Tag Archives: Work

Our Complicity in the Trump Phenomenon, Part 2

I wasn’t the only one startled and stunned by the Trump onslaught of November 8th. While I whiffed on two very important details in my “Part 1” blogpost from October 20th – Trump wouldn’t amass more than 40 percent of the vote; and, accusations of sexual assault would doom him to lose the election convincingly – I didn’t whiff on the main point: the over-importance and overemphasis we attribute to wealth helped bring about the Trump candidacy and nomination, and now the Trump presidency.

Trump becoming a good president lies within the theoretical realm of possibility. If Trump succeeds, it will result from good decision-making and discernment uniquely different from what he utilized as an American business colossus. Success for a presidential leader depends upon having social wisdom and the positive leveraging of relationships. Trump knows a thing or two about leveraging relationships from his business days and he leveraged successfully with a mostly white and non-college educated crowd during the campaign. His learning curve on social wisdom in twenty-first century America, however, is steep. Continuing to unite supporters in opposition to Syrian immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and issues like climate change only guarantees heightened conflict for his administration. Most major American cities will host in their streets protests against Trump on inauguration day, January 20th. The numerous organizations committed to social gains recent (LBGTQ rights, DACA/Dreamer enactments) and historic (women’s, voting, and civil rights) will fight against political leaders committed to turning back the clock, especially a leader like Trump whose vehemence against so many is public record.

Trump’s wealth, however, has helped cover up a multitude of these publicly recorded sins. We Americans are a forgiving bunch, and we love us some rich and famous folk – even if they have a few quirks.

Trump not only has as few quirks, he has managed to alienate just as many voters as he has attracted. Trump’s election portends victory for bigotry, misogyny, racism, nativism, and fear-mongering. Let me add one more to the list of unwanted victors: inequality. None of this is good, but there’s a nuanced reality beneath the surface of Trump’s victory. Inequality, ironically, is one of the reasons Trump won the vote. Let me explain.

Like Bernie Sanders did, Donald Trump connected with working class voters who have received the brunt of inequality’s back-handed slap for the last generation or so. Here’s what Trump said at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this past July:

I have visited the laid-off factory workers and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals (cheers). These are the forgotten men and women of our country – and they are forgotten, but they’re not going to be forgotten long. These are people who work hard, but no longer have a voice. I AM YOUR VOICE (raucous cheers). 

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Bernie Sanders could have uttered these populist lines. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and most surprisingly, Pennsylvania – four states that went in Barack Obama’s column in 2008 and 2012. These four states have white population majorities ranging from 79 percent (Michigan) to 86 percent (Wisconsin) – “racism and nostalgia” alone do not explain the swing of these states from Obama to Trump. Legitimate white working class frustrations and despair – related to three decades of increasing inequality, exemplified by greater social and economic immobility – explain better the switch in votes from Democrat to Republican. Obama championed change for these white working class voters in 2008 and 2012; Trump is now their guy in 2016. Kudos to President-elect Trump (and Bernie Sanders) for reaching out to them much more effectively than did Hillary Clinton.

Inequality breeds social problems. Many majority white working class communities have suffered declines in jobs and social cohesion, and increases in rates of opioid and meth addiction. Along comes a candidate offering scapegoats (immigrants and globalization) and a solution (“I am your voice”) and the upshot is the most startling and stunning election result of our lifetimes.

Our dual complicity in the Trump phenomenon: We overly revere the accumulation of wealth and we passively tolerate rampant inequality. Consequently, there continues to be a lot of work to do in this society beset by the consequences of deepening social and economic inequalities. For those of us who value and labor for societal common good, we will stand beside all those who feel threatened – Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQs, and minorities – in the new Trump era. We will also continue our work for greater social cohesion and understanding in and among America’s diverse populace. I’ve asked before in this blog: Do you have a friendship with anyone living in poverty? Now I can also ask: Do you know anyone who is working class? Now more than ever, it’s time for us to expand our social circles of understanding and cooperation.

 

 

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If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide is now available. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más –está disponible en Amazon y el sitio web www.blueocotillo.com!

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Vacations are for Slackers . . .

It’s summertime – have you taken a vacation yet? A recent national survey claims that 42 per cent of working Americans didn’t take any vacation days in 2014. Wow – keep that stat in mind the next time you have an interchange with a grumpy employee. Maybe he’s having a bad day in part because he hasn’t had time off from the job for a significant stretch. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t lawfully mandate paid vacation days for workers.

Some Americans are workaholics and others actually like their jobs so much they don’t take any vacation days. Workaholics and job-lovers together, however, we can assume to be a minority. Other Americans in low-paying jobs are unable or afraid to take time off (lest they lose their jobs), and other Americans are uncomfortable getting away from the office or workplace lest necessary tasks be forgotten or mismanaged by others. Other Americans, because of our incomplete system of health care coverage, end up using vacation days as sick or family leave days.

Most Americans – whether vacation-takers or not – live in obeisance to the dominant religion of the day: the troika of materialism, commerce, and consumerism. On the surface, it’s a good religion that feeds, shelters, clothes, and employs us. But when the religion goes overboard – too many hours worked is but one example – it breaks bad and damages societal common good.

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The Caddy Man

By the numbers, the three people groups most devoted to working are South Koreans, Americans, and Australians. Only South Koreans take fewer vacation days and holidays than American workers; only Australians work on average more weeks per year than Americans. The Caddy Man, actor Neal McDonough, perfectly describes (albeit unintended) the dominant religion in America. Speaking incredulously of those woosified Europeans: “They take August off – off!”

