Someone To Blame

One of my all-time favorite movies was 1995’s “The American President.” I loved its full-throated defense of the ACLU, its “rom-com” elements, and the excellent acting, but most of all, I loved the part where the President, played by Michael Douglas, turned to his antagonist–a slimy, political “dirty tricks politician” named Bob Rumson (played by Richard Dreyfuss)– during a press conference  and said

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

Making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. A perfect description of Donald Trump and his despicable tribe.

As political scientists have continued to amass data in an effort to explain the 2016 election and figure out why any sentient American would cast a vote for Donald Trump, that scene looks more and more prescient.

As Paul Krugman noted in a recent column, there is little if any support in voting data for the notion that “economic anxiety” drove people to vote for Trump. The data pretty clearly shows that what distinguished Trump voters wasn’t financial hardship but “attitudes related to race and ethnicity.”

Those attitudes tend to manifest themselves largely, although certainly not uniformly, in the more rural parts of the country–in areas Krugman identifies as economically “lagging.”

Yet these attitudes aren’t divorced from economic change. Even if they’re personally doing well, many voters in lagging regions have a sense of grievance, a feeling that they’re being disrespected by the glittering elites of superstar cities; this sense of grievance all too easily turns into racial antagonism. Conversely, however, the transformation of the G.O.P. into a white nationalist party alienates voters — even white voters — in those big, successful metropolitan areas.

I remember attending a session at an American Political Science Association conference several years ago, and being fascinated by the presentation of research analyzing the role of “dissing” in (primarily teenage) violence. As I recall (and my recall, unfortunately, isn’t so hot in my dotage), the feeling of being “dissed,” or disrespected, was the single most important factor triggering rage in teenaged boys and in members of socially marginalized groups.

In parts of the country where young people are increasingly leaving for cities offering better job and social opportunities, where small farms and mom and pop enterprises are overwhelmed by corporate enterprises, where main street shop windows continue to be boarded up and the grandkids who moved to the city not only have friends who don’t look, love and pray like they do, but hold and express opinions that would once have been considered scandalous, it’s entirely understandable that many of those remaining would feel disoriented, discounted and left behind, even if their own finances are secure.

These are people who fear losing the America they thought they knew, people who are angry and resentful at what they see as a lack of respect, a “dissing,” from those in the nation’s growing and affluent cities.

Fox News and Trump’s GOP feed that fear, and tell them who’s to blame: people of color, Jews, Muslims, uppity women, smarty-pants intellectuals and self-satisfied “experts.”

And of course, Democrats.

“The American President” was ahead of its time.


  1. Also my favorite movie and scene.
    Those whose feelings are so easily hurt have no trouble dissing those who are “other”…seems they can “dis” is out but can’t take it.

  2. Don’t forget my favorite ‘dissers’ of all, the Democratic National Party. What was said above, “Making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it.” equally applies to the DNC who wants desperately to keep your eyes on social issues like race.

    The entire basis underlying #TheResistance are social issues which completely ignores basic cause and effect. Krugman is a corporatist shill who was lobbying an administrative position with the Clinton regime had she been elected.

    The 1990’s called yesterday and they want Paul’s brilliant analysis back. Thomas Piketty just wrote a masterpiece about the EXACT cause of our capitalistic and democratic meltdown. Why isn’t he writing OpEd pieces in the New York Times?

    Thomas’s, “Capital in the 21st Century”, began his research in the USA but quickly had to move back to France to complete it fearing sabotage of the research by American economic researchers.

    His expert analysis points out income and wealth inequality – causes and conditions. The exact causes and conditions Paul turn a blind eye to every single time he types on his keyboard.


    He wants to stay in the Mainstream of economic thought which is the cause of ALL our problems including social issues.

    My life sucks because ________________.

    Paul is no different than Fox News. They just cater to different target markets. Paul is a coward who is a treasure only for those Economic elites on the East Coast who have done well for themselves under “free market capitalism”.

    Thomas pointed out that the reasons they’ve done well are faulty economic theories and policies. Neither Trump nor Paul cares much for anybody other than their own personal self-interests. Listening to those two camps will only prolong the misery for the 99%.

  3. “Making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. A perfect description of Donald Trump and his despicable tribe.”

    Wish I could remember the movie the following quote came from, “Politicians cannot keep promises to bring jobs back. We are living in a world without economic borders.”

    We cannot blame Trump for the lack of economic borders but we can certainly blame him for the current tariff chaos which has already raised prices on everything we buy whether they WILL BE effected by putting Trump’s tariffs in place or not. But; did his tariffs cause the cost of one of my medications to go from $11.99 in June of this year to increase to $27.47 in September and $49.96 yesterday, December 4th? Who is to blame for this escalating predicament for millions of Americans?

