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Monday, September 7, 2015
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

OK, so it’s still “way too early” to think about the 2016 Presidential election and the state primaries that will select the main candidates. Nov. 8, 2016 is still 15 months away, and the first state primaries in New Hampshire and Iowa will happen in a little less than 5 months. So if you’re not a political junkie like me, ignore the rest of this post and get back to whatever else you were doing.

But if you do like national politics, then we need to talk about what happened on the GOP side over the summer. According to compilations of average polling data from Real Clear Politics, on May 27 (just after Memorial Day), Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul help the top 4 slots in the race, in that order. It looked like the GOP “Establishment” was well in control. Jeb Bush is considered the candidate with the strongest ties to the establishment, but Walker and Rubio are both seen as acceptable. Rand Paul is a little bit different, a bit more of an “insurgent” with his libertarian stance; but like the other three, Paul is nonetheless an experienced national politician (currently a US Senator from Kentucky). Ever since going to Washington, he has been known to compromise and dilute the strict libertarian stances that his father (Rep. Ron Paul from Texas) took. And anyway, Paul didn’t seem like a real threat; he had captivated a tranche of devoted followers sympathetic to his ideological leanings, but he wasn’t expected to generate a broad appeal across the Republican faithful. The Establishment seemed to have the situation well in control.

Now it’s Labor Day and the top four in the nationwide polls are Donald Trump (27.8%), Dr. Ben Carson (13.5%), Jeb Bush (9.3%) and Marco Rubio (6.8%), with Ted Cruz (6.5%) and Carly Fiorina (5.5%) not far behind Rubio. So out of the top 6, we have three people who have never held public office, and a first-term US Senator (Cruz) who previously held appointed government jobs in the state and federal governments (Rubio has one year more experience in the US Senate, but was an elected Florida legislator since 2000). In other words, the will of the potential primary voters seems to have shifted away from the Establishment-approved choices. The candidates devoid of political “taint” (or only a little, in the case of Cruz) are now in vogue. Is this just some random “noise”, the kind of thing that is expected in the early stages of the nomination campaign (Nate Silver’s latest column advises us to
“Remain Calm and Ignore the Game Changers”)? Or is there some signal coming through, is there a wave of revolution forming?

A lot of political commentators thought that Trump would be a summer fling and by now would be past his peak and starting to decline in the polls. But it seems possible that he is being taken more and more seriously and is still gaining strength. A recent SurveyUSA poll shows Trump beating Hillary Clinton nationwide by 4 points.

Being a political junkie who gets over-excited by every new and surprising thing happening in the race (i.e., exactly what Nate Silver says NOT to do), I’m going to take a guess as to why so many Americans today would seriously consider having Donald Trump as their President. Trump caught fire a few months ago by making bold statements about illegal Mexican immigrants. Those statements were not at all positive; Trump claimed that many illegals are criminals who should be rounded up ASAP and shipped back where they came. Since then, he has continued to “build steam” through negativity. His targets have been the Chinese, rich financiers (the “Wall Street” crowd), along with career politicians, especially nationally known figures such as John McCain and Jeb Bush. Oh, and also the press (Megyn Kelly and Jorge Ramos). And of course he doesn’t trust the Iranians, he doesn’t like the nuclear fuel deal that Obama recently negotiated. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out just what Donald Trump does like (other than himself). He gets a lot more traction by talking about what’s wrong, than about what can be done to make things better. Anger seems to be his “trump card” (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

The other low-or-no experience candidates (Carson, Cruz and Fiorina) aren’t quite as negative and have a bit more to say as to what reforms they would make if elected. Nonetheless, most of their speeches are likewise long on principals and critiques of how things presently are, and short on policy guidance and realistic proposals for change. For some reason, large sections of the GOP “grassroots” (and even non-aligned independent voters) appear to have gained interest in hearing about what’s wrong, versus the boring details of what changes are actually possible in our current political climate.

