Globalization and its discontents

Among the structural cracks in contemporary societies in which Trumpism flourishes is a rapidly growing cleavage between cities and their deindustrialized, more or less rural, hinterland. Cities are the growth pole of postindustrial societies. They are international, cosmopolitan, and politically pro-immigration, in part because their success in global competition depends on their ability to attract talent from all over the world. Cities also require a supply of low-skilled and low-paid service workers, who clean offices, provide for security, prepare meals in restaurants, deliver parcels, and take care of the children of dual career families.21 The white middle class can no longer afford ever-rising urban rents; they find themselves living in growing communities of immigrants, or they leave and move to the small-town provinces.
Geographical separation has deeply divisive cultural and political consequences. Urban elites can easily imagine themselves moving from one global city to another; moving from New York to Ames, Iowa is another matter. National borders are less salient to urban elites than the informal borders between urban and rural communities. As urban labor markets turn global, job applicants from the national hinterlands must compete with talent from all over the world. Globalization creates an incentive for governments and employers not to invest too much in education. Why bother? They can always poach skilled labor from other countries. This is how the United States combines one of the worst school systems in the world with the world’s best universities and research centers.
There is an almost insuperable cultural barrier between the city and the country, something long known to city and country dwellers alike. City dwellers develop a multicultural, cosmopolitan outlook. As their values converge on their interests, what used to be social liberalism edges into free-market liberalism. Seen from the perspective of the provinces, of course, elite cosmopolitanism serves the material interests of a new class of global winners. Mutual contempt is reinforced by self-imposed isolation, both sides speaking only to and within their camps, one through the media, located in the cities, the other through self-constructed private internet channels.

Wolfang Streck on Trump and the Trumpists (he defines Trumpism as a particular strain of populism).

The primacy of the urban/rural divide resonates. Whenever I chat with friends about where they might move if they left their current home, it's always a list of what most would consider a list of the world's leading urban centers—New York, Tokyo, London, Sydney, Berlin, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Paris, to name the most commonly cited—and rarely the rural regions of the United States, despite the lower cost of living and other potential benefits.

We see how hard it is even for a large company to put the global maximum above the local maximums of various fiefdoms within the corporate hierarchy, it's not surprising that the same problem exists when trying to elevate globalization above nationalism. It's easier to hold to high minded principles of globalization, especially the free movement of labor, when the existing system seems to be working well for you.

On the difference between class and status:

Almost a century ago, Max Weber drew a distinction between class and status.12 Classes are constituted by the market; status groups by a particular way of life and a specific claim to social respect. Status groups are home-grown social communities; classes become classes only through organization. The Trumpist electoral machine mobilizes its supporters as a status group. It appeals to their shared sense of honor more than to their material interests.13 In this, Trumpism follows New Labour and New Democrat neo-liberalism, which deleted class from their political vocabulary. In its stead, they redefined the struggle for social equality as one over identity, that is, over the symbolic recognition and collective dignity of an indefinite number of ever narrower status groups. Neoliberalism had failed to anticipate that the discovery by experts and politicians of ever new minorities may make the demobilized working class feel abandoned in favor of special interests. Their discovery and celebration inevitably demoted the interests of the working class. As the United States was transformed into a polity of status groups, the working class lost its sense of identification with the country as a whole, if only because it is this class, reduced to one identity and interest among others, that is now blamed for a rich variety of social malignancies, from racism and sexism to gun violence and educational and industrial decline.14

In many ways, Barack Obama was a unicorn whose election misled the Democratic Party into thinking they had some demographic mandate to push Hillary through. Obama and Trump share one quality (likely the only one), they symbolized change for their supporters. Hillary never clarified what she stood for, but for many she stood for the opposite, a career politician born from and deeply embedded in the status quo. For enough people, that is no longer tenable.

When Obama wept

This video of Obama speaking to and thanking volunteers in Chicago yesterday is making the rounds because Obama tears up at the end. For someone who's always so calm and collected (he's often criticized by those who read it as an ironic detachment), it's a striking moment of emotion.

Though it's the first time I'd seem him cry, a few people sent me some other examples. 

This past Monday, the night before the election, Obama spoke in Iowa. He begins his speech as his usual controlled self, and what's moving about the moment he sheds his first tears is how he gets there. He tells the story of how Iowa was where many of the first youth volunteers helped launch his election campaign. And as he recalls stories of volunteers trying to stay warm because the heater was broken, or a volunteer painting a mural on one of the bare walls, he travels back to the roots of why he got into politics, and his tears seem to come from a real gratitude towards his volunteer corps. They say the greatest salesmen (or liars, if you're more cynical) are those who believe their own schtick, and it seems true of politicians, too.

This wasn't the first time he shed tears on the eve of an election. n the eve of the 2008 election, Obama learned that his grandmother Madeline had passed away. Early in this clip from the documentary By the People, you can see a closeup of Obama shedding more than a few tears as he recalls his grandmother and then transitions to his hope to bring change to the country.

If there's a common thread that runs through these three instances, it's that he seems to cry only in moments when he's speaking of why he got into politics to the people who worked on his behalf. Plenty will be too cynical to believe a politician's tears, but the body language has me convinced. It makes narrative sense, that got into politics as a community organizer and who believes in empowering people of all races to effect change would feel most emotionally vulnerable at those moments when he'd be confronted by thousands of them, many of whom had put in hundreds of hours on his behalf.

I volunteered on Obama's two Presidential campaign runs, doing a variety of things from canvassing to calling people. I can't lie, it's not fun or glamorous work. In fact, lots of it can be plain unpleasant. I can't think of two more uncomfortable things for someone of my personality to do than to knock on someone's door or cold call someone and speak to them about politics. The occasional crazy bigot who shouts the n-word at you is enough to leave you stirred and shaken with a variety of emotions, none of them positive.

It seems crazy to believe that anyone could rise out of a lifetime in politics without having their soul charred black with cynicism, but perhaps we have it all wrong, and it's only those who can retain some deep-seated idealism in the face of all evidence to the contrary that can survive that long in the game.

FOOTNOTE: On the topic of great moments in politicians crying, I can't leave out one for the pantheon, from the documentary The War Room, James Carville thanking the volunteer staff from Clinton's 1992 re-election campaign. The War Room is now available as a Criterion DVD, but you can also stream it in its entirety for free at Hulu. Carville's speech begins at around 1:13:45 in the Hulu stream. It's a short and wonderful speech.