‘Dexit’: Will Germany Leave the EU?

Professor Arthur Noble, MA, PhD, Emeritus Professor of German at the French Universities of Metz and Nancy 2, analyses the latest pronouncements from the Eurosceptic Alternative für Deutschland party in Germany. Given the German dominance of the EU, a German Brexit (‘Dexit’) might seem unthinkable; but the AfD has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, and is now the third-largest political party in the German Parliament. Although the AfD has stopped short of calling for ‘Dexit’ for now, it has vowed to campaign for it if the EU does not fundamentally reform itself in the next five years.

It would certainly be the height of irony if Germany, the instigator, mainstay and economic hub of the European Union, were to vote for ‘Dexit’ [Deutschland + exit] and by so doing leave and destroy what has been called its own ‘Fourth Reich’, achieved by ‘banks instead of tanks’.

Nevertheless, Germany’s major right-wing party, the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), has always been Eurosceptic, and is now threatening to push for a ‘Dexit’ if the EU does not restore its member countries’ national sovereignty within the next five years. Otherwise, warns the AfD in its latest election programme released ahead of the 2019 European elections, it will “deem it necessary to consider a withdrawal of Germany [from the EU] or an orderly dissolution of the European Union and the establishment of a new European economic and interest community”.

The major structural reform demanded by the AfD is the scrapping of the European Parliament and its 751 MEPs and its replacement by a ‘European Assembly’ with only 100 delegates and powers yet to be specified. The new EU politicians would be nominated by “national parliaments in proportion to their factional strength”, which would also mean the end of European elections.

The AfD has praised Brexit and the Eurosceptic values of France’s National Rally movement under Marine Le Pen, as well as the policies of the populist anti-EU parties across Europe. The new AfD policy document deplores the fact that the EU has “evolved into an undemocratic structure which has been occupied by Europe’s political classes and has been designed by non-transparent, uncontrolled bureaucracies”, in addition to being “dominated by the particular interests of certain states and lobbying cliques”. While Dexit would be “the last option”, the AfD says that it will still push for it if the EU does not curb “lobbyism and corruption” and reduce the size of its “bureaucratic apparatus”.

It is highly significant that in its latest article published on 5 January 2019 – “AfD threatens Dexit: Right-wing populists are starting to talk about Germany’s exit from the EU in 2024” – the normally mainstream Bild has begun to take the AfD’s Dexit threat seriously in the run-up to the German elections of 2019 and the EU elections of 2024. The latter date marks the end of the current legislative term of the European Parliament. The AfD, which has always been in favour of a return of the EU to its original status as a purely economic organisation (“Rückwandlung der Europäischen Union in eine Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft”), has warned that if its demanded reforms are not implemented by then, Dexit will be a real possibility.

The AfD was established in 2013 and increased its popular support by attacking Chancellor Merkel’s disastrous ‘open door’ policy toward refugees and migrants, which resulted in the influx of over a million migrants into Germany alone since 2015. During the past few years the AfD solidly increased its support in local and national elections and is now the third-largest political party in the German Parliament (Bundestag). A national poll conducted in February 2018 showed that the AfD had already surpassed the centre left SPD (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands) for the first time by 16 percent to 15.5 percent – a new low for the latter. The conservative CDU (Christlich Demokratische Union) and its Bavarian sister party the CSU (Christlich-Soziale Union) are also in trouble.

Besides its anti-EU stance, the AfD’s opposition to migration, in particular from Muslim countries, has likely contributed to its electoral success. Several polls conducted by the German daily newspaper Bild and the research institute INSA (Institut für neue soziale Antworten) have demonstrated the growing hostility of Germans to Islam. One poll found that 46 percent of Germans were concerned that their country could be taken over by the advocates of political Islam, while 60 percent were of the opinion that there is “no place for Islam in Germany”.

It may seem incredible that the option of leaving the EU is now being discussed in the very country that dominates it; but only a few years ago the word ‘Brexit’ did not exist, and the idea of the UK’s leaving the EU seemed a far-off dream. Those campaigning for national sovereignty across the EU should keep a close eye on Germany’s AfD.

