Liberals are supposed to feel other people's pain. Now, they seem more intent on inflicting it.
I noticed the de-empathification of the Democratic Party during the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. I lived in one of the 4 out of 5 counties with zero or one plan on offer. Low supply and high demand — Obamacare required you to buy one or get fined — resulted in sky-high rates. The one plan in my county's ACA sucked. It cost a $1,400-per-month premium with a $10,000-a-year deductible — and no in-network doctors within a 90-minute drive.
On Facebook, I complained about the paucity of affordable plans in my online health insurance marketplace. "I don't know what you're going on about," one of my friends replied. "I found an excellent, affordable plan."
My friend lives in Manhattan.
When I pointed out that residents of big cities like New York had far more competition than residents of more sparsely populated areas, he didn't respond. Instead, he acted as if I hadn't said anything. "Obamacare is a Godsend," he continued. "So many great options."
This conversation-without-communication went on and on like that.
People often ask me for political predictions. Most people I know are Democrats of the Third Way/Democratic Leadership Council/Clinton variety and so were understandably upset when I told them I was close to certain that Trump would win. "I grew up in Dayton, Ohio," I said. "The major swing states in this election are full of hollowed-out depopulated deindustrialized Rust Belt cities like Dayton. Free trade agreements like NAFTA killed those cities and destroyed their residents. Hillary and the Democrats supported that globalization garbage. Trump will win because he's the only one who talks about their problems, the only one who acknowledges they exist."
"But Trump is an idiot," they said.
"Not enough of an idiot to say nice things about NAFTA," I said, referring to the Clintons.
"But he's a bigot," they went on.
"Yes he is," I agreed. But these people are desperate and angry and he's the first presidential candidate to admit that free trade isn't awesome. It's a chance to send a message, a cri de coeur."
The vacant, disconnected look in their eyes was every bit as dumbstruck as that of a MAGA supporter who just realized that big tax cut wasn't for him. My liberal friends weren't from the Midwest, had never been to the Midwest, didn't know anyone from the Midwest. The devastation and dysfunction I described — substance addiction, permanent disability, systemic un- and underemployment, plunging housing prices, cash-starved local governments unable to keep up with the mayhem — was as foreign to them as a drone strike in Afghanistan. Globalization was inevitable.
Why didn't those stupid Ohioans accept it?
Democrats such as FDR used to look at dispossessed voters and see electoral opportunity, a chance to grow the party. Today's liberals are poorer than Roosevelt but far more elitist; they see a bunch of irrelevant old white guys who ought to hurry up and die.
The latest case study is France's "yellow vest" movement. For over a month, angry motorists, many middle-aged men from rural and suburban areas of the country, have converged on cities like Paris to protest President Emmanuel Macron's hike of the gas tax. As in Britain less populous areas have been left behind economically and neglected by the central government. People say they're barely making it to the end of each month after paying rising bills on fixed incomes, and they're pissed.
No doubt echoing their well-heeled counterparts in the fourth arrondissement, my liberal Democratic friends were gobsmacked by France's most violent Days of Rage since May 1968. "It's a carbon tax," one explained helpfully. "We have to reduce consumption of greenhouse gases." Her attitude is typical: Don't those conservative hicks understand that the planet is dying?
True, we should reduce air pollution. (Though it's probably too late to slow down climate change.) But if consumers have no choice but to consume, a tax designed to reduce consumption only serves one purpose: to increase government revenue while making citizens miserable. Yellow-vesters who live in the sticks don't have a mass-transit alternative. They can't carpool. They've got to drive, and, with a carbon tax, they have to pay. No wonder they're angry. Wouldn't it make more sense to tax shareholders whose portfolios include stocks with big carbon footprints?
Years ago, right-winger Republicans such as Richard Nixon promoted the cliche of the "limousine liberal": self-righteous, hypocritical, privileged and disconnected from Joe and Jane Sixpack. I don't know if it was true then. But it certainly is now.
Ted Rall, the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of "Francis: The People's Pope." He is on Twitter @TedRall. You can support Ted's hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.