Thursday, January 11, 2018

Partisan Corrosion

The great temptation of partisanship is, if you will forgive the geek-y analogy, the temptation Boromir faced about the One Ring: the reliance on using evil tools in the name of good.  Rather than seeking to restrain our destructive impulses and use good faith, partisans who succumb to temptation hope to marshal destructive impulses on their own behalf and embrace targeted bad faith (as long as that bad faith is on their side).  So, in a time of vulgarity and hysteria, the partisan might double down on those tactics in order to advance his or her own cause.

We live in an era of righteousness porn--of fantasies of inflicting pain on others because you find them deplorable.  Righteousness porn prioritizes retribution over forgiveness, and slaughter over reconciliation.  As such, it cultivates intellectual sterility and moral narcissism.  Why bother to learn from others or to recognize them in their own particularity--when you can merely harm them and feel good about it?

Righteousness porn is a common friend of identity-politics tribalism.  The premise of identity politics--whatever group it favors--is that it is right and just to disparage and harm others because of some characteristic, such as skin color or sex.  Instead of seeking to minimize harm, identity politics instead chooses to direct it.

As Michael Sandel has written, a politics denuded of a concept of the good is one that will degenerate into a tabloid soap opera. To escape the soap opera is to refuse to play by its vacuous rules--to insist instead on intellectual and moral seriousness.

The cure for identity politics is not to reserve it for some favored caste.  Instead, the cure is to toss it into the steaming pit atop Mount Doom.  The cure for vice is striving after virtue.  To combat evil, we must come to understand the good.  The moment of great civic peril is precisely when we most need principle, prudence, and sympathy.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Deplorables--Now and Forever!

I don't necessarily endorse all the claims Nancy Fraser makes in this thoughtful essay in American Affairs, but she does offer a very interesting narrative of our current political turmoil. Arguing that distribution (of goods) and recognition (of social practices, values, etc.) are core defining traits of any political hegemonic bloc, she finds that Donald Trump's election challenged the reigning paradigm of progressive neoliberalism:
That may sound like an oxymoron, but it was a real and powerful alliance of two unlikely bedfellows: on the one hand, mainstream liberal currents of the new social movements (feminism, antiracism, multiculturalism, environmentalism, and LGBTQ rights); on the other hand, the most dynamic, high-end “symbolic” and financial sectors of the U.S. economy (Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and Hollywood). What held this odd couple together was a distinctive combination of views about distribution and recognition.
The progressive-neoliberal bloc combined an expropriative, plutocratic economic program with a liberal-meritocratic politics of recognition. The distributive component of this amalgam was neoliberal. Determined to unshackle market forces from the heavy hand of the state and from the millstone of “tax and spend,” the classes that led this bloc aimed to liberalize and globalize the capitalist economy. What that meant, in reality, was financialization: the dismantling of barriers to, and protections from, the free movement of capital; the deregulation of banking and the ballooning of predatory debt; deindustrialization, the weakening of unions, and the spread of precarious, badly paid work. Popularly associated with Ronald Reagan, but substantially implemented and consolidated by Bill Clinton, these policies hollowed out working-class and middle-class living standards, while transferring wealth and value upward—chiefly to the one percent, of course, but also to the upper reaches of the professional-managerial classes.
Fraser argues that reactionary neoliberalism had been the main political rival to progressive neoliberalism, but Trump instead championed reactionary populism, which was premised on the diffusion of economic goods and more "reactionary" cultural values.  She claims that, in governing, the president has largely failed to deliver on his populist distributive promises and instead has offered a kind of hyper-reactionary neoliberalism, in which the president stokes "reactionary" cultural feuds while continuing to support the economic policies of neoliberalism (with things like TPP excepted).  Fraser suggests that some kind of progressive populism could be a corrective to the Trump presidency.

I have some real doubts about breaking cultural narratives down to the "reactionary" and the "progressive," and probably have a slightly different view of the merits of a capitalist economy than Fraser does.

