Revenge of the disempowered by @BloggersRUs

Revenge of the disempowered

by Tom Sullivan

Just yesterday I wrote about there being some hope of Americans across the political spectrum finding common ground. This morning, Robert Reich is thinking about the same topic. He is on a book tour through a number of red states where he finds even T-party types agree with him. They see they are being screwed and they don't like it. They oppose crony capitalism, too-big-to-fail banks, factory farms, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and the Trans Pacific Partnership. Basically, "they see government as the vehicle for big corporations and Wall Street to exert their power in ways that hurt the little guy," writes Reich at Salon. They want that power back:

They call themselves Republicans but many of the inhabitants of America’s heartland are populists in the tradition of William Jennings Brian.

I also began to understand why many of them are attracted to Donald Trump. I had assumed they were attracted by Trump’s blunderbuss and his scapegoating of immigrants.

That’s part of it. But mostly, I think, they see Trump as someone who’ll stand up for them – a countervailing power against the perceived conspiracy of big corporations, Wall Street, and big government.

Backing Trump is their revenge against the status quo. Trump can't be bought, they believe. Republicans who plan to support Bernie Sanders have told me the same thing.

Ironically, just prior to Reich's post this morning is another at Salon looking at homeopathic remedies. (Stay with me.) Pure quackery, but with a powerful placebo effect. A "growing distrust in Big Pharma may play a role in the growing interest in the use of complementary and alternative medicine," writes Reynard Loki:

In a TED talk, behavioral economist Dan Ariely argued that, when given a choice, people prefer alternatives, even if those alternatives are irrelevant.

Disempowered people looking for alternatives to the status quo are behind what Reich is hearing and behind what is powering the alternative medicine industry. Politically, people are looking for alternatives to having their power further usurped. In the case of alternative politicians, people are ready to buy what Donald Trump and Ben Carson (former quack medicine pitchman) are selling even if they are essentially irrelevent. People want a sense of their own power again, even if it is an illusion.

Writing about conspiracy theories, Michael Shermer explains:

... polls reveal that “conspiracy theories permeate all parts of American society and cut across gender, age, race, income, political affiliation, educational level, and occupational status.” They note that in laboratory experiments “researchers have found that inducing anxiety or loss of control triggers respondents to see nonexistent patterns and evoke conspiratorial explanations” and that in the real world “there is evidence that disasters (e.g., earthquakes) and other high-stress situations (e.g., job uncertainty) prompt people to concoct, embrace, and repeat conspiracy theories.”

Posessing secret "truths" gives conspiracy theorists a false sense of power in a world beyond their control. When life feels as if you have awakened locked in the trunk of a car careening down a rutted mountain road, you want to believe – you need to believe – that someone, anyone, is sitting behind the wheel. Even a diabolical someone is better than no one at all.

Maybe what Reich is hearing and what the mood of the electorate indicates is that people are waking up, finally, to the fact that their country and their world has been hijacked, and not by immigrants, the poor, or ethnic minorities. What hangs in the balance is whether they will reach for a real alternative or another placebo.