Maslow’s hierarchy of political needs

How do you get people to care about what you’re offering them?

Trump is Teflon.  No accusation, however accurate, of stating falsehoods sticks to him.  Y’know why?

His supporters– and I suspect a high percentage of other Americans– don’t much care whether what he says is factually accurate.

We all know, of course, what the elite would say about that.  Deplorable yada yada yada bitter yada yada yada ignorant.  The elite, however, are idiot savants when it comes to this.

The President is not the 5th grade teacher of his supporters.  There is not going to be a quiz in which if he puts out some statement that isn’t true, and they rely on it, something important to them turns on it.  It’s ironic, but when Barack Obama said “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor,” it actually had something to do with something that affects their lives– and because “does it affect my life” is the core consideration, that lie– and yes, it was a knowing lie by a sitting President– actually winds up being more significant to ordinary Americans than some stupid Tourette’s-like suggestion that illegal immigrants are rapists.

What the elite are continuing to fail to see is this:  You care about what you feel you can afford to care about.

If you’re part of the “new economy”– information services, startups, Kickstarters, et cetera– you’re pretty well set for life.  Whether you get richer is a matter of whether you can control your spending.  You have the luxury of caring about self-actualization and generosity and society and so on.  Secure in the world, you believe the government and President represent you personally, in some sense, and it upsets you if they say things that aren’t true.

If, on the other hand, you’re part of the old economy– the coal miners, the truck stop diner waitresses, the welders– you’re lower on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  You can’t successfully be offered the things that information workers are offered.  You’re transactional.  You want less immigration, you want less regulation, and you want to hurt the people calling you bad names so that they cut it out.  You want a weapon against the elites, and you don’t much care if the weapon says this or that– because even if you care about what he’s talking about, you believe his words are just words.  Even if you care about what he’s talking about, his words can’t affect the truth about it.

The George Costanza Presidency

It sometimes seems to me that Trump’s seeming successes are of a piece with his election.  That is, they’re not so much a matter of his own vision as they are a photographic negative of the failures of the elite consensus pre-2016.

Trump’s successes remind me of one particularly memorable moment on the sitcom Seinfeld involving Seinfeld’s friend George Costanza.  George told his friends, “It became very clear to me sitting out there today, that every decision I’ve ever made, in my entire life, has been wrong.  My life is the opposite of everything I want it to be.  Every instinct I have, in every of life, be it something to wear, something to eat… It’s all been wrong.”

After some interplay, his friend Jerry Seinfeld says he should do the reverse of his instincts.  “If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right.”

“Yes!”  George appears to have an epiphany.  “I will do the opposite. I used to sit here and do nothing, and regret it for the rest of the day, so now I will do the opposite, and I will do something!”

Basically, that appears to me to be Trump’s approach.  He won the Presidency by being the opposite of everything elites have been assuming and offering the country for the past several decades.  And his administrative policy is more or less to be the opposite of most pieces of conventional wisdom about policy and public opinion and elections for that time, also.

What his administration is, more than anything, is an indictment of the particular virtue of elites and elite values and opinions.  I stress “particular” because I do not mean that elites and their values and opinions are worthless.  Or worth less.  Trump does not demonstrate that.  I mean that those values and opinions leave certain valuable things behind, or minimize or backburner them.  Over time, those things add up and come to seem disproportionately attractive.

Did the real estate developer in the White House realize that those ideas and values left behind were like great houses left behind in a deteriorating neighborhood, which become more and more of a potential bargain over time as their prices drop?  I don’t know.  I don’t know what he really believes.  For all I know he blundered across it by simply “doing the opposite” like George Costanza, and had cunning enough to sense it.  But I do think the past couple years have been very much like the sudden gentrification of an intellectual neighborhood.

An open Election-Day letter to the Left

In writing about politics, I always try to imagine how my writing will read if the current political situation– regardless of which side currently holds power– is reversed, and to write accordingly.  That consideration doesn’t affect today’s open letter to the Left, whose main party I expect will most likely at least take the House in today’s elections.

Dear Left,

This is something you won’t want to hear, especially on a day like today.

Your ambition is limited by cold, hard facts that you can neither change nor dismiss.

I can understand how you thought otherwise.  Things came so easily that the stars beckoned.   “The End of History” seemed no hyperbole.  You controlled entertainment, news and academia, and relied on those things having that cultural influence to make your arguments and change people’s minds.  But now the monopolies enjoyed by those institutions has been shattered by technology– especially the Internet.

Entertainment’s fragmentation began in the late 1970s with cable television, though as usual, no one could see it yet.  Airwaves were limited and rights were held by an oligopoly, making almost a monopoly out of broadcast television.  Technology continued its march.  Home video arrived.  VCRs, and later DVD players, meant that people could build up libraries of their favorite old shows, providing eyeball competition for new shows.  Then the Internet arrived and broke everything wide open.  Hollywood’s top levels have always been like tenure at Harvard, with a hierarchy, strict control over professional mobility, and rich, rich rewards for the Elect.  Talented actors, like graduate students and adjuncts, have always greatly outnumbered the places at the top.  But now anyone can put out entertainment on their YouTube channel.

