YUGE Opportunities for Progressives in the Rubble of Defeat

There are some hard truths that Progressives have to start addressing after the shock of this defeat fades a little. There are some real opportunities to take this defeat and turn it into success if we’re willing. Please take 5 minutes, dry your tears, put down the Jack Daniels or bong or whatever, and bookmark this page…or read it now, but take it to heart if you want to stop the bleeding this GOP/Trump disaster will surely bring.

February 12, 2016

A couple of decades ago, while I was climbing the corporate ladder at one of the Fortune 100 firms I worked for as VP of Finance (their national wholesale distribution/transportation division), I became paranoid by a restructuring taking place. They were hiring more people, some with bigger titles than me, and my boss was being relocated to the corporate headquarters. Everything was changing and I was positive that I was about to be left behind. I felt unprepared, too old, and unequipped to deal with the changes that the restructuring would surely bring.

One evening, when one my peers at another division and I started spitballing about what we could do to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best, we stumbled on something of a revelation.

We had both read a fairly popular, rather quaint and simplistic book years ago, entitled “Where’s My Cheese?” or some damn crap like that, which recounts an unsophisticated, simplstic story of two mice. They had worked hard and succeeded in finding a source of cheese on which to sustain themselves in order to live. Eventually they found an overabundance of it in a corner of the maze where they lived (yeah, you have to suspend a little reality here…told you it was unsophisticated). They ended up having a disagreement on what to do with their newfound stash. One wanted to sit back and relax, enjoy their stash and figured they’d done their due diligence; why not chill and say to hell with looking for even more cheese.

Not surprisingly, he got stuck in a rut, going back to the same corner every day and getting just enough of their cheese to last until the next time he needed it.

The other mouse, however, continued hunting for newer sources. He just figured he could enjoy what they had worked so hard for, but not take for granted that their stash would last forever. After all, you just never know when something can happen.

Sure enough, one day stashe was just gone; stolen by some punks who had heard about their big find I guess. The mouse who had relaxed began to whine and panic: “Why! And who the hell took our damn cheese stash?” he screamed. “When we find them, they will pay dammit!”

As the screamer sat there sulking and complaining, about the police not finding the thieves who stole their cheese, blaming the unfairness of it all and lashing out to anyone who would listen to him, the mouse who had kept busy looking for ways to supplement their already enormous stash, moved on. he had found a totally new supply, picked a newer, more secure storage facility for it, and started living off of his newfound, reliable supply…and even then had decided that it was no time to be completely satisfied and continued to casually keep searching for ever newer supplies of cheese.

My colleague and I both had bemoaned that we had essentially become the embodiment of that damn “complascent mouse.” I had spent too much time and energy doing my job and living on my laurels. I had assumed that I was, and therefore would always be, safe. The reality was that my own paranoia, and face it, reluctance to learn new and better ways of doing things, could easily be the instrument of a terrible downfall.

I think I knew deep down that the restructuring had always been a distinct possibility because my business training had left little bread crumbs all along the way that these types of changes are always possible; I had just ignored them and hoped it couldn’t, or wouldn’t, happen to me.

I had failed to build on the knowledge I had already mastered and instead wasted my time and energy cursing the unseen forces at work who were going to try to take it away from me.

So at the age of 52, I forced myself to get back into the life of academia. I knew it would be tough starting over, relatively speaking. I enrolled in a totally new specialty-Macroeconomics rather than Accounting, even though I had achieved a Masters degree in Accounting, with which most people would be satisfied.

Luckily for me, it turned out to be a good strategy. Very big law firms operate on an entirely different mindset as Fortune 100 corporations, and some very big law firms were looking for Accountants with expertise in governmental econometrics which are totally different from business econometrics–despite what Trump and the GOP would have you believe.

