A Slug in The Face

March 14, 2016

Like the member of a choir that practices the same hymns over and over, I suppose that I sometimes get a little bored with taking the analytical approach to making a case for sensible trade and immigration policy.  It’s refreshing to step outside of that every once in a while.  The events of the past few days have prompted me to do exactly that.

As a kid, I guess I’d characterize myself as a fun-loving, happy kid who just wanted to be everybody’s friend.  A little meek and timid too, I suppose.  Most kids were nice kids, but there were some that weren’t, and I just couldn’t understand that.

I remember vividly the day that changed, at least to some extent.  I attended a Catholic elementary school and, on this particular day, we studied Christ’s teaching about turning the other cheek.  “If a man strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other.”  (Maybe not a direct quote, but close enough.)  “OK,” I thought, “that’s what I’ll always do.”  That very afternoon, as I walked home from school, a kid that I didn’t like – the kind of kid that I would eventually learn was known as a bully – jumped me for absolutely no reason and began to beat the hell out of me.  Remembering the day’s lesson, I didn’t fight back.  And I got it on both cheeks.

Upon my arrival home, it was obvious from the black eye and scrapes on my face that something had happened.  I explained and my Mom was upset.  Then Dad came home.  Instead of being proud of me for abiding by the day’s teaching, he was angry – perhaps even ashamed of me – and lectured me about standing up for myself.  I was confused, but concluded that he was probably right.  People have to stand up for themselves in such situations.

There was another boy in our school, one who probably wasn’t the “sharpest tool in the shed” and so, at the age of 16, found himself still stuck in elementary school after flunking several grades.  Perhaps because of that or for whatever reason, he was a hot-head and everyone feared him.  (I’ll have to admit, though, that he was quite an asset on the football team.)  But one day on the playground, I somehow crossed him, and he began shoving me, finally cornering me against the wall of the school.

At this point, I figured, there was nothing to lose.  I was going to get a beating one way or the other.  And here was an opportunity to make my Dad proud of me again.  Though I was three years younger, I was still a pretty good-sized kid.  I hauled off and slugged him square in the face as hard as I could!  I can still remember the shocked look on his face as the blow rocked him backward.  And the fight was on, but somehow broken up quickly by the nuns.

As I sat in detention later that day, I found myself being cheered by the other kids who were also there for one infraction or another.  They couldn’t believe that I had done what so many of them wanted to do.  I was a hero to them.  Lesson learned.  The only thing a bully understands is a slug in the face.  They’ll only respect people who stand up for themselves.  It was a valuable lesson, though the whole “turn the other cheek” thing would forever lurk in the back of my mind, moderating any urge to lash out unless absolutely necessary.

There were only two other such instances.  A kid who made it his mission to begin taunting me every single day as I delivered newspapers on my route.  After taking all I could stand, he paid the price.  So did another kid from my boy scout troop who, during a game of soccer on the playground where we had gathered before a camp-out, taunted me in the same way.

Decades later, my own son found himself in the same situation.  Certain kids were bullying him and making him miserable.  “Here’s what I want you to do,” I told him.  “The next time he does that, slug him right square on the nose as hard as you can.”  My wife was horrified.  “He can’t do that!  He’ll get in big trouble and so will we!”  I assured her that, though he might get in a little bit of trouble, it would be nothing permanent and would be well worth the lesson he’d learn from the experience.

As it turned out, it was some other bully who chose to pick on him soon after that, and my son had taken his lecture to heart.  He did get in a little trouble, but no one ever bullied him again at that school and he learned a valuable lesson about standing up for himself.

Those were school-yard bullies, the kids with the brawn to act out on their sociopathic tendencies.  In adult life, all of us found ourselves confronted by an entirely different kind of bully.  These were the kids with similar sociopathic tendencies who lacked the brawn, but learned other methods of bullying – lying and manipulation – and weaseled their ways into positions of power where they could enhance themselves by bullying the rest of us.

Who am I talking about?  The ones who, with a twinkle in their eye, would stand there and tell you that free trade was good for you, that a rising tide in Mexico or China or Japan would somehow eventually lift your boat too, even though you may be losing your job right now.  “Change is a good thing and you need to embrace it,” they would say, trying to make you feel like a stubborn goat who wasn’t bright enough to understand what was good for him.  (Any time someone tells you that you need to embrace change, you can be sure that it’s a change that works for him and not for you.)  They would even bring in the foreign workers from the country where your job would be going and make you train them.

