Sunday, July 31, 2016

Foresight Versus Insight: Learnings from Brexit and the problem of forecasting.


Brexit and Causal Strands

Brexit, the British exit from the European Union is at the tail end of an extraordinary succession of events—the Syrian civil war, the forced migration of thousands of refugees, the flight of desperate families to the West, the German impulse to act morally by accepting refugees, the European Union’s less than willing subordination to German policies, Islamic fundamentalist violence in the heart of Europe,  Eastern Europe’s anxiety about being overwhelmed with foreigners they could not support and did not trust, and Russia’s impulse to destabilize the European Union, one reason among several of why it has supported Syria’s Assad.
These casual strands merged in Brexit as the people of “little England” recoiled from the prospect of being overwhelmed by refugees, while also being drawn to the prospect of  revitalizing their cultural identity separate even from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In this regard, they participated in a pan-European movement that calls into question the salience of nations as loci of identity, as is evident in Scotland, Catalonia, Flanders and Northern Italy. One serious question is whether this new localism will strengthen or undermine democratic traditions. Both Russia and China have staked out a future in which democratic practices are subordinate to the rule of elite cliques who seek legitimacy by mounting programs of imperial expansion. A weakened democratic Europe strengthens their political and moral legitimacy.
In responding to the initial phase of the Syrian conflict in 2011, as Jeffrey Goldberg reports in his comprehensive  article in the Atlantic, Obama felt that engaging directly in the Syrian civil war would distract him from a larger and more longer-term agenda of confronting China in the East. As he notes, Obama, “Gets frustrated that terrorism keeps swamping his larger agenda, particularly as it relates to rebalancing America’s global priorities. For years, the ‘pivot to Asia’ has been a paramount priority of his. America’s economic future lies in Asia, he believes, and the challenge posed by China’s rise requires constant attention. From his earliest days in office, Obama has been focused on rebuilding the sometimes-threadbare ties between the U.S. and its Asian treaty partners, and he is perpetually on the hunt for opportunities to draw other Asian nations into the U.S. orbit. His dramatic opening to Burma was one such opportunity; Vietnam and the entire constellation of Southeast Asian countries fearful of Chinese domination presented others.” This is also why he mobilized twelve countries in the Pacific Rim to create a free trade zone, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as a counter to China’s own expansion in the region.
Yet, as  the sequence of events outlined above indicates, the Syrian crisis, in its wider meaning, influences China’s ability to project its power. What we face here is the complexity of causal strands. In one tradition of thinking, associated with the work of Fred Emery and Eric Trist, this complexity gives riser to our experience of turbulence. Obama can plan for the rise of China by looking to East Asia, but fail to anticipate the rise of China as one end result of the crisis in the Middle East.
One question is, should we and can we hold our leaders accountable for anticipating the evocation of these causal strands? I want to distinguish here between foresight and insight. Obama demonstrates foresight in creating what he and his advisors have called the “pivot to Asia” as the primary focus of his foreign policy. It takes account of the obvious fact that China is a rising power, whose mercantilism --it's press to secure trade channels for its imports and exports --underlines its globalist stance.
The problem with this forecast is that it is in fact both too obvious and too simple. For example, it does not take account of the forces for stability and instability in China itself. The Communist Party’s claim to its monopoly on decision making rests in part on its ability to secure economic growth while limiting corruption. But is this twin goal achievable?
State-owned and locally-owned government enterprises play a significant role in the Chinese economy. This gives the Party leverage over the scale and scope of economic activity. But it also means that party-members, their families and their political allies can control enterprises without being accountable to customers, investors or the public. As Daniel Bell of Tsinghua University writes, “The overall level of corruption has exploded over the past three decades, and it has become a visible political problem the past few years due to the glare of social media and more conspicuous consumption by political elites.” It is reasonable to ask if the Party can enforce a corruption free culture while also limiting the rule of law. After all, the best vehicle for limiting corruption is a free press and independent courts. But should the latter institutions develop, they would threaten the Party’s monopoly over political life.
Moreover, corruption is also self-reinforcing. People who hold an image of the state in their mind as “corrupt” treat the state’s institutions badly. Why protect these institutions when they are the source of ugliness and the venue for other people’s corrupting activities. Instead, they should be exploited. This is why corruption stimulates what political scientists and economists call “rent seeking activity” as party-members work to secure resources through state-owned and state-influenced enterprises without regard for the wider and longer-term impacts of their decisions on the fabric of urban and rural life.
It is also why wealthy Chinese look for safe havens for their money abroad. For example, Bloomberg News reported in November of 2015 that China’s wealthy citizens were sending money overseas, “at unprecedented levels to seek safer investments — often in violation of currency controls meant to keep money inside China. This flood of cash is being felt around the world, driving up real-estate prices in Sydney, New York, Hong Kong and Vancouver…While this year’s numbers aren’t yet in, during the three weeks in August after China devalued its currency, Goldman Sachs calculated that another $200 billion may have left.”
This is also why Chinese enterprises take decisions without regard for the longer-term impacts of their activities on pollution, food safety, and the quality of construction. If an executive’s self interest is focused on his or her extended family, and he or she sees settings outside China as vehicles for accumulating family wealth, why worry about the longer term impacts of their investment decisions within China. But as these severe indirect effects of economic activity take hold of, and reshape, urban and rural life, political instability increases. This can lead the Communist Party to try to exert even greater control, through undemocratic means, triggering yet again the cycle of corruption and its untoward consequences. In Albert Hirschman’s inimitable terms,-- “exit, voice and loyalty” -- the wealthy cannot exercise their “voice” in an undemocratic setting, nor are they “loyal” to the ideals of the Party that has long ago forsaken them. So they must prepare for the possibility of exit.
Of course, I am writing out a forecast or a “scenario,” which we could name, “China’s Communist Party undermines its own legitimacy.” No one can tell now whether it or not is accurate. Nor is it clear how, should such a scenario come to past, the “pivot” to Asia would increase, decrease or render irrelevant current, U.S policies in East Asia. But it does highlight how the interplay of causal strands makes a long-term vision and its associated forecast a problematic foundation for strategy formation. Indeed, management theorists such as Elliot Jacques, Russell Ackoff, and Eli Goldratt, who have examined the challenge of forecasting in some depth, have concluded that forecasting is a fool’s errand. Instead, executives should focus on constructing a desired future rather than trying to anticipate one.
But in some degree this perspective kicks the can down the road. One cannot construct a future, particularly one based on a long-term time horizon, without at the same immersing oneself in the immediate causal strands that create the conditions for the elaboration of any desired future. In this sense there is no escaping the present moment, what psychoanalysts refer to as the “here and now,” and Kurt Lewin, one of the founders of social psychology, called, “the force field.” This stance, I suggest, is the foundation stone for insight and is best vehicle for assessing if and how the Syrian crisis provides a new venue for the projection of Chinese power. In other words, insight is a precondition for foresight. But is it possible to effectuate such a stance and should we hold our leaders to account for this kind of understanding?