Once upon a time (in the 1950s), many commentators, confident of increased gains in productivity and innovation, foresaw a shorter workweek and increased leisure time for Americans by the last few decades of the century. Those predictions fell completely flat. Americans worked, on the average, 160 hours more a year in 2000 than in 1970. America, historically associated with the opportunity to work, now seems to be associated with the domination of work (for those who can find it). Consumerism, of course, has brought about work’s ability to rule.

According to Adam Sacks of Oxford Economics – an organization that serves the travel industry – the average working American leaves five vacation days unused per year. Sacks calls it a culture of work martyrdom: those who don’t use all their vacation are more virtuous than those who do take all their vacation days. Vacations are for slackers.

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The star-forming region NGC 3603 - seen here in the latest Hubble Space Telescope image - contains one of the most impressive massive young star clusters in the Milky Way. Bathed in gas and dust the cluster formed in a huge rush of star formation thought to have occurred around a million years ago. The hot blue stars at the core are responsible for carving out a huge cavity in the gas seen to the right of the star cluster in NGC 3603's centre.

Hubble Space Telescope pic

Vacations are also for those seeking renewal and rejuvenation. One of the first stories in Hebrew scriptures tells of the Creator God taking a day off at the conclusion of an extended work project. The moral of the story: creativity and rest go hand-in-hand. We are capable of creating and doing good work on little sleep; but, over the long haul, you and I need rest and downtime in order to be effective in relationships and in work environments.

When will we see a change in the way working America operates? The typical reward for good work is increased pay. While many appreciate (and need) an increase in pay, when will we see a culture shift that rewards employees’ good work with more time off?

 

 

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

For book clubs, community of faith study groups, and individuals, the Summary Version and Study Guide of JaLBM is now available at the Blue Ocotillo website and on Amazon. It’s a “Reader’s Digest” version (fifty-two pages) of the full-length original with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Join the conversation about social and economic inequality – without having to be hyperpartisan – and let’s figure out how capitalism can do better!

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Labor Day and Its Ironies

“Work is a divine gift and those who refuse it are sinners.” Historian Richard Donkin thus describes George Pullman’s secularized version of the Puritan work ethic. At least Pullman (manufacturer of sleeper train cars) understood the connection between a satisfied workforce and increased productivity. His late 19th century worker town, just outside of Chicago, gleamed in comparison to the filthy stockyards and slum settlement of Packingtown, only miles away. Pullman City had parks, schools, a boathouse, and recreational access to Lake Calumet; its company homes even had indoor plumbing. No shit – literally. Pullman, however, had his grabby fingers in every transaction that occurred in the town. With the economic downturn of 1893, Pullman slashed worker positions and wages without reducing rental charges for the company housing, which led to a worker strike. President Grover Cleveland, claiming the strike to be illegal (US mail service had been disrupted), sent in federal troops to quell it.  The ensuing conflict resulted in the deaths of thirty workers, and Pullman City and its architect/owner were doomed. (When Pullman died just a few years later in 1897, his coffin was encased in thick concrete lest any of his legion detractors were to desecrate his grave.)

The Pullman worker strike lasted some two months during the summer of 1894. The conflict and accompanying deaths of workers, ironically, sealed the deal for President Cleveland to nationalize a Labor Day holiday (various states had been passing legislation for such a holiday as early as 1887). Designated the first Monday in September, it was purposely distinct from the May 1st holiday – International Workers’ Day – chosen in 1889 by the worldwide Communist and Socialist movement. This organization was one of many advocating for an eight-hour, five-day workweek.

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People rush and race every morning to arrive to their jobs as fast as possible. Is it because of the great love they have for their work? Somehow I don’t think that’s it. Many of us are sleep deprived and we allow minimum prep time before leaving for work. On top that – none of us want to spend more time than necessary on the road arriving to work. That’s why we are racing to work, with a small minority of us every morning getting in a fender bender (or worse) as we participate in the big race. Who in their right mind wakes up in the morning thinking today would be a good day to get into an accident on the way to work? American workers have been described as “crazy, driven, hard-working believers” – and that makes it tough to slow down. Why smell and savor the coffee, when instead, we can have it splash onto our laps when we slam on the brakes? (Sorry, not enough time to have put on the coffee cup lid!)

Some 25% of us will be working this Labor Day. Schools, banks, and government offices are closed for the national holiday. Stores, restaurants, hotels, and other service sectors will be laboring away. Some will be happy to be working and earning; others will not be. For these latter, their taskmasters demand obeisance. The irony of Labor Day – officially born only six days after federal troops violently cracked down and broke the Pullman strike on the side of an autocratic employer – continues in this society so defined, uplifted, and desecrated by work. Remember, at the time of the Pullman strike, Andrew Carnegie’s steel workers were putting in 12 hour days, seven days a week.

Work is, without question, a great blessing. Productivity for self, family, and community makes it so. This Labor Day weekend, it will be good to ask the following question: Whom does our work benefit – ourselves and our community, or are we unwittingly part of some larger design where our contributions are parasitically annexed for someone else’s gain? If you go to worship this weekend, perhaps you’ll hear some recapping of the Exodus story (chapter 3) where God tells Moses that he has heard his people’s cries and has seen the oppression that they have suffered. God did not create his people to serve as the slaves of the Egyptians. Enough was enough. God led the protest, Moses organized the people, and liberation blossomed for a people that had slaved under the hot sun of injustice.

Swiss historian and economist Jean Charles Leonard de Sismondi (1773-1842) warned long ago: “Humanity should be on guard against . . . the error of identifying the public good with wealth, abstracted from the sufferings of the humans who made it.” The God of Israel, no less, agrees.

 

These ideas are adapted from my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, available at the Blue Ocotillo website.

 

 

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