Nevertheless, many of her comments about the architecture of neoliberalism (finance, labor, etc.) are revealing.  And her points about hyper-reactionary neoliberalism are not entirely dissimilar from my piece for NRO earlier this week, in which I warned of the political and policy dangers of President Trump immersing himself in cultural feuds while supporting unreformed GOP policy nostalgia.  (I also suggested some areas for a populist-conservative reset--read the rest here!)

One of the revealing things about the neoliberal consensus has been the fact that, for all its celebration of disruption, the neoliberal order has in fact grown fairly sclerotic.  At least in the United States, a certain elite consensus on immigration, trade, and so forth has hardened.  It's proven surprisingly resistant to reform, even as the current paradigm of globalization has reached a point of diminishing returns and grows increasingly unstable.  The post-2000 United States has witnessed a number of depressing trends--from GDP slowdown to climbs in mortality rates in certain areas.  But the overall architecture of the current iteration of globalization could not be challenged, either from the left or the right.

One of the signs of the sclerosis of the neoliberal order is the fact that many proponents of that order cling to shame politics--the effort to shut down debate by calumny and to distract from problems by heaping opprobrium on someone else--even as it too has reached a point of diminishing returns.  The "deplorables" strategy ("calling out" both Donald Trump and his supporters as rabid animals) is quintessential shame politics.  It was the core of Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016, and it failed miserably.  Yet many of Trump's opponents have doubled down on this effort.*  Denunciations of the president and his "deplorable" supporters fill our airwaves and social-media feeds, but how to correct some of the ills of the neoliberal paradigm has gotten much less attention.

As I've written before, reform could be a way extending some of the real benefits of the post-WWII and post-Cold War global order.  The rise of populist disruption is a sign that the current iteration of globalization needs updating.  History shows that rigidity often weakens a political paradigm, so the defense of globalization by saying that it cannot be changed in any way might end up not being much of a defense at all.

*Note: That's many--not all.  Some Trump critics have advocated for reforms (calling for the Left to dial back its culture war, for instance, or the Right to advance more worker-friendly policies).  Critiques of Trump that emphasize the need for changes probably have more political viability than those that merely denounce Trump while defending the status quo.  Of course, forceful criticism of a president is a necessary and healthy component of political life.  Fierce denunciations of a president's supporters--including calls to excommunicate them from political life--can be more troubling, however.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Ending the Inquisition

One of the greatest gifts the political class could give itself and the country this holiday season is an end to the Trumpian inquisition: the effort to use support or opposition for Donald Trump as proof of an individual's moral worth.  Some devout Trumpists insist that all who oppose President Trump are enemies of the republic.  This is basically a mirror image of the claims by some anti-Trumpists that all of Trump's supporters (or "enablers") are absolute moral cretins and maybe traitors to the country.  According to one group, all criticism of the president's decisions is disqualifying; according to the other, it's praise that disqualifies the speaker.

Both these purist approaches underestimate the complexities of politics, which stem from our fallen nature as human beings.  Politics involves complex moral and empirical calculations, and people of good faith might come to different conclusions about which political party and candidate to support.

The United States has had incredibly flawed presidents before.  Woodrow Wilson waged an all-out assault on constitutional norms and individual liberties, attacking checks and balances while imprisoning his political opponents.  And yet plenty of decent people voted for Wilson and worked for him.  As Robert Caro's books show in (at times, nauseating) detail, Lyndon Johnson indulged in corruption and vulgarity; he used his political power to make himself quite wealthy and treated his staffers in a repellent way.  And yet plenty of decent people supported and worked for him, too.  Moreover, these people did not lose all moral standing because of this support.

A similar point could be made in the opposite direction.  The United States has had great presidents, too, and yet plenty of decent and honorable people opposed them.  Even Abraham Lincoln got only 55 percent of the vote in the 1864 election.  Are the 45 percent of Union voters who voted for George McClellan (Lincoln's Democratic opponent) really unredeemable deplorables?

Moreover, the heterogeneity of human experience suggests that flawed leaders can make good decisions and that noble leaders can make bad ones.  This means that commentators might praise certain aspects of an administration while criticizing others.  For instance, many conservatives object to Lyndon Johnson's personal corruption and find that many of his plans for the "Great Society" inflicted great damage on the fabric of the nation, but many of these same conservatives also agree with a number of his civil-rights efforts.  Are conservatives supposed to attack civil-rights legislation because they view Johnson as otherwise grotesque?  Do conservatives somehow compromise their principles by signalling support for legislation that they otherwise agree with?  Likewise, Richard Nixon is the bugaboo of many progressive nightmares--but you rarely see progressives say the EPA shouldn't exist because Nixon created it.

