Article by Peter Coyote on Bill Moyers & company web site
Article by Peter Coyote
OVERLOOKED DRAFT BOARDS FOR TRUMP VOTERS
It’s always embarrassing to eat crow and admit error. The fact I had the entire television babbling class as companions-in-error doesn’t assuage my pride at all.. I was far enough off the mark for the last year to not believe that Trump was actually running for President. I believed he understood numbers and could perceive clearly that the Republicans were a minority party. I believed he understood that excising immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, the LBGT community and college-educated women from voter totals would prevent him from winning the Presidency. Therefore I deduced that he was camouflaging an effort to raise the value of his brand by disguising it as a Presidential campaign. I may even have been correct for a while. However, somewhere along his travels he and his people realized that they had tapped an artery of citizen-vitriol concentrated from decades of being overlooked, exploited, disenfranchised and fleeced and that by merging with it Trump had a real shot at reaching the heart of power in the White House.
Looking backwards in the cold light of a dawn which now includes Mr. Trump as my President, a long memory helps in seeking explanations.
In 1973, when the Treaty of Detroit—a long-standing deal between management and labor to raise wages as profits rose—was ended to ‘fight inflation’ wages were frozen and have never recovered despite astronomic rises in American productivity. The unintended consequence of this betrayal of labor was that ‘demand’ on industry fell as people felt they could not afford new appliances, cars, and winter coats. Once again the “great policy minds” created an illusory short term fix by distributing credit cards as if they were Halloween candy. Remember those days? Coming home and finding a sheaf of invitations for a credit card? Easy credit disguised the backwards slippage of millions of Americans and the credit kept the factory lights on, satisfying campaign contributors. Coincidentally, they also delivered millions into the hands of bankers and financiers who were only too happy to advance money at 29% interest rates. When the bills became due and the downturn became a slippery slope further faith in the Federal Government was damaged and future Trump voters were being groomed.
“The Fed began raising interest rates in 1977, and the American economy tipped into recession in 1980, at which point the central bank took its foot off the brakes. But inflation rates continued to rise, and so shortly after the economy recovered (briefly) in July of 1980, Mr. Volcker orchestrated a series of interest rate increases that took the federal funds target from around 10% to near 20%”.
The unintended consequence of this usurious boost in interest— what Shakespeare might have referred to as “a pound of flesh”— was the extinction of 22 million farmers who had religiously followed the advice of all their official institutions-the USDA, the Farm Service Agency, banks, local agricultural extension offices, etc. and mortgaged their land (whose value was rising) to buy expensive equipment and planted it ‘fencerow to fencerow.’
When the interest rates rose unexpectedly, the farmers could not afford their debt payments and family farmers were scrubbed off the land as cleanly as if a massive glacier had scoured farm country.
Farmers are not like ordinary citizens. When you or I are are evicted or lose our house we buy another, and after the dust and regrets settle, we pick up where we left off. Farmers are different. They see themselves as the heir of lands and labors bestowed on them by the sacrifices of long chains of ancestors and they do not leave that land without shame and guilt that approaches the severity of PTSD.
For every five farms plowed under by the financial system, a local business closed in a farm town. Communities lost their preachers, their FFA leaders, their scout leaders, their school principals, their hardware and feed stores. Deep clinical depression became a deadly scourge in the farming community and before long the leading cause of death on the family farm became suicide.
It was at this point that very strong anti-government, sometimes racist and conspiratorial explanations for what had ravaged them began coursing through the farming community. During the first Clinton administration the budget for rural mental health programs were cut at the very moment they were most needed, and it was often militias and strict constitutionalists—the folks with little red copies of the Constitution in their pockets who deal only in silver money and hate those who’ve taken oaths to the Federal Government—that stepped into the breach, offering to these disoriented and abandoned souls: bake sales, education, guidance, a shoulder to cry on and open ears. They showed up to protest the illegality of the auctions of their neighbors farms. They informed the farmers that it was not their fault; but the Jews, Nelson Rockefeller, the Rothschilds, the One-World government and the Black Helicopters that had put them in this predicament.
A decade later, on April 19,1993 the US Government incinerated 86 American men women and children at a religious compound in Waco, Texas. Two years to the day later, a farmer named, Terry Nichols and a militia buddy named Timothy McVeigh, who had witnessed the Waco conflagration, blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people and wounding hundreds more.
My friend Joel Dyer, editor of The Boulder Weekly, and author of Harvest of Rage, was the government’s witness on the militias he had been openly studying for eight years. Discussing reservoirs of rage in the farm belt with me one day he pointed out that, “There were four-to-six people involved. The government caught two.” He was not optimistic about any diminution of the arms or anger still boiling in the farming areas. So the farm crisis and Waco and Ruby Ridge were early draft calls for the Trump campaign.