Philip Tetlock and the Super-forecasters

I am drawn here to Philip Tetlock’s work of assessing how effectively people can in fact forecast political events, for example the likelihood of a war, a coup, a riot, a strike, or a secession. He found surprisingly, that generalists were better forecasters than experts with specialized knowledge of particular countries, regions or disciplines. To use Tetlock’s  term, experts often predicted no better than “dart throwing chimps.”
Why should this be? Surprisingly, temperament plays a role. The best forecasters had an ironic stance toward the judgments they made, were less emotionally connected to particular forecasted outcomes, were more “actively open-minded” in their consideration of information, blended different perspectives, tended to see events in the round, that is, as instances of a larger class of events rather than as unique stories, were skeptical of deductive reasoning, were more likely to question analogies, and could decompose likely events into the separate components that underpinned them. Following the philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s metaphor, Tetlock characterized these good forecasters as” foxes” who know many things if sometimes superficially, rather than as “hedgehogs” who know only one big thing in depth, as experts do. 
One basic reason foxes outperformed hedgehogs is that the former reason from a “base case” and use statistical reasoning, while hedgehogs rely on the emotional salience of a particular story or case. For example, I might ask you to estimate the likelihood that a young suburban couple without children and with a good income, has a pet. Perhaps you, like most people, would turn the question into a story about how such a prototypical couple would conduct their lives, investing the story with emotional meaning. For example, you might imagine that the couple has discretionary income and no children, and so are likely to have a pet to keep them company, perhaps as a trial for their later child bearing and rearing. By contrast, the good forecaster starts with the base rate and asks, “What percent of households own pets?” (the answer is 62%), and then revises this estimate based on the additional facts provided. (Some readers will recognize this as a form of Bayesian reasoning.)
Consider as well the following example. As Tetlock reports, “In 2013 the Obama administration nominated Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary, but controversial reports surfaced, and a hearing went badly, and some speculated that Hagel might not be confirmed by the Senate. ‘Will Hagel withdraw?’ wrote Tom Ricks, a defense analyst. ‘I’d say 50-50 but declining by the day. Bottom line: Every business day that the Senate Armed Services Committee doesn’t vote to send the nomination to the full Senate, I think the likelihood of Hagel becoming defense secretary declines by about 2%.’”
Tetlock compared this forecast to a super-forecaster who reasoned statistically, noting that, ‘Since the establishment of the secretary of defense position soon after World War II, it looks like only one of 24 official nominees has been rejected by the Senate, and none has withdrawn. So the base rate is 96%.’ Using statistical reasoning analogous to the way in which we evaluate whether or not someone has cancer, just because he or she tested positive for cancer, the super-forecaster predicted that Hagel had an 83% chance of being nominated, which in fact he was. One reasonable hypothesis is that Ricks, the defense analyst in Tetlock’s example, was drawn to the emotional drama of Hagel’s confirmation hearings -- to the story of the possible rejection of a nominee and implicitly his president --and that this story biased his judgment about the facts shaping Hagel’s prospects.
Cognitive psychology, helps explain this phenomena. Daniel Kahneman, the major theorist of cognitive biases, argues that people are prone to an “availability bias,” the tendency to use available examples and stories, often with emotional salience, as the basis for making meaning of a situation. We reason from the inside out, ”How are pets substitute children?”  rather from the outside in, “What are the many reasons that people own pets?”

