Monday, February 27, 2017

Meet Bob

Someone I know posted this to Facebook in the past couple of days, after the election of Tom Perez as DNC chair.

[In the original, the writer used the term "Bubba" to refer to a particular kind of Trump voter. I have changed that to "Bob" because I think the other name distracts from the good points he makes. He is unapologetic in his elitism, but I don't think that matters for the main argument as much as he thinks it does.]

So, here are my thoughts. This comes after watching the nomination, and eventual election of Tom Perez to the DNC. These thoughts go beyond the election of Perez and are, more generally, what I’ve been thinking since the atrocity of Donald Trump.

As, essentially, a lifelong Democrat and most certainly a lifelong progressive; as Democrats we do tend to sound elitist and we do tend to “miss” a connection to the everyday, blue collar, and low-income WHITE voter (this includes those who are working three jobs and on food stamps and the completely unemployed AND those on the dole). You see, if we don’t recognize that, and start to figure out how to communicate with these folks, we’re never going to restore sanity and intellectual prowess to the position of President of Unite States (when I was a kid it was predominantly believed that the President and other elected officials should be of high intellect -- kinda like Obama or Kennedy).

Our newly formed message has to find a way to make Bob (let’s call the voters we need to find a way to communicate with “Bob”) feel like we’re on his/her side and talking to him/her directly. You see, even though Trump actually lost the election, his message resonated with Bob and ours did not. Let me be elitist enough, and show enough hubris, to say that I think I actually understand Bob. I’ve been managing blue-collar workers for decades now. These workers have been both people of color and of various ethnic derivations ALONG with desperately white, high school and near high school graduates (both in unions and non-union). I have been both a front line supervisor and the manager of front line supervisors in charge of the productivity and hiring-and-firing of these Bobs.

What isn’t said, outright, by the conservative, alt-right, Republican (call them as you wish) is that they speak to the Bobs out there. They do it through the understanding of this:

Low income white men/women, those that are making something around $50,000 or less, hear: “Transfer of wealth” but really hear this:

A transfer of wealth means that those “other” people, you know the ones of color or those illegal immigrants (or in other words, the ones that don’t look like me) will have an advantage over me because those “other” people will be the ones that “get” the redistributed wealth. Their understanding is that ANY advantage will never be theirs, it will always be for someone who “deserves” it less than them. Even those who receive some type of assistance believe that if there was a redistribution of wealth that, somehow, this would benefit “others” before it would benefit them.

They are taught this by the alt-right; listen to the radio/TV broadcasts of these propaganda specialists. If you carefully instruct each lower social strata to be suspicious of the next lowest strata you get the entire lower tier to vote against their own self interest. It’s fascinating. And this doesn’t have to be the lowest of low income. This is also prevalent amongst certain civil service positions such as police, fire, EMT etc. (I’ve run security divisions who employ retired big city police officers, they are all Bobs, afraid that the "others" - people of color or lower social strata - will get more than they deserve)

I have one actual, real life, story that gets to my point (at least for me). In a management role I had an employee who was working in the U.S. on a green card and was about to become a citizen. I enjoyed this person because he was interesting and REALLY good at his job. I would discuss politics with him and this is what he would say: No one from his country should be allowed into the United States after he becomes a citizen. Here was his reasoning, all of the “other” people from his country were lazy and unworthy of admittance. He also had two additional people on his staff, one was from a country near his and the other was a low-income American from the inner city. He would tell me that these two individuals were lazy and unworthy, his basis was soundly formed from his view that only he was truly competent. It also illustrated that at this lower level of income that each was trying to figure out how they could be better positioned than the other. That is to say, there’s a hierarchy of who's better off, even if this is just a slight advantage; even the color of your skin. You might despise this fact but believe me, it’s true and it’s the core of the Bob view of the world.

If Democrats can’t find a way to communicate to [the Bobs] and to assure them that the “transfer of wealth” we are talking about is simply taxing the rich more than taxing everyone else, we will never regain political dominance. They will always think that the Democrats want to make the poor rich at the expense of all else. How do we change this narrative?

Also, it has been my experience that the Bobs of the world greatly distrust their first line, middle, and senior level management. I’ve had the more brazen of my employees tell me, directly to my face, “Oh, so you’re smart, that’s how you’ve got ahead.” They do this with obvious contempt in their tone and visible in their body language. They equate intelligence with deviousness towards THEIR position. I find this aspect fascinating because as a professional, a “knowledge worker,” I’ve been driven my entire career by those who I have believed are smarter than me. I’ve always respected their intelligence and position and have used the envy of their position to propel my own career and grow my knowledge base. The Bobs of the world have a completely opposite view. How do we communicate with those who are not "driven" to continually improvement?

If we (Democrats) don’t get this and then start to get our party to figure out how to reach the Bobs and speak to them on terms they understand, we are doomed. (emphasis added)
Clearly, this meshes well with the findings of Arlie Hochschild about Trump voters perceiving others as "line-cutters" getting ahead of them on the way to the American dream. It also fits with race theory, which says whiteness was used to give poor whites something they could have and hold over black people. It's what Matt Bruenig calls last place avoidance.

I find the Facebook writer's last point, about Bob distrusting intelligent people, the most interesting of all the things he said. This way of thinking was mentioned to me recently by another friend, who reads a lot about cognitive science. He told me there's a self-protective (maybe from evolution?) basis to anti-intellectualism, because less intelligent people may think a more intelligent person will take advantage or manipulate them, and is therefore a threat. And they aren't really wrong about that (Thank You for Smoking).

Wish I could remember where that bit of enlightenment came from, but now my friend is having source amnesia and we can't pin it down.


Anonymous said...

I have to say another important group who voted for Trump and aren't "Bob"s, are baby boomers, who may or may not be college educated, but believe that they have been successful because of something they have done right and not that the system has been stacked in their favor from birth. This group doesn't want to examine racial inequality as it relates to them, they aren't comfortable with the idea that they didn't so much "earn" their current, financially comfortable position as mostly get lucky (not only by time period, but birth race). The total avoidance that anyone else has a point about or data to support alternate world views, they can't take it. These are otherwise nice, caring people, but somehow they can't get past this. Pat, you know who I'm talking about .

Daughter Number Three said...

I call this "pulling the ladder up after you." Also part of the "you didn't build it" discussion that happened in 2012, with folks who don't recognize all of the public-funded infrastructure that makes it possible to have a successful business (let alone having white skin in a culture based in white supremacy).

It seems like a version of the guy my Facebook writer talked about who thought no one else should be allowed to immigrate except him.