 

 

The Eurogroup: A Ruthless Gang

Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos will be known to many CIB members for his authoritative accounts of the tragic effects of EU austerity on Greece, not least the resulting humanitarian crisis and spiralling death rate (see for example his memorable speech at our 2017 annual rally). In his most recent despatch he describes the dark methods used by the Eurogroup, the informal group of finance ministers of the Eurozone, to bully and pressurise Greece during the first six months of 2015, as described by her then finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Many of the despicable EU techniques of which he complains will be all too familiar to Brexiteers: lies, treachery, blackmail, mass media manipulation… Worst of all, these servants of the Euro-state knew very well that the policy they were forcing on Greece could not work. The Greek people were to be sacrificed to the political goals of the Eurozone.

 

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s memoir Adults in the Room: My Battle with Europe’s Deep Establishment provides a first-hand account of the disgraceful methods employed by the members of the Eurozone and the EU against Greece in order to obtain the third Memorandum of Understanding on financial assistance (MOU). It was Varoufakis who negotiated with the ‘Troika’ (the triumvirate of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)) during the early months of 2015.

The EU’s methods indicate how tough the future liberation government of Greece will have to be. Forewarned is forearmed. We can learn the lessons and be prepared.

The Eurogroup is an informal group comprising the Eurozone’s ministers of finance. During the first six months of 2015, when the country was de facto considered an ‘enemy state’, the Eurogroup used the following methods against Greece:

  1. Extreme verbal pressure
  2. Effective blackmail
  3. Non-truths
  4. Use of Greek turncoats
  5. Pressures to third countries to abstain from financing Greece
  6. Use of major European mass media networks for a disinformation campaign against Greece.

Let us consider in turn how the Eurogroup employed each of these tactics.

 

  1. Extreme verbal pressure

On 30 January 2015, following the first meeting of the Eurogroup with the Greek Finance Minister, Eurogroup president Diijsselbloem issued the following ultimatum: “The current programme must be completed or there is nothing else.” On the margins of the first Eurogroup meeting in 2015, Christine Lagarde, the IMF’s Managing Director, told Varoufakis:

“These targets they insist on can’t work [referring to the Troika programme on Greece]. But you must understand that we have put too much on this programme. We cannot go back on it. Your credibility depends on accepting and working with this programme.”

So the IMF expected the Greek government to implement a damaging programme that everyone involved already knew wouldn’t work, just so the Troika could save face. As usual with the EU, politics was put before economics, and before people’s welfare.

In March 2015, during a meeting with Klaus Regling, head of the EFSF, Varoufakis asked him the following question:

“Given that, as it seems, in a week or two we shall run out of money with which both to repay the IMF and to pay salaries and pensions, what do you advise me to do, Klaus? The choice is between defaulting on the old and frail or defaulting to the IMF. Which is of course an unnecessary dilemma given that the European Central Bank (ECB) owes us a similar amount.”

He received the following reply: “You must never, ever default to the IMF. Suspend all pension payments instead. This is what you must do.” What a wonderful example of the EU’s social policies!

Just before the Eurogroup meeting of 27 June 2015, Varoufakis met with Dijsselbloem, Weiser and Sapin, who pushed him to cancel the Greek referendum on whether the government should accept the Eurogroup’s austerity conditions.

Another practice undermining the Greek position occurred whenever the Greek minister took the floor during Eurogroup meetings and presented concrete compromise proposals. A silence usually followed, organised on purpose, where no other minister took the floor to comment on the proposals, thus allowing Dijsselbloem to close the discussion with negative conclusions.

 

  1. Εffective blackmail

Effective blackmail was committed by the European Central Bank against Greece, particularly by its President Mario Draghi. In the meeting that Varoufakis held with him on 4 February 2015, having listened to the Greek proposals, Draghi replied by saying:

“And I must tell you that recent developments in Greece are putting us in a difficult position. Later today our governing board is meeting and it is very likely that your waiver will be withdrawn.” [The waiver allowed the ECB to provide Greek banks with liquidity in return for junk collateral.]

