What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

What a new report reveals about white economic hardship and Trump’s big win

May 10 at 6:30 PM

Roughly a third of white working-class Americans said that they have cut back on food or meals in the past year to save money. A similar share it would be difficult — if not impossible — for them to cover an emergency expense of $400. And among those who live in the same town where they grew up, only 17 percent say the quality of life there has improved.

Those are a few of the results of a detailed new survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic magazine. The report reveals the economic and material hardships afflicting the white working class, one of the report’s authors says, lending insight into why so many people in this group were willing to gamble on Donald Trump, a candidate with no governing experience.

As many of these voters felt they had little to lose, they were undeterred by the President’s failure to spell out — with any degree of detail — how he would deliver on promises that experts repeatedly cautioned were unrealistic, said PRRI’s Dan Cox, one of the authors of the report.

“Many folks — they can’t wait for a white paper, or a 12-point plan. They need help immediately,” Cox said. There was, he said, “a recognition that there was some danger with it too, but that it was, sort of, worth the risk.”

Indeed, when it comes to policy details, the white working class supports many economic proposals associated with Democrats, not Republicans. Fifty-three percent of those surveyed supported increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and 58 percent said the rich should pay more in taxes. (Those figures are similar to the results for the general population.)

Global trade was one specific issue on which Trump may have appealed to many of his voters by deviating from GOP orthodoxy, and by distancing himself from Hillary Clinton, who during the campaign turned against a prominent free trade agreement that she had previously supported. Among the white working class, 60 percent said that free trade agreements were mostly harmful.

Following Trump’s surprise victory, many observers continue to debate whether economic distress or anxiety about race, immigration and cultural change motivated his supporters. The survey suggests that all of these were important to Trump’s success, but also that a sense of cultural displacement has been an especially powerful of the president’s appeal among the white working class, Cox said.

Those who agreed that they sometimes felt like a stranger in their own country, or that U.S. culture had to be protected from foreign influences, were much more likely to support Trump, the survey found. “The cultural touchstones were really salient in the election,” Cox said.

At the same time, he added, it is difficult to distinguish among the many motivations of Trump’s supporters, Cox said.

“You can’t completely divorce it from the economic experience of these folks — the fears of economic insecurity,” he said. “That’s certainly in the mix.”

On the whole, about as many white-working class people say they are worse off financially today than they were as children as say they are better off, according to the survey.

The analysis defines as those without a four-year college degree and who are paid by the hour or by the job, a definition that excludes many white-collar employees in salaried positions regardless of their education. Retirees were included based on the work they did before they retired, and students were excluded unless they explicitly described themselves as working or lower class in the survey.

The stress of making ends meet from day to day contributes to elevated rates of depression and addiction in white working-class families, Cox said: “It’s really tragic and heartbreaking that that kind of insecurity and stability causes all sorts of problems downstream.”

Among the white working class, 38 percent said that they or someone in their household had suffered from depression, compared to 26 percent of white college graduates. Eight percent of white working-class respondents said the same about drug addiction, while the figure for white college graduates was just 3 percent. Alcoholism also appears to be somewhat more prevalent in white working-class households than among white college graduates (12 percent vs. 9 percent).

The white working class seems to be giving up on the kinds of institutions that have traditionally provided a measure of stability and economic opportunity to American life, particularly colleges and universities. Among white Americans with college degrees, 63 percent said getting a degree was “a smart investment in the future,” but among the white working class, that figure was just 44 percent. In this group, a majority (54 percent) described it as a risky decision “that may not pay off in the end.”

This group’s skepticism about higher education parallels their detachment from other prominent institutions, including churches. Aside from weddings and funerals, just 58 percent of the white working class goes to church even once a year, the survey shows. Among white college graduates, that figure is 66 percent.

The white working class is less involved in their communities outside of religion as well. Thirty-six percent said they never participated in secular organizations such as book clubs, sports teams, neighborhood associations or parent-teacher associations. Just 16 percent of white college graduates said they never took part in these groups.

“It’s, sort of, been part of the American Dream, that you work hard, you get an education, you can get ahead,” Cox said. “The fact that white working-class Americans are less likely to believe that I think really shows the dire situation that they believe themselves to be in.”

Fewer than half of the white working class believes that people who work hard can still get ahead, the survey found, while 61 percent say America’s best days are in the past.

That pessimism contrasts with white college graduates — just 43 percent of whom say the country’s best days are behind it — and with people of color. Although black and Hispanic Americans are often worse off economically than those in the white working class, they have found reasons to be optimistic about the future, Cox explained. For instance, 56 percent of black respondents in the survey and 68 percent of Hispanic participants viewed a college degree as a way to get ahead.

If their bet on Trump doesn’t pay off, Cox warned, the president might find the white working class abandoning him. Asked how well they felt Trump understood their communities’ problems, a majority of the white working class — 51 percent — answered “not too well” or “not well at all.” Those figures suggest Trump might not have long to deliver.

“It’s unclear how loyal this group will be to him,” Cox said.

On First Day In office, South Korean President Talks About Going To North

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

On first day in office, South Korean president talks about going to North

Will South Korea have a new approach toward North Korea, U.S.?
 
