Why We Talk About Economics




One day I will write about why Donald Trump won the election. By then the post will disappoint: its main features will already be familiar, taken from similar and better articles. It will be like an acquaintance whose name you’ve since forgotten. “Kevin or Keith?” you’ll say to my article, but it will be neither.

The debate over why Trump won isn’t exactly dull, but it’s constricted by the same debate that preceded it. This is not to say that the debate is constrained: Analysts are agape and spewing histograms, heads swiveling like owls’. Commentators are catching the froth and straining it for nuggets, screaming the name of each as they flop it across the web like fishmongers. An anthropology major who rated the new T Swift album 7.8/10 cannot believe his luck: the words emerge viscous but stentorian in his sieve. “White! Supremacy!” he bellows at the internet, volleying 5000 words (12pt., double spaced) at Medium. But a proud mother (Texas, God Bless) perched above another human fountain has polished hers: “Outsider! Election!” she roars. And a smaller lump emerges, connected to the first: “Anti-establishment!” And so each side continues shrieking, the grates of their strainers perfectly calibrated to catch what suits them and let what doesn’t dribble back onto the poor data loser’s sputtering chops.

The trick – the constriction – is that nobody forged a new sieve. They’ve been using the same strainers the entire election, and you only think they’re different because they’ve gotten new froth to fuck and fiddle with. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a ‘49er transplanted to a different vein should come up with a different metal. “And yet it is!” the media class excitedly proclaims. “We’ve solved the problem!” But the sieve was always the same, and it was going to catch the same kind of thing no matter which Oregon Trail they were playing.

Of course, they were never pulling up precious metals. Only one thing can explain the stench around here, the putrid rot of the entire affair: there was no gold, no silver. They’ve been catching fish in the strainers and going crazy with the puff-paints. Fish are alive, so we shouldn’t be that surprised when one leaps the walls of their imagination and falls flat to the ground. All parties react in shock and horror as Michigan turns red-snapper. “I am not what you thought I was,” says the fish, and promptly dies.

I don’t blame the media, or not exactly: there’s a bottom-line, and everyone wants their smile to shine. If you’re not Ron Paul, I doubt you’ve been investing in much actual gold. It makes perfect sense to pass off a little gleaming falsity so your constituency can have a fly-ass grill in their smug smiles. The Kevins, that is, glibly quoting the Atlantic and replacing their teeth with gilded minnows before going home to fail at fucking their wives.

Harder to explain is their lingering certainty. Kevin’s grill ought to have been exposed as mackerel by Pollock (super pun, there), and yet he insists on showing it, scales and all. “I read in that it’s all because of [thing],” he says, flashing you some gills. You want to tell him to shut up, but you aren’t quite sure how. After all: the entire country told him to a couple of weeks ago, and yet he keeps talking. You’re much smaller than the country, so what chance do you have?

Each commentator – and we who write or aspire to ought to remember this – is mostly incubus, and the part that isn’t plucks goldfish from the great numerical stream of Lethe. We need them, of course, but we ought to bring our own salt, and be concerned when it seems we don’t need it. Lethe’s waters are well salinized with the tears of activists and politicians alike. If you don’t need to season the piece yourself, it might mean someone is trying to make you forget something.

I don’t want to join their ranks – not quite yet, anyway. What I can provide, and why I need to publish this first, is a weapon. Something to punish Kevin, a piece to bing him across the dome. Because he’s been sucking on enough saltlicks now that he’s ripe for a potshot. In short: “I know what you’re about to say, and Vice already wrote a rebuttal,” Kevin says.

But you have a mouth full of fish, and I cannot take you seriously.


What about the election?