The Case of Libya

Compelling emotions probably distorted Hillary Clinton’s judgment when she  supported using U.S. air power to interdict Gaddafi’s troops in Libya. In retrospect, the intervention to topple Gaddafi turned out very badly. As one author wrote in the Journal, Foreign Affairs, “Libya has not only failed to evolve into a democracy; it has devolved into a failed state. Violent deaths and other human rights abuses have increased several-fold. Rather than helping the United States combat terrorism, as Gaddafi did during his last decade in power, Libya now serves as a safe haven for militias affiliated with both al Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The Libya intervention has harmed other U.S. interests as well: undermining nuclear nonproliferation, chilling Russian cooperation at the UN, and fueling Syria's civil war.”
At the time of the Libyan intervention, March 2011, the  Arab Spring was bringing democracy to Tunisia,  Mubarak had recently been deposed in Egypt, and ISIS was still an embryonic terrorist group. There were grounds for optimism. But let me suggest that this optimism was distorted by a kind of romanticism. Most telling, Christopher Stevens, later appointed as the American ambassador to Libya after Gaddafi’s overthrow, released a video to the Libyan people, shortly before he travelled to aid in the rebellion, comparing their revolution to the U.S. Civil war. This analogy suggests that Stevens and others thought it reasonable to hope that any post-Gaddafi Libyan leaders would have the caliber of an Abraham Lincoln, that is leaders who could oversee catastrophic destruction while planning for a post-war setting where, “malice toward none and charity toward  all” would reconcile grievous enemies. But in fact, the U.S., in supplying 20,000 tons of weaponry to anti-Gaddafi militias, wound up buttressing hard core Islamic Jihadis. As one reporter notes, “That they were the heart of the opposition was inevitable: Salafist Sunni jihadis had been Gaddafi's principal opposition for more than three decades.”
In advocating for intervention, Clinton bet on Mr. Jibril, who as head of the Transitional  National Council, became Libya’s interim prime minister after Gaddafi’s overthrow. Yet he was a political scientist with a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh, who had weak ties to Libyan tribes and sects. Reflecting later on his failure to build an institutional framework that supported liberalism and democracy, he noted that, “We  had a dream, and to be honest with you, we had a golden opportunity to bring this country back to life. Unfortunately, that dream was shattered.” The notion of a “dream” particularly in a deeply factionalized society, evokes the image of romantic rather than pragmatic aspirations. Indeed, one possibility is that Christopher Stevens’ later murder in Benghazi also highlights the romanticism of the moment. He did not attend to his own security, because he underestimated the venom associated with tribal and religious warfare.

Detached Immersion

Many of the findings associated with the literature on cognitive bias and decision making are linked to the broader idea that people do not naturally think in terms of probability and statistics. Stories pull them toward what is specific and unique rather than what is general and rule-governed. But the “probability way of thinking” entails a level of abstraction from everyday life, and in that regards constitutes a burden on cognition. One measure of civilization’s progress is the degree to which the senses are subordinated to thoughts, whether in science, in the use of money -- now only digits on a computer disk -- or in the concept of regularities that govern social life. This is also why modern societies are vulnerable to attacks on science as a mode of thought, the quintessential expression of abstraction, even though science has provided so many benefits. 
I want to suggest that Tetlock’s findings point to a mode of apperception consistent with the demands of abstraction, which I propose to  call, detached immersion. This term is paradoxical for good reason. On the one side, there is no substitute for engaging with the “here and now” in all its complexity, with Kurt Lewin’s force field. But this engagement should be accomplished through a stance of emotional detachment. Immersion draws our attention to the obvious fact that any future will and must emerge from the present. Detachment ensures that we are not seduced by the emotionally compelling stories we tell ourselves about the present. In describing the analyst’s stance toward a patient, the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion counseled attending to the present moment in the analytic process, “without memory or desire.” This too is a good model of detachment as a vehicle for gaining insight and guiding intervention.
One hypothesis is that Obama, in confronting the Middle East, uncharacteristically lacked detachment. He pivoted to Asia to escape from the ugliness and hopelessness of the Middle East. Yet early in his presidency he invested in the image of himself as a leader who could help reconcile the Arab world to modernity, by offering its people and their leaders understanding and respect. This was one meaning of his speech entitled, “A New Beginning,” that he delivered in Cairo in 2009. Yet he ultimately failed as an agent of “hope and change” in the region. This undermined an idealized image he had of himself as a global leader, and according to this hypothesis, he turned away from the Middle East in part to protect his self-esteem.  

