How shall we sing the Lord’s song
in a strange land?
But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith,
and is worse than an infidel.
—1 Timothy 5:8
The county that became the home of my wife’s family was established in the 1850’s. We’ll call it Parmer County, Texas. The namesake county seat boasts an impressive, lately refurbished, courthouse. Parmer was a frontier settlement in the mid-19th century. The landscape is a familiar one to Central Texas eyes: rolling prairie broken up by buttes, wooded with stands of pecan, cedar, elm, live oak, and post oak, dotted with patches of cacti. Parmer’s agricultural heyday of cotton and cattle is long past. It’s hard to picture now, but in very dangerous frontier days, a sturdy and determined people settled this land, desolate by Eastern standards, and hung on through the War Between the States, local militia being all that stood between the settlement and ferocious bands of marauding Comanche. After the Comanche raids subsided in the 1870’s, a steady stream of settlers developed the county and the town. The railroad announced Parmer’s arrival when it extended a branch to the county in the 1880’s.
Rural Texas is dotted with declining communities like Parmer, towns with colorful monikers like Zephyr, Dime Box, and the eerily named Eulogy. Parmer and the surrounding county have been losing population at least since the Depression, emptying out steadily as agriculture declined. Parmer enjoyed something of a revival in the 1970’s, regaining a portion of its lost population, but the revival was not sustained. Today the picture is a familiar one in rural and working-class areas across the United States, an aging population living in a state of economic stagnation, a considerable part of the people below the poverty line, with single-parent households not uncommon. Petty crime and drug use, unheard of in these areas in the days of their optimistic prosperity, are on the rise. Meth labs and pot farms are the new cottage industries.
Yet the people of Parmer remain as outwardly patriotic as ever, their mental picture of America seemingly frozen in the 1950’s. The signs of decline are all around: empty buildings, dilapidated if not abandoned farmhouses, tattooed bodies, the obesity of today’s poor. Yet the people remain generally kind and courteous. Stop in the Dairy Queen or small-town café, and you may see walls lined with pictures of “our heroes,” those “serving” in the military, dying and killing in foreign lands—to what end, no one really knows any longer. They were intent on “serving,” but serving what? I look at the pictures and experience a deep sense of anger and sadness, a furious desperation that seems barely hidden among a significant number of the people.
Parmer desperately needs its young people, many of whom are far away from home, some of them killed and maimed in the service of a system that has nothing but contempt and disdain for them. I try not to look at the pictures of “our heroes.” They serve under a false banner of patriotism, drawn like a bull to the matador’s cape to fight the battles of a crusading globalism. Idealizing “the military” has become a means of outsourcing genuine patriotism for people who are taught that their small towns and working-class communities are places to escape from, that their “redneck” culture is something to be ashamed of, their history tainted by that all-purpose condemnation “racism,” their religion “intolerant,” their traditional moral precepts outdated.
Across the country, the picture for rural and working-class people is much the same—witness the popularity of “decline porn” on the internet, pictures of once-great industrial cities, the mighty engines of a past American colossus that are now ruins as desolate as those of any unearthed ancient civilization. I look at those pictures, and all the regional and often slight cultural differences no longer matter. The people of the “Rust Belt” are not so different, their sentiments not dissimilar, their decline perhaps more advanced, their dire situation more pronounced, but I can see people I know.
Observing the process of their debasement into a lumpen proletariat is painful. They, like a significant portion of Parmer’s population, have been left behind by a Janus-like postmodernity, one face on the coin that of “conservative” globalizing capitalism, the other that of the rebellious fallen angel that is “progressive” leftist ideology. The faces may appear different on the surface, but the metal of the coin is the same. After private property and prescriptive rights are shoved through the globalist meat grinder, what’s left is a merciless economic and social machine that plans the obsolescence of people and places as much as it does the disposable products of corporate capitalism. The “meritocracy,” sociologist Charles Murray’s “cognitive elite,” is without sentiment, by nature without deep attachments.
Proponents of the globalist millennium that will allegedly follow the tribulation of restructuring our society and our minds view those who have been left behind as losers, as unworthy of regard or sympathy, infidels as defined by a militant and vengeful faith. Perhaps they were unwilling to mouth the shibboleths of the system’s gatekeepers. Maybe they lacked the cognitive skills of the chosen, people who claim to believe objective standards of intelligence do not exist while fancying themselves smarter than the rest of us. It’s possible those left behind could not or would not deal with the complexities of an increasingly intricate managerial and technological system that is essentially antihuman, one the elite players and their minions have learned to manipulate to their own benefit. Or they simply would not leave home—though, in many cases, their homes have left them.
So, to the globalist hell with them.