What about the election? The narratives that are developing at the moment are in broadly four camps: (a) Whitelash!, which sounds like a bad Patrick Swayze movie, possibly involving surfboards; (b) [theeconomystupidjokehere], normally about the so-called White Working Class, but not only such; (c) Clinton. Nothing more to say there.; and (d) Smuggles, the smarmy Kevins of the world who can’t cast a decent containment spell on Capital because they pronounce each word with a simpering little “eh” at the end. All of these have their merits, and their flaws, but they’ve been confused. Even the best of the accounts of (b) are largely confusing it with and focusing on (d). Because Liberals love to “empathize”, that’s been the focus. “That guy lost his job and his kid died of an OD,” they say, “We should have empathized more. Then we would have won.” Those aren’t the same fucking thing, and yeah, smugly telling him that he’s racist after his kid OD’d probably wasn’t great, but empathy also wouldn’t have, you know, not made the kid OD. (SIDENOTE: This is the biggest problem with all of those “Don’t make me/black people/liberals/people who own dogs/people who hate dogs empathize with Trump Voters.” No one asked for your empathy, i.e. your personal feelings of approval or disapproval. This isn’t about you, you fucking narcissist.) (c) has two iterations: either “Clinton was the establishment” or “Clinton is a terrible candidate/Satan incarnate.” Either is fine, but if Clinton is the establishment, then all that means is (b), as in, the forces that screwed them economically, with a self-serving little twist. The other might be true, but it’s irrelevant, because those same people were willing to elect Donald Trump, so Clinton had to be something more than just a super predator (wink fucking wink). (a) deserves its own post, but first: duh, and also, no, not at all, you’re not explaining anything and it’s shameful.

But the single biggest flaw that all of those share is that there was no single “election”, nor explanation for it, nor does this mean what they think it does.

It seems obvious, but it apparently is not, that we’re not talking about one event, but several. After all, it’s not clear to me that the reason Trump won the primary is the same as the reason he won the general. The appeals that Trump made to Republicans and just to Republicans may after all be slightly different than those in the general. And the same with his appeal –Trump won just under 45% of Republicans only in the primaries, i.e. if you were to bundle up all the other votes, Not-Trump was a more popular position than Trump.

And then further: 25% of Americans identify as Republican, and I suspect that more only vote GOP but are snowflakes so they don’t register. Independents, after all, lean right. Asking “Why Trump?” for most of this group (and certainly for the ~13.75% who voted Not-Trump in the primaries) might as well be asking: “Why Romney? Why McCain? Why Bush?” and so on until the question loses meaning and you realize you’ve been talking not to a Republican, but to a vague fantasy of a republican voter, that Kevin is interrogating Keith by staring in the mirror and seeing what it looks like to be opposite-Kevin. He can see that everything is reversed, of course, even his name tag is different (namwartS .K), but he still can’t quite make out the thought process. But of course, to most of us Kevin and Keith look exactly the fucking same, and so the only answer I can give I’m sure of is: Kevin and Keith were probably born in different states and didn’t think too much about it.

The idea that, in the general, certain states might have voted for one reason, and others for another, appears to be far too fucking complicated for all observers. Do you want to know why the Democrats lost in 2016? They lost because Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania voted Republican (Florida’s a shitshow so w/e lol). Everything else is irrelevant, everything else is talking about something wildly fucking different. “Trust me, I live in Indiana,” says some dickcheese at Slate in a piece that is now lower because I rearranged this, but Indiana went Romney. “I grew up in Alabama – I know these people,” opines the kid who got the worst nicknames back then – But Alabama was never up for grabs.

You’re not talking about “why we lost the election.” You’re telling me what you think about the Republican party, apparently en masse, and not what they say but what you have the power to say about them, and I know this because the first word in your article was: “I”. Or it’s the entire USA as described by partisans of (a, b, c, d). It’s an easy way to argue for their position and use Trump’s election as “empirical” “evidence”, because “we lost the election, therefore [thing], and to [verb] we need to [policy].”


