12 June

The New Minority. Understanding Instead Of Arguing

by Jon Katz
The New Minority

What is happening to our country? I think I am beginning to grasp it.

I spent some years working as a political writer, I worked for the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

I loved covering politics and I always believed I was in touch with the great middle-class, the deciders then of political contests. I was almost never wrong about how an election would turn it, I was right in sync with the system.

Last November,  I learned that I was no longer in touch, I had not been paying attention to politics for a decade or so, and I did not miss it, or at least the newer, more partisan and angry versions of politics.

This stung, for sure, and I vowed not to let it happen again. I am working at it.

Like everyone else, I was shocked in November, and I made a decision. Rather than argue with people, I would try to understand what I had missed, a movement so intense and organized it helped elect a President who seemed, at least on the surface, to be utterly unfit for the job.

I am reading a book that is quite helpful to me in understanding what happened to our country in November.  The book is called “The New Minority: White Working Class Politics in an Age of Immigration and Inequality.” It was written by Justin Gest, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University’s School of Policy and Government.

He talked to an awful lot of people.

It seems to me to be more important to understand the people who sparked this sometimes frightening populist movement than it is to condemn them. Gest’s book goes further than anything else I have read or heard to understand what happened and why.

He explains the tragedy that underlies the alcoholism, suicide rate, poverty, depression, community decay,  drug addictions and hopelessness that was at the core of much of the Trump support in America, last year and now.

Gest writes that the communities of white working class people who once occupied the political middle – the group I always felt I knew – have decreased in size and moved to the fringes.

On the day after the election, I wondered the same thing Gest did: “how did we get here? How does a group of people once synonymous with Middle America – the heart, soul, and back bone of America (and Great Britain) drift to rage, marginality and resentment?

What kind of transformation lead a group with such enormous and enduring social power come to consider themselves a neglected and persecuted minority in the very country they once defined? How have they come to be so frustrated politically that they would rather start their own movements than submit to the compromises and changes required by more traditional and mainstream coalitions?

And how did white working class Americans come to be so resented and vilified?

The moral narrative of the young, the elites and the white upper class has embraced what Gest calls a moral narrative about the election: poor whites, now suffering from the same kind of social and economic decay and despair that once characterized the poorest of minorities, are characterized as antagonists clinging to the unfair advantages whites possessed at an earlier time, and still do in so many ways.

Cultural critic Nicholas Underwood described the new white working class subculture as “the amoral and apolitical section in society who are neither deserving nor poor. It is a group that is against learning, anti-intellectual, and composed of individuals who – in the words of one commentator – ‘despise” blacks and browns (especially if they are making something of their lives) and also education, enlightenment, and internationalism.”

In Europe and the United States, white members of the “underclass” have been singled out as behaviorally or morally inferior, a broad and ugly brush.

Gest has a counter-narrative, a startling idea about the Trump revolution.

He says to understand it, one must come to see the populist movement in America as a new minority, one that has been ignored for decades now as their problem deepen and worsen, and while other minority groups – Trans people, African-Americas, gays and Latinos – have organized and demanded change and broader rights and attracted enormous sympathy and attention. The white working class has no such movement – until now – and has received no public or governmental support in any meaningful way.

For them, the global trade agreements have been nothing short of a cultural catastrophe, decimating  all across rural America what Gest calls “post-traumatic cities.”

At the same time, the political class has move radically beyond their working class roots. According to the Washington Post, between 1984 and 2009, the median net work of a member of the House of  Representatives grew from $280,000 to $725,000.  In the same time frame, the net worth of the average American family declined from $20,600 to $20,500. The members of Congress have little in common with the constituents who were exactly like them just a generation ago.

So who, exactly represents them and speaks to them?

Nobody at the moment but Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It  ought not to be any surprise that they support him so passionately. For so many people, he is their last hope for a better life.

Their life expectancy is declining, suicide rates are skyrocketing, the leading cause of death for young white men in America is now drug overdose, 36 per cent of them are without college degrees holding non-salaried jobs; 33 per cent of American families are white households earning less than $60,000 per year; 43 per cent of them  are without professional or managerial jobs; 48 per cent of Americans are now white people without a four-year college degree, their life spans are now shorter than impoverished minorities in the poorest communities in America.

And they have had no voice in their own fate or that of their communities. Until 2016, when Donald Trump traveled to their communities and told rally after rally “I am your voice.” No other national political had spoken to them, even obliquely, in decades. To the new white minority, Trump was their Martin Luther King, come to liberate them from poverty, oppression and hopelessness.

He was – is – their voice.

That is a difficult thing for many people to grasp or accept, but Gest documents his theory brilliantly. People in the devastated urban and rural communities that supported Donald Trump so fervently, and still do seem to be more frustrated by that which they have lost, writes Gest, than that which they never possessed.

