My musings on different political topics relevant to America today.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Trump Factor

"Get him the hell out of here!" Trump thundered to insane applause as his crowd "assisted" the protester out of the rally.

Then he told China that they can go "fuck" themselves, or rather or mouthed if that really makes a difference

Then he said about terrorists that "We need to take out their families."

Then he said about Megan Kelly that she was "bleeding out of her wherever."

No matter what happens this election, its clear that Donald Trump has bulldozed over the previous status quo.  Donald Trump will go down in the history books because he has done what no one has done before him in American politics.  He has hijacked the machinery of the Republican party and is remaking it in his own image, singehandedly, and amazingly without spending much money at all compared to the other candidates, even among those that dropped out.

Image result for Donald TrumpDonald Trump is exploiting the brand of trump that he has built over a very long time.  In addition he has tapped into the anger of the disillusioned Republican base (and in particular white blue collar men) and ran with it.  I talked to a barber that liked Donald Trump recently and he told me he liked Donald Trump because "he is not a politician."  Distrust of politicians is at an all time high, and Donald Trump also taps into that.

However what I find most striking is how Donald Trump exploited the average conservative voter's complete distrust of the media to catapult himself to the front of the primary.  His strategy was simple.  Say outrageous things, draw the ire of the media, then conservatives will love him simply out of their common hatred for the media and its "political correctness."

What I find genius about his strategy is that it lacks substance, much in the same way as 2008 Obama.  Also just like Obama's 2008 bid, he appeals to his voters at a gut cultural level.  His appeal is not based off policy, its based off identity.  Obama wanted "Hope and Change."  Trump wants "To Make America Great Again."

Trumps campaign slogan perfectly taps into the conservative Armageddon victim narrative that America used to be great, it used to be based off Judaeo-Christian values, it used to for the middle class, it used to have good paying jobs, it used to have stable families, it used to etc. etc. etc.  And the fact is, there is truth to this narrative.  There are alot of things America used to be, that it isn't anymore.  Some of those things I would argue were bad, but I digress.  The point is that America, as his voters see it, has moved past them.  America no longer has room for them and their values.

If you drive through middle America you will know why this is so.  Strewn through the landscape are abandoned small towns that were once vibrant communities.  In particular in the rust belt, many towns have devolved into slums.  The people who are left have lost their pride, and now idle away their time without hope since the factory they worked at closed down, and now they live off the government dole.  The family has fallen apart, with absentee fathers just as if not more likely than present ones.  Since the traditional American dream is no longer possible in their minds, young men in these communities embrace a machismo ethic to cope with the new reality they now live in.

The community is angry for obvious reasons.  The world is far more uncertain now, along with their place in it.  Things are literally falling apart around them, and all their jobs seem to be going to China.

Meanwhile the Republicans toy with these voters by attacking illegal aliens for taking jobs and government benefits.  The Republicans toy with these voters by giving them a mythical boogieman called sharia law, attacking Liberal elites, and even talking tough about China.

Then here comes Donald Trump, who gives them all they wanted and more.  They are sick of being toyed with by Republicans, and straight up being ignored by Democrats.  Donald Trump addresses all their concerns.  The Washington consensus that globalization is always good finally has been broken.  Maybe Donald Trump can turn back the clock and "Make America Great Again."

I know particularly those on the left can't understand Donald Trump's appeal.  They think all of his supporters are just prejudiced bigots.  I don't deny that is a factor, but I think its clear thats not the only or even the most important issue.

Image result for detroit slumsThe real issue is that these towns are no longer economically viable.  The current economic model of a heavily regulated domestic economy, combined with globalization, has made factory towns mostly a thing of the past.  Many people have moved because of this to larger metropolitan areas, but those that have not adjusted have been hit extremely hard.  However many have deep attachments to their homes, their communities, and don't want to move.  Its likely in the end the harsh realities of globalization will force them to abandon these towns once and for all, yet maybe not.

They believe Donald Trump can erect trade barriers that will allow their towns to prosper once again.  Its not entirely far fetched.  America has had periods of history in which its barriers to trade were much greater than now.  Granted, I am fairly certain such a move will plunge us into deep recession and in the long run will lower overall productivity and increase prices, but I suppose there are some who shrug at this.  Afterall for their town, recession has been the natural state for 20+ years anyway.  In addition to them, the promise of low skilled decent paid jobs seems a worthwhile trade off.

The deeper moral question I think we need to ask, is whats the role of community?  Do we need community?  If we believe communities are important and worth protecting, then how is the best way to do that?  The book "Bowling Alone" looks into the phenomenon of declining social participation by individuals in society.  Most now isolate themselves in their own worlds and don't bother to connect with their neighbors, neighborhoods, communities, etc.  I suppose this is because communities are extremely fluid now.  People move in and out all the time.  People are connected to eachother in more atomized ways via the internet and other activities, but community of place has died, at least in suburbs and I assume urban areas as well.  I do wonder if we have lost something important by neglecting community of place.  Was there something such community provided that our current social institutions no longer provide?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but clearly these Trump supporters think their communities are worth protecting and rehabilitating.  I can't understand it personally because I have always lived in Suburbs, where community of place is a well constructed illusion, a sham, an imitation of the real thing that is clearly fake.  I also think most voters throughout the country don't understand such loyalty to place.  Most voters are much like me in this regard.  Thus to them, the only reason these voters vote for trump must be bigotry.  I just don't think its that simple at all.   I also don't think its constructive to hate on these voters, which closes down dialogue instantly.  This does not mean that one has to be charitable to Trump.  I believe we should heartily condemn Trump, but at the same time I think its important to extend an olive branch to his voters and listen.  We really should listen to all people and engage them, and especially when we vehemently disagree (even if they offend us).  If we don't, if instead we incessantly denounce his voters as evil racists, I fear we risk creating a chasm that cannot so easily be bridged.  I fear the future of politics will become a war of hate filled grievance politics, where one half of the nation blames the other half for their problems.  I hope this does not happen.  I sincerely hope we can move onto a higher politics not based on victimization, but rather on mutual respect and a thorough debate on the issues and solutions.  I fear this is a pipe dream, but who knows, maybe I will be proved wrong.  I certainly hope so.

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