There was one shining, beautiful moment when the Dems seemed to have a crisis. Whatever happened, the red of that map snapped them. “Was it, we, we-” they shuddered at the thought, “Who were wrong? Did we do a wrong?” There was talk about the poor, vague awareness of the impact of globalized trade. But change is hard, and Reaganomics has us all by the balls. So they snapped to and realized that it was the They who did the wrong. Kevin is, after all, a Good Democrat, partial to Science, a believer in Progress, maybe even a Feminist. It’s not in his identity to be wrong, which is why he’s not.  (SIDENOTE: reread that line until it makes sense, and you will have understood everything.)

Since the Democratic line has essentially been that Republicans are Republicans because of racism, it’s the easiest thing in the world to fall back on this explanation. Except that that’s not what they mean: what they mean is that Republicans are defective culturally (insert -ism). I.e.: hicks. Which is not exactly a moral argument, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have some powerful force.

The media had been dealt a blow, and so they knew they needed to go back and view the data objectively. Toss aside the earlier assumptions, and just see what it tells them. So we got this. Lol whoops, my bad. That article was from 2014. What I meant was this. (I get that Salon is Salon, but give me this joke without too much googling.)

You can see this clearly in the worst. I’m going to attack this one in particular for three reasons: 1) nearly every failed explanation is contained in it; 2) it’s so stupid and bumbling that it accidentally calls it “culture” rather than racism, and thus reveals itself, and 3) it is weak, and I’m culling the herd.

The vast majority of the article is spent explaining why Trump’s policies won’t in fact help the economic situation of “poor whites” – and therefore they can’t have been voting for that. Even if I accept that a “former book editor of Newsday” actually knows his economics, that’s putting the cart a little before the horse, wouldn’t you say? “As for advancing the cause of workers, Republican lawmakers are already targeting recent federal actions to grant added pay for overtime, mobilizing to undermine minimum-wage laws, and taking aim at job safety protections under the guise of removing regulatory rules that impede corporate competition.” He writes, apparently staring at a Dali clock. Because already means now, as in “after the election.” Look, imagine if a bunch of newspapers ran with the headlines: Obama voters claimed that they wanted Gitmo closed, and yet has Obama done it yet? They must have been voting for […]

This is not even to suggest that: you do get that most Americans who vote for economic reasons may not, like, know exactly what that means, right? Infrastructure and ending trade deals were sort of a big deal for Trump voters – economic, at least a little – but that doesn’t mean they necessarily understand it. That’s not why they’re voting for it. When I say: “I would like a good job,” you should still trust that statement even if I can’t Mao you with a five-year-plan to 401k and stocks.

Related: I predict with 98% certainty that Jack Schwartz is for reinstating Glass-Steagall, and 100% certainty that he has no idea what it actually does. He’ll protest, but he’s only protesting because he’s not like them – you know, the plebs. He’s a man of progress.

And then he shoots his own toes off: “In effect, the election was a contest between two coalitions reflecting not an equality gap but a cultural one. The first, and much ballyhooed, was the Democratic… But there was a second coalition as well: the religious right, composed of Protestant evangelicals and conservative Catholics who felt their confessional principles were under assault by a state that had tilted far too secular; millions of NRA members who felt assailed by government intrusions on what they took to be their Second Amendment rights; political conservatives and right-wing ideologues who were affronted by the liberal policies of the Democrats; the affluent who had never left the Republican ranks and were appalled by the idea of sharing their earnings with the unworthy; and, yes, the disaffected left-behind rural whites who formed only a segment of this cohort, albeit an impassioned one.”

You fucking idiot.

You just described the entire republican voting bloc to describe why the republican party won. As in: “Why did the Republican party win? Because Republicans voted Republican.” Get this man a Pulitzer! And not only that, but you ceded your entire argument with that weasely little finish. “And, yes, the disaffected left-behind rural whites…” You mean the ones that live in the states you lost? As in, the ones that swung the election?

But none of that is the article’s biggest flaw. The biggest flaw of the entire piece comes not from its details but its conception. Its catastrophically arrogant assumption that somehow people just “become” racist, or, as I’m sure he’d like to think, “don’t train themselves to be better.” As though these two cultures developed independently of wealth, just a whoopsy-daisy-we’ve-rusted-seig-heil. Or like cultivating Good Democrat Values isn’t, I don’t know, a direct result of going to the universities that teach them, with all of the privileges of such an education implied? “They’re racist because they aren’t trying hard enough,” is the assumption, and even if that were true, how would they know what direction to try in?


