Recently there has been much written about the polarization of America. Francis Fukuyama, the noted political theorist has written a book on the subject, " Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment." Brilliantly conceived, Fukuyama deals with the reasons the politics of identity has struck so discordant a note in our present national conversation.
Since I have not completed the book, I can only deal with what I have read so far, but at this point, I cannot resist in remarking how prescient a work it is and the subject of why we have seemed to have sunk so deeply into selecting leadership that is so viscerally repugnant.
Donald Trump is a master of mining the depths of the inherent contradictions in the psyches of his followers. By using dog whistles, he plays to both the fears and the desires of those who consider themselves forgotten by the elites--the loss of their perceived respect and dignity. Their invisibility.
The American middle class, despite its station in the world compared to other nations, has suffered, Fukuyama says, from a loss of their self-esteem because they have become invisible to the elites of both the government and those residing on the coasts. This invisibility is worse than being regarded as rubes, yokels and rednecks.
Since deindustrialization, they have lost their place in society. They have lost the meaning of their work and thus their claim to respect and dignity.
Fukuyama alludes to philosophers who have dealt with this subject, Aristotle, Kant, Rousseau, who all have different takes on how we regard ourselves and our relation to the world in both a political and psychological sense. But the essence is a human quest for dignity and respect.
Fukuyama analogizes, moreover, that losing something of value is more important than gaining something of value. For example if one makes $1000, the self-satisfaction of doing so is more easily dismissed than losing $1000 through theft or a lost wallet. A sense of loss, therefore, outweighs a sense of gain, because one regards the event with a diminution of self-esteem. For another example, the loss of jobs in the industrial Midwest among auto workers is a devastating blow to people who worked hard and earned $47 an hour but now earn $15 an hour working just as hard. This is fertile ground, for manipulative demagoguery, converting the rust belt into fertile ground for hucksterism, for a pied piper of mendacity and illusory dreams.
That is what, Fukuyama argues, has happened to American workers as well as to workers in other countries suffering from the effects of deindustrialization and technological displacement who have found themselves in the netherworld of lost aspirations.
The result of all this is the place provided for increased demagoguery. This has happened in our history before. During the great depression of the 1930s, people who had lost their jobs suffered more from the loss of dignity than from the loss of employment. Along came Father Coughlin, Huey Long and other charlatans, to fuel the sense of displacement and valuelessness among their followers and to increase the credibility of their own populism.
People who have lost their place on the auto assembly line, the steel mill, the farmer, have flocked to a flim-flam man who promised them that their jobs would be restored when he really knew they would not.
The expression of the dignity of work is not lost on us. People who think that Andrew Yang's offer of a guaranteed annual income is not the sinecure that its advocates might think. Whether people really want something for nothing is open to question. Most people do not want handouts; they want to earn their keep not only for their own pocket books but also for their dignity. Many of the benefits of a welfare state are an anathema to most Americans and even among those of us who believe that government has an obligation to help the less fortunate among us.
In addition, social media has exacerbated this phenomenon by emphasizing the shrinking of the middle class, the income of which has exponentially spiraled down in the obverse exponential growth of corporate profits, and executive compensation with FOX news propaganda mouthing administration lies about how "great" the economy is doing and how coal miners jobs will be restored, if only we could keep America away from intruding immigrants.