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By Jim Kempton
What has caused the rise of the angry American shouting out for justice today? It has surprised almost everyone who has seen both its inspiring message—of fairness, respect and equality— and its dark, ugly corollary. From both left and right, from Bernie to Donald, a chord has been struck that resonated with a large and geographically diverse group of our populace. Whether the accusations are aimed at corporate executives, government officials, tax dodgers, police tactics or the president; whether one thinks the cause is outsourcing, immigrants, Wall Street or a do-nothing Congress, there is one unifying consequence: economic loss.
The largest loss is blamed on the trade agreements that are perceived to have produced an oversized loss in jobs. If only it were so simple. The truth is, these agreements are meant to help us, and free trade does have an overall positive effect. We get cheap goods both from abroad and at home from these deals. The theory that NAFTA and numerous other trade agreements provide new markets for our own goods and services is sound. But theory does not take into account the time it takes to fully realize the fruits of an agreement. If it takes 20 years for a market to develop or a program to show dividends, it has little value to the generation that is struggling now. And that is, in my opinion, precisely the problem. American workers have been the recipients of the pain involved in these transitions, and the top management and elites have been its beneficiaries.
The forces that have driven lower-income Americans’ rage and anger exhibited at Trump rallies are not unfounded. The elite are too unrestrained, the decisions lawmakers make are not representative of ordinary citizens, immigrants without papers do affect the work force and the corporations who take their jobs overseas are guilty of a greed our social culture now seems to celebrate.
Closing factories, stores and other places where working-class Americans could get good jobs does affect the health of a community. Losing homes, businesses, educational opportunities are harmful to our social fabric. Pride, self-worth and the ability to assist your children for a better life are all critical human desires; their loss can cause despair and anxiety.
Of course, the public sector has its limits on what can alleviate this crisis. Increased efficiency and oversight should be a priority for government programs. And it is obvious that self-reliance and a positive attitude along with perseverance and pluck are catalysts required for any economic progress.
The Donald is hardly the person to lead the nation in this (or any other) dilemma.
He is simply exploiting the fears and fanning the fires of resentment, anxiety and selfishness—hardly the recipe for progress. Shutting down your government or attacking your institutions is no formula for improving the situation—smashing our fragile global market or unraveling our critical security alliances is both dangerous and counterproductive.
But this populist uprising, this nativist hatred, this ethnic anger should not be ignored or disdained. It is a quandary Americans must deal with and it is perhaps the defining issue of our day: are we going to leave our damaged wagons on the trail or will we fix these broken wheels and all move on together?
Our own local community should take heed of this problem as well. Citizens must not turn their backs on these issues, and city leaders—whether elected, employed or appointed—must be cognizant of doing what is best for all and not just the powerful few. Our working class is in crisis, and our success is at risk when that crisis persists. We cannot ignore it, shame it or bludgeon it out of existence.
Jim Kempton is a writer, surfer and devoted lover of America. When he is happy he is a love bird when he is mad he is an angry bird. He’s been rich and he’s been poor. And rich is definitely better.
The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily represent those of Picket Fence Media.