The outline of what the elite have planned for our country is now becoming clear: a thin layer of very rich people will rule over a shrinking middle class and a growing underclass, those who have been left behind. Members of the global elite are detached from their countries of origin, having more in common with one another than with their own erstwhile countrymen. Globalization means that the superrich and multinationals can move their money and factories wherever they find it profitable to do so. As an increasing number of Americans drop out of the workforce, the burgeoning underclass will be put on the dole. Open borders mean an endless supply of warm bodies to level out wages around the world. “Creative destruction” means that sustaining deeply rooted communities will be increasingly difficult if not impossible. Disorientation and instability are the new norm.
It’s no surprise that ordinary Americans increasingly sense that they have lost their country, that they are strangers in a strange land. Breitbart noted this sense in a report on a Reuters survey from last fall:
More than half of Americans, 53 percent, say they “feel like a stranger” in their own country. A minority of Americans feel “comfortable as myself” in the country.
There are no doubt lots of reasons underlying [these] feelings. Demographically, Americans holding these views tend to be white, older, live in the South and have less than a college education. Politically, they are cordoned off as the white working class.
Mass media have generally characterized this sense of alienation as an example of dangerous “nativism”—dangerous, that is, to the globalist project. So the demonization of Southern “trailer-park trash” and their Northern “Archie Bunker” counterparts has intensified.
What has drawn somewhat less attention is the destructive impact globalization and proletarianization have had on the working class, especially the white working class, once the backbone of the country at the zenith of American power. According to a study conducted by Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case, mortality rates for middle-aged whites, especially working-class, less educated, whites, are, unlike those for other social groups, increasing. Deaton and Case determined that the increasing death rates were driven by an epidemic of suicides, drug abuse, and alcoholism. This alarming trend has been attributed by some researchers to “a more pessimistic outlook among whites about their financial futures.”
The most surprising thing about those reports was that economists and demographers were surprised by such a reaction to dispossession, to jobs shipped overseas, to mass immigration transforming the country and driving down wages, to hometowns becoming ghost towns, and to the mass media’s general mockery of everything American. The people the mass media have targeted for their Two Minutes Hate come from stock once—and still, to a degree—heavily invested in an older version of the “American dream,” one that promised that, if they worked hard, were honest and industrious, neighborly and patriotic, they could “succeed.” That dream, however flawed, was the promise that helped sustain American society, moderated class antagonisms, and supported social trust. It’s not surprising that, in their remarks about increased mortality rates among working-class whites, a number of bloggers and commentators have compared those trends with the fate of American Indians and of Russians following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The promise has been broken.
Researchers and media commentators may have been surprised by those trends, but outrage (of the “How dare they!?” variety) was reserved for the populist rebellion manifest in working-class support for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
After noting that 55 percent of Donald Trump’s supporters are working-class whites, William Galston stated the obvious in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal:
Although the Trump phenomenon has surprised nearly everyone, it becomes intelligible against the backdrop of recent American history. For decades, white working-class men have been the most volatile element in the American electorate. Changes in the economy have hit them hard, and administrations of both political parties have done little to protect or compensate them. They have lost status in our society and even in their own families, many of which have crumbled. Practitioners of identity politics often have fingered them as the adversary, and upscale environmentalists have been all too willing to ignore their economic concerns. . . .
But now working-class voters are in full revolt against policies—trade treaties, immigration reform and crony capitalism, among others—that they see as inimical to their interests. Establishment Republicans, caught flat-footed, are left hoping that this is all a bad dream from which their party will awake in time to choose a nominee who shares their economic views.
Note Galston’s language. It’s not simply that working-class people “see” globalization as “inimical to their interests”; it’s that globalization is inimical to their interests, and they know that it is. As for Establishment Republicans hoping “their party” chooses a nominee who shares their “economic views,” Galston is simply acknowledging that the Wall Street Journal’s readers think of mass democracy in the “Land of the Free” as merely another form of elite manipulation.
What about the rest of us? It seems likely that downward mobility is in store for a large portion of today’s middle class. “Outsourcing” and work visas for foreign replacements are only part of the problem: The children of the middle class face global competition for spots in elite universities and professional careers, competition that will intensify as globalization proceeds. The middle class itself, or a significant portion of it, will also be left behind.
According to both “progressives” and “conservatives,” they deserve to be marginalized, but if conservatism means anything, it should mean attachment to people and place, adherence to our faith, and loyalty to each other. What does patriotism mean without a willingness to sacrifice for the well-being of one’s own people? How can patriotic sentiments survive in a dog-eat-dog world of self-seeking individualists? What does “homeland” mean when globalization means the end of all homelands? What do we all lose when we accept demonic ideologies that justify abandoning our own people? Leaving others behind means losing the best part of ourselves.