Brooks and Krugman

Bobo has decided to tell us all about “The Four American Narratives.”  He moans that we’re suffering through a national identity crisis.  There will be a reply from “Dana” in Santa Monica.  In “It’s All About Trump’s Contempt” Prof. Krugman says his budget and health plan show he despises his voters. Will they notice?  Here’s Bobo:

America has always been a divided, sprawling country, but for most of its history it was held together by a unifying national story. As I noted a couple of months ago, it was an Exodus story. It was the story of leaving the oppressions of the Old World, venturing into a wilderness and creating a new promised land. In this story, America was the fulfillment of human history, the last best hope of earth.

That story rested upon an amazing level of national self-confidence. It was an explicitly Judeo-Christian story, built on a certain view of God’s providential plan.

But that civic mythology no longer unifies. American confidence is in tatters and we live in a secular culture. As a result, we’re suffering through a national identity crisis. Different groups see themselves living out different national stories and often feel they are living in different nations.

In a superbly clarifying speech to the think tank New America, the writer George Packer recently argued that there are four rival narratives in America today.

First, there is the libertarian narrative that dominates the G.O.P. America is a land of free individuals responsible for their own fate. This story celebrates the dynamism of the free market. Its prime value is freedom. Packer wrote that “the libertarian idea in its current shape regards Americans as consumers, entrepreneurs, workers, taxpayers — indeed everything except citizens.”

Second, there is the narrative of globalized America. This is the narrative dominant in Silicon Valley and beyond. “We’re all lifelong learners and work for the start-up of you, and a more open and connected world is always a better world.” This story “comes with an exhilarating ideology of flattening hierarchies, disrupting systems, discarding old elites and empowering individuals.”

But in real life when you disrupt old structures you end up concentrating power in fewer hands. This narrative works out well for people who went to Stanford, but not so well for most others.

Third, there is the story of multicultural America. “It sees Americans as members of groups, whose status is largely determined by the sins of the past and present,” Packer observed. “During the Obama years it became a largely unexamined dogma among cultural elites.”

The multicultural narrative dominates America’s classrooms, from elementary school through university: “It makes the products of these educations — the students — less able or less willing to think in terms larger than their own identity group — a kind of intellectual narcissism — which means they can’t find common ground or effective arguments that can reach people of different backgrounds and views.”

As Packer noted, it values inclusion but doesn’t answer the question, Included into what? What is the national identity all these subgroups add up into?

Finally, there is the narrative of America First, the narrative Donald Trump told last year, and which resonated with many voters. “America First is the conviction that the country has lost its traditional identity because of contamination and weakness — the contamination of others, foreigners, immigrants, Muslims; the weakness of elites who have no allegiance to the country because they’ve been globalized.”

This story is backward-looking and pessimistic. In practice, Packer concluded, “This narrative has contempt for democratic norms and liberal values, and it has an autocratic character. It personalizes power, routinizes corruption and destabilizes the very idea of objective truth.”

Personally, I don’t think any of these narratives is a viable basis for successful governance in the 21st century. I’ve just read Michael Lind’s fascinating essay “The New Class War” in American Affairs, and under its influence I’d say the future of American politics will be a competition between two other stories, which are sort of descended from the existing four.

The first is the mercantilist model, which sees America not as the culmination of history but as one major power in competition with rival powers, like China, Russia, Europe and so on. In this, to be American is to be a member of the tribe, and the ideal American is the burly protector of his tribe.

America’s government and corporations should work closely together to “protect our jobs” and beat back rival powers. Immigration and trade should be closely controlled and foreign entanglements reduced. America’s elites would have an incentive to share wealth with America’s workers because they need them to fight off their common foes.

The second is the talented community. This story sees America as history’s greatest laboratory for the cultivation of human abilities. This model welcomes diversity, meritocracy, immigration and open trade for all the dynamism these things unleash. But this model also invests massively in human capital, especially the young and those who suffer from the downsides of creative destruction.

In this community, the poor boy and girl are enmeshed in care and cultivation. Everything is designed to arouse energy and propel social mobility.

The mercantilist model sees America as a new Rome, a mighty fortress in a dangerous world. The talented community sees America as a new Athens, a creative crossroads leading an open and fundamentally harmonious world. It’s an Exodus story for an information age.