News?  The mid-to-late-20th century era when newspapers became few and very profitable was an historical anomaly, created by the long, slow decline of newspapers as a result of technological alternatives.  Television and radio, its partial immediate successors, were as mentioned above even more of a monopoly due to their limited airwaves, but then the Internet, which reduced production and distribution costs to almost nothing, completed the process.

Academia?  The economics have been hijacked by academic unions and bureaucrats, and the content by the politically correct, with overproduction causing degree inflation and galloping credentialism.  Inevitably the Internet struck here too, with Massive Open Online Courses and places like Wikipedia and Youtube instructional videos, information’s chief cost became nothing more than a minimal level of time and effort.

You have gotten fat and lazy, both intellectually and politically.  You have forgotten how to argue.  In particular you’ve forgotten that in order to persuade someone, you have to speak the same language as them.  Bill Clinton knew how to do that.  Surrendering at least part of your identity narrative will be needed for that to happen, and unfortunately for you, identity is the last thing most people surrender.  You’ll be able to find reasons why you don’t need to.

Finally, in the midst of all this unfocused political energy, you’ve forgotten that people hate what they hate over twice as much as they like the equivalent amount of good.  If you try to accomplish too much with marginal political tricks– “phone and pen”, “50.1% making mandates for sweeping social change”, or the Supreme Court acting as a sort of unelected super-legislature– you will suffer from the one three-word sentence that limits your ambitions more than anything else:  ENEMIES BUILD UP.

Even if you regain both the House and the Senate today, and the Presidency, somehow, tomorrow, there is still nothing you can do about how people feel about you.  You can’t wave a wand and make them not enemies, or not dedicated to fucking you over in revenge.  Your favorite labels, created back in your cultural-hegemony days, are burning out by abuse and overuse.  You can’t take away your enemies’ votes.

Are there such relevant things as the Electoral College, the Senate voting being by equal representation per state, and gerrymandering?  To be sure there are, but they are not that significant.  The entire significance of those structural factors is to affect exactly how much ambition you can have and how many enemies you can make before you are stopped by the buildup of toxicity.  Public opinion is the true battleground, which is why the collapse of your means of swaying it is so catastrophic for you.  Structural factors like gerrymandering won’t change the fact that you need new ways of swaying it.  (I predict that at some point, Hollywood will begin to produce entertainment sympathetic not to Trump but to his supporters, perhaps even at the cost of killing some sacred cows of the Left on the way.)

Is this true of the Republicans also?  Yes.  They can’t take away your votes, or shut you up, or make you not hate them.

It’s still more a problem for you than for them.  Over the past fifty years, you’ve gotten most of what you ever wanted in terms of cultural victories.  If politics is now a stalemate, a political trench war of attrition, with the same few yards being taken and retaken, back and forth, then reversion to the mean in results is unavoidable.  The policy victors of the past fifty years– the free-traders, the cultural Marxists, the tax-cutters, the gun rights people, the warmongers, and so on– will be forced to surrender territory until a new equilibrium is reached.

Sincerely,

R. W. Porcupine

 

P.S. Don’t even think about impeaching Trump unless you have something more substantial up your sleeve than is commonly known, unless you want to be lumped in with congressional Republicans in 1996 and birthers.  Trying to retroactively undo election results is lazy, narcissistic and harmful to American democracy, regardless of how self-righteous you feel.

Outrage appropriation

David Freedlander writes in Politico about unexpected results in that NYC election in which the socialist Ocasio-Cortez shockingly defeated a 10-term Congressman in the real contest there, the Democratic primary:

Ocasio-Cortez’s best precincts were places like the neighborhood where Bonthius and his friends live: highly educated, whiter and richer than the district as a whole. In those neighborhoods, Ocasio-Cortez clobbered Crowley by 70 percent or more. Crowley’s best precincts, meanwhile, were the working-class African-American enclave of LeFrak City, where he got more than 60 percent of the vote, and portions of heavily Hispanic Corona. He pulled some of his best numbers in Ocasio-Cortez’s heavily Latino and African-American neighborhood of Parkchester, in the Bronx—beating her by more than 25 points on her home turf.

Actual minorities there bewailed the loss of the incumbent’s seniority, which translates into influence and Federal money for their district.

When coupled with the desperation of people like Elizabeth Warren or Rachel Dolezal to identify as the socially privileged among Democrats, along with things like the poll results of American Indians about their opinions of the Washington Redskins team name (91% either liked it or didn’t care), these results seem to make it clear that identity politics has gone from a retail issue for ethnic minorities to a luxury issue for rich, white elites.  (Or perhaps a retail issue for the latter, since their identity narrative seems to be the main thing they want.)

The latter yammer on and on about “cultural appropriation”, but this must be a form of projection, because they themselves are doing the real appropriating– of the right to be outraged at some usually tiny alleged form of racism, homophobia, or what have you.  Actual minorities, these election results make clear, are ironically like Trump’s voters in being far more transactional, far more practical, in their priorities.