The decision was taken that same evening: Greek banks were excluded from this liquidity and could now only get liquidity via the Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), which was more expensive. Nor did the governing board of the ECB revoke its previous decision at its meeting of 4 March, even though the loan agreement had been extended until 30 June by the Eurogroup tele-conference of 24 February, which was a precondition for bringing back the waiver. When on 27 June the Eurogroup rejected the extension of the loan agreement until 30 July to enable the referendum to take place on the 28th, the ECB Board revoked the ELA facility of the Central Bank of Greece, in an effort to influence the outcome of the referendum.

 

  1. Non-truths

Αfter the impasse of the Eurogroup of 27 June 2015, Dijsselbloem announced that for the first time there would be a joint communique without the agreement of Greece. He added that Greece would not participate in that afternoon’s meeting. Varoufakis then asked the Secretariat: “Is the Eurogroup president at liberty to issue communiques when there is no unanimity and also to exclude finance ministers at will from Eurogroup meetings?” The reply was:

“Minister, the Eurogroup does not exist in law, as it is not part of any of the EU treaties. It is an informal group of the finance ministers of the Eurozone member states. Thus there are no written rules about the way it conducts its business and therefore its president is not legally bound.”

The reply was simply untrue. Protocol 10 of the EU Treaty in its articles 1 and 2 mentions the informal meetings of the Eurozone’s finance ministers. Had Varoufakis insisted, he could have remained in the meeting, although it would not have changed anything.

On the evening of 4 February Varoufakis was scheduled to have a secret dinner with Jorg Asmussen and Jeromin Zettelmeyer, both key players in SPD (the German Socialist Party). As Varoufakis writes:

“The purpose of the dinner was ostensibly to build bridges between the Syriza government and the section of the German government controlled by the Social Democrats… The agreement was that I would go to the restaurant alone incognito and by cab, and that I would not tell anyone we were meeting. The implication was that it would backfire on all of us if word leaked… Just as I was ready to  leave my hotel room, I received an email from Jeromin telling me that they had changed the restaurant booking because the original restaurant was too public, confirming once more the importance of discretion.”

Sometime later Asmussen’s phone rang. Without saying anything, he passed the phone to Varoufakis. It was Draghi, who announced to him the withdrawal of the waiver. It seems that all Berlin knew who Varoufakis was dining with that night.

 

  1. Use of Greek turncoats

Varoufakis mentions two strong supporters of the Troika. The first was the Governor of the Bank of Greece, Y. Stournaras, who from his position did everything possible to support Troika policies. The second was G. Chouliarakis, who was the Troika’s man in the Eurogroup and President of the Council of Economic Advisors. He represented Greece in the working group of the Eurogroup, and as a close advisor to Varoufakis did everything possible to undermine his work. Today he is alternate Minister of the Economy.

 

  1. Pressure on third countries to abstain from financing Greece

China came under particularly strong pressure not to assist Greece. Varoufakis writes:

“The intention was to restart the formal bidding process for the port of Piraeus under the new conditions that the Chinese had accepted, while behind the scenes the two governments agreed the Chinese loans to the Greek state… First Beijing would inject the remaining 1.4 billion euros of the promised 1.5 billion into our T-Bills [Treasury Bills]. Almost simultaneously the Deputy Prime Minister Dragasakis would make a formal trip to Beijing to strengthen relations between the two governments and informally seal the agreement. Lastly Alexis (Tsipras) would follow up with a full state visit in April or May to make public and sign the comprehensive agreement between Athens and Beijing.”

But in the event, China purchased only 200 million euros of T-Bills. To quote Varoufakis again:

“The next day Alexis relayed the news from Beijing. Someone had called Beijing from Berlin with a blunt message: ‘Stay out of any deals with the Greeks until we are finished with them.’”

