Global Thoughts: The U.S. Midterms and the problem no one will acknowledge

Gwynne Dyer is a Canadian-born independent journalist whose column is published in more than 175 papers in 45 countries.

by Gwynne Dyer


Barack Obama said of the US mid-term elections that “the character of our country is on the ballot,” and the outcome proved him right. The United States is a psychological basket case, more deeply and angrily divided than at any time since the Vietnam War.

It’s not evenly divided, of course. The popular vote saw the Democrats lead the Republicans nationwide by an 8 percent margin, but that translated into only a modest gain in seats in the House of Representatives and in state elections because of the extensive gerrymandering of electoral districts in Republican-ruled states.

The more important truth is that the Republican Party is now almost entirely in the hands of ‘white nationalists’, and totally controlled by Donald Trump. It’s no longer ‘conservative’; it’s radical right, with an anti-immigrant, racist agenda and an authoritarian style.

The Democratic Party is multi-cultural, feminist (84 of the 100 women elected to the new House of Representatives are Democrats), and even socialist. Almost half the Democrats in the lower house of the new Congress can be classed as Democratic Socialists.

Donald Trump will get little further legislation through Congress, and a Democratic-controlled House will be able to subpoena his tax returns and investigate his ties to Russia, but he didn’t lose spectacularly on Tuesday.  The Republicans’ losses were within the normal range for a governing party in the mid-term elections.

The divisions will continue and even deepen because neither of the major American parties understands  what is making Americans so angry and unhappy. Donald Trump knows that it is fundamentally about jobs, but he is barking up the wrong tree when he blames it on ‘off-shoring’ and free trade.

Many Democrats suspect what the real problem is, but they won’t discuss it openly because they have no idea how to deal with it. What is really destroying American jobs is automation.

It’s destroying jobs in other developed countries too, with similar political consequences. The ‘Leave’ side won the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom because of strong support in the post-industrial wastelands of northern and central England. The neo-fascist candidate in the last French presidential election, Marine Le Pen, got one-third of the vote because of her popularity in the French equivalent of the US ‘Rust Belt’.

But the process is farthest advanced in the United States, which has lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs – 8 million jobs – in the past 25 years. Only 2 million of those jobs were lost because the factories were ‘off-shored’ to Mexico or China, and that happened mostly in the 1990s. The rest were simply abolished by automation.

The Rust Belt went first, because assembly-line manufacturing is the easiest thing in the world to automate. The retail jobs are going now, because of Amazon and its ilk. The next big chunk to disappear will be the 4.5 million driving jobs in the United States, lost to self-driving vehicles. Et cetera.

The ‘official’ US unemployment of 3.7 percent is a fantasy. The real unemployment rate among American males of prime working age, according to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, is 17.5 percent. That makes a lot more sense if you actually look at US cities.

Until the major parties can acknowledge that the computers are killing the jobs (and that it probably can’t be stopped), the anger will continue to grow. You can’t begin to fix the problem until you understand it.

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