    “As political scientists have continued to amass data in an effort to explain the 2016 election and figure out why any sentient American would cast a vote for Donald Trump, that scene looks more and more prescient.”

    What can we look forward to in our future as our government becomes more and more unstable and bills and Trump’s Executive Orders we are unaware of go into effect after January 1, 2019. Will…can…our Blue Wave protect us from what is hidden behind the curtain with that man we are supposed to ignore for the fool we know him to be?

    The movie, “The Candidate” starring Robert Redford was also before its time but ended with the unexpected election of “The Candidate” who had no idea what comes after an election.

    We are living with what happens after an unexpected election of a candidate BY the elected candidate.

  4. It is hard to know which faction of the “I’ve been dissed” crowd I’m supposed to feel sorry for. Is it the angry, blue collar, just over minimum wage worker who dropped out of school, or broke the law, or turned to drugs or alcohol and hasn’t the self awareness to do anything to better himself or herself? Or is it the whiny, crybaby, living in a $500,000 house, suburban, white collar dude who blames those welfare people for his not being able to take that European vacation this year?

  5. Paul Krugman wrote the column that you refer to in today’s blog without ever having spent enough time, if any, in a rural area to actually understand the mindset of rural people.

    Economic insecurity has hit the rural areas very hard over the past 20-30 years and that is why so many families had to leave when they lost their jobs and also why so many more leave when they graduate from high school or leave for college because there are no living wage jobs to come home to.

    They voted for trump because they were hoping he would shake things up. However, their worst mistake (in my opinion) is being steadfast republicans no matter what. They refuse to do any research into their candidates, or what goes on politically. They don’t have a clue what their R politicians have been doing to them at the State and Federal level, yet they continue to vote R no matter what. They have swallowed the nonstop republican propaganda and refuse to even consider the thought that the people they vote for might be tricking them and actually doing them harm.

    As for racism in rural areas. It has always been here. However, at least where I live, I have never heard anyone say one unkind word about Jews. Muslims and Blacks? You betcha! They are featured on the news all the time doing harm to others.

    I believe the news should start featuring white collar criminals nonstop 24/7 and blast their terrible crimes against their fellow citizens. Of course, those would be almost all white men. I wonder how that would go over with the people watching the news. Maybe we would really start turning around this country and the world if we refused to tolerate their crimes and refused to allow their lawyers to buy silence of their crimes.

    Rant almost over.

    Bottom line is Krugman’s article doesn’t even come close to describing the reality of the mindset of the rural population. People know that their way of life left decades ago and that it is going to continue to unravel. They know it is not the fault of the people in cities and are not angry at them. The ones left are trying to hold things together but government expenses keep increasing while tax revenues continue to decrease. It is a challenge with no good answers.

  6. I’m not sure why anyone is wasting time trying to figure out 2016. It’s pretty simple: Too many bigots went to the polls and too few others went to the polls. What we need to figure out is: How do we get those others to go and vote? How do we make people understand that voting isn’t just a right, it’s an obligation of citizenship?

  7. IMO “dissing” takes many forms; along with verbal insults, the physical turning-your-back on someone or those who carry their disrespect to uninvolved family members and friends of their target, we are considered less worthy by the current administration and its supporters.

    Is not the majority of Americans being “dissed” by our own government!!! The tax cuts to the very wealthy, refusal to increase minimum wage by a few dollars, the deregulation of protective measures, the evangelical takeover of the public education system, seniors, disabled and primarily the low-income families are suffering from the “sticks and stones” of Trump’s administration and he “disses” the majority of Americans each time he opens his mouth. And his words to hurt us all. He is “dissing” Americans in the eyes of the world at large. We are suffering from a national level of “dissing”; it is not only specific groups separated by the color of our skin, our religion, our ethnicity, our income level, our age, physical ability or disability, etc., etc., etc. It is whoever Trump declares unworthy at any given minute of any day of the week.

    Todd wants to lay the blame on the DNC and the Democratic party as a whole; but there are just as many Republicans in the groups I mentioned above who are suffering as members of Trump’s targeted groups. Many are not even aware of their precarious position…not yet. They are still among those at Trump’s rallies “dissing” groups of fellow Americans – and fellow Republicans – as they chant Trump’s favorite distraction; “Lock her up!” and wave the signs they were given as they entered, on cue from Trump’s staff members. I don’t believe we have an advantage by being aware of our position as the “opposition”; even by family members and friends. We have no advantage at this time but it may help to prepare us by knowing our current position in the full scope of living under Trump’s unqualified and supremely dangerous administration.

