John Whiston

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Breaking up is hard to do

John Whiston ponders a troubling dynamic: political disagreements are becoming more personal, and “negative partisanship” more prevalent.

A couple of days ago, I saw a Facebook post from a woman I knew in high school out west, one of those manufactured right-wing memes that gets so casually forwarded in some circles. It was a picture of Donald Trump with this caption: “When I look at all the people who hate this man, I like him even more!”

The post stuck in my mind because it resonates so strongly with a new concept I stumbled upon reading the recent best-seller by David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity. That idea gave me my big word of the month: “schismogenesis,” that is, the origin of schism or separation between social groups. An obscure footnote in the anthropological literature since the 1930s, it is described by Garber and Wengrow this way:

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Populisms Left and Right

John Whiston contrasts two strains of American populism and ponders how a populist agenda could unite diverse Democratic constituencies.-promoted by Laura Belin

You hear a lot of anxiety these days about the rising tide of “right-wing populism.” How in God’s name did Donald Trump increase his share of the vote in localities like Lee and Clinton counties in Iowa and Kenosha and Dunn ounties in Wisconsin?  So, maybe it’s time to take a step back and think about what “populism” really means – today, historically,  and for the American future.

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Deaths of despair in Clinton, Oelwein, and elsewhere

John Whiston reflects on several books about industrial decline and the social dislocation that has accompanied it. -promoted by Laura Belin

A friend emailed me the other day, a friend I worked with forty years ago at a plywood mill in Bonner, Montana. We pulled veneer on the green chain, very heavy repetitive work. He asked me to talk with his 30-something son, who might be having some legal problems. So, I spent about an hour in conversation with this young man.

His was familiar story, very much what I’d heard as a lawyer in Iowa for 25 years. I learned he had graduated high school with few skills. While his father and grandfather had been able to go to work at the Bonner mill with good wages, medical insurance, a pension, and a strong union, the mill had closed. He then described a few experiences that seemed to fit in a small way with a whole constellation of symptoms that I had seen in my working-class clients: unemployment, underemployment, injuries, illness, disability, substance abuse, terrible credit, family issues, run-ins with the law.

I now suspect that the underlying problem is a profound despair. Granted, not every working-class person displays this despair, but it appears in an increasing portion. Their despondency bleeds out into their families and communities and affects us all.

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