These same bullies want to explode the population with immigrants, not because it’s for your benefit, and not even out of compassion for the immigrants, but because it swells the ranks of consumers and grows their bottom line while at same time keeping downward pressure on wages by keeping the labor force in a constant state of over-supply.  “This wave of immigrant workers we’re bringing in is a good thing,” they say, with that same twinkle in their eye.  “Immigrants are great entrepreneurs and create lots of new jobs.”  The implication is that you’re too stupid to do the same.  And, of course, your job is now gone.

Then there’s the globalist bullies and the leaders of countries who thrive on running huge trade deficits with the U.S.   “Free trade benefits all,” they say, pooh-poohing any notion that a trade deficit is somehow a bad thing for you.  But suggest that maybe it’s their turn to run a trade deficit for a while and watch their reaction.  Here come the threats.

For decades now, American workers have been faced with corporate bullies, led by functioning sociopaths who lay off thousands of workers and sleep like babies at night, snoozing in gilded beds with satin sheets and dreaming of even greater profits, free of a guilty conscience because they have none, rationalized away by any twisted logic that works in their favor.

We’ve been powerless.  As much as we’d have liked to line up all of these bullies and literally slug them in their faces for ruining lives, our better natures and maturity and laws that impose serious penalties instead of an hour in detention prevented it.  Not to mention that it would be completely ineffective.  They would laugh in your face as the police slapped you in cuffs, and now wouldn’t even feel compelled to provide any severance.  Month after month, year after year, Americans have been bullied by globalists and corporate elites – the top 1% who get richer and richer by squeezing all the rest of us. We feel powerless.  We’re cornered against that wall.

Along comes Donald Trump.  He seems to be an enigma, someone who emanates from the ranks of these bullies and seems to be one himself, but a strange sort of bully, one who seems to have taken offence to the bullying of his fellow Americans and now relishes the opportunity to give those other bullies a taste of their own medicine.

I think this might explain his ascent to front-runner status in the Republican race.  Some blame it on the ever-worsening turn toward the right that the Republican Party has been courting for years now.  But I think that’s off the mark.  Trump’s rise has been fueled not only by Republicans who are increasingly realizing that they’ve merely been played by the mantra of “conservative principles” espoused by the bought-and-paid for representatives of the bullies I spoke of above, but also by independents and even Democrats who see his campaign as a metaphorical “slug in the face” for the globalists and corporate elites who have bullied them into submission and economic decline for decades.

So here’s some advice for Mr. Trump.  Americans are eager to see their oppressors get the “slug in the face” that they’ve deserved for so long.  Though we’ve had all we can take from these bullies and long for someone with the backbone to stand up to them and undo what they’ve done to us, it will all be lost if the slugs in the face go beyond the metaphorical and become something that our better natures can’t be proud of.  You can be tough as nails and take them on without crossing the line into advocating actual, physical violence.  Be presidential, get elected, and then let’s put these bullies in their place.






Republican Party Needs to Shift Focus

November 8, 2012

In May of 2009, I predicted that if President Obama failed to address the trade deficit in a meaningful way, he’d be a one-term president.  (See https://petemurphy.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/obama-approach-to-economy-faltering/.)  I was wrong.  Although, predictably, unemployment is no better today than it was in 2009, it didn’t doom Obama to a one-term presidency as it should have – as it did to every president in the past.

It was clear from the polls that the economy and high unemployment were the biggest issues in the campaign, and that Americans were dissatisfied with Obama’s meager progress.  When Reagan campaigned against Jimmy Carter in 1980, he asked Americans “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”.  The answer was a resounding “hell, no” and Carter lost in a landslide.  In 1992, the Clinton campaign’s mantra was “it’s the economy, stupid” and George Bush, presiding over a recession, was summarily drummed out of office after one term.  How is it possible that Republicans couldn’t parlay similar circumstances into a Republican victory on Tuesday?  Mitt Romney was a good candidate – articulate, handsome, a successful businessman, a successful governor and savior of the olympics – perhaps the best Republican candidate since Ronald Reagan.

