“We choose not to work when we should be looking for jobs. Sometimes, we’ll get a job, but it won’t last. We’ll get fired for tardiness, or for stealing merchandise and selling it on eBay, or for having a customer complain about the smell of alcohol on our breath, or for taking five thirty-minute restroom breaks per shift. We talk about the value of hard work but tell ourselves that the reason we’re not working is some perceived unfairness: Obama shut down the coal mines, or all the jobs went to the Chinese. These are the lies we tell ourselves to solve the cognitive dissonance—the broken connection between the world we see and the values we preach.”
This is from the book I wrote about last week, “Hillbilly Elegy.” The author, J.D. Vance, who escaped his rural Kentucky hillbilly upbringing to become a Yale-educated lawyer, is telling tough-love truths to his own family and friends. The clueless people he’s describing are the Rust Belt self-described “Christians” who voted Trump into office.
I love the line about how “Obama shut down the coal mines” and exported “all the jobs to the Chinese.” That’s pretty much the essence of Trump’s fake campaign message (plus, of course, the Mexican-bashing and hating on Muslims). Trump knows full well that Obama didn’t “shut down” anything. Coal was dying a long time ago and continues its death spiral today; the Financial Times—not exactly a liberal outlet—recently described the “uphill battle” coal faces. Demand in the world’s biggest economies, the U.S., China and Europe, is plummeting, and even increased demand in developing countries, like India, “is not enough to raise total coal use overall.”
Still, facts never stopped Donald Trump from making false claims (Trump University, anyone?). “We will put our miners back to work!” Trump promised coal men in a West Virginia photo op during the campaign. He won’t, of course—but the unemployed miners won’t even remember his insincere promise because of “the broken connection between the world [they] see and the values [they] preach.”
As for the Chinese stealing all our jobs, which Trump continues to allege—(“They’re stealing our jobs; they’re beating us in everything; they’re winning, we’re losing.”)—manufacturing has been moving to China from the U.S. since the 1970s due to far-lower labor costs there. Moreover, “A trade deficit isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as more imports into the United States might be a signal of a healthy and active economy, with strong consumer spending.” All those Rust Belt people complaining about Obama and China—the folks who buy their clothes and big screen TVs at Wal-Mart–might be interested to know that the reason the cost is low is because they were produced in Chinese (or Bangladeshi, or Burmese, or Vietnamese) factories. If they want their stuff made in America, as they claim they do, they better be prepared to pay a lot more for everything. Of course, if the price of goods soars, they’d blame that on Obama, too, as the notoriously racist web site, RedState, did, when they lied about “Obama inflation.” The fact is, the average inflation rate during Obama’s eight years (2009-2016) was 1.75%, low by any historical measure. By contrast, the Trump inflation rate for his first ten months is 2.11%.
Cognitive dissonance, indeed.
The problem with these Red State Trump Republicans, as I have repeatedly written (and which J.D. Vance confirms) is that they don’t think straight. The reasons why, as J.D. suggests, are complicated, and the fact that they’re intellectually challenged doesn’t make them evil, or bad Americans, or useless. They are, however, “uneducated, low-information white people,” in the words of Foreign Policy Magazine; in their “dance of the dunces,” they “know who the president is, but not much else.” Education obviously is the key to making them better citizens, but guess why Trump wants “deep cuts” to education, to the tune of 13.5%. It’s because he, and his Republican pals, know that ignorant people vote Republican. The last thing the GOP wants is a smart electorate that would vote the Republican Party out of existence forever.