Soundtracking the Resistance - Divide and Rule

Welfare, Trade Wars, and Potential Real Wars (Plus NOFX, Bon Iver, BROCKHAMPTON, and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever)

Jun 01, 2018 Web Exclusive By Stephen Mayne Bookmark and Share


This week we look at a study assessing what drives hostility to social welfare programs, plus Trump has trade wars and real wars to consider, Justin Vernon teases intriguingly titled music and NOFX disgrace themselves.

The Big Event

Divide and rule baby, divide and rule. Why risk having to defend privileged positions directly when you can turn potential threats against each other. It's a tactic as old as time and one that shows no sign of going out of fashion.

One need only look inside the Oval Office to find an extremely rich white man born into immense wealth who has risen to the highest office by harnessing social forces that could otherwise be looking at him and wondering why he gets so much and they don't.

Trump's pitch to disgruntled white Americans has done him wonders though. How else could an offensive flip-flopping foghorn who seems so obviously ill-suited to the complexities of governing have ended up at the helm of the most powerful country in the world?

The problem can't possibly be that the rich elites rig the game in their favor. It must be something else, and for some Americans, that something else has become minority groups rising in status and threatening to eat the same sliver of cake those at the top have dealt out.

Of course, that sliver of cake could be expanded. Who really needs 10 mansions and a fleet of cars. Or caviar for breakfast and sharp suits and international vacations. Or their name plastered on the top of towers all over the world funded largely through debt that doesn't seem to rebound on the developer when things go wrong.

It's not even about keeping things as they are. People always want more no matter what they already have, and pesky taxes keep taking so much. What you need to do then is get rid of some of those taxes. It's difficult when they're needed to keep paying for all these things people seem to like so you have to convince people these things they like are actually being abused by other groups they've been led to believe are a dangerous threat.

Welcome to Republican politicking 101, and it's not changed under the Trump regime which is also full of lots of rich people. More than normal in the cabinet in fact. And they're doing a great job at keeping themselves on top of the pile.

Quick caveat time: this is hardly a phenomenon unique to the Republicans or the U.S. Not that it's particularly comforting but look around and it exists to various degrees everywhere. It just tends to be more prominent when the supposed leader of the free world is up to such antics.

Caveat over and back to America. A new study from researchers at Stanford University and UC Berkeley has found that when white Americans think social security benefits minority groups more than them and could lead to these new groups gaining an unfair advantage and supplanting them, they are more likely to turn against welfare measures.

In other words, a period of "welfare backlash" can follow. This despite the fact white Americans actually make up the single largest group of beneficiaries for many government programs even though a lot of them are still working when they can.

The genius of this strategy is the way in which it manages to get people to vote against their own best interests. Get the word out that benefits of any kind are only for scrounging minorities and are coming direct from the pocket of honest God-fearing Americans, and they'll turn against something that so clearly helps them.

Then, having sold this vision of the country, it becomes much easier for the great white Trump to ride into town, towing along his GOP cronies, and gut measures that take up so much U.S. tax revenue. With no more need to fund these things, the rich can pat themselves on the back with a tax cut and spend more time on the golf course.

What they leave behind is misery not confined by racial demographics, which in a way is very egalitarian of them. Just not in a very nice way.

What's Going On

Everyone loves a trade war, and for a while it looked like we wouldn't get one. Trump, the most famed of famous negotiators, does tend to concede on every point after setting out his initial starting position of incoherent bluster. But not now. America First and America Number One as Trump stands by the steel workers he has professed to love so dearly. 25% tariffs on steel and 10% on aluminum will apply to imports from the EU, Canada and Mexico. The EU has already struck back with its own list of tariffs. We'll see who folds first.

It's also possible Trumpy might get himself a real war. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has decided enough is enough and the U.S. should get all its troops out of northeastern Syria or he'll expel them himself. Of course, Trump has been clear he wants the troops, around 2,000 in number, out already, but he's been persuaded to keep them until Islamic State is removed from the region. Whether he'd change his mind if Syria directly attacked them is another matter.

Is the North Korea nuclear summit back on? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has spent two days meeting with Kim Jong Un's right-hand man to try and salvage something after it all fell apart so spectacularly last week. He seems confident he'll get his boss back on track for the Nobel Peace Prize, though whether North Korea will give up its nukes, and what it might ask for if it were to countenance such a move remain unclear.

Speak Up!

Exactly what Justin Vernon of Bon Iver is referring to remains unclear, but his upcoming PEOPLE mixtape that looks like it's being assembled with Aaron and Bryce Dessner from The National, will include a track titled "The Shittiest Day in American History."

Quickly rising hip-hop boy band BROCKHAMPTON has announced Ameer Vann is no longer a member following sexual misconduct allegations. Vann has been accused by multiple women and his bandmates appear to have decided it's no longer right for him to continue with them.

Veteran punk rock band NOFX decided to weigh into the gun control debate by making insensitive jokes about the shooting in Las Vegas last year that claimed 58 lives. During a performance at the Punk Rock Bowling & Music Festival in Vegas guitarist Eric Melvin said, "I guess you only get shot in Vegas if you're in a country band" and singer Fat Mike followed up with the charming addition, "At least they were country fans and not punk rock fans." Apologies have since followed amidst a backlash that has seen sponsors drop them.

Song of the Week: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - "Fountain of Good Fortune"

Some people are simply born luckier than others, unless it's pure coincidence that those from certain backgrounds tend to find an easier path to the top in life. Working from the basis that it's not, our song of the week acknowledges the significant leg up afforded to a small minority.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's "Fountain of Good Fortune," from the 2017 EP The French Press, includes the lines "it's all too easy with the privilege/of the fountain of good fortune." Not many get such luck, but there are some in that category who will do whatever they can to hold onto that position. It would be nice if, at least as an initial position, those that get a head start could acknowledge it. Then ideally not trying to horde everything could follow but let's take it one step at a time for now.

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June 1st 2018
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June 9th 2018
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