Purposes versus objectives

I raised the question at the beginning of this post about what should we hold our leaders accountable for when they make strategic decisions? One answer is that we expect them to take pragmatic decisions based on detached immersion. But there is fly in the ointment here, one that Tetlock identifies as a limitation of this own research. His super-forecasters were great at answering questions, “Will Russia stay the course in Syria until Assad wins, will Saudi Arabia reduce its support for Wahhabi Imams in other countries, will Hungary withdraw from the EU? But who determines what the best questions are? Who are the “super-questioners?
In the normal course of executive decision-making our best questions come from our objectives. If, for example, as the owner of a small business in the U.S., my objective is to start selling my products abroad, my questions are all about how to accomplish this. My scenarios are about what obstacles I may face in pursuing this objective, and my plans are about how to overcome these obstacles. But in the turbulent environment we are describing, objectives are forever unstable, always undermined by the unexpected confluence of causal strands.
Brexit is the quintessential case in point. The main elements of the Conservative party’s platform in 2015, as reported by the BBC, were to reduce the deficit, extend the right of housing association tenants to buy the homes they lived in, to increase spending on the National Health Service, and to sponsor a referendum on Great Britain’s membership in the EU. David Cameron sought the referendum for tactical reasons; to unite the Conservatives, contain the challenge on his right from the UKIP, and “give himself the space to implement his legacy agenda of One Nation reforms to improve people’s life chances.”
But Brexit upended all these objectives and raised serious questions about the capacity of either Labour or the Tories to govern, and about the integrity of Great Britain as a federation of identities. One hypothesis suggested by Russell Ackoff’s thinking is that under these conditions leaders are guided by ideals or purposes rather than goals and objectives. It then becomes a matter of statecraft to determine what objectives under present conditions best instantiate these purposes. To use an analogy, purpose is to an objective as climate is to weather. Moreover, purposes are not so much achieved as they are expressed. For example, if my purpose is to conduct my business honorably, I don't achieve honor by a certain targeted date. Rather I instantiate it everyday in the pursuit of my objectives.
To be sure, the moral quality of a purpose is contingent and is in the “eyes of the beholder.” To give an example, one hypothesis is that Putin’s political strength comes from his singular purpose of reanimating Russia as an empire, an identity it lost with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Or China’s purpose is expressed in its mercantilism, that is, to secure for its 1.36 billion people (!), an unimaginably large population, the resources it needs to advance its citizens’ living standards. Similarly, in the 19th century, people in the United States imagined that they had a “manifest destiny” to expand westward and appropriate the whole continent, even when this meant riding roughshod on Native Americans. The power of purpose is that it confers flexibility in the face of turbulence. As causal strands intersect and upend inherited objectives, purpose readily directs the search for, and discovery of, new ones.
The rise of China, Russia’s adventurism, the image of the EU as an undemocratic polity, and the belief that democratic capitalism is inequitable, all raise questions about democracy’s viability. It is reasonable to ask if the United States could take up the purpose of representing the moral meaning of democratic traditions and practices throughout the world. This is what Christopher Stevens, the ambassador murdered in Benghazi, represented. But there is a sense in which the U.S. has soured on this purpose, no doubt partly in response to what Trump derides, quite reasonably, as its failed attempt at nation building in Iraq. Libya in this sense was simply a repetition. Perhaps Trump’s dark speech in accepting the Republican Party’s nomination for president resonates, because in a time of terror preserving safety is the overriding purpose.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Trump and the transition to a post-industrial society


Trump and the transition to a post-industrial society

            Sam Vaknin a popular philosopher/psychologist, and a contributor to the American Thinker, a center-right website, describes Trump and his followers in very harsh terms. As he writes in one blog post, “The world is a hostile, psychopathic place and who best to deal with it than an even more hostile, narcissistic leader like Trump? We need a big bad wolf to navigate through the jungle out there. This is a form of collective regression to toddlerhood with Trump in the role of the omnipotent, omniscient Father. In abnormal psychology this is called ‘shared psychosis.’ The members of the cult deploy a host of primitive (infantile) psychological defense mechanisms as they gradually dwindle into mere extensions and reflections of their skipper. Theirs is a malignant optimism grounded not in reality, but in idealization: the tendency to interact not with Trump himself, but with an imaginary “Trump” that each fan tailors to suit his or her fears, hopes, wishes, and fervent fantasies.”
This is a vitriolic takedown of Trump and is followers, and in light of Trump’s self-declared disregard for civility in political discourse it feels partly justified. The question is however, whether such a blanket dismissal undermines our ability to understand the realistic bases for Trump’s strengths and successes, and leads us to treat his follower’s sensibilities as if it they are alien. Of course today, in a post-holocaust world, we are especially attuned to the dangers of totalitarianism and we are rightfully wary of politicians who appear as “strongmen.” On the other side, these same concerns may lead us to take mental shortcuts. While looking at history through the rear view mirror we don’t take account of what is in front of our noses. Can we first comprehend without judging and then only judge as a stimulus for our taking action? In the Art of War Sun Tzu writes, “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” The danger of Vaknin’s stance is that he does not know himself. After all, his own prose projects a sense of omnipotent knowing, the very charge he levels against Trump. This suggests that he neither knows Trump nor his followers.  
In the following blog I try to “know” Trump by taking seriously what his supporters say and by trying to locate their experiences in situations that are in some degree accessible psychologically to all of us. This process takes me on a road trip through Trump’s unrestrained behavior, his followers anxieties about political correctness, the populist character of Trump’s movement, the link between populism and the our shared transition to a post-industrial society, and finally the Republican Party’s failure to understand the role of regulation and social policy in shaping that transition. I am interested in my readers’ responses to this trip on what is hopefully a not too long but certainly winding road.