Politicians leave complicated legacies, and part of a serious, empirically-informed politics is attending to those details.  That might mean praising things in the record of a politician you otherwise oppose, or criticizing things in the record of a politician you otherwise support.

The legitimacy of disagreement is one of the cornerstones of republican politics, so, in order for politics to work over the long term, we need to sustain the norm that it is okay for individuals to disagree about whether to support a given politician.  The mode of apocalyptic politics--"we face impending doom so the norms of civic disagreement need to be overthrown"--can be appealing; it carries a thrilling charge of urgency.  But it is also corrosive when carried over time because it eats away at the necessary presumptions of republican life.

The opposite of inquisitorial politics might be more modest, but it's also healthier (in part because it is more modest).  It means calling out bad arguments when you see them, supporting what you think is good, opposing what you think is bad, and not reducing all questions of principle to factional allegiance.  It means resisting paranoia and preferring reasonable skepticism to the eddies of public hysteria.  It means surrendering the tactics of excommunication and instead embracing those of empathy and charity.

With that...

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Respecting the Dead

As I've written before, one of the many threats to healthy political norms at the moment is the risk that those who oppose Donald Trump will throw over those norms in the name of supposedly protecting them--to destroy the public square in order supposedly to save it.  Jack Goldsmith raised a similar point in this extended piece (the latter of which looks at how the anti-Trump "resistance" could itself be sabotaging norms).  A particularly dangerous strategy has been what I sometimes think of as the falsification of norms: the effort to pretend that current norms are very different from what they are in order to say that President Trump is somehow breaking them.  It's all well and good to argue that certain norms should be changed (that's healthy politics); it's quite another to rewrite history.

Masha Gessen has written some interesting material in the past, but her latest piece in the New Yorker--provocatively titled "John Kelly and the Language of the Military Coup"--might present a distorted perspective about the role of honoring dead soldiers in American culture.  Gessen argues that Kelly's press conference this week, in which he excoriated the politicization of contacting the families of the military dead, somehow offers the logic of a military coup.

Gessen's analysis seems to suggest that there's something totalitarian about public officials expressing great esteem for fallen soldiers:
But, later in the speech, when Kelly described his own distress after hearing the criticism of Trump’s phone call, the general said that he had gone to “walk among the finest men and women on this earth. And you can always find them because they’re in Arlington National Cemetery.” So, by “the best” Americans, Kelly had meant dead Americans—specifically, fallen soldiers.
The number of Americans killed in all the wars this nation has ever fought is indeed equal to roughly one per cent of all Americans alive today. This makes for questionable math and disturbing logic. It is in totalitarian societies, which demand complete mobilization, that dying for one’s country becomes the ultimate badge of honor. Growing up in the Soviet Union, I learned the names of ordinary soldiers who threw their bodies onto enemy tanks, becoming literal cannon fodder. All of us children had to aspire to the feat of martyrdom.
Celebrating fallen soldiers, though, is not exactly specific to the Soviet Union.  For generations, American school children were (and, in some cases, still are) taught about Nathan Hale precisely because of the great composure he showed while being executed by the British as an American spy during the Revolutionary War.  Hale's famous (and perhaps apocryphal) "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" was treated as showing great courage and great patriotism.

Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address uses a reverential tone about the dead of the Civil War (emphasis added):
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain
-- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Lincoln specifically spoke of both the living and the dead as "consecrating" the ground of Gettysburg.  He said that "the world" will not remember political rhetoric but will remember that martial struggle.  He claimed that these dead made it even more important for the Union to win the Civil War--in order to ensure that they have not died in vain.

