Making Sense Of Donald Trump
Sometimes when danger is near, our senses are their keenest. While some panic, others remain calm and see the greater picture through the angst and uncertainty. The 2016 GOP Presidential Primary challenge represents one of these situations. Which candidate will voters choose (and why)?
Of the GOP group, Trump’s candidacy has been shear theater playing out in the 7/24 news media. Playing a sometimes a serious actor, Trump manipulates the media, confounds his opponents, and delights his audiences. Given a choice Trump picks the politically incorrect option, gets the headlines and interviews to follow.
At this point in the GOP race, Trump leads with almost 30% preference. Ted Cruz and Morco Rubio are keeping close but the establishment “blue chip” rivals are bogged down in single digit numbers. Projecting this forward, while a long shot, it is not unreasonable to see Trump winning the GOP crown. Hmmm.
The GOP inner circle is near apoplectic over this possibility. While Trump winning the GOP nod is still uncertain, Trump winning the general election is out of the question given the national demographics. Or is it?
A President Trump requires him gaining the GOP nomination and winning the general election against someone other than Hillary Clinton. Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, or even Joe Biden do not possess the demographic “lock” that Hillary offers. Illness or the onset of questionable long term health problems could cause Clinton to withdraw or drive Democrats to nominate someone else. Under these circumstances, Donald Trump could win.
Fear and disillusionment. The “American Dream” seems gone. No longer do most Americans think the pie is being divided fairly. No longer do most Americans think that next year will bring them more than this year. And most obviously, no longer do Americans trust that Congress will bring relief anytime soon if ever.
In this despair, Americans (like most people around the world) are willing to relinquish their personal beliefs in favor of someone perceived as more powerful who promise to fix things. Too many Americans are ready to accept Trump’s blame of this group or that one as the root of all that is wrong in America.
Around the world and through out history, in tough or toughening times, people have turned to authoritative leaders. In France the right wing National Front lead by Marie Le Penn is gaining national support on a platform Trump would be only to happy to endorse. To the French, the essence of France is in danger of disappearing, growth is slow, and the future is uncertain. This is a great worry.
The American Dream began to slip away 50 years or more ago. The dream was built upon America’s manufacturing dominance which reached its zenith following World War II. Combining this decline with the steady maturity of “developing nations”, the stage was set for more economic equality among world nations. Globalization, which involved American business “outsourcing” work (read jobs) to developing (read lower wage) countries was a natural event.
What happened next killed the dream. The increased productivity associated with globalization was not shared equally amongst Americans.
Business and political leaders beginning in the 60s, gradually changed tax codes, securities regulations, and labor laws where numerous advantages accrued to companies and Wall Street types. Instead of sharing productivity gains with workers, the gains shifted in ever increasing amounts to senior executives and investors. The consequence has been a stagnation in the average wage for some 50 years while the nation’s wealth migrated to an ever decreasing few really wealthy people.
The formula for voter discontent is quite simple. Wages remain flat (or decline) while cost of living increases. To be sure, there are many Americans who have the skills to hold onto good paying jobs but their ability to gain entry to the super rich echelon is vanishingly small. In the eye of most Americans our politicians have been complicit.
The GOP, which has championed tax relief which favors the wealthy for the past 30 years, has put itself on the wrong side of history. Donald Trump has cast himself not like these other GOP “cookie cutter” candidates. In this way Trump can say he’s not an insider, not responsible for stagnated wages, and someone Americans could trust.
Please note that the vanishing American Dream is a product of both political parties. Democrats have simply been more attentive to women, immigrants, and marginalized groups. Democrats preach that they are the real friends of the middle class and working people, but other than entitlements there is little evidence to support this claim.
Back to making sense of Donald Trump.
Trump has routinely made outlandish statements and cleverly built his own persona. Trump picks one minority group and blames them for what ever comes to mind but his intention is to connect voter’s feelings to the lost American Dream and this minority or that one.
Trump has manipulated the media into providing him an outrageous amount of free air time and print space. It makes, at this time, no economic sense for the media to bite the hand that is feeding it.
The take home message is Donald Trump is a very important person.
The real issue is not Trump.
Income inequality is the real issue and it is killing the American Dream. Our politicians are hog tied by the need to solicit and accept large special interest campaign donations. The pols find election and reelection easier by taking “safe” positions on controversial issues (while the American Dream slips further away while we watch.
What is needed, IMO, is at least to begin a shift in the opposite direction aimed at achieving tax, securities, and labor laws more similar to the 50s and 60s.
The Donald Trump phenomena is a wakeup call to what lies just below the surface of American public opinion. Democracy can be over powered by fear. Unless there is hope that tomorrow will be better, fear mongers will have free reign.
While hope alone does not produce results, Trump’s embrace of fear has produced (short term) results. It will not make much difference who becomes the Republican or Democrat next President if we do not recognize the underlying cause of America’s fears over the lost American Dream.