I’m not immune to hypocrisy, so I may as well plant my own flag: The only possible explanation for why the election was lost is rust belt stagnation with a little dose of Smuggle magic. As for the rest of it: all of it was a part, all of it is part of the election, but we have to be very clear what we mean here.

Look: I have absolutely zero doubt that racism was fueling some, maybe even a lot, of Trump’s voters. But: What to do about the racists in Arkansas is a pretty different question than “Why did we lose solid-blue Great Lake States?” It’s a distraction, a way to keep the core of the Democratic Party the same and convince yourself that it was the subhuman Indianans that did it, that you are not wrong. In an unsurprising move, major outlets are now reporting on Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute appearing in DC for a conference. A great many pearls have been clutched: “In DC no less! This is what Trump’s victory has done!” And I say unsurprising not because they’ve taken the bait – although that is also unsurprising, it’s an easy story to trundle your narrative. I say unsurprising because they were so arrogant they let themselves be outsmarted by a guy that looks like he spent prom night crying on the lawn. The NPI first met in DC in 2013 2013, and the only difference was that they didn’t get much coverage. Now they have!

I’m sorry, one more: Richard Spencer looks like he should have been confined to the take-outs of a 90’s skate video, some sad wannabe whose friends only filmed him hitting his balls and saying the word “tranny” like a total twat rocket. And yet here he is, outsmarting journalists. I’m sorry: outsmarting you, with every single outraged share. “This is what normalization looks like!” you comment over the tweet. But the media knew you would do that, which is why they wrote it that way. And Spencer knew that they would do that, which is why he beat them.

You can share another dumbass picture of protestors, but that won’t absolve you. All that means is infecting the world with the leftern sister of Spencer, her signboard as cynically plotted to go viral as his baby fat. “But she’s on our side,” Kevin tweets furiously. But she’s not: she’s on Spencer’s side, without knowing it. Skub needs anti-skub to keep skubbists buying shit.

I’m not asking for moderation, and I have no desire to lay down with the enemy. I’m asking for the opposite: would you be so good as to stop aiding them for your personal gain?

What would, you know, help us would be to take back those voters we lost. And so when we say “Why did Trump win?” what we ought to be saying is “Why did these states flip?”

I’ve already said I’m a partisan of (b), but I’m not going to argue to that position conclusively. That will appear here, where “here” will become a hyperlink to another article when I bother to write it.

If I’m not going to argue for that, then you’ll be wondering what this article is about. Think of this as a preamble, wherein I have to clear out the Kevins so that we can have a grownup conversation. The title of this article is not “Why economics won Trump the election,” even if half the people reading this will have misread that and assumed it’s about something it’s not. This article is called: “Why we talk about economics.”

In a show of good faith, I’m going to start by ceding the entire territory. Not only is every single Trump voter in the KKK, but they all went as George Lincoln Rockwell for Halloween. In blackface. Also they hate women. And rainbows.

Kevin says: “That’s not what I wrote. I said that everyone who voted for him willingly elected someone who was racist, no matter their reason.” Which is fine, but take the gift I’m giving you. I go further. Take your racist Trumpettes. Enjoy.

Even then, not to talk about economics would not only be misguided: it would be so self-serving as to be actively harmful to the very people you claim to be an ally to.


Now let’s go back to an obvious racial attack. I want to avoid American history here, because that will confuse things and lead to a whole lot of missing the point.

Let’s say you wanted to figure out the motivation behind attacks on Jewish communities in the black plague. You have a time machine, so you zoop back to some fuckall village in pre-Germany and you ask “Hey, what’s the cause of the black plague?”

They’ll probably tell you: “The Jews, duh. That’s why I’m burning one.”