Only a few years ago, Barack Obama argued that we could never repay the military dead for all that they have done for the country:
The patriots we memorialize today sacrificed not only all they had but all they would ever know. They gave of themselves until they had nothing more to give. It’s natural, when we lose someone we care about, to ask why it had to be them. Why my son, why my sister, why my friend, why not me?
These are questions that cannot be answered by us. But on this day we remember that it is on our behalf that they gave our lives -- they gave their lives. We remember that it is their courage, their unselfishness, their devotion to duty that has sustained this country through all its trials and will sustain us through all the trials to come. We remember that the blessings we enjoy as Americans came at a dear cost; that our very presence here today, as free people in a free society, bears testimony to their enduring legacy.
Our nation owes a debt to its fallen heroes that we can never fully repay. But we can honor their sacrifice, and we must.
In fact, only last year, President Obama said that "Gold Star families" (the families of the military dead) represent "the very best of our country."  It's true that here President Obama was praising the families of the dead rather than the dead themselves, but he drew attention to those families precisely because they were related to someone who had died.

Gessen and others have suggested there's something troubling about Kelly's high praise for military life, but it's important to note that praising the military does not necessarily mean support for rule by the military.  For instance, Douglas MacArthur's final speech at West Point spoke reverentially about the military, but MacArthur also insisted that the military could not decide many of the vital questions of public life.

If folks want to argue that we shouldn't praise dead soldiers--well, it's a free country (in part because of those dead soldiers).  But celebrating the nobility, integrity, and importance of those who fell in the nation's service has been a mainstream, bipartisan tradition.  Just as every government program is not necessarily a step down the road to serfdom, all celebration of the military dead is not a prelude to totalitarian tyranny.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Populist Explosion

For some reason, I didn't get a chance to read John B. Judis's The Populist Explosion until this month.  Published in the fall of 2016 (between Brexit and Donald Trump's election), The Populist Explosion offers a revealing--and concise--survey of the populist energies coursing through political systems across the world.  The first three chapters focus on populism in the United States, from an overview of populism in history to the 2016 campaign.  Judis identifies both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump as manifestations of populism, and he argues that populism can be seen more broadly on both the left and the right.  The second half of the book looks at populism in Europe.  Judis finds that, whereas many right-leaning parties have harnessed populism in Northern Europe, populists in Southern Europe have gravitated more to the political left.

One of the strengths of Judis's book is that it avoids the foam-flecked rhetoric that accompanies many discussions of populism.  He does not make populism the root of all evil.  Instead, he carefully diagnoses some of the causes of populism as well as some of the challenges populists face.  The conclusion of the book is especially worth reading.  There, Judis distinguishes populism from fascism and claims that populists are responding to real political problems (such as the breakdown of economic opportunity).  It's become de rigueur in certain parts of punditworld to find that populism is purely some atavistic force--the barbaric howl of cretins, bigots, and deplorables.  Judis, however, argues that the rise of populism points to substantial issues that need to be addressed.  Much of my own writing on populism takes as a premise the idea that the populist insurgency is a sign of deeper political challenges, so I'm obviously sympathetic to that reading of populism.

We can only address the current political crisis by understanding its roots, and Judis's book offers an instructive exploration of some of those underlying forces.

Friday, September 15, 2017

DACA Negotiations

In NRO yesterday afternoon, I argued that the White House undermines its political position (and that of congressional GOP) if it decides to champion a trade of "border security" for a DACA replacement.  Today, Trump had this to say on Twitter:

Is that a sign the president is going to demand that elements of the RAISE Act be part of any DACA bill?  We'll have to see...

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Some Good News in Latest Census Report

The annual Census report on income, poverty, and health insurance always has interesting data--though sometimes its data are more depressing than inspiring.  The Census report released today (and covering 2016) has some good news.

Perhaps the big takeaway: The inflation-adjusted, median household income has, for the first time, exceeded the median household income of 1999.  In 2016, it was $59,039; in 1999, it was $58,665.  Granted, this is only a 0.6 percent increase (or about 0.004 percent a year), but it is an improvement nevertheless.  Households lower on the income spectrum still remain below their earlier peaks (and higher-income households are well above their earlier peaks), but at least the median is now up.

The poverty rate is also down from 2015 (falling from 13.5 percent to 12.7 percent); the poverty rate is now where it was in 2004.