  8. Krugman’s crucifixion aside, wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear some politicians speak the way Michael Douglas’ character spoke? How would an honest politician fare in our current system? Would a candidate who could accurately describe a problem and articulate a reasonable solution for that problem ever get elected?

  9. Nancy, no offense, but people don’t leave rural areas just because they can’t earn a living wage. They also leave because the want to do WELL, and doing well not only means making money, but being part of a community with the sort of people, culture, and institutions that contribute to a vibrant mental life. In short, the brain drain is real, and rural areas just get dumber and dumber. This, if anyone would be bold enough to admit it, is the real reason behind the red and the blue. No intelligent person would want to live in most of Indiana, for instance. That will probably insult someone, but it is the truth.

  10. Over it; your began your comment with, “Nancy, no offense,…” then proceeded to strongly offend and “diss” her with the ultimate offense of referring to rural people of becoming “dumber and dumber”. Do you not understand the mean of the words “offense” and “diss” as used in Sheila’s blog today.

    Years ago I visited family friends and later my own friends who lived on farms; found them all to be well educated in their chosen way of life…farming….about which I was totally dumb. I learned about growing produce and gathering eggs and eating meat they had grown and butchered themselves. Their knowledge was, and is, pertaining to rural life; a life which now provides little opportunity to earn a living due to the government making money for the 1% and corporations in the food industry…as well as byproducts from raising livestock. Of course, my farm visiting years were years when farmers could and did make their living from farming. The last tomatoes I bought which resembled the taste of a tomato, were imported from Canada before one of Trump’s last insults of PM Trudeau and the entire country of Canada.

  11. Over It, the last IQ test I had was in 7th grade. It was 144; and for whatever that is worth, I could live anywhere in the world I want. I have done very well. I choose Indiana. Politics aside, I find beauty, peace, and contentment here. Continue flying over my state, Over It.

  12. Yes, all true. Yet I’m struck by the way so many of us, comfortable with urban America, make little or no effort to understand the ones left behind. More importantly, we’re not focused in the right direction: On the causes of the disinvestment in these areas and the devastating impacts of global capitalism that benefit the few (including most of us) at the expense of these areas. To make matters worse, these people are not only watching their communities devastated by forces beyond their control, but they are losing their own children to those forces. They have every reason to be upset and angry. And what are we doing about it? Looking down on them as if their situation is their own fault.

  13. There are those among us who think it would be nice if people stopped taking Trump seriously. Seriously.

  14. Todd @ 7:02 am, “The 1990’s called yesterday and they want Paul’s brilliant analysis back.” The Krugman types want to continue the Triangulation Politics of Clintonism. Krugman cannot help himself. Krugman and others have their own dog whistles that rural voters are racists and not very bright.

    Norman Solomon writes, Today, the party’s congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are still in a mode loosely replicating Clinton’s sleight-of-tongue formulas that have proved so useful—and extremely profitable—for corporate America, while economic inequality has skyrocketed.

    As 2018 nears its end, the top of the Democratic Party is looking to continue Clintonism without the Clintons.

    Or maybe Clintonism with the Clintons.
    Joe Biden > “I think I’m the most qualified person in the country to be president. The issues that we face as a country today are the issues that I’ve worked on my whole life,” Biden told a crowd in Montana Monday, according to the Missoula Current.
    Pelosi, Schumer, Hoyer, the Clinton’s and Biden represent the Corporate Wing of the Democratic Party wedded to Triangulation Politics.

    The Progressive issues of Health Care for All, Free Higher Education, Income Equality, the elimination of tax loopholes for Big Corporations and the 1%, and Corporate Welfare would resonate for Rural and Urban Voters. However, Progressive Issues will be dismissed by the Corporate Wing of the Democratic Party, they must find villains and label them.

  15. Fear is an emotion in humans just as it is in my wife’s goldfish. When it sees the net, it hides behind the filter. Todd fears change and the DNC. Others of us on this blog fear being ignored. Many of us are afraid of dying. I’m afraid that my country will never make the intellectual leap to stop fearing people of color or of different religions.

    Don’t underestimate the power of the churches in their constant drumbeat about fear of this or that and fear of death. For centuries, the rural churches have been the centerpiece of the small communities. So many of them have no shucked their bonds of responsibility and gone full political. Rural evangelical churches should be indicted for conspiracy to destroy peoples’ minds.

