Amazon is behind all the trends that are destroying the lives of Trumpistanis, before their very eyes.
The Amazon cloud, sold as Amazon Web Services, powered the app trend that destroyed the jobs of suburban gatekeepers, the insurance agents and real estate agents, the travel agents and editors who are now apps. This took the leadership out of many suburbs, as effectively as a decapitation.
Amazon’s store, and its marketplace, have since destroyed retailing. This was another big source of suburban jobs.
Immigrants get jobs done that Trumpistanis won’t take, and make a go of it. They save their money, they open restaurants where they serve their own food and speak their own language. It’s good food, but suburbanites understand neither the technique, the flavor, nor the banter.
The cloud, apps, and the end of retail are, together, tearing America’s suburbs apart. This is where two generations of Americans moved to get their piece of the American dream. This is where my parents raised me. This is where my contemporaries live. When I was in my 20s the slogan was “drive until you qualify.” Now those who did are far from the city’s action, and their homes are worth less.
Meanwhile, Techland is rolling in it. Just a decade ago we were being told that cities were decaying and suburbs were where to go. Now it’s the opposite. If you built your life on the car-and-driving model, what would you think of that?
I know what it’s like on the sunnier side. I built my life on a bike-and-subway model. It is nice to be able to walk to a bottle of good wine, a pizza, fresh beer, a doctor’s visit, a workout. My 13-year old car has 138,000 miles on it. I don’t need another. Maybe, as self-driving cars are so close, I’ll never get another.
This is not how it has gone in Atlanta’s suburbs, thanks to Amazon.Com, which accelerated the process I had been studying 30 years before the Great Recession. There are jobs in Amazon warehouses, but the jobs and the pay suck. Kids without graduate degrees live gig-to-gig, fighting to pay back their student loans, loans that can’t be forgiven even in bankruptcy, loans that are bankrupting their parents. Gig employers don’t offer health care, and until the ACA – now so threatened – they couldn’t get it on the individual market.
It’s going to get worse. Blockchain is going to eliminate a lot of jobs processing transactions, those back-end office jobs people still commute to, the few jobs that still pay suburbanites well. Millions of jobs driving cars, trucks, buses and taxicabs are going to disappear over the next 10 years as autonomy takes hold. So are all those car salesman jobs, the repair jobs as well.
Thanks to Amazon, the needs of suburban society are being met by computers, warehouses and delivery vans. It’s friction-free -- everything is self-service.
The people of Trumpistan, meanwhile, don’t have the imagination to see social goods like clean air and water as things worth buying, or jobs worth taking. Raised on Reaganism and Ayn Rand, they equate social goods with Communism. Never mind that the Erie Canal, land grant colleges, utilities, Interstate Highways and the Internet were all once “social goods,” where government made or subsidized the business model. Wasn’t Alexander Hamilton a leftie?
Their reaction has been to circle the wagons, but this has ghettoized the suburbs. The same pathologies middle-class whites once condemned in others – the drugs, the crime, the insolence – they’re all around them, in the vacant staring eyes of their own children and grandchildren.
The tribal elders were activated by the election of a Democrat to the Presidency. They were told that democracy itself was the problem, and came to believe it. They came to believe that Republicans were the tribe that would save them, that would stop the world until they got off, that would turn back time, and restore the old certainties.
When they saw, last year, that Republicans weren’t really like that, that their Republican politicians were one-way guys interested only in the interests of their biggest contributors, they turned to Trump. This is how he won the nomination, on suburban rage against the dying of the light. This is how he got close enough for Russian interference, combined with Republican attacks on democracy, to put him over the top.
This is not to call Trump legitimate, or misread the attack on democracy perpetrated by the Republican Party. But it could not have happened without the underlying economic changes driven by Amazon.com, changes that shattered the suburbs, that lifted the urban core, and accelerated change beyond many people’s ability to cope.
When Trump taunts Jeff Bezos, his base cheers. And Jeff Bezos needs to treat this threat as seriously as a heart attack. He’s not doing so, yet. He thinks what is going on in Washington is all business as usual.