But it's not all rainbows and sunshine.  The median earnings of full-time male workers actually fell between 2015 and 2016--from $51,859 to $51,640.  That discrepancy could be within the margin of error, but, when adjusted for inflation, the full-time median male earnings have been stagnant for decades; full-time female worker earnings have gone up more substantially over the past forty years (by about $10,000).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Fixing DACA

In NRO this afternoon, I look at the political dynamics of trying to replace DACA.  If the GOP stays united, it can help advance conservative policies on immigration and strengthen its political hand going into 2018.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

A Few Words on Mark Lilla

Columbia University professor Mark Lilla's The Once and Future Liberal has been generating a lot of debate.  I'm not giving to give the book a full treatment right now (alas!), but I thought I might make a few points after reading it this week.

Basically, The Once and Future Liberal is written by a man of the left for the left (and for others who want to eavesdrop).  In it, he argues that the political left has become too dependent upon identity politics; this dependence has helped the Republican party gain power.  I don't agree with all of it, but it is an illuminating read.  See these interviews with Lilla by Rod Dreher and David Remnick for more.

One of the things that many of Lilla's critics on the left miss about his book is that Lilla is not calling for the left to ignore questions of discrimination, racism, etc.  Instead, Lilla is calling for the left to rethink the way it approaches these questions.  Rather than pitting identity groups against each other, Lilla argues that the left should instead emphasize a common citizenship.  This common citizenship would mean that, if a person is being mistreated because of his race, this mistreatment should of course be redressed because his rights as a citizen were being violated.  Lilla hopes that the appeal to a common citizenship would be a vehicle for righting social injustices (and he suggests that the civil rights movement of the Sixties was motivated by such a vision).

One of the more interesting themes of Lilla's book is his effort to confront some of the forces that have made our public debates so intolerant and broken in recent years.  Obviously, the intellectual causes of our current political stagnation have been of great interest to me recently, so I enjoyed his comments on those topics (even, again, if I might not necessarily agree with all them).

A good summation of Lilla's enterprise comes near the end, where he lists some priorities for reforming our politics: "the priority of institutional over movement politics; the priority of democratic persuasion over aimless self-expression; and the priority of citizenship over group and personal identity."  Lilla argues that those on the left need to think harder about how to win over concrete political institutions (instead of nurturing amorphous movements), how to persuade Americans rather than endlessly shame them, and how to stress the virtues of a common citizenship.

Lilla's diagnosis points to broader issues, too. We've suffered a diminished appreciation for both political and civic institutions, and strengthening a diverse range of institutions could help counter political hysteria.  We've also experienced a crisis of persuasion, with ideological slogans and identity-politics primal screams replacing reasoned debate.  As I've written elsewhere, the right has had its own problems with undervaluing political persuasion, as the 2016 campaign made clear.

In recent years, we've seen thinkers on both the left and the right become aware of a loss of civic solidarity.  A bigger project of mine right now is thinking about the conditions of civic solidarity and their implication for a free society.  Lilla's work represents one effort on the left to think through what has weakened that solidarity and what it would take to restore it.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Stars and Stripes during Trial

It's fitting that July 4 should take place after the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3).  The American union was forged through a war and has been maintained through many trials.

Currently, many American institutions are in a state of crisis.  Failure has compounded failure, the mighty nurse their petty grievances while ignoring the real suffering of those around them, and blame-casting usurps the seats of good faith and judicious deliberation.  It's easy to be dispirited in this environment, just as it was easy to be dispirited in Valley Forge or the killing fields of Gettysburg.

But our republic still has great strengths--in its founding principles, in its inherited traditions, and in the hearts of its people.  In adversity, we should forget neither those strengths nor our deeper ethical duties.  Fireworks can still glow on victories and on a renewed republic.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Against Civic Division

In National Review, I dig into the implications of Bret Stephens's satirical proposal to deport poor Americans.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Comey Questions

This New York Times story raises a host of questions.

The first, and likely most important, is did President Trump ask James Comey to stop the Flynn investigation?  If he did and if he fired Comey because Comey would not stop that investigation (two huge--absolutely HUGE--ifs), this situation rises above a political spat to being a Constitutional issue.  Of course, these are only ifs right now--not established facts.