On Wednesday morning, pundits cited all kinds of factors, including Romney’s position on issues and demographic factors.  But I believe there’s a more fundamental and more powerful factor involved – one that becomes evident when you examine the electoral college map and the state maps showing the blue and red counties.  Densely populated states went heavily in favor of Obama, as did densely populated counties in the more sparsely populated red (Romney) states.  Back in September, I noted the huge discrepancy in the average population density of the projected Obama states vs. the projected Romney states.  (See https://petemurphy.wordpress.com/2012/09/12/the-population-density-factor-in-the-national-election/.)  To summarize, Obama’s states had an average population density of 928 people per square mile, while Romney’s states averaged only 60.  We’re not talking some 60-40 demographic split here.  This difference is greater than an order of magnitude.  That’s huge – far too big to be shrugged off as mere coincidence.

In Five Short Blasts, I wrote of a divergence of interests that occurs when population density breaches some critical level.  While it remains advantageous for corporations to see the population continue to grow, stoking total sales volume, worsening population density begins to erode per capita consumption, employment and the quality of life of individual people.  The Republican party, above all else, serves the interests of corporations, believing that “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.”  (A quote from Charles Wilson, head of General Motors, while testifying before a Senate subcommittee in 1952.)  Back then, it was probably true.  But no more.  While no one understands this divergence of interests, people living in crowded conditions sense it, just as animals that have never experienced a tidal wave sense danger as one approaches.  While the Republican message may still resonate with people in rural conditions who have never experienced overcrowded conditions, it falls flat in urban settings, and America is steadily becoming a more urban country.  For these people, the Republican message of placing faith in corporate growth while being stripped of government safety nets doesn’t ring true.  They know instinctively that they’ll be left high and dry.

The irony is that the Republican Party finds itself stewing in its own juice.  The growth that it so fervently championed for decades, stoked by a flood of H1-B visa immigrants, has resulted in an urban America where the supply of labor is out of balance with demand, leaving workers and unemployed alike more heavily dependent on safety net programs.

Of course, both parties embrace free trade and globalization.  They’re equal partners in crime in the decimation of America’s manufacturing base and the corresponding decline in wages and cuts in benefits.  It’s one thing to take away people’s ability to make a decent living, but at least the Democratic Party provides a backstop with safety net programs.  Republicans would take that away too, still believing that, like half-a-century ago, the unemployed are simply people too lazy to work.  That’s not the world we live in today – the world that the Republican party helped to create.

So how does the Republican Party distinguish itself once again from the Democratic Party, appealing to urban voters, while holding true to its “conservative” philosophy?  It can begin with a return to true conservative values and turn away from the brand of conservatism that favors corporate interests over the interest of the common good.  If it wants people to embrace the virtues of hard work and self-reliance, it needs to champion policies that give people a real opportunity to earn a decent living in the private sector.  The only way that’s possible is by promoting a return to sensible trade policy that employs tariffs to assure a balance of trade and to bring our manufacturing jobs back home, abandoning the radical free trade experiment begun in 1947.  That’s true conservatism. That’s a clear difference from the policy of the Democratic Party.

If the Republican Party wants to promote less government intrusion in our lives, then it needs to promote a return to a less crowded America where that was once possible, the America it foolishly destroyed to satisfy corporate benefactors.  Nobody likes living in crowded conditions.  The promise of escape from such conditions will be appealing to many urban voters who feel trapped there.

If the Republican Party doesn’t like government health care, then it needs to offer a real alternative, not another government health care version that carries its own brand.  We need to return to the days when employers offered health plans at affordable prices because they had to in order to remain competitive.

If the Republican Party wants to balance the budget, then it needs to address the real driving force behind deficit spending – the trade deficit – and stop pretending that the two aren’t related.  That’s true conservatism.  That’d be a real distinction, one that’d send people flocking away from the Democratic Party and back to the Republican Party.

Much has been made of the Republican Party’s failure among certain demographic groups, notably Latinos.  It can hold strong to its opposition to illegal immigration, but it needs to do a better job of explaining to Latinos how illegal immigration harms them, as Americans, just as much as any other American.

Beyond these things, there are other changes the Republican Party needs to make.  It needs to distance itself from the extreme elements that are increasingly characterizing the party, and it needs to more quickly repudiate weird and offensive statements.

