You know Millennials routinely get called out for their entitled nature. All too often I see the criticism as overblown, but let’s go with the premise for a moment and ask where did they get these ideas from. I’m reminded of the 80’s anti drug commercial “I learned it from watching you.” What we are seeing today in politics with the ascendancy of the current GOP presidential front-runners is an appeal to the entitled America no one likes to talk about, white Americans. I’m not saying this merely to be inflammatory. When I look at the rhetoric being bandied about I’m seeing more to this onion then simply fear of the other people generally associate with the GOP base.
The Middle Class on Life Support
I mean this almost literally, the middle class is no longer the majority of Americans, and most who are, fall into the elder generations who are or will soon be entering retirement. The consequences of this change has already been tectonic. You can see it in small changes like the shift in advertising with a dominance of prescription drug advertisements aimed at older Americans, and an increasing status of luxury brand campaigns. These may seem irrelevant but it marks a shift from the dominance of Toyota Camry ads of the late 90’s. What this indicates to me is that there is little profit to be had from the shrinking middle class. This isn’t just an empty statement, Hershey in their latest earnings report noted that sales fell because the middle class just isn’t buying their products and they are seeing movement in lower cost brands and the higher cost “luxury” brands. This shift in advertising though has the knock on effect of showing average Americans the life “They should be living”. As the middle class erodes a chasm will form in terms of consumer goods available with companies only offering high-end and low-end products. The implications of this change are so massive it warrants its own post.
Stagnation Leads to Resentment
A combination of advances in technology, outsourcing due to trade deals and the great recession has made it very difficult for families to maintain the middle class lifestyle, much less make gains into one. Add to this the death of cheap credit and higher costs for everything from housing to healthcare and it is easy to see the seeds of resentment form. People are working harder, longer hours and not only are they not achieving the lifestyle they want they are falling backwards on the economic scale. A college degree is now a prerequisite for a shot at a middle class life for people these days as there is an 80% wage gap between those who earn a high school diploma and those who complete college. It is important to note that this gap in wage has come from wages falling for those who have not completed college. This has been a slow-moving trend for decades but white america is now also starting to feel the strain.
The question is what caused this situation? The economy is a big complicated system with millions of inputs yet we must simplify it in some way to try to understand it. For many in the conservative movement Occam’s razor is the proverbial “other”. For all the conservative claptrap about individual responsibility there seems to be a lot of rhetoric blaming societal problems on others be it minorities or immigrants. This is what building a wall to protect us from illegal migration is all about. If I understand the argument illegal immigration decreases wages because employers will hire illegal immigrants at lower wages. The problem with this analysis is there are two actors in this equation the employer and the employee. If employer is paying wages so low that the only people who will work for him are illegal immigrants then maybe instead of spending billions of dollars to build a wall that will be impossible to maintain, perhaps we just make it so employers can’t pay those wages. But wait, I already hear the conservatives saying, we don’t want the government involved in business, manipulating the market. Except that building a wall is a far greater manipulation of the market then wage control. Building a wall is government on full tilt in terms of manipulating the market.
Resentment leads to Hate
For the longest time Conservatives have run on a particular style of politics. The primary characteristic of this was that government wants to take away from white america and give to minorities. More importantly though, those minorities are going to take the money and waste it on things they can’t afford. Why? Because when the government gives out handouts people don’t learn personal responsibility.This last part is critical to narrative. It gives a moral superiority to the conservative movement. They aren’t heartless jackals preventing the hungry from eating, quite the contrary they are crusaders for families and community. They give to their local church and charity they just don’t want money going to the wrong type of people. That’s what drug testing those who receive government assistance is all about, despite the fact that the percentage of people who receive government assistance and use drugs is much smaller than the percentage of average Americans who use drugs. Morality doesn’t understand statistics apparently. The problem now though is more and more of white America is suffering. More of white America is falling out of the middle class and facing a society lacking the pathways to success they’ve assumed minorities were just too lazy to use. This might be part of the reason we’re seeing a rise in heroin addiction and gun suicides. Yet rather than see this trend as a reason for reforming the system so more can succeed, the conservative movement has chosen to double down on their rhetoric and as a result have invited hate into the mainstream.