Ferd Wulcan: Uncertainty and Instability, Trump and Sanders

As Franklin County CPR (Continuing the Political Revolution) has been talking with people about the many issues we face in our daily lives, we realize that we are facing more instability and uncertainty in our lives than ever before.  Consider the following:

More and more jobs are part-time, short-term or have unpredictable hours, leading to a new term for this growing group of workers – the precariat.  Unlike in the past, few corporations are seen as kind employers, and very few people make a lifelong career out of working for one company.  This has many causes including corporations moving work almost at will to wherever labor costs are lowest, companies realizing they can increase profits by offering benefits to fewer workers, and cities and states offering ever larger tax breaks to attract companies.

Automation has been a disruptive force for a long time but the computerization of so many jobs means that not only have many jobs been eliminated, but the ones that remain require different skills from before.  While it is good that dangerous jobs can more often be performed by robots, neither the companies nor the government are adequately taking care of displaced workers.

We are in the early stages of a massive transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy for generating electricity, heating homes and businesses, and running transportation systems.  The response to climate change is creating lots of new jobs, but it is also leading to the elimination of others, and changing how we will have to lead many aspects of our lives.

Relations between the sexes have (thank goodness) changed dramatically in just a few decades.  Many kinds of speech and behavior that were once common (primarily among men) are no longer acceptable.  We’ve all had to adapt to demands that men share more equally in household chores and child rearing. It’s been hard for many to adapt easily to the sight of two men or two women holding hands in the street.  Most of us never heard of transgender rights until a few years ago, and gender is a much more fluid category than we used to think.

Immigration has always been a central feature of the American experience.  Each generation’s economy has been dependent on the lowest paying, most menial jobs being done by people new to our shores, who often suffer discrimination at the hands of those who came here before them. But since we stopped bringing slaves from Africa, it is only in recent decades that most immigrants are a different color from most of the native-born.  While few among us consider ourselves racist, many are uncertain how to relate to our new neighbors.

One income used to support a family allowing some family members (usually women) to raise children and care for elders.  Now, with even two incomes often insufficient, more of our children spend time in child care centers and our elders in nursing homes, with our loved ones being cared for by people of different cultures and backgrounds.

One thing we used to all be able to count on was the United States being the most advanced and powerful country in the world, a beacon of hope and prosperity to people in many countries around the world.  Now we find ourselves with lower life expectancy than people in many other countries, endless military involvements that don’t end in clear-cut victories, an economy being rapidly overtaken by China, and an inability to prevent terror attacks.

We prided ourselves on our democratic system here at home.  But now we read constantly about scandals involving politicians, low voter turnout, a system that has distributed even more wealth upward to the 1% and big money influencing policy more than ever.  No wonder few have confidence in our leaders or even in our system.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same”?  No, we can’t fall back on this saying any more.  “Change is constant” more accurately describes our situation.  No wonder that many people are nostalgic for the past, uncertain about the present, and afraid for their futures.  No wonder that so many turn to fantasy, drugs and even suicide.

And no wonder that the two politicians who have inspired the most loyal followings in recent years have been Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.  In fact, I often hear of people who voted for Sanders in the primary and Trump in the general election.  Mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats, generally beholden to corporate interests, have been unable to speak to the very real insecurities and fears described above.  They have had very little to offer in the way of solutions to the disruptions in people’s lives.  They certainly have not given us much hope for the future.

Sanders and Trump, while they speak to the same fears and doubts, of course suggest very different approaches and offer very different answers.  One promises a return to the past, to “making America great again,” to bringing back jobs in dying industries, to pretending that the changes we have all experienced can turn out to be merely temporary dislocations.  The other offers solutions based on an understanding that we can’t reverse the past but that we can shape our future through single-payer health insurance, free college, a modest redistribution from the obscenely wealthy to the rest of us, and massive public investment that both responds to climate change and creates millions of new jobs.

The Trump approach gives more power to the corporations; the Sanders approach begins to rein them in.  Trump offers a strong man as the best way to make positive change; Sanders proposes reinvigorating our democracy as a way to find the best solutions.  And so does Franklin County CPR (Continuing the Political Revolution).  While the group emerged out of the Sanders campaign, we believe our program speaks to almost everyone – yes, including those who voted for Trump.  Check us out at fccpr.us.

Ferd Wulkan is a long-time labor activist whose passion has been linking the labor movement with other progressive movements for social justice. He has lived in Montague for 20 years and makes sure to find time for travel, the outdoors and tiddlywinks. 

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