In a footnote Varoufakis observes:

“Also lost was Beijing’s readiness to help the Greek state get back on its feet (by buying government bonds) against the day it regains solvency. In other words, Greece lost a strategic industrial partnership that went far beyond a port deal.”

What a fine example of European solidarity!

 

  1. Use of major European mass media networks to discredit the Greek Government

The EU mobilized major mass media networks to discredit the Greek government from the outset, and to perform character assassination against Varoufakis. He writes:

“Of course, it was the worst-kept secret in Brussels and beyond that I was to be targeted in this way. In early February 2015, around the time of my first two Eurogroup meetings, some Greek journalists were told as much by a reporter with first-hand knowledge of the campaign. One of those Greek journalists later reported the conversation. ‘Will Mr Varoufakis be able to survive the pressure?’ asked the reporter. ‘At least Mr Tsipras still trusts him,’ the Greek journalist replied. ‘Then inform them in Greece, both the government and the people, that they can expect even more of these attacks,’ he said.”

Which is exactly what happened. This can be called ‘freedom of a manipulated mass media.’

After such treatment, one may ask why Greece is still in the Eurozone and in the EU. An entire country has been destroyed in order to implement economic policies that all those involved knew would not work. Even Wolfgang Schauble admitted it.  When asked by Varoufakis if he would sign the memorandum if he were in Greece’s situation, he replied in a moment of sincerity: “As a patriot, no. It is bad for your people.”

In order to get rid of the bonds of the Memoranda, Greece must rely only on itself and on its people. Only when freed from these bonds may we expect effective assistance and co-operation from other countries.

German business condemns the EU’s game of chicken

We bring news from Germany, where German business representatives have criticised the EU’s intransigence in negotiations and urged its leaders to come to an agreement with the UK. This briefing draws on a much longer report on the German website www.german-foreign-policy.com, with thanks to its editor Horst Teubert.

The EU’s apparent unwillingness to negotiate a mutually-beneficial agreement with the UK has understandably been much criticised in Britain, with their tactic of weaponising the Irish border a particular point of opprobrium.

What is less well known is the criticism that the EU’s intransigence has drawn from business representatives on the continent – and Germany in particular.

German business representatives have recently stepped up their pressure on the EU to reach a mutually-agreed solution with the UK, fearing that a lack of an agreement could mean billions in losses.

“A hard Brexit would be a disaster that would bring great difficulties to tens of thousands of enterprises and hundreds of thousands of employees in Europe,” recently warned Joachim Lang, Director General of the Federation of German Industries (BDI). “A massive crisis would result.”

Lang called for “a greater amount of flexibility” from the EU, demanding that, “the political deadlock in negotiations must be overcome.”

The President of the Federal Association of Wholesale, Foreign Trade and Services (BGA), Holger Bingmann, echoed this demand, stating that the entire EU and its institutions’ main task must be “to finally come to an agreement.”

The EU’s negotiating tactics have been strongly criticised in German business circles. Joerg Kraemer, head economist of Germany’s fourth-largest bank, the Commerzbank, complained that Brussels is too inflexible. “They are sticklers for principles in the negotiations with Great Britain,” complained Kraemer, but the EU itself has “stretched the rules of monetary union to the point of being unrecognisable.”

Kraemer wrote that there is “ample leeway for finding common ground with Britain.” The insistence on a customs border between Northern Ireland and the British mainland is incomprehensible, he said. “No nation in the world would accept a customs border on its own territory.”

The German automobile sector would be particularly hard hit by a no-deal Brexit. The Cologne-based German Economic Institute has predicted a catastrophic scenario in which German exports to the UK would plummet to just 43% of present levels.

There have been occasions when the British negotiating stance has also left much to be desired. An arrogant attitude of “having our cake and eating it” was a pretty stupid negotiating ploy.

But we are now reaching the point on both sides where the posturing and points-scoring has got to stop. It is no longer an opportunity for politicians to turn clever phrases and strike attitudes.

German businessmen, bankers and industrialists are concerned that the EU authorities are using the negotiations to punish the UK for leaving. But, they point out, the effects of that punishment will rebound on their own people too. If such a thing comes to pass, it could only further discredit the EU itself amongst the German people.