Now, you and I both know that the Jews were not, in fact, behind the black plague. As far as I know, the whole poisoning-the-wells thing wasn’t actually the cause of anything. And so you come back, and you tell all your friends: “They say it was the Jews, guess that’s the problem here.” Then you send an apologetic ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and go back to Tinder. There’s already a fundamental disconnect here: You thought you were describing what the problem was, but what you’re actually describing is the way that’s played out in the people’s ideologies. In their culture, as it were.

No matter. Your chronologians have discovered that changing things in the past won’t fuck shit up, so you decide to stop this community. You go back. There are several ways of dealing with this, but since you’ve  committed to the antisemitism route, you decide to go ahead and stick with it.

Here’s the worst way you can try to resolve things: you might decide that these people just can’t be reasoned with. So you pack it up and you head home, again, bringing back evidence of their antisemitism. When you get home, you make a big show of this: antisemitism is so disgusting that there’s no reasoning with someone involved. To bargain with such people would only empower their ideology in the future. You’re an ally, and you won’t waste breath on such people. Of course, that doesn’t do anything to help the actual Jews in trouble. The right overuses this word, but here it’s 100% accurate: this is virtue signaling, using suffering to boost your ally status while narcissistically claiming your cowardice as virtue.

Someone braver, someone more flesh and less caricature decides to meet them face on. She writes an exhaustive apologia of the Jews, a completely exculpatory tome that manages to totally sway the villagers. After reading it, they untie the Jews and offer profuse apologies. Whacking themselves upside the head, the villagers say, “Fuck me, were we dumb. We’ll never make that mistake again. I. Am. So. Sorry. It was obviously the witches.”

And then you’ll write a careful refutation of the Malleus Maleficarum, and then they’ll move to the Roma, and then to the…. You’re missing that the root cause and the way it manifests are not the same. At all.

You don’t think this will happen now, but the world has more outgroups than you have time. And besides, it doesn’t much help the underlying situation, does it? Because sure, pogrom people get what’s coming to them. But do their children really deserve the black plague? Just because the community that they had no control over did something terrible?

So, frankly, I’m not much interested in what the people on a pogrom are going to say. That isn’t helping anyone, and it’s not resolving the problem. It’s the kind of thing you’d only care about if you didn’t actually care about resolving the problem. What you wanted was to show how racist they were. And sure: that dude has a torch. But that’s not related to helping. It’s not even the same question. It’s totally tangential to the actual problem (i.e. the plague).

A friend pointed out that someone might be sharing such articles to show their allyship, to display to the frightened that they aren’t alone. And that’s fine – none of this is to suggest that the feelings of a scared immigrant aren’t totally fucking justified. But:

a) That’s a little patronizing, isn’t it? The only thing that can make them feel better comes from you? That’s the whole problem with the signals in the first place, the implication that somehow your opinion, your stance, your “alliance” is of greater importance than the willingness to act.
b) The people in actual danger in a Trump administration are not the same people sharing the NYT’s opinion column on a macbook, and they are not the ones on your friends list. I know this because most of the people in actual danger are immigrants, and if you are working with them, then Good on you! And you’re almost certainly doing something vastly more important than linking them to liberal opinion spam.

c) Arguably the most important point here: the implication of “They’re just racist and so we won’t talk to them” is always that you’ll act in some other way. I mean, unless your plan is to just, I dunno, hide and let them take over. So if you’re going to go full Direct Action guerrilla on us, then it will fail for the exact reason the most obvious solution will fail: Which is punching out the dude with the torch. And the failure is that you can’t.

Most liberals are fucking pussies, and the President Elect is someone who grabs those, not the other way around. This PE ought to remind you of the old PE, where future-Trump-supporter David Slorpweasel humiliated you and you couldn’t fight back. I know, #notallliberals. But “most” is plenty. The moment actual violence starts, you can’t just yell uncle and expect it to stop. If our side doesn’t throw down, then we lose worse than we just lost.

