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Richard Rorty's Prescient Vision

The late philosopher Richard Rorty wrote a book back in 1998 (Achieving our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America). It contained some truly prescient paragraphs where he predicted a day where “old industrialized democracies” would find themselves heading toward a time “in which populist movements are likely to overturn constitutional governments.” Mike Walsh has a nice, in depth look at what Rorty wrote and how uncannily it fits with what we are witnessing in Trump.

I’ve been thinking a bit more about this, especially after reading several pieces on voters who should have backed Clinton but either wrote in someone else (usually Bernie) or just didn’t bother to vote. In interviews, these folks complained about being left behind, ignored by those in power (like Rorty predicted) and feeling like their concerns were not even on the table for discussion. Interestingly, many Blacks said they felt disappointed in Obama. Having a Black president made them feel better about racial identity but made little difference in their quality of life.

I understand but I wonder if these folks realize that their problems, stark as they are, are shared with most of the middle and working classes around the country. The recovery from the ‘08 financial meltdown has been the slowest recovery from a recession ever. The main reason, as economists like Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have been saying over and over, is that the 2009 stimulus package was too small and distributed in non-optimal ways. It stopped the bleeding but it wasn’t effective in turning the economy around. The result was a turgid, molasses-like recovery accompanied by anger that none of the miscreants who brought it about suffered for their actions.

Then in 2010 the GOP took over the House and in 2014 the Senate. They insisted on austerity budgets and they got them. The result was there wasn’t enough growth. Businesses didn’t open or expand at expected rates. New jobs were added regularly but they tended to be low-paying, service-oriented.

Money stayed in the banks or went into the stock market which soared. The wealthy got wealthier and everybody else got hosed. And those that got hosed are feeling hosed and roiling with the resentment that comes from it. As any social psychologist worth their salt can tell you, wealth inequality has profound effects both physical and emotional.

Alas, the angry and the frustrated took their feelings out at the ballot box but backed the wrong horse either directly or indirectly. It’s gonna get worse because it cannot get better with the kinds of programs Trump’s hinted he wants to put in place. Go here to see Paul Krugman’s analysis of the debacle that may be upon us in the next couple of years. If Krugman’s vision is correct we’re in for a whole mess ‘o shit because the GOP’s got Congress all locked up and the term “privitization” is going to get one heck of a workout. Either we take the final step into becoming a true oligarchy or we’ll see endless filibustering and continued deadlock. The latter is much preferred.

It is, from this classic twenty-twenty hindsight pinnacle, possible to think that Sanders might have been able to beat Trump. I, quite honestly, did not think he could because I was envisioning what the Republican slime-machine could do to him (“Socialist” “Communist”). What I missed, what almost all of us missed is that Bernie was tapping into the same vein of frustration and anger at the establishment that Trump was.

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