The rancor in both political parties this year is a symptom of the underlying disunity in the US. The US is fractionalized into groups with conflicting agendas; the parties are merely reflecting the disunity in the country at large.
Josh Barro, writing for Business Insider, touched on some of this issue in writing about the crisis in the GOP. (1) He describes three blocs within the GOP — the “donor class”, “the establishment” and the GOP self-identified voters. He shares an opinion I voiced in an earlier post, that the voters are more moderate than either the establishment or the donor class.
Implicitly or explicitly, the concept of segmentation isn’t new. When we talk about race, gender or even the Antebellum planter society, we are talking about segments — people with shared experiences, attitudes and behaviors. A lot of the time, differences in segments are quite subtle. Sometimes they aren’t. Rarely, but on occasion, the differences turn violent.
Segmentation is a generalization. Like the Marquis de Lafayette, a nobleman who helped George Washington during the American Revolution, there are always people who act in ways that are apparently inconsistent with the group to which they belong.
Even without a formal statistical analysis, some of the segments in American society are obvious. In no particular order, these include:
- The super-rich: The GOP donor class is from this group. The super-rich include oil men, venture capitalists, heirs, large corporate executives and celebrities. Many of these are driven by sheer greed. They don’t recognize obligations to the larger society, nor do they seen a relationship between their wealth and whether the population at large can afford what they sell. Some move to another country or renounce US citizenship after achieving wealth here to avoid US taxes. Even when they donate to charities, they give a smaller portion of their wealth than the middle class and poor give. Their attitudes help to explain issues such as why Texas has an oil and cattle elite and the highest proportion of citizens without healthcare in the US.
- Large corporations: Most see no obligations to society, or pay lip service for PR purposes. They are fans of free trade and undocumented workers and play accounting games with offshore funds to avoid US taxes. However, they favor government subsidies and regulation when it can be used to increase profits. They are big fans of H1-b visas, which reduce what they have to pay for tech workers.
- Small business: Most small business owners chafe under government regulation, which increases their costs and reduces profit. Most are not involved in global commerce, and free trade hurts their customers and their business. They dislike government bailouts of large companies, which they see as both unfair and increasing their taxes. They aren’t fans of big corporations, which tend to have onerous requirements if one wants to sell to them. Nor are they fans of big banks which tend to demand that they secure credit with personal assets and impose numerous fees.
- Farming: Farmers hate government regulation except when it comes to price supports and subsidies. Many depend on undocumented workers and depend on visa programs that allow seasonal workers into the US.
- Tech workers: These have gone from being highly paid to being paranoid about job retention. Some are being pushed into the gig economy, where this is no job security or careers, but instead sequences of temporary assignments. Due to competition and loss of benefits, most are seeing loss of income and lifestyle. The hate H1-b workers, inspiring new forms of racism in the US.
- Blue collar workers: These people are hurting. The have experienced 20 years of steady income erosion. The losses stem from offshoring of manufacturing, automation, and reduced health benefits, although some politicians and media have taught them to blame their problems on undocumented workers rather than Congress and business.
- Students and recent graduates: These people are hurting, laboring under suffocating levels of debt. Some suffer from an entitlement mentality, but most feel that life wasn’t supposed to be like this.
- Over 65s: Most are in trouble. (1) They weren’t aware of the massive out-of-pocket expenses for medical care that government programs don’t cover until they got the bills. The average 65-year-old has $35,000 in savings and is facing over $250,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs. (2) Nor did many realize that Social Security payments wouldn’t be adequate to cover more than a poverty level existence. The average payment is $1,341 per month, and just how much can that cover? (3) Nor were they cognizant of medical rationing. The result has been a growth in bankruptcies and suicides in this age group. Those who can afford to move, do so — either to lower cost areas of the US or they join the growing American Diaspora to other countries. Those who remain consistently vote against school budgets because they can’t afford tax increases. Most suffer from disappointment: the “golden years” weren’t supposed to be like this.
- Minorities: Prejudice is alive and well, fostered by financial hardship and the need to blame someone. Kerrigan talks about the need for people in bureaucracy to vent personal frustrations by being abusive. Certainly, that’s part of the issue, and its plausible that the poor reciprocate the hostility for much the same reasons. In the end, it doesn’t matter who fires first. The result is the same.
- Immigrants: American remains “the land of opportunity” at least in the perception of many, but these are the immediate recipients of hostility on several levels. To the ignorant public, every stranger is a Muslim, including those who wear turbans, and every Muslim is a latent terrorist. To the ignorant, everyone with a Hispanic accent is undocumented — and we have actually had lawful residents of Hispanic descent deported.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of segments, by any measure.
To fully appreciate the depth of feeling, I recommend a google search on “Hatfields v. McCoys.”
In the past, politicians have spoken about creating a “tent” that can hold a wide variety of people. However, the notion of holding these segments is a single party borders on lunacy. The intensity of conflict between the segments goes a long way to explain why the GOP and Democratic parties are so dysfunctional in this election year.
Lincoln spoke about the dangers of “a house divided against itself” and Washington spoke of the dangers of political factions that would place their personal interests ahead of the country. However, I wonder if either could have imagined where we are now.
(1) Barro, Josh. “The crisis in the Republican Party is even worse than it looks”. http://www.aol.com/article/2016/05/09/the-crisis-in-the-republican-party-is-even-worse-than-it-looks/21373351/
(2) Kerrigan, S. J. Bureaucratic Insanity. Club Orlov Press, 2016.