So I have a fairly unique understanding of Trump supporters in the rust belt, or ex-furniture makers in western North Carolina, or textiles, or steel works, or coal country, who have been scared and pissed off by the changes our country has undergone in the last few decades — demographic changes, technological changes, and jobs changing or going away altogether. I can see the appeal of Donald Trump ‘s promises for those voters who fear the restructuring in our country. They worked hard to find their niche, it worked well for them, but now they’re jobs are gone, their neighborhoods are falling into ruin, and their neighbors don’t look like them anymore. I get it.  Like me during the restructuring, they are having a rough time with change and are looking for someone to bring back the “good ole days” and that it’ll be ok.

Trump hammered his mostly white, increasingly unemployed supporters that immigrants from Mexico, China and other countries have stolen their jobs through lousy trade deals, or immigration. But the reality is, it was neither

Unfortunately for them, neither Trump nor anyone else will be able to bring those jobs back, but it sure sounds good. The real truth is, industries and manufacturing in our country is changing…in some instances rapidly, in others, more subtly, and some jobs simply no longer exist, and many more will be going away. Technology has brought about progress and change, but in the process it has left some people displaced and others unequipped to take advantage of that “new cheese.”

In the following link, I’ve previously detailed many more sectors of our workforce that are predicted to face massive changes in the next decade or two: http://progresshg.com/2016/11/03/what-happens-after-november-8th-adapt-or-die/.

This is not at all unlike the 1920s in the U.S. when Henry Ford, after several failed attempts, ultimately succeeded in mass producing the Model T automobile. Mr. Ford sold more than 15 million cars by 1927, more than all other brands combined. The demand for products used to build and operate automobiles, such as steel, rubber, oil, gasoline, and glass multiplied as well. Ford Motor Company served as the perfect symbol of the new integrated industrial economy.

And these activities—like the heightened demand for steel and glass—multiplied across the American economy to produce travel-related services such as building roads, roadside restaurants, service stations, and motels. But the automobile also obliterated the need for some existing industries; particularly fixed-rail commuter services and animal-powered transit. The people in those sectors were pissed off about the automobile taking their jobs just as we have people pissed off today in many fields once dominated by manual labor.

But something else happened during that time too. The automobile reflected a new cultural outlook in America. Behavior beyond the workplace soon took precedence in the minds of many who preferred to “work to live” rather than “live to work.” The new technology allowed for more flexible and individual mobility. People moved to the suburbs, took extended vacations, used the car to free themselves from the bounds of the home, and generally consumed their free time in ways never before imagined.

And now the “next new thing” is happening again and will be just as culturally challenging, if not much more so.

Look at the difference between what automobile assembly lines looked like in the 1980s vs 2016:

1980-assembly-line                  2016-assembly-line

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is upon us and there is no going back, barring some catastrophic, global event. Other countries are well ahead of the U.S. too. A full 45% of all German single-family homes, and 12% of businesses are totally solar powered…new manufacturing openings are required to be energy-independent. It’s reducing the cost of homes and business ownership and reducing the need for electricity from central sources which makes Germans less vulnerable to disruptions by enemies or just mischievous attack.

Less dependence on oil and related products has given them a distinct economic advantage over other European Union members. It’s given them superior air quality and more jobs in the sector of reviving the clean water, clean air, and free education for anyone willing to meet the standards. It gives them them freedom that used to be our cornerstone. These ideals are worth fighting for more now than ever.

Times are changing. Instead of focusing on finding a scapegoat or building a wall, we should focus on finding solutions and giving people the skills necessary to succeed in the new industries. Trump and the GOP will not go there, just watch.

I’m telling you right now, even if Trump succeeds in miraculously bringing those manual labor jobs back, which he won’t, it will cost us dearly in not pursuing innovations that other countries are vigorously chasing. The longer we stay stuck waiting for an orange savior to bring back obsolete, polluting, and unhealthy jobs, the longer we are denying ourselves the opportunity to move towards progress.

Progressives need to regroup, toughen up, and figure out a way to address what we are going to do when Trump’s promises fail to bring back those jobs…because he WILL fail.

Not that anyone is asking, but my advice is to follow that damn hard-working mouse and start getting ready to battle in 2018 tomorrow….or maybe the next day if you’re hungover tomorrow. It’s not going to be easy but without progressives there can be no progress.

Harvey Gold