Another swathe of future Trump supporters was created when Bill Clinton’s “Welfare Reform” imposed an absolute lifetime limit of five years on government assistance to families; substituted State Block Grants for Federal and ended Federal definitions of eligibility and all guarantees of assistance. Under the new legislation each State was free to decide whom to exclude in any way it wanted, as long as they did not violate the Constitution. Must’ve been a bright day around millions of African American and poor white households. The African Americans stayed home. The whites stuck Trump signs in their lawns.
For sixty prior years, Aid to Families with Dependent Children had been an "Entitlement"— now a dirty word, but then a term which denoted two things: a federally defined guarantee of assistance to families with children who met the statutory definition of need and; and a federal guarantee to the states of a matching share of the money needed to help everyone in the state who qualified for help.
Under the new definitions, mothers found themselves forced to stop caring for their children at home and go to work, with no extra allowances for day-care, transportation, or baby-sitting. “The dignity of labor” meant losing their fingernails plucking chickens at a Tyson processing plant for minimum wage while stressing relatives and friends to care for their children. Millions, who were unemployed through no fault of their own, were summarily dropped off the ‘welfare roles’ and funnelled into substandard, low-paying jobs (which incidentally weakened union bargaining positions for those who remained employed.)Coded, dog-whistle language suggested that food-stamps and welfare “entitlements” were giveaways to African Americans, when in reality it was white women who were the major beneficiaries. These were not minor stressors to millions of people. They were and remain festering wounds on millions of people, weakening their political faith and confidence in government and nourishing deep seeds of resentment towards Washington that sprouted this November 8th.
After the wholesale distribution of credit-cards in the early 70’s created too much loose money and became the leading edge of the housing bloom, Congressional changes in regulations allowed Savings and Loan institutions to foreswear their original caution and begin to “play” with all this money by taking great risks with depositor’s money:
The savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s (commonly dubbed the S&L crisis) was the failure of 1,043 out of the3,234 savings and loan associations in the United States from 1986 to 1995: …In 1996, the General Accounting Office estimated the total cost to be $160 billion, including $132.1 billion taken from taxpayers. The FSLIC and RTC were created to resolve the S&L crisis.
The final tally was $220 billion dollars.
By 2008, barely a decade later, as the computer revolution was generating mountains of cash, Congress loosed the reins again and gave Wall Street it’s head. Banking speculation without restraint and oversight produced the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression. Month after month, on TV, citizens watched families being evicted from their homes, (6,000,000 a month at one point) ---sheriffs flinging toys, tools, bedding, sad plastic toys onto the sidewalks and lawns while neighbors looked on in pity and shock. My Guatemalan gardener sat weeping at my kitchen table, the victim of a fraudulent loan he’d been told was at a fixed rate. The man who sold him the loan had fled to Mexico to evade the law and my friend Maynor, who had walked here from Guatemala and managed to trim enough bushes and mow enough loans to save for a down payment on a house, was now living in a garage for himself and his family with no legal recourse to recover his house.
These were massive recruiting drives for Trump voters, but no one realized it at the time as our major institutions, pensions, savings, insurance plans disappeared like the Twin Towers, leaving chronic unemployment, poverty and despair in their wake. Most non-industry observers including Federal regulator William Black who had successfully investigated and prosecuted the Savings and Loan scandal, referred bluntly to the phony mortgages and stock accreditations as “fraud,” insists that the fraudulent mortages and ratings of the evaluating agencies could not have occurred without the criminal cooperation of CEOs. He certainly agrees with the journalist who asserted:
“What both the S&L crisis and current financial crisis share are their root causes: Clever manipulation of the banking system that allowed financial firms to reap huge profits while shifting the risks, and ultimately the costs, onto taxpayers. 
Enough history, but you get the picture. Everything that was done by both Democratic and Republican administrations was completely legal thanks to the Congress’s supplication of major donors. The repeal of Glass-Steagall, (The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act also known as the Financial Modernization Act) –a banking bill which had protected our economy since the Great Depression by regulating banks and investment institutions was specifically designed to prevent the kind of frauds that occurred at Goldman Sachs and AIG and the hedge funds. Its repeal was passed by an willingly amnesiac Congress, less than a decade after the Savings and Loan collapse. Money was flowing from corporate lobbyists into Congressional pockets like water. No one who participated in the wipe-out billions of citizen’s savings, lost pensions and destroyed small businesses on main street— went to jail or had to pay back as much as a library fine. Chalk up another huge recruitment of future Trump voters.
