Today, on the website Slate, Jamelle Bouie penned their cover article, How Trump Happened: It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama. While she makes many valid points and I am sure that white racism form a significant part of the problem, I think she misses the bigger picture.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, we were taught that once you got out of school, regardless of whether it was high school or college, you looked for a job with a good solid company. If the first one did not fit or proved unstable, there were others. You had about five or six shots before recruiters would discount you as a suitable employee. You then stayed with that company until you retired. If you were good, you might get promoted into management and up the corporate chain. We knew that most of us would not make it that far. In return, we expected a steady paycheck with regular increases and the promise of a pension when we reached retirement age.
Sound too good to be true? Not to us! We are the "Baby Boomers!" We saw our parents, especially our fathers or our friends' fathers, do it successfully! Our families moved from the racially and ethnically segregated neighborhoods of the cities into the suburbs. Instead of renting an apartment, our families owned a little piece of land. While most of us were white, there was a sprinkling of non-whites in our suburban blocks (at least in my part of the country) – although I am of German-American stock, the ancestors others within a block of my parents house hailed from Ireland, England, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Egypt, the Netherlands, the American Midwest and the American South. The non-whites were just like us, with jobs in the defense industries, auto repair, banking, retail, restaurants and teaching. Racism and ethnic-ism were rampant, with derogatory slang for each of us – you learned to live with it and get into fights about it.
Perhaps I am presenting a romanticized version of life when I was growing up. But remember, I was a child. I now know that many families never escaped from the cities, living in much less comfortable surroundings with what is now called "food insecurity."
The first real crack in the bubble was the Vietnam War, when many of my classmates got shipped off to Southeast Asia. Some never returned. Some returned to be interred. The rest came back changed in a way that I, as someone who was not drafted, can never understand.
The next crack was the 1970s, when the "oil shocks" and serious inflation hit. Wages, both for us and our parents, just could not keep up with the cost of living. Major US corporations began to curtail their pension plans and the unions. Unions, who had grown fat on corruption from the 1940s through the 1960s, failed to take notice or take action. Our parents were squeezed out, years before they would be eligible for the promised pensions.
It has been all downhill since then. Instead of secure, stable jobs, the companies we worked for kept hiring, laying off and often, reorganizing in bankruptcy. My own resume is littered with companies that no longer exist. Only two of the companies I worked for will pay me anything in my retirement. Prices keep going up, but wages do not. I currently earn over twice my father's top salary, but that wage buys less than his did.
None of what I have just described is racial or ethnic. We, the Baby Boomers, are now at or beyond the "normal retirement age," but have little to show for it. We cannot wait ten or twenty years for our nation to recover from the last fifty years of stupid, wasteful policies. President Obama is just another politician that says, "Wait, things will get better." We have heard this lie from administration after administration. On the promise of "Hope and Change," we voted Obama into office, but he has left us without either hope or change: the rich got richer, our paychecks are stagnant and, every day in little ways, prices deliberately left out of President Franklyn Roosevelt's Consumer Price Index keep crawling up, especially food and medical care.
Now, eight years after electing Obama, we are more desperate. Who are we to turn to? Hillary Clinton? Her husband's policies led to the "Great Recession" ten years later. Bernie Sanders? He talks a good game and is getting significant Baby Boomer support from those of us who have, in spite of the odds, done reasonably well. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz? They are too inexperienced – we had that in Obama. Of all of the candidates for this cycle, only Donald Trump is promising to make America great again. Although it is probably pie-in-the-sky, it sounds as attractive to us as FDR's "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" did to our parents.
To put it succinctly: Trump is offering us hope. It is probably a false hope, but it is hope nonetheless. None of the other candidates, with all their pretty speeches and proposed programs, are offering that. God help us all!