What a yoooge crock…  Here’s what “Dana” has to say:

“Our secular culture is to blame? What a dangerous and disingenuous joke. If our society is so secular why can women not go and get an abortion in whatever city they live? Why are there battles over access to contraception? And as for this bogus “elite” narrative. I didn’t go to Stanford, I am a member of an “identity group” and I assure you I can see past my own group’s interest. I want health care for all, a livable minimum wage, job security, free or sliding scale public university – and a whole host of things that benefit all Americans and not those just like me. I also am not religious and don’t quote scripture like the new congressman from Montana – and yet I know it’s wrong to punch journalists and even worse to lie about what you had done. Yet – how interesting that all the self proclaimed “Christians” are the ones excusing, rationalizing and justifying white thuggery these days. The real downfall of America will be the loss of civility of the masses – thanks to a weaponized and well funded campaign of ignorance and hatred that the Koch brothers and their minions have sold to America the past forty years.”

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

For journalists covering domestic policy, this past week poses some hard choices. Should we focus on the Trump budget’s fraudulence — not only does it invoke $2 trillion in phony savings, it counts them twice — or on its cruelty? Or should we talk instead about the Congressional Budget Office assessment of Trumpcare, which would be devastating for older, poorer and sicker Americans?

There is, however, a unifying theme to all these developments. And that theme is contempt — Donald Trump’s contempt for the voters who put him in office.

You may recall Trump’s remark during the campaign that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Well, he hasn’t done that, at least so far. He is, however, betting that he can break every promise he made to the working-class voters who put him over the top, and still keep their support. Can he win that bet?

When it comes to phony budget math — remember his claims that he would pay off the national debt? — he probably can. We’re not talking about anything subtle here; we’re talking about a budget that promises to “abolish the death tax,” then counts $330 billion in estate tax receipts in its rosy forecast. But even I don’t expect to see this kind of fraud get much political traction.

The bigger question is whether someone who ran as a populist, who promised not to cut Social Security or Medicaid, who assured voters that everyone would have health insurance, can keep his working-class support while pursuing an agenda so anti-populist it takes your breath away.

To make this concrete, let’s talk about West Virginia, which went Trump by more than 40 percentage points, topped only by Wyoming. What did West Virginians think they were voting for?

They are, after all, residents of a poor state that benefits immensely from federal programs: 29 percent of the population is on Medicaid, almost 19 percent on food stamps. The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is the main reason the percentage of West Virginians without health insurance has halved since 2013.

Beyond that, more than 4 percent of the population, the highest share in the nation, receives Social Security disability payments, partly because of the legacy of unhealthy working conditions, partly because a high fraction of the population consists of people who suffer from chronic diseases, like diabetics — whom Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s budget director, thinks we shouldn’t take care of because it’s their own fault for eating poorly.

And just to be clear, we’re talking about white people here: At 93 percent white, West Virginia is one of the most minority- and immigrant-free states in America.

So what did the state’s residents think they were voting for? Partly, presumably, they supported Trump because he promised — falsely, of course — that he could bring back the well-paying coal-mining jobs of yore.

But they also believed that he was a different kind of Republican. Maybe he would take benefits away from Those People, but he would protect the programs white working-class voters, in West Virginia and elsewhere, depend on.

What they got instead was the mother of all sucker punches.

Trumpcare, the budget office tells us, would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance, largely through cuts to Medicaid — remember, the program that benefits almost a third of West Virginians. It would also lead to soaring premiums — we’re talking increases on the order of 800 percent — for older Americans whose incomes are low but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid. That describes a lot of Trump voters. Then we need to add in the Trump budget, which calls for further drastic cuts in Medicaid, plus large cuts in food stamps and in disability payments.

What would happen to West Virginia if all these Trump policies went into effect? Basically, it would be apocalyptic: Hundreds of thousands would lose health insurance; medical debt and untreated conditions would surge; and there would be an explosion in extreme poverty, including a lot of outright hunger.

Oh, and it’s not just about crucial benefits, it’s also about jobs. Coal isn’t coming back; these days, West Virginia’s biggest source of employment is health care and social assistance. How many of those jobs would survive savage cuts in Medicaid and disability benefits?

Now, to be fair, the Trump budget would protect West Virginians from the ravages of the estate tax, which affects around 20 — that’s right, 20 — of the state’s residents each year.

So many of the people who voted for Donald Trump were the victims of an epic scam by a man who has built his life around scamming. In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state.

Will they ever realize this, and admit it to themselves? More important, will they be prepared to punish him the only way they can — by voting for Democrats?

But… but… but…  That wouldn’t piss off the libruls.

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