Trump unrestrained, and political correctness.

          People who support Trump like his unrestrained and unrehearsed behavior. He appears to be acting impulsively, saying whatever comes to his mind without preparation and rehearsal. To his supporters this means that he speaks truthfully rather than censors his thinking to garner favor or support. This also means that he is independent, beholden to nothing but his own instincts. As one supporter said,Lies are out, unrehearsed truth is in,” and as another noted, “What you see is what you see, all the cards are on the table, the words are non-rehearsed, flowing forth and engendering a sense of trust.” A third commented, “because he is 'crazy impulsive' he has no qualms to step on toes when he is on a roll, and correctness (neither political nor ethical) enters in his objective.”
As this last comment suggests, supporters also take pleasure in his aggressiveness in his “stepping on toes.” As one supporter writes, “So I love Trump. I fucking love him. I wish he were actually going to run all the way to the White House instead of just fart around until the primaries like he usually does. I wish he'd take shots and get on TV and give press conferences drunk off his ass. I wish he'd tell reporters to go fuck themselves. I wish he'd treat International diplomacy like it was an episode of what's his show where he got to say "You're Fired". I LOVE that he pisses off all the politicians on both sides, because he's different than the good old boys (and gals) that come up year after year after year.”
One question of course is why do supporters take such pleasure in his impulsiveness, irresponsibility and aggression? After all, it is also boorish. If we look at this psychologically, one reason we may take pleasure in someone else’s impulsiveness is because we ourselves feel unduly restricted and suppressed. This is a common and familiar feature of celebrity culture. We enjoy a movie star’s chaotic love life because it contrasts with what we may experience to be our own dull one. Identifying with a star, we share through fantasy in his or her exciting experiences. This is also why when Republican Party leaders such as Mitt Romney lambast Trump for his incivility and boorishness, they only underline why his supporters find him attractive.
But this pushes our question one step backward. Why do his supporters feel psychologically hemmed in? It is tempting here to turn immediately to an account of their hemmed in lives, but I think we are on surer ground if we listen to what his supporters actually say. One reason they advance is that they feel oppressed by the psychological injunctions associated with political correctness, by the degree to which it suppresses expression, and censors thinking.  As one supporter writes, “Political correctness is a main reason why America is in trouble because it is a grind and so draining to be so politically correct everyday in our personal and professional lives.” The images of “grind” and “draining” suggest that people feel burdened or exhausted by the work of suppressing thoughts and impulses associated with experiences of race, ethnicity and gender. By contrast, Trump bears no such burden. As one supporter suggests, Trump's speech is uncensored. “Every week, someone would dare to blurt out something un-PC, and the media would absolutely crucify them. Political correctness is the birthplace of disastrous, un-American policies that will destroy the country in a death by a thousand cuts. But here comes Trump, the first person who didn’t even blink when the machine turns its sights on him. He didn’t just fight back. He chewed it up and spit it out.”
We might suppose that people feel censored, because they wish that they could freely express racial or ethnic animosity, in others words to be racist in public as Trump appears to be. But I think that the issue is more complex than this. One scholarly study of Tea Party supporters notes that there was, “strong opposition to explicit racism in the Greater Boston Tea Party. When avowedly racist messages suddenly appeared on the Boston Tea Party MeetUp site, Massachusetts Tea Party members let the newcomer know he was not welcome. Andrea (a leader of the Party), posted: “This country is made up of people from all countries, that’s what made us what we are. . . . I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Instead, I suggest that what white people find burdensome, are the psychological consequences associated with the prospect of giving minorities preferential treatment in the competition for jobs, promotions, or access to college , or as it termed more frequently, creating diversity. A Pew values surveys “asks people whether they agree that, “We should make every effort to improve the position of minorities, even it means giving them preferential treatments. “Since, 1987, as the New York Times reports, the gap on this question between the two (political) parties as doubled. 52% of Democrats support this statement,  (and 48% disagree!-LH) while 12% of Republicans do.
It is customary to think that this antipathy toward preferential treatment is based on conflicts of interest between minorities and whites. This is why for example white students have sued state universities for failing to admit them, claiming that their qualifications were overlooked in order to admit minority students. But I suspect that when a large number of whites resent affirmative action they are responding less to such overt conflicts of interest, and more to the psychological contradictions imposed when considering racial preferences.
Let me suggest that racial preference programs stimulate the very racist thoughts they are designed to suppress. A good number of whites would wonder why minorities deserve special consideration, if they were not in fact inferior. I believe that this thought is aversive and horrifying for many, though not all white people, as indeed it should be, and creates in its wake considerable guilt. This is one reason, for example, why in the famous case of Jayson Blair -- the black New York Times journalist who filed false reports -- his superiors failed to act on their suspicions that he was unethical and irresponsible. Their own suspicions triggered the accompanying idea that they were racist to be suspicious. One way in which whites in such positions then manage their anxiety associated with this thought is to view the minority person as a victim who warrants special consideration. But this too is a demeaning thought. For example, it denies to Jayson Blair his own agency in creating the conditions that lead him to his unethical conduct. In other words, political correctness, when linked to the issue of preferential treatment, sets in motion a complex of discomfiting thoughts, feelings of wariness and guilt, and then resentment for having experienced these feelings. This is, I propose, one psychological account of the meaning of political correctness for Trump supporters. He has freed himself from this nettle of feelings, the draining impact they impose on the psyche, and behaves without guilt or compunction.  