So far as I know, that’s been the running theory on liberals since fucking forever. Because it’s true. One party is staunchly anti-gun, has an inordinate number of vegans, and likes to brag about “going high.”  The other is overrepresented among the special forces. Who will win? You decide! (Side note: that’s also why NYT opinion dweeb’s posturing isn’t trusted by marginalized communities, and the “show I’m an ally” argument is a joke.)

Even if every black bloc kid was Braveheart, then there’s just too few of them. And you know what happened to Braveheart: he got his pussy grabbed.

Now the most obvious method of stopping this is obviously to arm the Jews. And that’s a good method. *You* aren’t as important to their survival as you want to be. Even if you were: that’s not a good thing. That’s exactly what we should be fighting, because that shows a nasty power imbalance. In my darker moments, I suspect Kevin wants to keep it that way to show what a Good Ally he is, but that’s a different conversation.

Where racism = prejudice + power, then we ought to focus on the power variable. But that’s long, and hard, and it’s not exactly what we’re addressing here, which means it’s derailing the actual conversation.

I know this metaphor got confused, but we’re talking about news reactions. Which means you aren’t fucking Rambo, all you have are your words. Which means that if you want to pretend that you’re “getting the Jews ready to fight”, i.e. giving them arms, it’s kind of useless to tell them things they already know. A denunciation of the racism of the Trump voter is identical to writing a careful denunciation of Jew-burning. And then I’d tell you that you’re writing to the wrong side.

The Jews already know that Jew-burning is bad. You’re trying to convince the other side that it’s bad. And as we said, it either won’t work or will just push it onto another group, because it isn’t addressing the underlying cause. What might be helpful to do, I think, would be to help the people burning people see that, in fact, there is a deeper cause that might be more important. In our metaphor, that’s the black plague. In our world, it’s economics .

So when me, and people like me, are trying to engage that point, it isn’t just some liberal ass “empathy.” It’s the only fucking tactic. And yeah, I’m left, so obviously I’m about the class consciousness and all that jazz. But even if you’re just some mayo Dem, it should be pretty clear that this is still rather important.

Luckily we don’t live in that world, and most of the villagers are, in fact, starting to become aware of the plague. But it’s also why it’s singularly unhelpful when we start to talk about that, and suddenly some jackass pops up screaming: LOL NO NOT THE PLAGUE THEY JUST LIKE BURNING JEWS

When a group that has voted for you suddenly stops, there’s a reason. Normally they’ll, you know, tell you. If you want to make it entirely a culture war, then have fun. But you’re only stroking your own ego, and you’re fundamentally unserious about the actual problems.

top image from Gummo, by Harmony Korine

Author: Lou Keep


5 thoughts on “Why We Talk About Economics”

  1. I feel like a lot of this essay is analysing the problem on the wrong level. The black plague might be the cause of the current anti-semitism in your medieval village, but the plague still isn’t the ultimate problem. Curing the plague might get rid of the anti-semitism for the moment, but it won’t be too long before there’s some other epidemic, or economic problem, or drought or famine or war. Then people will blame the Jews or some other group for that problem. Address the economic problems in the US and maybe people will stop voting for Trump, and maybe hate Mexicans a little less. But the next generation will have some other problem that makes them want to vote for Trump II.

    The deeper questions here are, (1) why is it that people’s instinct in the face of misfortune is to burn some Jews, or otherwise turn against some cultural outgroup in a way that doesn’t address the real problem, and (2) what should we do about that instinct?


  2. Can cure the plague, by bringing back penicillin over the time machine. Meanwhile, no penicillin or time machine for the problem that is “the economy.” Can’t fix the economy, at least probably not in any way you think you could, guaranteed.

    Alone had the same issue. He offered solutions that only a living God could deliver (for example: man who travels 500 years back in time to pre-renaissance Europe.)

    Much of what Alone wrote was about knowing, recognizing one’s own weaknesses, one’s own failures. Neither he nor you did so very much.


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