Sunday, January 10, 2021

Biden's essential task is to help the Left Behind

This is the last in a short series of post that began on Nov 11, 2020, shortly after Biden won the presidency for the first time. Back then it looked like McConnell would hold the Senate

In the decades since that post Trump became more insane than usual, a deranged mob of Trump cultists invaded the Capitol building, the Dems took the Senate, and Biden won the presidency for the third or fiftieth time depending how one counts. Truly, I need to finish this series while we still have electricity.

In the first post I wrote about how I think about the Trump voter (and America). I divided the Trump voter up into the religious fundamentalist (sometimes Trump cultist), the despicables (ex: Hawley, Cruz, the WSJ reader), and the Left Behind. The NYT profiled a Left Behind on 11/7/2020 (emphases mine):

... Nick [a] 26-year-old hair stylist ... spent the past few months campaigning for President Trump, taking special satisfaction in offending Biden supporters...

... He did not go to college and prides himself on his independent thinking; he puts himself in the category of street smart, not book smart...

... He had never bothered to register to vote until 2016, when he first heard Mr. Trump debate on television, and saw a political figure who reminded him of himself....

... When Fox News began reporting polls showing Mr. Biden in the lead, Ms. Rocco tried tuning into One America News, the right-wing cable network, which predicted a convincing victory for the president. The Roccos got news from a variety of sources — TikTok, QAnon, the pro-Trump comedian Terrence K. Williams, the YouTube mystic Clif High. “I’m a conspiracy theorist, I guess, if you want to call it that,” Ms. Rocco said...

...  he reminded himself what kept him out there all these months: People had disrespected him. The Facebook group manager who had kicked him off. The neighbor who took his yard sign. Teachers who responded to his daughter’s enthusiasm about Mr. Trump with awkward silence.

“People who don’t like Trump, I honestly think they are very soft people,” he said. “That is why the world is becoming so sensitive today. Back in the day, you could throw a snowball at someone at school and everything was fine. Nowadays, a letter gets sent home: Your child is being mean.”

... His older brother, who he describes as the brainy one, took the other path, winning a scholarship to college. (He is the Biden voter.) But Mr. Rocco’s aspirations were staunchly blue-collar; he chose trade school and went to work at 17...

It's unlikely Nick would have done well at a four year college or succeeded as a knowledge worker. He could marry well, or find an inheritance, or show unusual entrepreneurial talent -- but more likely he's going to be the disrespected Left Behind. In today's America if you aren't a knowledge worker you're probably not going to make over $30/hr, and you're not going to make it into the middle class as an individual [2]. Even in countries with effectively free college this non-knowledge worker cohort is about half the population [2].

America can't survive as a democracy with half its citizens Left Behind. We'll have a January 6 every year -- only the mobs will be larger and have better weapons. Of all the threats we face, this is our greatest near term challenge. Even CO2 driven climate change is a lesser threat.

Biden needs to work out a solution for the Left Behind problem. The good news is that for this problem survival and politics align. The Left Behind are the core of Trump's base and the modern GOP, it's tricky for the GOP to block policies to bring the Left Behind into the middle class. And, after Jan 6, 2021, there's intense awareness of the danger posed by the Left Behind (though that will be quickly forgotten). 

Most importantly the Left Behind are not only white, they are also Black [3], Hispanic, Asian and any slice you like (though more men than women). Helping the Left Behind crosses political boundaries, unlike reducing college debt.

What policies can be put in place so that most non-knowledge workers can earn over $30 an hour? I've written of a few over the years, here's a partial list:

  1. A $15/hour minimum wage. Put pressure at the base.
  2. Subsidize employment directly, or provide direct cash support (family allowance and the like), or do a mixture of both [4].
  3. Learn from Germany and from Quebec's manufacturing sector.
  4. Reduce corporate scale, favor smaller companies that employ more blue collar workers [5]
  5. Get creative about small business generation - including a national small business generator.
  6. Do public works and infrastructure that generate employment. I've been told the pharaohs built pyramids so laborers had work between flooding of the Nile. (The US military is one model for non-college public works employment.)
  7. Review all our tax, accounting, finance and labor policies and revise to favor non-college employment.
This is what Biden needs to focus on.

- fn -

[1] One trade worker and one service worker couple can squeak in it as long as they don't have child care expenses and as long as they stay together.

[2] See also my pre-catastrophe 2015 post on why I was a "fan" (heavy irony) of Trump or a recent post/pre catastrophe retrospective. I've been on this topic for a long time though my thoughts have evolved quite a bit over 17 years.

[3] Deep and pervasive structural racism means there's great potential for increasing four year college participation in Black America. I don't think there's anywhere near that potential for White America.

[4] I think subsidized work has significant political, cultural, economic, psychological, and social advantages over direct cash subsidies -- but I'm not adverse to experimenting. 

[5] "Blue collar" is a historic synonym for Left Behind.