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is wary of America’s role in his country and has signaled he is open to warmer ties with North Korea. This has raised concerns in Washington(The Washington Post)
May 10 at 10:13 AM
South Korea’s new president said Wednesday that he would be willing to hold talks in Washington and Pyongyang in efforts to ease the North Korean nuclear crisis, wasting no time in embarking on a new approach to dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime.The offer of shuttle diplomacy by Moon Jae-in came shortly after he was sworn in as president after winning a snap election triggered by the impeachment of former conservative leader Park Geun-hye.Moon had vowed on the campaign trail to resume engagement with North Korea, a sharp change from the hard-line approach taken by South Korea’s past two governments — and by the international community — in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

“I will endeavor to address the security crisis promptly,” Moon said at the National Assembly in Seoul. “If needed, I will immediately fly to Washington. I will also visit Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang under the right circumstances.”

Reinforcing his stance, Moon appointed two top aides with experience in dealing with North Korea.

He nominated Suh Hoon, a former intelligence official who arranged the two inter-Korean presidential summits held in the 2000s, to lead the National Intelligence Service.

Suh lived in North Korea for two years beginning in 1997 to run an energy project that was part of a 1994 denuclearization deal with North Korea. He met the North’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, during North-South summits in 2000 and 2007.

Moon also appointed as his chief of staff a former lawmaker who, as a student, went to North Korea to meet the state’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Moon’s first words and actions as president show his determination to revive the South Korean “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea rather than isolating it.

But this would put South Korea at odds with the United States, where President Trump has vowed to use “maximum pressure” to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, and with an international community that is largely supportive of tougher sanctions.

The sunshine policy was started in 1998 by Kim Dae-jung, a former pro-democracy activist who became South Korea’s first liberal president.

The policy got its name from an Aesop fable in which the wind and the sun compete to make a traveler take off his coat. The sun gently warms the traveler and succeeds, the moral of the fable being that gentle persuasion works better than force.

Kim Dae-jung engaged Pyongyang by laying the groundwork for a tourism project at mountain on the North Korean side of the border that South Koreans were allowed to visit. After his summit with Kim Jong Il, families separated when the peninsula was divided were allowed to meet for reunions. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.

His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued the policy, opening a joint industrial park near the inter-Korean border where North Koreans would work in South Korean-owned factories, helping both sides. Roh went to Pyongyang for his own summit with Kim Jong Il near the end of his tenure in 2007.

Moon, who had started a law firm with Roh, served as his chief of staff in the presidential Blue House and was involved in North Korea policy during this time.

But the two conservative presidents who succeeded Kim and Roh abandoned the sunshine policy, instead promoting direct and multilateral sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear ambitions.

After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, Park closed the joint industrial park, declaring that the money was going directly to the North Korean regime. In the 12 years that the complex was in operation, North Korea had made a total of about $560 million from the site, her government said.

During his campaign, Moon said he would seek to reopen the industrial park and tourism projects, and would be willing to met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang if necessary.

Returning to an engagement approach would “increase of predictability and permanence of inter-Korean policies” and help the South Korean economy, Moon said.

But reviving such inter-Korean cooperation will be difficult, analysts say.

For starters, the world is a very different place now than it was in 1997.

Then, North Korea did not have a proven nuclear weapons program. Now, it has conducted five nuclear tests, and Kim Jong Un seems hellbent on developing missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.

Plus, North Korean attacks on South Korea — including the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette in 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island, which together claimed 50 lives — have sapped South Korean goodwill toward North Korea.

Increasingly strict sanctions have been imposed through the United Nations in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, and both the United States and South Korea have also imposed direct prohibitions on dealing with North Korea.

“The international community has moved decisively toward a more sanctions and less engagement approach with North Korea, and even South Korea’s own domestic laws will make grandiose unaccountable inter-Korean engagement more difficult,” Marcus Noland and Kent Boydston of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in an analysis.

If South Korea were to say that special considerations apply on the peninsula, the Moon administration would “bring South Korea into immediate diplomatic conflict with the U.S. and undercut China’s already tepid willingness to implement sanctions,” they wrote.

Even raising the specter of a sunshine-policy approach will complicate the international community’s efforts to make North Korea give up its nuclear program, said David Straub, a former official in the State Department who worked on North Korea.

“It’s a real challenge to the American-led effort to put maximum pressure on North Korea,” said Straub, who is now at the Sejong Institute, a think tank devoted to North Korea, outside Seoul.

Moon’s policy is much closer to China’s than to the United States’ policy, he noted.

“South Korea has tremendous influence in the international community on this issue, and that in itself is a challenge for President Trump,” Straub said, noting that Kim Dae-jung and Roh both bad-mouthed President George W. Bush’s approach at that time.

But Lee Jong-seok, who served as unification minister during the Roh administration, said a decade of sanctions has not worked.

“It’s now time for the U.S. to review its policy of imposing pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program. Has North Korea recognized its wrongdoings as a result of this policy of applying strong pressure?” Lee asked.

Moon realizes that pressure alone is not sufficient for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that the key is to pursue both dialogue and pressure, he said.

“President Moon will combine sanctions and dialogue, but which comes first will be decided after talking to relevant nations like the U.S. and China,” Lee said. “South Korea can’t unilaterally hold talks while everyone else is sanctioning North Korea.”

Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

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