The deserving worker
It is sometimes common to suppose that whites ought to understand that blacks in particular have been hobbled by overt and covert racism in the past, and should therefore be entitled to special consideration. But clearly, many whites reject this idea even after decades of its ascendancy in liberal discourse. Indeed, one reason Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996 is that he severed the links between the Democratic Party and its once historical support for the rights of welfare recipients. Moreover, in the study of the Tea Party I referenced, the authors note that Tea Partiers are more likely than other conservatives to agree with the statement, “If blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.” In addition, “Tea Party activists in Massachusetts, as well as nationally, define themselves as workers, in opposition to categories of non-workers they perceive as undeserving of government assistance. Concerns about freeloading underlie Tea Party opposition to government spending.”
It might be supposed that people with this viewpoint are simply being selfish. But this is a cursory conception. I think this commitment to the link between work and reward is first and foremost a moral one. It is an ideal, and seems to be a good basis for sustaining group efforts whether in a team, a company or an entire economy based on exchange. It addresses the most elementary demand we make on group life, that it be “fair.” It expresses a basic anxiety, that in any group there is always the risk that “free-riders” will exploit group members’ good will, by working less while sharing in the group’s rewards. It can also serve as a critique of tax evasion, cronyism, bribery and “pay to play” as much as it does of “welfare payments to the undeserving.”
But moral principles are two-sided. When fulfilled they provide self-esteem, but when violated they induce shame. This is why, for example, religious people are often ashamed before themselves, by their private sexual peccadillos, even when the latter are trivial or harmless. One hypothesis is that Trump supporters, and the white working class men they represent, are at risk of feeling ashamed before themselves, because increasingly they can’t get access to the opportunities for hard work that merit fair rewards. It is common knowledge that wages for high-school educated men have been stagnant, and that manufacturing jobs, which once secured them good living standards, have been declining in numbers for decades.  One way to cope with the resulting shame is to project it on to minorities, immigrants and others who live on the margins and have even fewer opportunities to do hard work. The “freeloader” becomes the social scapegoat, a symbol of a condition that threatens “us,” not just “them.”
Deterioration and pain
Consider the following. Anne Case and her co-author, The Nobel prize winning economist Angus Deaton, point out, that there has been a “marked increase in the all-cause mortality of middle-aged white non-Hispanic men and women in the United States between 1999 and 2013. This change reversed decades of progress in mortality and was unique to the United States; no other rich country saw a similar turnaround.” The authors link this trend to “drugs and alcohol, suicide, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.”
Moreover, as Deaton and Case show, this same group reports increasing physical pain. “One in three white non-Hispanics aged 45–54 reported chronic joint pain in the 2011–2013 period; one in five reported neck pain; and one in seven reported sciatica. Reports of all four types of pain increased significantly between 19971999 and 20112013. An additional 2.6% of respondents reported sciatica or chronic joint pain, an additional 2.3% reported neck pain, and an additional 1.3% reported facial pain. This increase in pain is one reason that there has been a significant increase in the use of opioids which itself can be a trigger for suicide.
The question is, why has this happened? Pain lies at the intersection between the physical and the psychological. It is also what psychologists call “ego-alien,” meaning that we experience pain as an “other.” That is why we commonly call it an “It” as in, “It hurts.” Distancing ourselves from our pain is adaptive insofar as it allows us to treat “it” with measures that are in themselves painful, for example, in the extreme, amputating an injured limb. 
But at the same time, in distancing ourselves from our pain we are less likely to tackle those causes that are part and parcel of our experience.  For example, if stress leads to back pain, treating it as an “other,” we are less likely to confront those sources of our stress that are part of our lives, for example our low wages, or our children’s poor prospects. Instead we medicate “it,” accentuating our helplessness. This is also what Freud meant by psychological repression. We treat thoughts and feelings that are psychologically painful as if they are alien, not ours, only to discover that they continue to exert a claim on our unconscious attention.
By contrast, good social ties help us ameliorate pain by integrating us into a network of friends and loved ones who, under optimal conditions, buffer us from stress and help us cope with adversity. This is one reason a good working-alliance with a therapist helps people come into touch with their unconscious thoughts. We join a larger social “whole,” our personal network, or our helpful therapist, to undo the split within, between our ego and “it.”  We see this everyday among small children who happily receive our kisses to make their “boo-boo” feel better. Pain in this sense is a measure of social isolation.
This account of the psychosocial basis of pain also explains why Deaton and Case found that suicide is increasing. Ever since Emile Durkheim published his classic study of suicide, it is commonly understood that the social basis for suicide is social disintegration, that is, people no longer feel psychologically linked to their communities. Robert Putnam in his now classic text, “Bowling alone” indeed found that people in working class communities feel increasingly isolated.  They participate less in the panoply of settings, what sociologists call “mediating institutions,” such as labor unions, the Boy Scouts, the Red Cross, Churches, the League of Women voters, the Elks, and Parent-Teacher associations, that once glued a community together.
For example, Putnam writes, “For many years, labor unions provided one of the most common organizational affiliations among American workers. Yet union membership has been falling for nearly four decades, with the steepest decline occurring between 1975 and 1985. Since the mid-1950s, when union membership peaked, the unionized portion of the nonagricultural work force in America has dropped by more than half, falling from 32.5 percent in 1953 to 15.8 percent in 1992. By now, virtually all of the explosive growth in union membership that was associated with the New Deal has been erased. The solidarity of union halls is now mostly a fading memory of aging men.”
This conception of social isolation fits with the understanding that Trump supporters feel as if they have no voice. As The Atlantic reportsIf there were one question to identify a Trump supporter if you knew nothing else about him, what might it be? “Are you a middle-aged white man who hasn’t graduated from college?” might be a good one. But according to a survey from RAND Corporation, there is one that’s even better: Do you feel voiceless?”