  16. I do not agree with Todd’s views expressed today about the Democratic Party or Paul Krugman or his assessment of Piketty’s assessment and here note that while it is true that Krugman has not lived in the boonies and had first-hand exposure to rural problems that it is also true that those living in the boonies have not lived in urban areas and have had no exposure to their problems, either. Personally, I have always preferred living in rural areas not far from urban areas with a view toward enjoyment of the offerings of both, and apparently this sense of environmental choice is genetic – my daughter lives in a rural area outside Bloomington, raises apples, and recently took her grandchildren to a performance of the Nutcracker in town – a cultural mecca.
    I think some of the arguments we Democrats are having among ourselves can be traced to the same problems that Bush, Sr., encountered among Republicans with his “no new taxes” pledge and Clinton’s “triangulation” self-serving plan. Yes, we did not measure up to our oft-stated ideals, but I think the millennials are going to do a better job of it than we have done, and as we leave the scene to them, let’s consider the alternative, i.e., continuing corrupt Republican rule, which makes even corporatist Democrats look good!
    We boast that ours is a Big Tent, so let’s not be blinded by imperfections and live up to that political reputation by working out policy agendas among ourselves via give and take leading to compromise, as indeed our forefathers did in drafting our Constitution. We are on the cusp of perhaps twenty years of Democratic supermajority rule and I hope we don’t blow it with infighting since, to reiterate, consider the alternative.

  17. So far, sixteen Bob Rumsons proved Bob Rumson right — almost every post begins with expressing fear of something and ends with assigning blame. But a couple reversed the structure and first assigned blame. Neither is a terrible sin. Fear and blame is actually a very useful model for essay writing and sermon giving, as well as Rumson’s getting elected strategy. Which is where the movie goes haywire — it’s thoughtless presumption that there is nothing large to fear and no one with power to blame; therefore (a conclusion that is also thoughtless) those who fear and blame are way off the path of reason.

    The Democratic leadership would be wise to borrow the model; there is plenty to fear from the opposition and much blame for which Republicans should have to answer to the electorate in 2020. And there are over 100 million potential voters who above all other reasons for casting a ballot respond most eagerly to the carrot and whip of fear and blame.

    The difference between the Rs and Ds in regard to fear, blame and political grace, I hope, will be the distinction between the R’s imagined fear with dishonest blame and the D’s justifiable qualms with reasoned impeachment of irrational ideas. But fear and blame it has to be.

  18. Thank you, Sheila, for shining a light on what I am now able to distinguish has been a lengthy underlying friction between myself, a city dweller, and my mother, a lifelong small-town resident. There are probably additional differences that make me wistful of others’ strong mother-daughter relationships. But I feel a particular disdain for my “big city” ways and college-educated life. I had yet to put my finger on the root cause until I got her reaction is out of fear, someone to blame.

    I don’t yet have a specific action to remedy the discord. But recognizing the source is a huge first step, one of many to take. Once again, thank you.

  19. Also my favorite movie, and one of my husband’s favorites as well, even though he professes to be a Republican. He can almost recite that closing monologue from memory. The similarity between “The American President” and our current administration is so striking, and the Orange One just doesn’t get it, like Bob Rumsen.

    Yes, the movie was FAR ahead of its time.

  20. In my opinion the data being analyze on voters represents the seeds of the problem, not the trees and certainly not the forest. All of the pressures of life today create feelings that are uncomfortable that include uncertainty and fear of losing control and they always have. There is nothing new about the discomfort at all. To varying degrees they always been around.

    What’s different (and I know that I repeat myself) is pervasive entertainment media that stages in our minds as often as possible fantasies that we are attracted to because they feed that discomfort. Pretty soon the seed so professionally nurtured starts growing and the entertainers, not the entertained, manage what the seedling then tree grows towards.

    People can’t anymore just be entertained by fantasy. They are educated by it, they are enculturated by it, they become part of the play not the observers of it.

    Many have been sucked into a fantasy whereby a grotesque Hitler of a man and a gang of thugs can lead us to greatness.

    What an opportunity for the Kochs and Adelsons and Bannons and certainly the Trumps of the world. Of course they always think that it’s financial brilliance rather than what it is, power intoxication.

  21. As per: Carol Frances Johnston “Yes, all true. Yet I’m struck by the way so many of us, comfortable with urban America, make little or no effort to understand the ones left behind.”
    “The ones left behind” How many thriving and financially secure people really understand how many people are struggling? Along with the horrible division and escalation of mean spirited behavior in our country, people are struggling with long term lay-offs, current lay-offs, and the threat of more to come. The booming economy I have heard so much about exists somewhere I’m sure. Haven’t seen it.
    As I have said before, more of us need to experience standing in the long long lines at food pantries because for many income no longer includes food. And the lines just get longer.
    I have always judged a nation’s viability and involvement by it’s homeless population status and just the fact that there is a homeless population speaks volumes. We have condemned and empty buildings everywhere around the country. We have people without roofs over their heads. ?????

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