Status Regained

Author: Gary Hart

Conventional political wisdom is being challenged once again.  Insider pundits concluded months ago that Trump voters were motivated by economic anxiety.  The tide is beginning to turn, however, and the new wisdom has to do with that troublesome notion called identity.

A thoughtful recent New York Times piece proposes the “fear of losing status” as the principal underlying motivation of those who voted for Trump.  One political science professor who has studied the question says: “It’s much more of a symbolic threat that people feel.  It’s not the threat to their economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s domination in our country over all.”

Thus, the rise of anti-immigration xenophobia, the Wall, bans on Muslims, demonization of Mexican immigrants particularly, and, of course, America First and Make America Great Again.  All targeted to the rising tide of white American nationalism.  We built it, we own it, the rest of you get out of here.

And, by the way, wasn’t it clever of the internationalists to give us a President born in Kenya.

Rather than lost jobs from foreign competition, the Times story concludes that “Mr. Trump’s appeal could better be explained by a fear of cultural displacement.”

This rings truer.  As farmers and exporters generally are discovering, trade barriers work both ways and other nations, particularly China, retaliate against our tariffs.  It is less foreign products that make Americans unhappy, it is the foreigners themselves.  They will move in and take over.

We are not alone.  Great Britain has Brexit which is turning out to be a whole lot more complicated than its xenophobic sponsors promised.  Viktor Orban is inventing authoritarian democracy for the Hungarians.  Right wing xenophobic political parties are springing up across Europe, including ominously Germany.

Mass South-North migrations that a few of us forecast some years back have fueled movements of national identity.  Pretty predictable.

You shouldn’t read the papers unless you are prepared for massive hypocrisy.  Corporate executives may join the business ranks supporting Trump but quietly urge members of Congress to let in enough workers from the South to take low wage jobs in agriculture and food services.

One of the solutions that has been available and needed for the past thirty or more years is serious and mature immigration reform that established reasonable, enforceable quotas and that opened doors to seasonal workers as well as technical geniuses.  That will not happen under the present political make-up in Washington.

But laws will not solve deep sociological grievances.  If a substantial number of Americans, mostly older, think they have lost dominant status in their own country, there is no quick political fix.

We have ridden out anti-immigrant, nationalistic movements in the past and we will simply have to ride this one out as well.  Generational change will solve part of the identity problem.  Young people, especially those fortunate enough to have traveled abroad, are more open minded, tolerant, and accepting of international trends and tides than their grandparents.  The danger there is that they will lose a reasonable and thoughtful notion of patriotism.

Asking what we can do for our country must not become a cliché`.  It is possible to love America and still be good citizens of the world.  This is particularly true of climate protection, arms control, and disease prevention.

White Americans, by themselves, may not dominate our future.  American may no longer dominate the globe.  These changes need not lead to destructive measures to retain national identity.  We do not have to dominate to retain the status offered by maturity and thoughtfulness.

Trump’s bombastic notion of separating ourselves from the rest of the world was doomed before he uttered it.  He may not care about global matters, but global matters care about him.


13 Responses to “Status Regained”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    The underlying message of this piece might be that the inevitability of the decline of America need not be something to bemoan but rather to manage intelligently and that there needs to be a coming together of all citizens around the values and ideals that define America and what it means to be Americans.

    But, all of that assumes an ability to discern and uphold the truth on the part of at least a majority of the country. Which does not appear to be the case, evidenced, for me, by the reaction of Americans, regardless of their political stripe, to the actions and remarks of FBI director James Comey since his infamous public statement at the initial close of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and to present day.

    This reaction has been virtually universal, if by varying degree, in its condemnation of Comey. Even his supporters find fault in Comey’s actions because they fail to take into account any context, whatsoever. There has even been discussion among political, media and law enforcement analysts about the relative credibility of Trump versus Comey, as if there should be any scintilla of doubt about where each stands on the truth and credibility scale.

    If Americans can’t even distinguish between opposites like Comey and Trump, how can they come together on what is the truth of any given matter in such a countrywide hyper-partisan environment or agree on what values define America?

    Before the election of Trump, and even for some time after it, I was a big believer in the promise of America and in its global leadership role. It’s really hard to maintain that increasingly unrealistic view.

  2. Neil McCarthy Says:


    The challenge to “discern and uphold the truth” is not unique to this particular period in our nation’s history. Nor is this period unique in being one where less than a majority is able to do so. In 1898, William Randolph Hearst convinced a majority to go to war with Spain on the theory, since either debunked or rendered highly questionable, that the “Maine” had been blown up by Spain. In the late 1950s, lives were ruined on the pretext that people were (or associated with) Communists, which the “majority” at the time endorsed. Even the founding presented these challenges, arguably at a macro level, with the “founders” (who always represented a minority) embracing Enlightenment philosophy and its brand of empriricism that royalists could never fully support.

