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Hometown: Xenia, OH
Member since: Tue Sep 19, 2006, 03:46 PM
Number of posts: 24,691

Journal Archives

The Return of the 1920s (in Donald Trump and the republican base in general)

America is again caught between nationalists longing for the glories of an imagined past, and activists invoking ideals the nation has never yet attained.

The United States is wracked by a spasm of anti-cosmopolitanism and fear of radical subversion. It is exemplified, for many Americans by the election and presidency of Obama himself: black, yet biracially cosmopolitan, urban, intellectual, raised partly in a Muslim country, and the abandoned son of a Kenyan activist and academic. Millions of conservatives still suspect him of being un-Christian and, literally, not a native-born American qualified to serve as president. ... The current conflict is a continuation of one over the past century in the United States between what the historian Gary Gerstle has called the racial nationalism of blood and ethnic supremacy and a more expansive civic nationalism which promises a common political project of equal rights and respect for all. America has seen expressions of both racial and civic nationalism in its history—both are quintessentially American articulations of political power and hierarchy. Yet these different national projects—one culturally and ethnically homogeneous, the other inclusive of differences, yet seeking to subsume them into a “Party of America”, in political theorist Rogers Smith’s words—both risk canceling out a third strain of American nationalism.

There is no period of American history that so pervasively demonstrated the power of ethno-nationalism to suppress pluralist differences as that following the Russian Revolution, the end of the First World War, and then continuing through much of the 1920s. There are many broad parallels between this era and our own. In both historical moments, there is a rising racial nationalism that takes hold of a significant (and demographically similar) portion of the country. Following the 1920s, Franklin Roosevelt’s leadership during the Depression and a massive labor movement—which, at least, in its ideals (if often not its practice) extolled the social solidarity of Americans of all races, ethnicities, and religions—renewed civic nationalism.

Black soldiers returning from the war, looking for jobs after fighting for their country, were often met with rage; their simple expectation of respect precipitated a violent, racist backlash. In Chicago in 1919 and Tulsa in 1921 dozens were killed in race riots; across the country, whites killed blacks who dared to imagine they could be equal participants in a project of civic nationalism. ... What these various fears shared in common was the concern that the centrality of America’s Anglo-Saxon heritage was being undermined by radicals, immigrants, and African Americans. Understandable concerns for personal safety merged with resentment for groups who sought to disrupt long assumed hierarchies.

One consequence was the introduction of the Immigration Act of 1924. ... The stated goal of the bill’s sponsors and supporters was to enhance an ethnically and racially homogeneous American population.


Trump and his supporters have always seemed to be a throwback to an earlier republican era of anti-immigration, anti-trade sentiments, described by this writer as ethno-nationalists. It is interesting to see the parallels between the 1920's and republican view of the 21st century.

Liberals do seem to support "a more expansive civic nationalism which promises a common political project of equal rights and respect for all" even if that has never been achieved. Conservatives, OTOH, seem more worried about "the centrality of America’s Anglo-Saxon heritage" and their "u)nderstandable concerns for personal safety merged with resentment for groups who sought to disrupt long assumed hierarchies."

The 1920's revisited.

LA Times OpEd: To understand Donald Trump, look to the far-right in Europe

True, Trump's naked appeals to nativist, anti-immigrant populism have parallels in American history, from Pat Buchanan in the 1990s to George Wallace in the 1960s and 1970s to Millard Fillmore's Know-Nothing Party in the 1850s. (Trump) has totally ignored the Planned Parenthood undercover video controversy; and he has been griping about foreign trade since the 1980s (then it was Japan, now China).

In a European context, Trump would fit more comfortably. Many countries on the European continent pursue a “consensus” politics of the center-left and center-right. The moderates in power support a generous social-welfare state and more business regulation than Americans would accept, marginalize religious social-issue conservatives, and ignore crime and immigration.

By shunting so many issues beyond the pale of the mainstream, the elite fuel right-wing populist parties. Leaders like Geert Wilders in Holland, Marine Le Pen in France and their counterparts in Poland, Sweden, Belgium and Hungary give vent to the anxieties that establishment politicians would rather pretend did not exist. Accordingly, like conservatives in the United States, they stress security, including border security. But reflecting their working-class constituencies, European right-wing parties are often more anti-business, anti-trade and pro-social-welfare than American Democrats, let alone American Republicans.

