Reader Bobby, a cultural liberal, responded to a conservative’s criticism on another thread, and tries to point out that economics, not sex, drove social fragmentation in his hometown:
I may work in finance now, but I grew up in a manufacturing town in the Midwest. I watched the moral decline occur. I saw thousands of people lose high-wage manufacturing jobs and face the prospect that the best available jobs paid less than half the salary they’d been earning for the past 20 years. And, in many cases, they had to drive an hour to a larger city just to get those jobs. When that happens, it tears apart the entire social fabric of a community. During my senior year, five guys on my soccer team were living with neighbors or grandparents because their parents had left the state to look for work. My father’s practice survived, but my parents lost nearly all of their closest friends. Several of my closest friends moved away the morning after our high school graduation. One moved to Colorado, another to Texas, and another to Georgia. The four of us grew up on the same cul-de-sac and our families had been inseparable since as long as we could remember. Churches all over town went bankrupt. Civic leagues collapsed, as their most active members moved away. Within a 5-year-period, attendance at high school sporting events fell by 90%.
This didn’t happen because people woke up one morning and decided en masse to follow the siren call of the sexual revolution. No, it happened because one manufacturer eliminated 18,000 jobs overnight in a town with barely more than 85,000 people. And the same thing happened in communities all over middle America. My parents are still scarred by it. They decided to stay, and try to help the city recover. They’re now angry and depressed, and proudly supporting Trump.
I think it’s inaccurate to say it’s either/or, but I take Bobby’s point, and it’s one that most conservatives don’t really want to hear, for the same reason that most liberals don’t want to think about the role of sexual liberation in social fragmentation. But this is something conservative really must think about.
Why are conservative leading having such a tough time finding policy approaches that ring true to working-class voters? Are the Mikes of the world too easily persuaded by what I might call magical thinking solutions – for example, the idea, which you hear fairly often from Trump supporters, that Trump as president would essentially “renegotiate” the terms of trade and business in order to boost the working class?
Because the burden of taxation overall falls on the highest-income earners and those in the investor-class, the advocates of a small-government philosophy naturally find themselves allied with those voters when talking about reforming government or removing the economic burdens of government. Libertarian-leaning economists love to advertise that free trade deals mean cheaper everyday consumables that are available to lower income Americans, they don’t talk as often discuss how free trade makes it easier for America’s wealthy to invest their capital in cheaper foreign workforces. I think we all know who got the better overall end of the deal and who paid the cost for it.
When conservatives think of American trade negotiators and diplomats working to lower the barriers to American capitalists investing in overseas workforces, they see it as a core function of government, not as a kind of favor to wealthy clients of the American state. But if the same negotiators had in mind the interests of American workers instead, they see it as corrupt protectionism, that coddles the undeserving. There is a huge failure of imagination on the right. And a failure of self-awareness. It may also be that I don’t see conservatism’s primary duty as guarding the purity of certain 19th century liberal principles on economics. I see its task as reconciling and harmonizing the diverse energies and interests of a society for the common good.
That last line of MBD’s shines light on the difference between traditionalist conservatives and mainstream conservatives. But then, if we can’t even agree on what the common good is — and we can’t — then we are stuck.
I have not heard Trump say anything about how he would make things more fair, and protect the interests of American workers (over those of American manufacturers). All he does is talk about how unfair it is, and to make promises to bring home jobs from overseas — promises that he has not explained how he would fulfill.