For the UK, the fact that the EU’s leadership is so obsessed with its political agenda that they ignore the economic interests of their own peoples – even the usually highly-favoured German economy – provides further evidence of why it is essential that we leave.

Greeks have no reason to celebrate

Last week, Euro zone finance ministers offered Greece a 10-year deferral and maturities extension on a large part of past loans as well as 15 billion euros in new credit to ensure Athens can stand on its own feet after it finally exits its bailout in August, eight years after stringent austerity measures were imposed on the country.  On hearing this news, many Greeks celebrated. Even Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras appeared wearing a tie! However, in the words of Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos, the country has nothing to celebrate.

Greece was obliged to submit to EU programs in 2010  so that the public debt could be reduced.In 2010 this debt was 262 billion euros. In 2018 it is 323 billion euros and growing. To put it another way, debt was 120% of GDP in 2010 and 185% in 2018. So the objective of the program failed,the public debt was not reduced and after eight years of measures,the country has been destroyed and the people continue to suffer.

To present the completion of the fourth and final review of the growth strategy as a victory and a story of success, the Eurogroup statement of 22 June 2018 congratulated the Greek authorities and the Greek people on the successful conclusion of the ESM program. The statement is a masterpiece of manipulation of public opinion, presenting a disaster as a success.It might have been perhaps more honest to present it as a successful disaster.

The Eurogroup did not give to Greece a debt relief or reduction as had been promised in the past. The unsustainable debt magically became sustainable.What was given to Greece was an extension of  debt interest repayment and maturity for Greek bonds for 10 years.

Not many paid attention to a document called Annex A in which six specific commitments are mentioned in order to ensure the continuity and completion of reforms adopted under the ESM programme. These commitments concern:

1.Fiscal retrenchment where Greece assumes to fully respect its commitment to ensure that its annual budget achieves a primary surplus of 3.5% of GDP over the medium term.This means constant overtaxation of the Greek people and no relief in sight.

2.Social welfare, where Greece will continue with efforts to modernise its social welfare system,health care system,pensions and proposing a new approach on disability benefits. Modernisation in euro-jargon means collapse through financial squeezing, as we have seen from the last eight years.

3.Financial stability obliging Greece to continue implementing reforms aiming at restoring the health of the banking system.This health is more important than the health of the Greek people and obliges Greece to implement the comprehensive action plan on household insolvency with the objective to eliminate the backlog of cases by end 2021. This means that more people will be rendered homeless in order to restore the health of the banking system.

4.Greece will safeguard competitiveness of its labour market through an annual update of the minimum wage in line with the provisions of law 4172/2012. In other words, a continuation of low minimum wages and poverty for the people.

5. Privatisation. Greece confirms its intention to complete a large number of privatisations including airports,ports,marinas.Actually most of the country becomes privatised as the state is stripped from its assets and this “with a view to swiftly attract investment to support a sustained economic recovery”.

6.The implementation of reforms to modernise the public administration will be sustained. In other words, more civil servants will be fired so unemployment will increase.

What is totally surreal and shows the true face of the EU is the paragraph of the Eurogroup statement that intervenes into the Greek justice system and tries to influence it.There have been court proceedings that have started against members of the Committee of Experts of TAIPED for violating Greek law. TAIPED is an institution created by the Troika that acquires public property and sells it within the framework of the privatisation policy that is being imposed upon the country.