The European right wing traces its heritage in part to the old monarchists. Yet its populist leaders also echo mid-20th century dictators such as Mussolini and Hitler, who were simultaneously violent nationalists and self-proclaimed socialists who disdained individual rights and sought domination over private business and Christian churches. ... In that sense, Trump's anti-immigrant, anti-trade, “Make America great again” nationalism may not be un-conservative, but it is literally un-American. It lacks the reverence for America's founding principles and the Lincolnesque concern for individual rights to life and liberty that have long called American conservatives to the more hopeful better angels of our nature.


I wonder if Trump is a student of RW European populist politicians and sees in their recent successes a pattern for him to follow here. Or if he is just the latest in a long history of American "nativist, anti-immigration" populists ( like "Pat Buchanan in the 1990s to George Wallace in the 1960s and 1970s to ... the Know-Nothing Party in the 1850's".

Krugman posted a graph of global income changes that shows the rise in poors' income.

What you see is the surge by the global elite (the top 0.1, 0.01, etc. would be doing even better than his top 1), plus the dramatic rise of many but not all people in emerging markets. In between is what Branko suggests corresponds to the US lower-middle class, but what I’d say corresponds to advanced-country working classes in general, at least if you add post-2008 data with the effects of austerity. I’d call it the valley of despondency, and I think it’s going to be a crucial factor in developments over the next few years. More eventually.


It also shows the rise in the incomes of the 1%, particularly the top 0.1%. Most liberals do not lament the rise in the incomes of the poorest 75% of the world's people. We do see the dramatic rise in the incomes of the 0.1% as the real cause of the decline of the Western middle class and working class.

RW populists like Trump & Le Pen, prey on two insecurities, economic and cultural.

Economic insecurity is widespread in Europe and the US. The right exploits this and uses cultural insecurity to blame economic problems on THEM (Mexicans, Chinese, Muslims, immigrants, the EU, etc.)

In Europe they hate the EU, refugees, immigrants and anything that infringes on sovereignty and the rights and privileges of 'real', native-born French, Swedes, Dutch, etc. (Monoculturalism is prized by the right in both the US and Europe.) In the US cultural insecurity is the right's fear of the increasing number and power of minorities, immigrants and secular or non-traditional groups.

Of course, LW populists recognize widespread economic insecurity. We differ in that we tend to blame our own 1% rather than the foreign version of THEM the right worries about.

There is not much 'there' there with Trump, but the same is true of Le Pen and a host of other RW populists who have been gaining in popularity. Their proposed solutions won't work - because their THEM is not the real problem - but every country has folks who are different in some way for the problems. Trump and Le Pen may espouse flawed policies but they know how to make a speech and simplify a complex world.

Krugman's review of Reich's new book: Inequality results from corporate market power which in turn

comes from the rise in corporate political power.

Economists struggling to make sense of economic inequality are, increasingly, talking not about technology but about power. This may sound like straying off the reservation—aren’t economists supposed to focus only on the invisible hand of the market?—but there is actually a long tradition of economic concern about “market power,” aka the effect of monopoly. True, such concerns were deemphasized for several generations, but they’re making a comeback—and one way to read Robert Reich’s new book is in part as a popularization of the new view ...

Meanwhile, forms of market power that benefit large numbers of workers as opposed to small numbers of plutocrats have declined, again thanks in large part to political decisions. We tend to think of the drastic decline in unions as an inevitable consequence of technological change and globalization, but one need look no further than Canada to see that this isn’t true. Once upon a time, around a third of workers in both the US and Canada were union members; today, US unionization is down to 11 percent, while it’s still 27 percent north of the border. The difference was politics: US policy turned hostile toward unions in the 1980s, while Canadian policy didn’t follow suit. And the decline in unions seems to have major impacts beyond the direct effect on members’ wages ...

There’s growing evidence that market power does indeed have large implications for economic behavior—and that the failure to pursue antitrust regulation vigorously has been a major reason for the disturbing trends in the economy. Suppose that we hypothesize that rising market power, rather than the ineluctable logic of modern technology, is driving the rise in inequality. How does this help make sense of what we see?

Part of the answer is that it resolves some of the puzzles posed by other accounts.
... Furthermore, focusing on market power helps explain why the big turn toward income inequality seems to coincide with political shifts, in particular the sharp right turn in American politics. For the extent to which corporations are able to exercise market power is, in large part, determined by political decisions. And this ties the issue of market power to that of political power.


Great to see one liberal economist comment on another liberal economists new book.

We all know that the rise in corporate political power has increased exponentially since the 1980's while corporate regulation has declined precipitously during the same period. Likewise, the rise in corporate political power has resulted in more regressive taxation, the rise in 'right-to-work' legislation and other anti-worker policies.
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