The Reality of Life in Rural America: Why People Voted for Donald Trump

I recently overheard a woman who I know is otherwise a decent person speak about people who voted for Donald Trump in bigoted terms. I didn’t speak up because it wouldn’t have been polite for me to interrupt the conversation, but it’s been on my mind that I owe some insights to people who don’t understand Trump supporters.

Liberals rarely understand why rural America is burdened today with the opioid crisis, high unemployment, failed marriages, single parent families, and other social maladies. If you have the time, pick up a copy of J.D. Vance’s 2016 memoir, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. If not, here’s a summary based on my own experience.

I grew up in a small city in upstate New York where after World War II the industry that had supported the local economy began to decline largely due to overseas competition. That pattern was repeated all across America. Post-WWII, economic forces drew millions into large cities, which combined with short-sighted social policies, left rural America under-resourced and increasingly impoverished.

Today, my former home town is a contradiction given it still has streets of large, well-built single family homes as well as neighborhoods dominated by unemployment, poverty and drug use. My generation took advantage of the opportunities offered by a growing economy. Few stayed in the city where they grew up after getting an education or a head-start via a career in the military.

Why do I say social policies made matters worse? Vance documents several, including the conditions underlying opioid use, but here’s a NYS example. In upstate New York, the public sector sucks so much money out of the economy that it’s extremely difficult to keep or attract businesses. As a result, many people who have skills and/or resources move out of state leaving behind people with greater needs and fewer resources. Further, much of the tax burden goes to support a state bureaucracy that underserves rural upstate. Take for example, the NYS Public Service Commission.

There is little or no competition for electricity, telephone, Internet, or TV services in rural upstate New York. This results in poor quality, over-priced services. Making matters worse residents tax dollars pay for bureaucrats who seem more favorably disposed towards the utilities than the customers.

Last year, when I opened my summer home, I discovered I had no phone service. It took two weeks to get service restored, requiring me to drive five miles into a small village to make repeated phone calls appealing for help.

When I called the Public Service Commission to complain, they took the information but never got back to me. It was a waste of effort. This year the pattern repeated with Internet.

It took three phone calls to restart my Internet service because the nice people who work for Frontier Communications are not given the tools needed to do their jobs. In one instance a customer service person had to use chat to find another customer service person who she hoped could do what needed to be done. Lack of competition means Frontier doesn’t have to modernize or be responsive to consumers.

Public sector salaries and pension benefits strap localities to the point where many municipalities are unable to afford basic services. High taxation further allows the Democrat Party in New York to bribe union workers to keep them in office year after year. New York City with its larger population dominates the State Legislature, which as a result underserves upstate.

Politically, rural America is underrepresented in many state legislatures and in Congress, resulting in the election of people who either lack an understanding of the problems of rural America or lack the political muscle to do much about the problems.

Donald Trump represented a solution for rural and small town Americans and he has rewarded rural America’s support by lowering federal taxes, by taking on the opioid crisis, by advocating for the return of manufacturing jobs, by shrinking the federal bureaucracy, by helping veterans, and by supporting local first responders.

People in rural America rationally put their needs above the liberal media’s focus on Trump’s personal story. They are likely to do so again in 2018.

Socialism’s Biggest Failure: Israel

Unless you’re an Israel scholar, you may not know that most of the founders of the modern state of Israel were socialists. The system they put in place in 1948 was based on socialist principles, reflecting both the experience many had growing up on kibbutzim or activism in socialist organizations in Europe.

The founders created an economic system dominated by the public sector, which to a certain extent fit the needs of the nascent country at the time. By taxing private enterprise heavily, they sought to build a social infrastructure, including government buildings as well as roads and housing, hoping to handle the massive flow of immigrants into the country.

Labor unions were especially strong which meant Israel’s factories were inefficient in relation to competitors elsewhere. Food and public transportation were heavily subsidized. By the 1980s, Israel was crippled with run-away inflation, mounting national debt and a lack of foreign reserves. Socialism was a failure.

How did that society evolve into the economic miracle of today? In 1985, Prime Minister Shimon Peres, one of the heroes of the War of Independence, convinced the Labor Party to accept drastic measures including deep cuts in public spending, freezing public sector salaries, and cancelling automatic salary adjustments for unionized workers. Further, responsibility for setting interest rates was transferred from the Treasury, which used the printing press to win political support for the government to an apolitical Bank of Israel. Import duties designed to protect local businesses were slashed and Peres began to lower taxes.