    Part of the battle now is to fight ignorance. But that has always been part of the battle. The promise of America wasn’t and couldn’t be to end ignorance; we are human and that is impossible. The promise was the potential inherent in building the nation on those self evident truths Jefferson announced (but did not fully live) and calling upon succeeding generations to renew the committments to them and, over time, actually realize the world they entailed.

  3. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has a piece out detailing how it is status threat not economic hardship that explains the 2016 presidential election.

    I haven’t had a chance to read it in full but, here is the link that just adds to Senator Hart’s piece …

  4. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    Your current president and the context in which he operates is unique in your history.

    As such, it is also uniquely dangerous to the future of America.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I quite agree with your second paragraph, Neil, and your description of the promise of America.

  6. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Kudos to the host for asking the right question, namely (in sum) the one Steve Almond subtitled his new book with: “What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country?”

    As to the answer, I am not persuaded by the thesis of the NY Times article. The above-linked writings fortify my skeptical perspective. Don’t dismiss the second article (one I came across it by chance via a Google search) due to its conservative source. In this instance writer Fred Bauer does a good job of restating the serious reassessments non-conservatives (those on the center-left) are currently making about the “mad mad mad world” they didn’t create but did “put on steroids” during the 1990s. Specifically Bauer well-summarizes the “modified limited hangout” concerning the epochal disaster for everyday Americans “globalization as we know it” has wrought, penned by one of its leading architects: Clinton policy wonk William Galston.

    Here is a sample passage from Fred Bauer’s article:
    Galston points out that the inability of governing elites to adapt to the disruptions brought by the globalizing world has been a fuel for populist fire. He offers both “populism” and “elitism” as “deformations” of liberal democracy. “Elitists claim that they best understand the means to the public’s ends and should be freed from the inconvenient necessity of popular consent,” he writes. But despite their belief that they alone carry the flame of “liberal values,” the powerful understand the public interest and such values through “the prism of their own class interests and biases.” And their efforts to “insulate themselves” from public accountability — “in the quasi-invisible civil service, in remote bureaucracies, in courts and international institutions” — can understandably stoke resentment.
    Ya think?

    Bauer also links to uber-Clintonian Lawrence Summers semi-mea-culpa article advocating what Summers now calls “responsible nationalism” here: (Respectfully Summers’s tepid self-criticism seems about as helpful as Chuck “Mr. Wall Street” Schumer’s “Better Deal” rolled out last summer which sunk like a rock.)

    My own view is that America is plenty large and cohesive and impregnable enough to embrace artarchic economic policies featuring self-reliance, egalitarianism and fraternity while also cooperating with the international community to help improve the quality of life for those “in the huts and villages of half the globe” and to co-steward the international commons.

    In any event: Getting “what the hell just happened” right matters a great deal because if the wrong answer is accepted, then the Democratic nominee’s 2020 presidential campaign will be lost before it begins.

    PS. Elizabeth: What you may be missing is that Comey, Mueller and all elites who run federal law enforcement, U.S. attorney’s offices and the DOJ, have a very unhealthy arrogance of power and inability to “think it possible [they] may be mistaken” in Oliver Cromwell’s famous phrase. If you doubt me, answer me this: Why did the DOJ stonewall entirely this letter I sent to Eric Holder in December 2014? . I never received a peep in reply.

    The letter concerned rogue action by the local U.S. Attorney’s office in defending an obvious damages exposure for a warrantless parole search in which 2 FBI agents participated that indisputably violated the civil rights of 3 of the house’s occupants when the searchers doubled-back and “tossed” 2 private bedrooms the parolee had no authorized access to. After barnstorming their way to an unmerited victory in the trial court (cheating-to-win) the federal defendants collected costs against the 3 humble minority defendants whose rights they had indisputably violated!

    One of the two African-American women from whom costs were collected had invited her Latino boyfriend to sleep over the night before the 6:40 am search. The officers awoke the couple by barging into their bedroom and training a flashlight and assault rifles at them and frog-marching them into the living room where all the occupants were held captive for about an hour. The parolee wasn’t even present that morning and the search turned up nothing.

