One of the fascinating yet infuriating things about being a leftist member of a small town community is having a meal at the local diner. This town is inhabited by many older white ‘folks’ who seem to think there is no world beyond the borders of the contiguous United States and that the ghost of Ronald Reagan still speaks Truth to those blessed enough to hear it. Except for Sundays, the diner is the nexus of conservative thought and discourse in our town, at least during breakfast and lunch hours. Sitting among the locals, eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes, I could not avoid hearing the conversation going on at the neighboring table. I did not, sadly, catch every word, but I did hear such gems as “Hillary wanted to be a queen” and “if Obama was born in Hawaii, why is there a monument for him in Kenya?” Of course one of them claimed to be a “proud independent” who, apparently, voted for Nixon and Carter, although Carter didn’t do anything and was only outdone by Obama in terms of most damaging president. Of course, my instinct was to challenge these assertions, to question them as to what made Obama such a terrible president. Was it his effort to expand health insurance coverage to millions? Was it his attempt at bringing thousands of undocumented youth out of legal limbo and into a citizenship track? Was it that he didn’t blindly support every military, police, big industry initiative that came along? Was it that he had the gall to believe LGBT~ Americans should have the same rights and privileges as everyone else?
My instinct was to lash out, to swamp them with facts and figures, stats and stories that would illustrate how misguided their understandings were and show them the errors in their reasoning. I wanted to point out that just because their lives had been altered by the march of time and their familiar and comfortable paradigm had been disrupted over the past 40 years didn’t mean that the United States had somehow failed and was adrift in some terrible storm. I wished to point out that the more reactionary the US tried to be, the more it tried to recapture some long lost mystique it may or may not have ever had, the further behind the nation would slip. Re-industrialization won’t solve the economic woes of these older white men: the factories they might have known decades ago cannot exist in this country. Automation, not China, is the real threat to the American laborer. The jobs of the future won’t be in steel mills, on assembly lines, textile factories or coal mines. The reality is that this work can only be economically accomplished by 1) developing nations eager to sacrifice their citizens to the beast of international commerce or 2) robots and artificial intelligence. What is left then? The service sectors? The arts? Self-checkout machines in stores and AI composed fiction are already cutting in. Donald Trump, with all his bravado and preening over such ‘deals’ as Carrier and Ford, cannot and will not reverse a global trend. Industry knows no nationality and pledges allegiance to no flag. Industry will go wherever its money can buy the most blood and, when human labor becomes too expensive, they will turn to the machines. Donald Trump is a fool to think his supposed skill at wheeling and dealing will do anything significant in the face of this new industrial revolution. Those who think he can, like those men chatting over meatloaf and sweet tea late this morning, are even more foolish.