In 2003, the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, added crucial components to the transition from the failed socialist system to free market capitalism, when he reduced social spending, cut taxes, raised the pension age, and sold state assets to the private sector, even the El Al airline.

The result? Today Israel is one of, if not the fastest growing economies in the developed world. Inflation is 0.4%, unemployment is 4%, and the shekel is one of the world’s strongest currencies. Although poverty has not been eliminated, it is less than it was in 1985 and per capita income is about to pass both Britain and Japan. Israel imports more than $100 billion annually and has a trade surplus––something the U.S. has been unable to achieve for decades.

Socialist policies nearly brought about the country’s ruin. They undermined incentive and ingenuity. Today, Israel is known for its technical ingenuity. That could not have taken place under the socialist model where all property belonged to the state and personal initiative was neither encouraged nor rewarded.

Those who argue socialism can’t be judged by its implementation in places like Russia, Cuba or Venezuela, have a hard case to make that it can work anywhere given its failure in Israel where the entire leadership of the country was fully committed to it and gave it nearly forty years to work before throwing in the towel.

The Most Mis-Used Word in the English Language: Racism

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, I’m offering my thoughts on the most mis-used word in the English language.

What does racism mean? To some it’s a condition that all “white” people possess and exhibit even when they’re being nice to someone who’s “black.” To others it can be attributed to anyone who opposes certain policies, including reparation for slavery and freeing all black prisoners.

Ironically, people who pay attention to other people’s skin pigmentation don’t consider themselves racists while using that term to denigrate people who don’t pay any attention to pigmentation. Thus, Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton don’t consider themselves racists although their views of other people are based on their “race,” while conservatives, who believe all people should be treated equally without regard to race, are considered racists because they won’t give minorities special treatment.

To label someone a racist is currently a convenient way of trying to shut that person up, to deny his or her right to an opinion. It’s a form of political blackmail. Either agree with me, the person who accuses others of being racists is saying, or I’ll call you a racist.

I worry for young people who don’t have the strength and knowledge to fight back against such tactics—high school and college students who are coerced into staying quiet or supporting policies that when exposed to the light of day are built on lies. Take for example the BDS movement.

Groups on college campuses that support a boycott of Israel, claiming it to be an apartheid state based on absolutely not one iota of truth, compel students, including some who are Jewish, to support their cause for fear of being called racists. These groups also threaten violence by implication. It takes great courage, especially when college administrators often keep their heads in the sand, to stand up to these tactics.

Another example is the charge that anyone who opposes granting citizenship to illegal immigrants is a racist. Why? Because most illegals are “minorities”––i.e., from non-European countries. The implication of the charge is that there could not be non-racist based reasons for opposing that policy. Of course, that’s absurd, but again, I worry that too many people cower in the face of such charges instead of standing their ground.

Dr. King’s words will be used today to justify a variety of contradictory positions. I won’t commit that form of larceny. Instead, I’m appealing to people to stop calling other people, including Donald Trump, racists, and when someone uses the term in an inappropriate manner—i.e., to deny others the right to speak—that you speak up––just as if someone used the ‘n’ word or some other slur. Speak up. Tell the speaker you’re not going to cave in to that charge, that racism won’t die until people stop calling each other by that term.

Happy MLK, Jr. Day to one and all.

Is Bibi Netanyahu a 21st Century Churchill?

You don’t have to be a student of history to learn the lesson of The Darkest Hour,” the story of Winston Churchill’s struggle to save the British Empire when Hitler’s armies threatened to overrun their entire army on the French side of the English Channel. The movie provides insight into a critical moment in world history––when decisive leadership by Winston Churchill and heroic sacrifices by the English people saved three hundred thousand soldiers and in the process prevented Hitler from invading Great Britain––a tragedy that could have irreparably altered the outcome of the Second World War.

Reflecting on critical moments in history, it’s easy to imagine that what needs to be done is obvious, but that’s rarely the case. Churchill had to overcome personal doubts as well as fierce opposition mainly from members of his own party to stick with a plan he knew would cost lives. Lesser considerations often assume great proportion in the minds of those who cannot fathom the seriousness of a situation. That indeed may be the case today with regard to Israel where so many Jews both in Israel and in the diaspora fail to recognize or give sufficient weight to the precariousness of Israel’s existence.