    My clients’ horrible experience (and mine litigating against “the feds” on their behalf) is a Blake-ian “grain of sand” in which the universe of people you admire Elizabeth can be seen in their true fallen nature. Granted “the feds” are now up against a rogue president, and its tempting to root for accountability at the hands of an opposing team of rogues. But knowing what I know first-hand up-close-and-personal about today’s “feds” my own view remains: “A pox on both their houses.”

    What I will say is that the next president has a federal governmental reclamation project the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the far-more-honest unbought-unbossed federal personnel of the progressive and New Deal eras displaced the generally corrupt bought-and-bossed federal governmental personnel of the Gilded Age and Roaring 20s.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    James Comey doesn’t strike me as someone who can’t admit that he may be wrong or mistaken. I do see a certain self-confidence that many mistake as arrogance. He also strikes me as someone who can be persuaded by very sound arguments.

    Why is it that Comey’s critics always leave out the context of his decision-making from their analyses of his actions?

    As for why you didn’t get a response to your letter to AG Holder … quite obviously, your letter was too long! Heh.

    I always enjoy reading the body of your comments but, I couldn’t get past the first few lines of this letter before I began to suffer from the MEGO effect … mine eyes glazed over. 🙂

  8. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Errata: I thought (and even looked up) autarchic but somehow still (mis)wrote artarchic. Doh!

  9. Eric Jacobson Says:


    I was merely trying to balance your rosy view of Mr. Comey. Perhaps the above-linked review of Mr. Comey’s new book by Jeffrey St. Clair, which I find fairly reviews the bidding of Comey’s checkered career, will provide the balance I unsuccessfully sought to impart.


    PS. Comey’s tenure at the FBI began on September 4, 2013, which was after the case discussed in my Holder letter had mostly run it’s course. The Supreme Court denied certiorari on April 22, 2013: . FWIW: The Supreme Court petition for rehearing, which is THE shortest document I wrote about the case is here:

    Whether or not the DOJ referred my December 2014 Holder letter to the FBI (2 agents were defendants represented by the DOJ) for comment and if so, whether it reached Comey’s desk, I have no idea. It was Mr. Mueller who led the FBI, and Messrs. Gonzales, Mukasey and Holder who were the Attorney Generals, when “the feds” (per their pervasive robotic callous and authoritarian culture) shamefully took a never-apologize never-explain might-makes-right approach to my clients’ indisputably-partly-meritorious lawsuit. Eg. When I asked the rogue U.S. attorney whether he had checked with his superiors about his atrocious handling of the case, he replied laconically: “I’ve checked as high as I need to.” Alas, something was- and is “rotten in Denmark.”

  10. Elizabeth Miller Says:


    I wouldn’t describe my opinion of Comey as rosy so much as realistic. And, while I thank you for the book review link, I found it to be decidedly unbalanced and the author came across to me to be somewhat jealous of Comey’s attributes. A less than enjoyable read, in other words. But, I will always take the time to read any link you offer. And, I don’t promise that for just anyone, you know. 🙂

    Now, I don’t have your experience with the feds and, perhaps, that is why I harbour only a healthy dose of skepticism with regard to the universe of people I admire.

    I do know enough to say that Comey is a good and decent man who has been treated unfairly – by everyone concerned – with respect to how he handled his duties as director of the FBI during the 2016 presidential election cycle.

  11. Gary Hart Says:

    Belated condolences to Elizabeth for the van attack on her fellow citizens in Toronto. We are all brothers and sisters regardless of nationality in times like these. Gary

  12. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Thank-you, Senator Hart.

    Yonge Street used to be known as the longest street in the world at about 1800 kilometers, the equivalent of more than a thousand miles!

    This is yet another reminder that we must always be aware of our surroundings, no matter where we are …

  13. JD Kinnick Says:

    I have zero respect for “tribalism” whether its white nationalism, “Black Lives Matter, La Raza, or any other race-based group. President Obama was the king of identity politics and threw fuel on the fire of an already divided America. As for Holder, he was the worst AG since Mitchell.

    On a lighter note I finally got a copy of Sen. Hart’s long out-of-print first book “Right From The Start” and finished it on a flight last week. I was in grammar school in ’72 and vaguely remember watching both conventions. Excellent book! It was great insight to how Gary engineered Sen. McGovern’s longshot campaign (4% in polls) to upsetting DNC heavyweights HHH and Muskie to capture the nomination. Deck was stacked against McGovern in the general election and the Eagleton VEEP misstep eliminated any decent convention “bounce.” BTW Gary’s VP recommendations for Sen. McGovern were Mayor White and Sen. Mondale – not Sen. Eagleton. I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in politics or history. It was a great look back!


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