The former president and some senior staff of the Greek Statistical authority ELSTAT have had proceedings opened against them for falsifying statistics..The blatant intervention into the Greek justice system mentions: ”We recalled that the ongoing legal proceedings against the members of the Committee of experts of TAIPED are a matter of very serious concern and we reaffirm our full confidence in the work of the experts, which was also confirmed by the Hellenic Court of Auditors. Preoccupations also concern the proceedings against the former President and senior staff of ELSTAT,notably as regards the alleged falsification of fiscal data.The Eurogroup continues to have full confidence that the data validated by Eurostat and delivered by ELSTAT since 2010,including the 2009 general balance outurn is in compliance with the rules that are applied in all Member States.The Eurogroup mandates the institutions to continue monitoring the developments in those cases and the supporting actions taken by the Greek authorities,including legislative actions if needed,for instance strengthening the independence of ELSTAT,in full respect of the independence of the judiciary,and report back to the Eurogroup in the context of the post programme surveillance.”  This paragraph is a masterpiece of hypocrisy that undermines the judiciary system of what is left of a member-state. Our BREXIT friends should be informed about this.

In these eight years, Greece has been destroyed systematically. Thanks to the austerity measures, people have died, unemployment has soared, poverty has increased and basic human rights have been violated. Meanwhile, in Brussels the politicians and technocrats have been congratulating themselves on the “progress” achieved in Greece.

So what can be done? Nothing, unless we have regime change in Greece.Once that is done, then the Loan Facility Agreement of May 2010 can be unilaterally denounced according to UN procedures, the country cold then leave the eurozone and the EU. Criminal charges should be raised against the Greek regimes that that collaborated with the troika and against the  the troika itself for crimes against humanity. Article 41.3 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU must be implemented. It stipulates:”Every person has the right to have the Union make good any damage caused by its institutions or by its servants in the performance of their duties,in accordance with the general principles common to the laws of the Member States.” And finally Greece should claim reparations from Germany for the loan that it made during the occupation of the country from 1941 to 1944,which it never payed back and which created the famine in the country that killed thousands of persons then.The amount with interest is more that the public debt of Greece.

Only by taking these measures can Greece be saved .

The EU is proposing to add fingerprints to ID cards

A proposal from the European Commission has called for the mandatory inclusion of biometrics (two fingerprints and a facial image) in all EU Member States’ identity cards.

Although the EU is not per se proposing ID cards in the UK, they could still be theoretically be forced through as a transition obligation and furthermore, as “third country nationals”, UK nationals visiting France, Spain, Rep. Ireland etc. might in time face being fingerprinted and thus  become part of a Big Brother centralised EU database.

Statewatch, an organisation set up to monitor civil liberties in Europe, does not mince its words  . This proposal by the EU will go down like a lead balloon with the more civil liberties- minded people who might have voted Remain,  particularly some idealistic young people.

ID cards are not compulsory across the EU, although ominously only Denmark and the UK do not have them. Readers might recall from last month’s Resistance   how the EU might be tempted by compulsory ID cards. The claim that ID cards including this biometric information will make freedom of movement easier has to be treated with scepticism.

Over the years Statewatch has provided evidence for the EU’s wish to control ever more of our lives and with it, to intrude increasingly into our privacy  The British people’s decision to leave the EU nearly two years ago may have come at just the right time

Trump won because he cared- letter from Levittown

This is an interesting article on why Trump won the US presidency.

Trump won because he cared.

The common explanation is that Whites without college degrees were motivated, either by economic distress or racial resentments.  But such analysis ignores a fundamental part of Trump’s appeal … voting for Trump was about values and identity

Levittowners feel Trump understood and cared for people like them

Voters like those in Levittown feel like their government has abandoned them’

‘The institutions that used to help you are now working against you’

MAIN QUOTES

‘Trump is telling them “it’s OK to be you” ‘

‘The rest of culture is telling themit’s not OK to be you” ‘

Trump gives them that, and they are willing to overlook nearly everything else in exchange.

For these Americans, Trump’s blunt, crude talk is just another way of showing he understands and values their way of life.

 

Trump won because he cared – lessons from Levittown   Henry Olsen      29 May 2018

Why would Americans elect a crude political novice who calls Third World countries “shithole countries”? That’s a question, 19 months on from Trump’s shock win, that many are still trying to answer. The common explanation is that Whites without college degrees were motivated either by economic distress or by racial resentment. But such an analysis ignores a fundamental part of Trump’s appeal. For many of his supporters, as I found on a recent trip to White, blue-collar Levittown in Pennsylvania,1 voting for Trump was about values and identity.