The Tea-Party and populism.
The history of the Tea party is suggestive here. It was set in motion by Republican Party elites, gaining support and traction from FreedomWorks, “a multimillion-dollar conservative non-profit led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX). FreedomWorks is closely aligned with the Tea Party Express, a project of the Republican-run political action committee, ‘Our Country Deserves Better,’ which has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in support to conservative candidates.” In addition, Fox News provided the Tea Party with significant publicity in its early days. Yet Tea Party members soon used it to undermine the elites that started it. In an early foretelling, a Tea Party activist in Virginia, David Brat, defeated Eric Cantor, the Republic Majority Leader in the House of Representatives in a 2014 primary election for the latter’s congressional seat. The Tea Party, and the Trump supporters it helped galvanize is now the voice of its members, not its founders. After all, Trump supporters now threaten to undermine the Republican Party’s capacity to mount a legitimate party convention.
This phenomenon of a once voiceless group helps account for why analysts call Trump’s supporters “populists.” One trope that emerged early in the primary season was that Trump supporters were authoritarian.  But as two researchers, Washington PostThe AtlanticWhite Middle Americans express heavy mistrust of every institution in American society: not only government, but corporations, unions, even the political party they typically vote for—the Republican Party of Romney, Ryan, and McConnell, which they despise as a sad crew of weaklings and sellouts. They are pissed off. And when Donald Trump came along, they were the people who told the pollsters, ‘That’s my guy.’”
writesLike the joker from The Dark Knight, I just want to see the world burn,” 
or as another notes, “Hell, if Bozo the clown was running, I would vote for him,” or, “So, I will happily bide my time dancing foolishly under Mr. Trump's brightly-striped tents and festive lights. Drawn to the man and his message like a moth to a flame.” 

This anti-elitism also explains Trump supporters’ admiration for his unrehearsed performances during the primary debates. As ABC reported, “Candidates usually spend hours and hours preparing for a major debate -- reading up the issues, going through practice Q & A sessions or mock debates and practicing lines to use when the big moment comes. Not Donald Trump. ‘Trump doesn’t rehearse,’ a senior Trump advisor said today. It’s not that his political team hasn’t tried. Trump’s aides have prepared him memos on the issues and the expected lines of questions and potential attacks from the other candidates, but there have been no formal debate prep sessions, no mock Q & A, no practice debates.”
Elites try to exert control in politics, corporations and in large not-for-profit organizations by attending carefully to their strategies for communicating with their various publics and stakeholders. This is the heart of public relations work and may at times entail deceit or at least misdirection. Thus for example and most strikingly, the Tea Party’s origins, lay in, “Tobacco companies’ attempt to create the semblance of broad opposition to tobacco control legislation and to defend ‘smokers’ rights,’ against the charges associated with second hand smoke. These efforts failed, and in 1990 as several researchers note,Tim Hyde, RJR director of national field operations, outlined a strategy for RJR to create ‘a movement’ resembling what would later emerge as the Tea Party by building broad coalitions around the issue-cluster of freedom, choice and privacy. (As he wrote), ‘Coalition-building should proceed along two tracks: a) a grass- roots, organizational and largely local track; b) and a national, intellectual track within the D.C.-New York corridor. Ultimately, we are talking about a ‘movement,’ a national effort to change the way people think about government’s (and big business’) role in our lives. Any such effort requires an intellectual foundation–a set of theoretical and ideological arguments on its behalf.’”
The dilemma with public relations is that it becomes less effective as it becomes institutionalized. People become inured to its claims, suspecting reasonably that messages cloak interests that are not truthfully revealed. Politicians are suspect as voters learn that their messages have been carefully crafted using focus groups, voter research and tests of advertisements. This creates cynicism, which is fact one emotional basis for nihilistic feelings. Cynicism is intellectualized self-pity, and is based on the experience of helplessness. The nihilistic fantasy reverses helplessness by helping the cynic imagine the prospective destruction of settings that are the seat of his impotence. The Trump movement goes one step better. It can undermine the Republican Party for real.



