes me an elitist. And the best way for me to assimilate information is to act like I'm in school writing "reflection papers". So here we go.

I grew up in the "armpit" of the midwest. Rice fields, mosquitos the size of a grape, and poverty. I didn't know it then, but we were privileged. I didn't know that my skin color and a three bedroom home, two cars and a job and a half in the house meant privilege because all the white people in my neighborhood, school, and church appeared to have the same. Except the country club set, but they didn't talk to me. It took living in a 30 year old mobile home and a sixteen year old car for me to understand I will never be as upwardly mobile as my parents, guaranteed by the student loan that gave me a career, but whose interest payments are more than $2400 a month, if I could make them.

So with the loss of this election, I really needed to understand. I'm not saying I do, but that I am beginning to get glimpses of what has happened to my country while I was sidelined with getting out of Arkansas, getting away from a psychopath, and loosing my children. Yeah, I was a little distracted before I turned 40. Then I went to grad school and got distracted for another decade. But here I am. And I apologize to those in the midwest who were struggling and didn't get the help they needed.

So let's have a history lesson. I'm looking to wickipedia for some basic background info. This is a blog, not a term paper ; )

1929-1932 banks didn't have depositor's insurance, there was no unemployment insurance, social security or medicaid. Income fell by over 50%. A quarter of the nation was out of work or underemployed. Eventually 5 million mortgages were foreclosed. According to Wicki: "Political and business leaders feared revolution or anarchy."

FDR was elected, and promised a New Deal: "The New Deal represented a significant shift in politics and domestic policy. It especially led to greatly increased federal regulation of the economy. It also marked the beginning of complex social programs and growing power of labor unions. The effects of the New Deal remain a source of controversy and debate among economists and historians." Nevertheless, the New Deal put people to work, resulted in FDIC insurance for deposits, established the US Securities and Exchange commission to prevent another Wall Street crash and corporate abuses, and provided for farms and rural programs.

Not everything he tried worked, but the economy shot up over the next ten years. The point is that the government, with many mistakes and side trips, became a last resort of protection for the people. Now I was raised in Indiana and then Arkansas, and have spent the last thirty years in Georgia and South Carolina. My family are conservative republicans. And I was raised to believe that all government interference is bad and competitive markets are always best. I was wrong.

The purpose of "government interference" was to provide a safety net. I've drawn unemployment insurance. My current paycheck depends on children's medicaid payments. One day I hope to draw social security (downsides are a different discussion). The banking reform "offered unprecedented stability". Farmers benefited as the government paid for reduced output which raised prices. They could afford to be farmers again. Now we've turned that into something bad. We've pitted little farms against monopolized corporations (thank you Regan) and made it possible for the corporations to put most farms out of business. We've busted the labor unions who got fair wages for people and reasonable working conditions (I love you, Mother Jones). We've destroyed our own safety net. We sold our souls to companies like Tyson and Boeing, who then pitted us against each other, and sold it to us as free enterprise, bankrupting our people and our small towns.

Worse, most people don't realize that's what we did. Thanks to the Christian right's involvement, it's become moral issues. We've forgotten the principal of separation of church and state.

FDR's advisers "believed that excessive competition and technical progress had led to overproduction and lowered wages and prices, which they believed lowered demand and employment". What would they say now? We've elected a president who promises to give tax cuts to the wealthy, and to cut regulations on clean air.

Since Mr Trump is uniquely unqualified to run a country and has never even been elected to the PTA, I'm going to look to the man who will really be running the show, possibly for the next 16 years. According to Brietbart, Mike Pence " opposed federal bailouts and economic interventions, called for returning control over education to states and local communities, and opposed numerous power grabs from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Federal Communications Commission. He was also one of the foremost lawmakers opposing Obamacare, both before and after its passage."

It looks to me like by the end of the next four years, we won't recognize this country. Listening to MSNBC and CNN over the weekend, it's clear that the freedom of the press is being threatened. Unlike other countries, no one can sue inside the US for libel the same way you can in other countries which is why President Obama couldn't go after the birthers despite the clear lie. Yeah, it's all going to change and some within 100 days. FDR brought about radical change in 100 days which is where that measuring stick came from. Holy cats, what will Mr Trump do?

This is getting too long and I've not even gotten to the book I am reading. Let's end here. I needed to do a little research and organize my thoughts. We'll talk about What's the Matter with Kansas? How the Conservatives Won the Heartland next.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Post Election Thoughts

Like half of America, I watched last Tuesday night with fear and trepidation. Last spring I married my partner of 13 years, despite swearing I was waiting until the election results were clear. I feared what I happened in California, when gay people went to bed one night married,and woke the next morning not. Then I became angry. Angry at the fear. Angry at bigotry. Angry that human rights are still questioned, and married my partner in a court house ceremony. Half way into the night, I knew Hillary would loose, but couldn't face it.

I wasn't going to blog my thoughts. I wasn't going to risk an unfortunate backlash if my blog is actually traced to my real identity which could complicate employment, safety, etc. But after watching brave people march, others take a stand, and news reporters expressing real concern for the freedom of the press, I realized that sometimes we have to put it out there. So here I am. And here I will continue to be.

I've heard negativity regarding the Clintons most of my life. I grew up in AR listening to the adults talk about Bill Clinton and the horrible things he and Hillary supposedly did to the Arkansas education system, for example. Many years later I learned teachers in AR were functionally illiterate. The teachers were required to take a test which basically tested literacy. What was the problem????

This fall I started researching. I read books, articles, and internet sources about both candidates. It was impossible to compare policy because Trump didn't have one. His self admittance of narcissism, multiple bankruptcies and extreme count of lawsuites (3500). I read about Hillary, and while I don't understand all of her choices, I read about a woman who has answered her calling. A woman who really is a bleeding heart liberal who wants to do good.

I still can't make sense of America's vote. I continue to read and research, Having read Hilly Billy Elegy by JD Vance this weekend, maybe I have the beginning of an understanding.

On a personal note, I have never felt more at risk. I never thought my education would become a dangerous liability. Or that women really would risk dying again if Roe v Wade is struck down. Or loosing my marriage if they somehow manage a retroactive antigay marriage stance. Or the unforeseen complications of a Republican Supreme Court, House, Senate and President.

May God have mercy on our country. And may have a country left at the end of this president's term (s). And for the record. He's not my president.