But there are other questions, too.

If the president's request occurred and constitutes obstruction of justice (again, if), why did Director Comey not resign and announce this request when it was made?  Speaking purely hypothetically, if the president committed an impeachable offense, a government official would have an obligation to do all he could to ensure that this offense was known so that Congress could proceed with impeachment.

Have other government officials, including in the Obama administration, committed acts of obstruction of justice that Director Comey knows about but did not act on or announce to the world?  What else could be revealed by reading Comey's private memos?

What is the journalistic justification for the New York Times publishing a story about a non-classified report that it has not seen?  According to the story, sources only read portions of the memo over the phone.  If mainstream newspapers want to distinguish themselves from tabloids, they will need to think hard about sourcing policies.

As many have suggested, the first step to answering some of these questions is for Congress to subpoena the Comey memos.  That will help us distinguish facts from innuendo from lies.  In a time when institutional trust is under assault, the rigorous attention to facts grows even more important.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Groping Toward Fusion

The  current draft of the omnibus spending bill to keep the government open includes a provision that would expand the number of H-2B visas; these guest-worker visas target jobs that do not require a college degree.

For the project of making the GOP a party of broad-based opportunity, expanding guest-worker visas seems like a counterproductive effort.  Guest-worker programs make a mockery of the market and of civic belonging.  In an age of stagnating wages for many working-class Americans, increasing the number of guest workers is a confusing strategy.  Moreover, guest-worker expansion risks splitting the GOP by further aggravating populists, who already have complaints about other elements of the omnibus.

Unlike other elements of the omnibus bill, however, Democrats were not going to shut down the government to expand the H-2B program.  In fact, the top Republican and top Democrat in the Senate Judiciary Committee (Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, respectively) both slammed the inclusion of the H-2B expansion in the omnibus.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Imperfect Comparisons

Looking at (some of the very real) disruption in the retail sector has cause some in punditia to try to draw parallels between the evolution of the retail sector and changes in manufacturing over the past thirty years.  This New York Times story on the decline of malls exemplifies that trend.  This trend has caused some on the left to wonder whether identity politics explains why so much press attention has been given to manufacturing while the supposed decline of retail has been more ignored.  However, there might be a more quotidian reason why retail employment has gotten less attention than manufacturing: retail employment has grown over the past 15 years while manufacturing has shrunk. 

The New York Times piece on the decline of retail referenced the job losses in the "general merchandise" subsector.  However, looking at specific subsectors obscures the fact that retail jobs have been overall growing.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more people work in retail jobs than ever before in American history.  Nearly 14.5 million worked in retail in 2010, but almost 16 million work in retail now. About 400,000 more Americans work in retail now than worked in it in 2008, the last peak of employment in that sector.   Department stores might be declining, but employment in "health and personal care" stores is booming, as is employment at "nonstore retailers," which have added over 100,000 jobs since 2010.  While there has been a slight correction in retail employment after the holiday season (not exactly unusual), there is little evidence of a sustained decline in retail employment.  The retail market may be restructuring, and that restructuring may lead to dislocations and economic difficulties (things policy-makers should take seriously).  The phenomenon of zombie malls could exact social costs as well as provide opportunities for innovation.  And it is certainly possible that, in the future, ecommerce will destroy the retail sector.  (I'm not making any projections about the future here.)  But over the past fifteen years, retail employment has done relatively well in terms of job numbers.

Manufacturing tells a very different story.  There are over 5 million fewer manufacturing jobs now than there were in 2000.  While manufacturing employment has grown somewhat since the Great Recession, there are close to 2 million fewer manufacturing jobs than in 2007.  Inflation-adjusted manufacturing production in 2016 was only a little above the production level of 2008.

Whether one believes that decline in manufacturing employment to be a positive or negative development, it seems clear that there has been a decline--unlike in the retail sector.  If manufacturers had added jobs over the past 15 years, I doubt that the loss of manufacturing jobs would be getting that many headlines.  Retail may indeed be headed for difficulties in the years to come, and changes in the field could cause some dislocations.  But, over the past 15 years, the employment patterns of manufacturing and retail have diverged.