Saturday, August 20, 2016

predicting Trump, circa Y2K

Back in 2000-ish, Barbara Ehrenreich published a book called Nickel and Dimed, in which she chronicled her year spent attempting to survive on low-wage jobs in America. Her experiment did not go well, but the subsequent book sold more than a million and a half copies and "fueled nationwide campaigns for a living wage." Campaigns which, of course, worked perfectly. Because poverty in America has been eradicated. Obviously.

I feel like quoting the entire book, then calling you up one by one and forcing you to read it. That would probably be illegal, so instead I'll just quote the bit that I think explains the Trump & Bernie phenomenon that we've been witnessing this past year-and-a-bit.*

This extended quote comes near the end of the book and without the preceding pages as context will lack some of the raw impact... but I still think it's worth your time:

"When poor single mother had the option of remaining out of the labor force on welfare, the middle and upper middle class tended to view them with a certain impatience, if not disgust. The welfare poor were excoriated for their laziness, their persistence in reproducing in unfavorable circumstances, their presumed addictions, and above all for their 'dependency.' Here they were, content to live off 'government handouts' instead of seeking 'self-sufficiency,' like everyone else, through a job. They needed to get their act together, learn how to wind an alarm clock,get out there and get to work. But now that government has largely withdrawn its 'handouts,' now that the overwhelming majority of the poor are out there toiling in Wal-Mart or Wendy'swell, what are we to think of them? Disapproval and condescension no longer apply, so what outlook makes sense?
     "Guilt, you may be thinking warily. Isn't that what we're supposed to feel? But guilt doesn't go anywhere near far enough; the appropriate emotion is shameshame at our own dependency, in this case, on the underpaid labor of others. When someone works for less pay than she can live onwhen, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and convenientlythen she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The 'working poor,' as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else. As Gail, one of my restaurant coworkers put it, 'you give and you give.'
     "Someday, of course-and I will make no predictions as to exactly whenthey are bound to tire of getting so little in return and demand to be paid what they're worth. There'll be a lot of anger when that day comes, and strikes and disruption. But the sky will not fall, and we will all be better off for it in the end."

[emphasis mine]

I thought about striking Ehrenreich's last sentence, for the optimism I find it impossible to feel. But as it's her honest opinion I will leave it there, clasp my hands in prayer while crossing my toes for good luck, and wait for the Trumpocalypse to end.

- - -

*Yes, I do think Bernie & Trump's popularity can be attributed to the same smoldering anger at political inaction in the face of gross economic injustice. No, I do not think the approaches of the two are in any way morally equivalent.

1 comment:

  1. I read that book years ago. Good points all around.

    ReplyDelete

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