And in the heartland of America, on the farms, in the small towns crippled by this economic ruin, the working poor, the everyday “little people”, too busy keeping their noses above rising water to fully parse the bells and whistles of policy discussion, watched the same smooth, laughing, perfectly coiffed men and women babble on TV, laughing like nothing could ever happen to them, racking up ad revenues by affording Donald Trump all the air-time he could burn—billions of dollars of free advertising. Think there might have been some resentment brewing back there? A few resentments surfacing as these now perenially destitute folks watched the glossy TV ads for glorious vacations, or having a Swiffer resolved all domestic difficulties like the double adjustable beds which ended snoring. They were having a hard time sending their kids or grandkids to school with lunch.
But these same people watching deduced two things from the tube. One was that nothing was being changed for their benefit back home on Main Street. The second was that this blond, uncultured thug running for President was raising his middle finger to the entire Washington establishment and garnering huge crowds. They may not have approved his racist utterances, been embarrassed his vulgarities and decidedly misogynistic views on women, but he was who he was, and by God, he stood up for himself, and maybe he might stand up for them too. Hell, nothing else had worked maybe this guy was worth a shot.
In fact, their anger has a lot in common with the anger of Brexit, the anger of Bernie supporters: the anger of Southern Black voters being forced to clear systematic hurdles to exercise their franchise, the working poor laboring 40 hours a week and more and forced to rely on Food Stamps. All have been betrayed by their leaders---ignored, overlooked, swindled and robbed.
I don’t have a lot of hope that Donald Trump will make things better. I certainly hope so. The American people deserve it. It scares me to think about this garrulous Id of a man with his finger near the nuclear button, demanding to know why it can’t be used. It scares me to observe that not a single Republican candidate ever mentioned the environment or global warming during this endless campaign and that Mr. Trump is now is backed up by a pro-business-at-any-cost Congress which seems to have no sense of a long-term future for our Nation.
It has always been the case that when masses of humans get frightened, discouraged, or angry they begin to look for strong men to save them. To say that they are always disappointed is also true.
But now it’s done. The smooth tv commentators now appear nervous and uneasy. People are rioting in the streets trying to cope with being conscripted into a value system inimical to their beliefs. I’ll plead guilty to having been distracted by my own life; to not having fought hard enough from my position of privilege to ensure that farmers and the poor got a fair shake from the system. I’ll withhold my judgments about our new President until I’ve seen whether or not he intends (or learns) to become a leader and heal the divisions between Americans in deed, not just in language. But a long memory does not give me a lot of confidence in politics, especially a political system organized and controlled by money. It inevitably lets us down, a lesson I learned 45 years ago when I turned to spiritual practice in search of deeper wisdom.
What that practice has taught me fundamentally, is that I am “them.” I have the same capacity for judgement, stupidity, greed, hatred and rage as the people I rail against and consider “other.” As humans, we are like radios and can receive the entire human spectrum of emotions over our spinal telephone. Mother Theresa comes through, Martin Luther King comes through, but so does Soupy Sales, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot. We can be silly and loving one minute and take ourselves too seriously and become dangerous the next. Most dangerous of all, are those among us who don’t know this and never appear to doubt themselves. This is the common affliction of the Cheney’s, Feith’s, Rumsfelds, and Clintons. These are the folks who consider themselves reflexively “good”, and from their conclude that whatever they do is good. That way disaster lies.
When I assume that I am the repository of goodness and wisdom and attack those I consider “evil” or “ignorant” they never listen. They armor up with platitudes and falsehoods and defend themselves just as I do when they attack me. Our political system has degenerated into a blame game of “gotcha” with each side insisting that only they hold the high ground. (One of the things many people do not appreciate about Hilary, I believe.) Only the deep understanding that we are all human and allvulnerable to the birthright of humans---anger, greed, and delusion, can save us from extremism, prejudice and hasty judgments. The best thing that we can contribute to public life is first of all kindness, then empathy, and compassion, while we struggle to put our own houses in order.
Everything that exists, exists because of prior actions and conditions. Our opponents behave the way they do because of prior experience, just like us. We need to understand them to be able to communicate with them, and the best way we can understand them is to listen to them without judgment. That’s what it means to say, “ I am them.” That’s what allows us to dismount our high horse of imagined purity and to understand those we would otherwise judge pitilessly. That’s how one slows down wild arcs of the pendulum of history. Sit down. Get acquainted with who you really are, and at root, you’ll learn that you and “them” are not as far apart as you thought. We all run from what we dislike, towards what we like. All fear extinction and suffering. From that minimal commonality, we can go anywhere together.