Levittown, a medium-sized suburban community north of Philadelphia, was created by developer William Levitt, starting in 1951, as one of America’s earliest affordable suburban communities. Over sixty years after its first house was sold, it remains a White, working-class town, but unlike better-known Trump-friendly, White blue-collar places like Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County or Ohio’s Mahoning County it is still economically well-off. Yet despite this relative affluence, it behaved just like these other places, moving dramatically away from a traditional Democratic voting history to make Trump the most successful Republican nominee in these areas in the last thirty years.2

My visit unearthed just how complicated and varied Trump’s appeal to these voters is. Some people mentioned economic concerns as an explanation for Levittown’s shift, while others mentioned immigration and the cultural and economic issues it raises. But more than anything people mentioned a deep psychological resonance that made Levittowners feel Trump understood and cared about people like them. They may not like Trump’s tweets, but his brash manner and his open embrace of the value of work was for them a breath of fresh air in an otherwise long-stale political climate.

Although the town is doing well – the median household income is over $72,000 a year above the US median – economics still resonates because of Levittown’s past. Many of its original residents worked for one of five large manufacturers, the largest of which was United States Steel. As elsewhere in the Rust Belt, the factories gradually closed down or dramatically reduced in size. Jane,3 a sixty-year Levittown resident, told me that the U.S. Steel plant went from a high of nearly 10,000 employees in the 1980s to a current total of about 150. While Levittowners eventually adapted and found new jobs, they paid less and had less generous benefits than the old jobs that had gone. “Bringing manufacturing back was a big thing for Levittowners,” says Jane. It’s a now familiar refrain: “US Steel workers used to make $25 an hour [close to $50 an hour in 2018 money] and get up to 13 weeks of vacation each year. The jobs they have now don’t pay anything near that well.”

For Bill, a retired carpenter, Trump’s economic message was personal. Telling me about how his union couldn’t get work when competing against contractors employing foreign labourers, who may be in the US illegally, it was not hard to see why Trump’s message resonated so deeply. “If Trump had been President,” he says, wistfully, “I probably wouldn’t have had to retire.” Some people even think Trump will get them their old jobs back, says Jane, not just bring back manufacturing more generally.

The sense that these jobs were unfairly lost also helps explain this Trump-friendly narrative. Jane emphasises that US Steel’s foreign competition was subsidised by foreign governments. “We sent our jobs overseas and then we sent money [via foreign aid] to countries that turned around to stab us in the back,” she said. Bill went further: “immigration is a big thing because it is a big handout. We can’t get big handouts like they can.” It was a odd comment, US laws do not offer legal immigrants anything different from what it offers citizens and immigrants not here legally are often not allowed to receive many government benefits, but whether Bill and Jane are correct is beside the point – what matters from a political standpoint is that voters like those in Levittown feel like their government has abandoned them.

“There’s a sense that not everyone is playing by the same rules. Many of these folk think ‘I’m working my ass off, and this just isn’t working for me’.”

This sense of abandonment – of being “left behind” – came up time and again in my discussions with local people. “They want officials to pay attention to them,” Anthony, a young 30-year old anti-Trump Republican, told me. “They aren’t seeing any direct benefit from any of the policies” politicians talk about. In fact, the disaffection goes deeper. Levittowners, one astute local politico named Greg told me, tend to believe that “if I work hard and play by the rules it will work out.” But, as Greg said as we drove round the old steelworks, “there’s a sense that not everyone is playing by the same rules. Many of these folk think ‘I’m working my ass off, and this just isn’t working for me’.” That’s a common view among the White blue-collar workers who turned to Trump.

Disaffection with the status quo – the ‘establishment’ – drove voters to Trump the outsider: “The institutions that used to help you are now working against you, many people think. The game is rigged and it’s time to change it.” Interestingly, as both Bill and Greg told me, that outsider could just as well have been socialist populist Bernie Sanders. I was told about exchanges on primary day where Democratic voters told their GOP counterparts that they were voting for Hillary Clinton’s challenger, Sanders, but they were voting for Trump in November if Clinton won.