A substantial minority of Republicans—almost 30 percent—said they would welcome ‘heavy’ taxes on the wealthy, according to Gallup. Within the party that made Paul Ryan’s entitlement-slashing budget plan a centerpiece of policy, only 21 percent favored cuts in Medicare and only 17 percent wanted to see spending on Social Security reduced, according to Pew.”

The Republican Party’s weakness
This underlines a central weakness facing the Republican Party.  Marco Rubio, while a candidate, frequently referred to the Party as the “Party of Lincoln and Reagan.” One question this appellation raises is, what was the structural basis for Reagan’s power and charisma? After all in his character, he was quite detached from the role of president, and largely disinterested in policy. Let me propose the following. In the earlier phases of the transition to post-industrial society deregulation and the ethos of free markets were in fact developmental. They increased competition, decreased dependency on welfare, and helped create a climate of entrepreneurship. They gave substance to Reagan’s sunny disposition. These themes helped create an economic and cultural mechanism for harnessing investments in new technologies and for reordering labor markets.  Indeed, in many ways, Bill Clinton’s presidency rested on these very same achievements.
But this stance has come up against its own inherent limits. This is one reason that Reagan’s vision is no longer compelling to the Tea Party’s base, and why in fact Hilary Clinton, strongly identified with her husband’s presidency, faces strong opposition from the left. Most strikingly, the “production” of human capital is imperiled as students accumulate debt they cannot pay off, a central argument in Bernie Sanders’ campaign, while the social safety net is too narrowly conceived and constructed to help working class and underclass communities make the transition to a post industrial society. This is why Trump’s diatribe against free-trade has such resonance, even thought it violates a central tenet of the “Party of Reagan.”  It may be mistaken, in the sense that automation rather than trade has reduced the number of manufacturing jobs.  But restricted trade, and deporting immigrants are symbolic stand-ins for the social policies that are now necessary, but which Republican Party elites never understood nor advanced.  
Ironically, after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012, the Republication party tried to “post-modernize” its message by embracing the new minorities and creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. This was to be Marco Rubio’s great legislative achievement, which the Republican Party quashed after the Tea Party defeated Eric Cantor, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives. But the Party could not anticipate that a part of its base was increasingly vexed by the elite’s mismanagement of markets, resulting for example in structural unemployment, low wage work, high indebtedness and diminished prospects for upward mobility.  This is one reason why Marco Rubio’s campaign, based on a post modern-identification with minorities, a conservative and religious temperament, and a commitment to free markets ultimately failed.

Coda: The working class
As extraordinary as Trump’s campaign has been, it is important to remember that he has never won the majority of votes in any primary. On average, he is has won about a third of the votes in each state election and of course this is counting only the Republican Party voters.  His supporters represent a relatively small fraction of the total electorate. Moreover, working class members of the Democratic Party have voted for Sanders. But his primary victories highlight the wider tensions we face as a society in transition to a post-industrial age.
Several years ago I saw a compelling photo on the Internet, which unfortunately I can no longer locate. It pictured a large group of United Auto Workers, with clubs and bats in hand, marching down a Detroit avenue in the great strike wave of 1948. It startled me to see this display of militancy and forcefulness.  The union workers were announcing that they could protect themselves. I thought at the time, that this moment, close to seventy years ago, but still within earshot of our current way of life, typified a period in which the American working class could represent itself and its interests without hesitation. It is striking to see Trump as an heir to this moment, and then to review the long and winding history through which unions withdrew from the primary task of organizing low-wage workers, in whatever sector they worked. Instead, they retreated to defending the privileges of their current members who worked in stable jobs.
Perhaps this development was inevitable. Could unions really have organized the large, sprawling and fragmented low- wage service sector of salesclerks, waitresses, fast food workers and janitors?  Instead, unions made their greatest gains among public sector employees, and unfortunately the scale of the pensions they have won in contract settlements with local and state governments have turned them into the taxpayer’s enemy.
In industrial society, politics gained coherence from its class structure; from the rough and ready distinction between workers and capitalists, manual workers and their foremen, finance and production. In a post-industrial society these easy distinctions elude us. Teams are self managing, learning is a part of work, the factory technician controls the computer console of the automated machine, and human capital begets financial capital as entrepreneurs raise money from venture capital firms. But in the resulting confusion a political moment can erupt and throw into high relief all the underlying conflicts that simmer below the surface. At that point the elites stand up and take notice, and we can as well.