The Republican Party has a choice to make.  It can remain the party of corporate interests and try to fool the populace into believing that growing corporate bottom lines will translate into success for them as well.  There’s obviously mountains of campaign finance money to be had there.  But what did it buy them in this election?  Nothing.  Not the presidency.  Not even any seats in the House or Senate.  They actually lost seats in both.  People aren’t buying the message any longer.  They work for those corporations and can see very well the disconnect between growing profits and their wages and benefits.  The idea that the government should cut spending on the very programs they now increasingly rely upon to keep them afloat, just so that tax rates on corporate profits can be cut further, makes no sense to more and more voters.

Or, Republicans can choose a different path, one that offers a conservative, viable alternative to the Democratic platform, focused not on corporate interests but on the interests of the common good.  They can offer to bring our manufacturing jobs home, to balance the federal budget painlessly and to stop the cancerous growth that’s choking our quality of life.  The Democrats offer an assurance that people will be taken care of as they eke out a meager existence.  Republicans could offer so much more.

Conservatism: Looking for a Good Home

November 6, 2008

 In the wake of the election, it’s worth a few minutes to consider what has become of the Republican Party. Simply put, it’s in shambles. That’s not good. We need two viable parties, each to keep the other on its toes.

When I check Webster’s for the definition of “conservative,” I find the following:

Tending to preserve old institutions, methods, customs and the like; adhering to what is old or established; opposing or resisting change.

Although I’m an independent, I tend to think of myself as a conservative along the lines of the above definition. I want to conserve our nation’s wealth, our American way of life and American companies and jobs. When I hear of resources being depleted, I want to conserve them. When I hear of the environment being threatened, I want to conserve it.

I struggle to understand how, in 1947, ditching 171 years of the successful application of tariffs to protect domestic industry in favor of an unproven 18th century free trade theory was a “conservative” thing to do. How is it “conservative” to continue to cling to such free trade theories even now, after they’ve been discredited by global economic collapse? How is irresponsible deregulation, giving free rein to greed to plunder our financial institutions, a “conservative” thing to do? When scientists universally warn of a looming environmental catastrophe, how is it “conservative” to deny the problem and dismiss the facts? How is it “conservative” to adopt a “drill, baby, drill!” mantra in the face of an energy crisis?

In Tuesday’s election, conservatism was the winner. Incredibly, it was the Democratic party that, at least temporarily, evolved from the party of left-wing ideology and special interests into a new home for true conservatism, conserving the American way of life. The Republican Party has been left exposed as a radical party devoted to corporate greed, one that puts blind faith in free trade and globalization, all wrapped in a thin and ever-more-transparent veneer of “Christian values” and marketed by loud-mouthed radio talk show hosts. Fewer and fewer people are buying it.

We need the two-party system and the checks and balances it provides. I’m leery of a government in which one party is weakened to the point that the other has free rein. But the world is changing and both parties need to evolve along with it. In this election, at least as demonstrated by their embrace of a conservative presidential candidate, the Democratic party has evolved into the new home for true conservatism, at least for the time being.

Now, in the aftermath, is the time for some soul-searching by the Republican party. I have no problem with their pro-business ideology. But they need to make sure that business is working for Americans and actually conserving jobs and our economy. The time for self-delusion is past – self-delusion that huge trade deficits are sustainable, that deregulation won’t foster greed and corruption, that the earth’s supply of fossil fuels is unlimited, that greenhouse gases can concentrate in the atmosphere without effect and that never-ending population growth is a rational economic model.

Things have changed dramatically and the world bears little resemblance to the one of Reagan’s time in 1980. The world population has nearly doubled and so too has the population of the U.S. Communism has been swept away and vast labor forces have been unleashed to prey upon our once-healthy economy. Oil resources are being depleted at a frightening pace and climate change threatens our continued existence. True conservatives tackle such problems to preserve our way of life. Denial of these realities isn’t conservatism; it’s the road to ruin.

C’mon, Republican Party, we need you.  There’s much to be done.  Overpopulation, global climate change, over-dependence on dwindling oil supplies, economic collapse – all of these are challenges that demand new thinking and new approaches if we are to have any hope of preserving our American way of life.  We need both parties competing for the best approaches.  Are you up to the challenge or will you continue to cling to the glory of the Reagan years?  That time is past.  It’s time to move on.  True conservatism is still looking for a good home.