“In this book,” he writes, “I find that white working class people’s rebellion is driven by a sense of deprivation – the discrepancy between individual expectations of power and social centrality, and their perceptions of fulfillment. More specifically, white working class people are consumed  by their loss of social and political status in social hierarchies, particularly in relation to immigrant and minority reference groups.”

Working class rage and discontent varies, but nearly all of it, found Gest, pertains to three phenomena:

-Outnumbering. The new minority recognizes the steady deterioration of their numbers.  By 2040, the U.S. Census estimates that whites will number less than 50 per cent of the total population.

-Externality: White working class people are especially sensitive to their exclusion from consultation and representation – not only in bodies of representative government, but also more generally in popular entertainment, public institutions, and employment.

-Prejudice: Many white working class people, writes Gest, “believe they are frequently subject to conscious or unconscious prejudgment by members of ethnic minorities, as well as by middle-and-upper class white people.” They believe such prejudice  affects their ability to get hired for jobs, receive equal treatment by officials and businesses, and access government benefits like housing, government contracting or welfare.

Gest’s book – heavily researched and meticulously documented – challenges a lot of my ideas about America both politically and culturally. For the first time, I begin to fully understand what happened so stunningly and disturbingly in November. I want to write more about it.

The new minority is not, of course, the only reason Donald Trump won the election last year. He also gained broad support from Republicans, wealthy whites and 53 per cent of American women. But without the new minority, said the political scientists, he would not have won the election.

I believe in facts and I believe in truth, and I am convinced that understanding something is much more grounding and effective than whining about it or trembling before it. Our media and political community slept through much of last year. They are awake now.  More later.

12 June

There’s Someone On The Lawn. You Gotta Have Heart.

by Jon Katz
You Got To Have Heart

I have no interest in the left or the right, in reviling the President or defending him, or arguing with the legions of ideologues trampling on our notions of freedom and civility humanity. Democracies are fragile, they depend on us caring for one another.

Sometimes, I feel that our country has lost its heart, and the refugee children and the Mansion residents are offering us an opportunity to find it, or, as in the case of the Tin Man, to recognize that we have had it all along.

The Tin Man has joined the Bedlam Farm lexicon, we are happy to have him. We keep looking out the window and wondering who is standing on our lawn. He stands for the heart, and I am happy to have him here. He was created by the farmer and artist Ed Gulley, who publishes the popular Bejosh Farm Journal along with his wife Carol.

The view from the farmhouse is different. The Tin Man is there to remind us that empathy is the foundation of our humanity, and when we lose our sense of empathy, our hearts turn to stone.

12 June

Goddesses Everywhere. Loving Kali-Ma.

by Jon Katz
Goddesses Everywhere

Some years ago, I didn’t really grasp what a goddess was. Now, I am surrounded by goddesses and I sincerely believe they may save the world, just like Wonder Woman did in the movie. Goddesses were once believed to rule the world, then men came and founded the great religions and the goddesses were trivialized and discredited and shame as witches and prostitutes and slaves.

Goddesses are making a comeback, at least in my life. I married one, and and another Goddess, Anne Dambrowski, were holed up in the sweltering studio for six or seven hours figuring out the money from Maria’s art show – how much, what commissions, taxes, etc.

The Open  Houses are great fun, but not great money makers. The profits are split many ways. They are complex to sort out.

Anne and Maria and I have a rich history. After my breakdown and financial meltdown a few years ago, Anne, who was working as a gardener at the first Bedlam Farm restoring the old gardens and also starting out as a bookeeper, messaged me and said I looked overwhelmed.

I didn’t know who she was, but she was right and I asked for her help. She was a mystic to know how much trouble I was in.

I was terrified of Anne, who has a severe countenance sometimes and only occasionally smiles.  When she came to the house to look over my records, I drove around or hid until she left. She is a warrior for truth.

When she first looked over my money, she turned to me with her melting gaze and  said “it’s time to panic.” Maria tried to intervene, she saw me going white, but Anne was immoveable. It was the truth. I not only panicked, but went on to break down almost completely.

Anne stuck with us, and slowly, and over time, revealed the sweetness and loyal and love behind that stony gaze. She is so important to us, in so many ways. She is so capable and meticulous. She is helping me to set up a special account for the Refugee Children Scholarship Fund.

Today she spent all day with Maria going over the money from the Open House. That is a huge load off of Maria, we can move on tomorrow to start setting the house in order. We are both so tired after the Open  Houses that we usually wonder if it is a good thing to keep on doing. By Wednesday, we will decide that it is, and go on to planning the next one.

I see that Goddesses are everywhere now, all around me, guiding me and inspiring me and helping me through this stage of life. They are magical helpers. They are important to me, to the world, my life has changed since I have come to recognize them and open myself up to their love and wisdom.