While critics attack Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for one thing or another, it is remarkable that he is able to keep his eye on the ball––focusing on the Dunkirk level threat that Iran’s hegemony in the region represents for the state of Israel.

Britain and France were unprepared for the speed by which the German army plowed through Belgium and defeated the French, thereby endangering the entire British army. It is extremely rare for people to see existential threats before they materialize, which is why I argue the threat Iran poses to the state of Israel is not hypothetical or overblown, and why it must be Israel’s top priority.

The threat not only comes from Iran’s potential as a nuclear power––the result of the terrible deal President Obama negotiated, the threat to Israel’s survival exists on a second front in the form of Iran’s surrogate Hezbollah. The later organization, which now controls much of Lebanon, was allowed to finance the expansion of its military and political power in recent decades by money laundering and cocaine sales, practices that the Obama administration knew about and allowed to continue in order to assure Obama could deliver his signature billion dollar get out of jail nuclear card to Iran’s autocratic government.

While Netanyahu recognizes the Iran/Hezbollah threat, so many others in Israel and in the U.S. are focused on lesser matters, including the fact that Netanyahu has been forced to ally himself with the most conservative religious parties in Israel and as a result to concede to some of their demands.

One example of a lesser issue whose proponents seem willing to define as the most important matter facing Israel’s future is the issue of women praying at the Western Wall. Netanyahu backed down on an earlier agreement that would have resolved this issue in order to appease the ultra-orthodox members of his government. To put it bluntly those who are unhappy with the collapse of the prior agreement need to ask themselves how they would feel if their efforts resulted in a situation where no Jews—men or women—could pray at the Western Wall––a potential outcome if Israel is not led by someone who understands the Iranian/Hezbollah threat.

The same question must be asked of those who are attacking Netanyahu for minor personal indiscretions––an example of a common political disease––expecting one’s leaders to be godlike with no past indiscretions or mistakes. History shows us the danger of such thinking as those men and women who have the courage to act in moments of crises are always people who have learned from past mistakes. The perfect human would be unable to see the potential evil facing him having never been exposed to wrong-doing (or admitting such), which is why so few are capable of greatness. Most of us view ourselves as perfect, never suffering doubts or admitting to past failures. We cannot imagine evil’s winning and thus bring that very outcome into play.

Eventually Bibi Netanyahu will be replaced––as Churchill was after he successfully prevented Hitler from conquering his country. Will pressure from the diaspora over lesser issues and internal politics result in the election of a Neville Chamberlain like person or will the people once again ignore the media and their American cousins and vote for someone who can separate the existential wheat from petty concerns chaff? Time will tell.

Bigotry in the name of Fighting Racism

A letter to the (Albany, NY) Times Union printed August 27 typifies how any excess in the name of fighting racism has become acceptable in today’s America.

Tony Emanatian of Watervliet, NY wrote “We all knew President Donald Trump was a racist before he decided to run for president,” basing his conviction on Trump’s being “the leader of the birther movement.”

He goes on to charge “every politician or voter who supports Trump is by extension also a racist.” (my emphasis)

Ignoring the faulty logic of both assertions, that the Times Union would print such a letter without an accompanying editorial comment distancing themselves from Mr. Emanatian’s accusations is testimony to how far the mainstream media has departed from the once recognized standard of ethical journalism.

As a former editor, I would have printed Mr. Emanatian’s letter, but used to occasion to point out the danger of his faulty logic––not just in the fact that he smears 60 million plus people who voted for the President last November, but the implications of the letter in today’s climate¬¬: to wit, if everyone who supports the President is a racist, doesn’t that justify firing Trump supporters from their jobs or as the CEO of Camping World said not serving customers who are Trump supporters? Doesn’t such bigotry in the minds of the antifa supporters justify preventing speakers they consider facist from speaking on college campuses? Doesn’t it justify destroying the property of companies they consider not demonstrating sufficient opposition to the President?

The sad consequence of this letter’s bigotry is that it undermines real efforts to fight racism by making the term meaningless since it now can be applied to anyone you don’t like whether their words or actions justify that label or not.