These pro-Trump feelings rarely extended to specifics. Time and again I would ask people what exactly voters thought they would get from Trump, and time and again I found only a general sense that things would get better for people like them.

But perhaps they were already getting the specific thing they craved more than anything else: the feeling that someone in power cared. Bill surprised me by repeatedly saying that “Trump is a very compassionate person.” He mentioned a story he had heard from Trump’s personal airplane pilot about how Trump once sent his jet to pick up a young person who couldn’t get to a hospital for medical treatment he needed, but it was clear that this idea of caring extended well beyond that one specific example. “Supporting Trump was the second-best decision I ever made”, he said – quite a statement from a self-described “life-long Democrat” who voted for Obama in 2008.

To really understand this devotion-inspiring appeal, however, you have to look beyond the economic. For many blue-collar Whites, Trump’s pull was personal.  Greg put it this way: “Trump is telling them ‘it’s OK to be you’. The rest of culture is telling them ‘it’s not OK to be you’.”

As Greg told me, whether the message is economic – “you have to go to college to succeed” – or cultural – “I like to listen to AC/DC; what’s wrong with that?” – Levittowners and people like them have felt the brunt of elite disdain. In voting for Trump, these blue-collar workers were rebelling against the idea that America is no longer for people like them.

“Levittowners just want a good Christmas for their kids and go to the Jersey Shore for a couple of weeks. They want some acknowledgement that is OK,” Anthony said. Trump gives them that, and they are willing to overlook nearly everything else in exchange.

It is against this backdrop that another aspect of Trump’s appeal starts to make sense. Anthony told me that one reason his neighbours liked Trump was that he “says what everyone thinks”. And that even extends to some of his cruder comments. “If I was down at the bar, that’s exactly what people would say,” the young Republican says of Trump’s “shithole countries” remark. For these Americans, Trump’s blunt, crude talk is just another way of showing he understands and values their way of life.

Greg put it this way: “Trump is telling them ‘it’s OK to be you’. The rest of culture is telling them ‘it’s not OK to be you’.”

I left Levittown with more questions than answers. How would Levittowners feel if the US economy wasn’t roaring? Would they still overlook Trump’s shortcomings if he suffers a serious foreign policy reverse that threatens America, such as in the dispute with North Korea? Most importantly, I wondered how deep this psychic longing for recognition was.

Like almost everyone I know, I am a college graduate with a good job who enjoys all the benefits the wide global economy brings. My life experiences are largely those that are treated with respect by media and academic elites, and the unsubtle message Levittowners, and blue-collar workers like them across the country, get is that their children should be more like me than like themselves. Returning to Washington from Levittown I couldn’t help but reflect on what it felt like to be, if not on the bottom, then on the downslide. Rather than viewing global blue-collar discontent through an economic lens, we ought to be looking at populist-backing voters more as people like us, holding similarly cherished identities and hopes. And maybe if we did that, we might all be a little bit better off.

FOOTNOTES

  1. .89 percent of Levittown’s residents are non-Hispanic Whites and over 83 percent do not have a four-year college degree. Yet it remains firmly middle-class: the median household income is over $72,000 a year, above the U.S. median and more than 60 percent higher than more well-known Trump-friendly white, blue-collar places.
  2. Trump received 45.6 percent of the vote in Levittown the highest share received by a Republican nominee since at least 1988. Mitt Romney, the 2012 nominee, received less than 38% of the vote and lost by over 24% to President Obama. Trump, however, lost by less than 6%, an improvement of over 18% on the margin. Trump’s improvement over Romney on the margin was roughly 24% in Lackawanna County and about 25% in Mahoning County. See https://uselectionatlas.org/RESULTS/
  3. All names of interviewees are pseudonyms, allowing their ability to speak openly about their community
Photo by Heblo (Pixabay)
Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield

Anthony Scholefield is Director of the Futurus Think Tank

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