My therapist, Peggy, was a Goddess for sure, terrifying and fiercely devoted to  reality and healing. She believed in me, she said no patient had ever worked  harder to get well.

Goddesses have  helped in ways I could not have imagined. Goddesses have embodied all kinds of traits and characteristics through history, they are most commonly associated with virtues such as love, motherhood, protection, and fertility. They have also been associated with war, creation, and death.

They can be quite powerful, and I believe they are stirring, preparing to displace the greedy and warlike men who are despoiling and threatening our planet. I feel them in the wind. coming to bring caring and compassion back to humanity. I believe they will strike down the greedy men who care only about the few and not the many.

The mystics in the Kabbalah believed that goddesses would ensure that Mother Earth would be loved and protected. I love the resident  Goodness Kali, she is a Hindu Goddess. She is sometimes misperceived by westerners as a murderous destroyer. Maria introduced Kali to me after her trip to India. I love everything about her.

Kali is frightening in some ways, I wouldn’t want to mess with her, but she is seen by her followers as the Great Mother, Kali-Ma. Kali was born from the brow of the Goddess Durga during a battle with the demons, when Durga needed extra strength. She killed countless demons, often hanging their heads around her neck, and she finally defeated the demon king Raktabija by drinking his blood.

Drunk on the king’s blood, she danced madly, threatening to destroy the world. The Gods asked her husband Shiva who she loved dearly to stop her, and he placed himself in her path. Kali did not at first notice she was dancing on her husband’s body, but finally she looked down and saw  him, and this stopped her  dance of death.

Like other Goddesses that I know, she was often fierce, even bloodthirsty. She also saved the world and became a nurturer and protector of dreamers. She is my kind of Goddess, as is Maria, who is also a fierce warrior for love and life and art.  On her anniversary, we will head out for sushi and ice cream and give thanks for what we  have.

I am grateful for the Goddesses now in my life. Women who are strong, with empathy and a ferocious commitment to life.


12 June

Open House, Before And After

by Jon Katz
Before And After

It’s the day after the Open House, and it’s 94 degrees at the moment, Maria is hold up in her studio with Anne Dambrowski, our very much loved friend and bookkeeper. I’ve begun stacking the borrowed chairs and putting some of our extra chairs back in the barn.

I’ve emptied the cooler and taken the bottles back into the house. Started collecting the garbage and putting it into the cans. Cleaning up the yard. Several people drove over and into the new natural lawn we were planting and I need to rake that and plant some more seeds.

The house is a shambles. For about two weeks before every Open House, Maria takes all of the furniture and fabric – there is a lot – out of her studio and commandeers clothes, bins, tables. The house is a shambles, and neither of us know where anything is. She even takes the clothes basket where my underwear and socks are kept and moves them out.

Our Open Houses last two days, but they are closer to a month for us. The amount of preparation is quite daunting. We clean up the grounds and the pasture, get the firewood stacked and stores, clean out the barn, mow several times, scour the grounds for dog droppings and piles of manure, brush the donkeys, put up banners and signs, gather the art and place it, get some food for our helpers and ourselves.

Maria talks to each artist and posts stories and videos about them – she works hard at this, she wants everyone to succeed, and and I do videos together, they are increasingly successful up on You Tube.

Today is also our anniversary, so we are trying to clean up and honor our marriage a bit.  It will take three of four days to clean up, just as it took three or four days to finish the set-up.

We only promote the blog on our websites, but that is enough. We had a huge crowd on Saturday, a small one on Sunday, which balances the weekend in a very nice way. On Sunday we get to breathe a bit and talk to people. On Saturday, it is exhilarating and relentless.  The Open Houses are informal and gentle, they attract the most caring and thoughtful people.

We put out a voluntary donation box to help defray the costs – we buy some supplies and hire several people to help with the crowds and music. The box has some bills stuffed into it, we haven’t had a chance to count it yet.

The Open  Houses are very much worth it for us, they are a measure of our lives and a reflection of our work and ideas. Many members of the Army Of Good showed up, they are ready to march.

The sheepherding demos are very popular, so are our donkey tours.

I signed a lot of copies of “Talking To Animals.”

We had a short poetry reading, some ukulele music, singing by the Refugee Soccer Tream.

We let groups of people into the pasture to feed the donkeys and brush them and come to know them. This year, the visits were disrupted by the presence of Ed Gulley’s cow, Sweet Sally. The donkeys were afraid of her and wouldn’t come near her or anyone who touched her.

The dogs get to run all day, but they are also exhausted. Even Fate stood sill for a photo op with Red near the apple tree.

This evening, we are having an anniversary dinner and some ice cream. We are very pleased about the Open Houses, and very tired. By the end of the week, things will get back to normal. And in a few weeks, we will start thinking about the Fall Open House. We are discussing whether or not to have a Creative Workshop in the Fall as well.

Haven’t landed quite yet.

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