I don’t dispute Mr. Emanatian’s right to hold and express such distorted views, but for any newspaper to print such a letter without distancing itself from those views is an invitation to additional attacks on rational discourse both verbal and physical. For shame.

NPR’s Ideological Echo Chamber

Monday August 7 saw the firing by Google of a senior engineer for positions articulated in a memo entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.” By Wednesday, NPR echoed in full throat. Ben Johnson called James Damore’s memo a ‘misogynist manifesto’ while guest Nicole Sanchez attacked Google for only having only 30 percent women in their workforce.

Sanchez, CEO and founder of a diversity consulting company, attacked Google for failing to put as much effort into solving its employee mix as solving technical problems. Ironically, policies advocated by people like Sanchez can be responsible for businesses violating Federal Discrimination Laws by creating hiring and promotion practices based on race and gender rather than job appropriate criteria.

Sanchez also claimed Damore’s memo presented factually incorrect statements about gender differences, but Damore admitted bias was a factor in the numerical disparity along with biological differences. Was Sanchez claiming there’s scientific evidence that biology plays no role in gender disparity in human social institutions?

Unreported by NPR was the fact that Damore was objecting to unrecorded meetings during which Google executives encouraged employees to discriminate in favor of women and minorities in hiring and promotion practices. Meetings at Google are usually recorded, except for “diversity” sessions, which suggests the higher-ups know they are asking employees to violate the law.

NPR’s coverage of Damore’s firing is an example of the kind of unrealized bias Damore was protesting at Google. Did anyone at NPR bother to read Damore’s memo? If so, why didn’t they tell listeners what it contained instead of summarizing it like Ben Johnson did inaccurately reporting that Damore claimed “women weren’t cut out to be engineers.”

Damore’s memo was aimed primarily at practices that repress discussion of biases that he believes could harm Google in the long run. Here’s how he began his memo:

“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem. Psychological safety is built on mutual respect and acceptance, but unfortunately our culture of shaming and misrepresentation is disrespectful and unaccepting of anyone outside its echo chamber.”

What Damore criticized at Google was the lack of discussion of moral biases. “Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence.” After laying out his primary concern, he examined the possible “non-bias causes of the gender gap in tech” and offered “non-discriminatory ways to reduce the gender gap.”

Damore criticized Google’s discriminatory approach to achieving greater gender and racial diversity, which he argued is based on “false assumptions” that can “actually increase race and gender tension.”

In an essay published Friday August 11 in the Wall Street Journal, Damore re-enforced his position that his primary objective in writing the memo was to advance discussion, not to argue that women don’t belong in tech. Ironically, his memo met no opposition until it went viral outside the company. That resulted in attacks on Damore from the diversity community which resulted in Google’s CEO firing Damore for advancing “harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

In the end, James Damore hoped his memo would help create a culture at Google that treats people as individuals rather than members of their group. Sadly, that seems further from happening today than it did a week ago with the help of biased coverage from NPR and other media outlets.

Letter to the (Albany) Times Union re: the Paris Accord

The following letter appeared (slightly edited) in the Albany Times Union Thursday, June 15.

The Times Union ignores reality in its response to President Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord (“Mr. Trump Defies Reality,” 6/2/2017).

Instead of accepting the president’s rationale as stated in his press conference, the TU makes up its own motive: climate denial. Instead of trying to refute the president’s arguments that the Paris Accord would be harmful to the American economy costing us tens of thousands of jobs and increasing energy costs to the average householder by thousands of dollars annually, the TU is worried that our withdrawal will hurt our image and “good name,” lead scientists to leave the country, and harm our economic competitiveness.

The TU ignores the reality that the U.S. is the world leader in environmental stewardship and that our businesses are committed to the best practices to reduce pollution and conserve energy and resources.

The President’s withdrawing from Paris was not accompanied by a plan to change any of that. To the contrary. What led Mr. Trump to withdraw was that Paris would be bad for the U.S. Not only does it fail to accomplish the goal of reducing green-house gases significantly but it allows polluters like China and India to keep polluting while forcing the U.S. to pay.

Like NATO, where the member nations assume the U.S.––like Daddy Warbucks––is ready to finance their every request, Paris was written on the assumption that the U.S. needs to be punished for being the world’s most prosperous and powerful nation. The reality is it’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate and show us their commitment to the environment. We’re already doing our share.