What I think is happening is that a lot of people are and have for some time been hurting financially, quite a few more than in decades past. A lot of families are disappointed that their economic situation isn’t quite as good as they would have hoped. They aren’t better off than their parents, which in most of the 20th Century seemed like an American birthright; many of them are markedly worse off. And yet they see that America is still a very rich nation, and a handful of people and families share that pot of wealth disproportionately. Upward mobility seems to have stalled for all but the most well off. The financial crisis of 2007 and Great Recession of 2008 brought a lot of people down, and many never got back nearly to where they had been before. You can read all sorts of statistics and analysis about the worsening long-term trends regarding distribution of income and wealth. But it now seems possible that our national politics are being infected by this trend.

And that may not be such a good thing. When the electorate gets angry, they become subject to demagoguery. They don’t want another boring long-term proposal for government interventions; they want to know just who the enemy is, and how can that enemy be dispatched (as quickly as possible!). Power-hungry egoists often find ways to exploit such revolutionary spirit. The EXTREME EXAMPLE of course is the rise of Hitler and how the Nazi’s exploited the post-World War 1 setting in Germany. (And yes, this is an EXTREME example; I use it for simplicity and stark outline; let me clearly state that I am NOT suggesting that Donald Trump or any other Presidential nomination candidate are heinous criminals against humankind such as Hitler was — they may be identifying enemies, but they clearly would not set up gas chambers or aggressively roll tanks and jackbooted troops onto foreign soil).

Trump supporters are clearly NOT Nazi’s, but they do experience something akin to the social and economic dynamics that were present in Germany in the 1920’s and 30’s. I.e., the average family saw their living standards decline, and a clever political faction convinced many of them that this was due to a combination of foreign national enemies (i.e., the Allied WW1 victors who were enforcing burdensome reparation obligations against Germany), along with long-time national leaders who sold Germany out by intentionally or incompetently losing the Great War, and finally an unloyal internal faction (the Jews) who allegedly weakened the strength and well-being of the German nation.

Today, the “negative-ites” offer a somewhat similar cocktail to explain why things have gone so wrong. They mix one part foreign enemy (China and Iran) with another part leadership betrayal (the Washington career-politician class, along with their supporters in the media) along with a healthy dash of internal usurpers (those sinister illegal Mexican immigrants and their darn anchor-baby children). This seems to have gotten some results.

But I remain confident that a Germany 1933 could not happen here, that there won’t be a crystal night in the Latin barrios. Children born to illegal immigrants won’t be rounded up en mass and dumped off on the south side of the Rio Grande. But yet . . . modern economic trends will eventually help shape our politics. Economic changes do appear to be increasingly concentrating wealth among the well off, and economic opportunity and mobility for the middle and lower classes seems to have stagnated (and for the poorest, has gone into reverse — the poorest get ever poorer). Technology advances seem to be making the average middle-class, middle-skilled worker less and less in demand. And “share the wealth” proposals such as increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour could backfire and make things much worse for the youngest, most inexperienced workers (thus promoting more violent crime and urban street gang membership?). The wallet and pocketbook (and fear of crime) are extremely important political motivators, and many Americans today are being motivated in the wrong way.

Hopefully, however, the overwhelming majority of Americans are too smart today to be taken in by someone who claims to know why they suffer and who offers “strongman” solutions that would eventually concentrate power and slowly require the elimination of Constitutional protections. I mean, Trump must just be kidding about changing the 14th Amendment so as to deny citizenship to babies born to illegal parents on American soil . . . right? And even if not, Trump will be gone by next March and the sober, experienced Establishment candidates will be back in control . . . right?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 1:18 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Some random tho’ts about this post: One thing we do know about Donald Trump is that he’s “Great!!!” And his ideas are “Great!!!” And everything he *does* is “Great!!!” It seems to me that likely, if Mr. Trump should by any chance become president, he will end up sending everyone except people of color who are descended from slaves back to their own countries of origin.

    I find myself wondering just where Mr. Trump himself stands in the immigrant status. Would he end up sending himself or his wife, and any of her children back to where they all came from? It seems Donald Trump’s own wife is an immigrant, born in Slovenia and became a naturalized citizen in 2006, a mere nine years ago. In fact, his wife previous to the one he has now, Ivana Trump, was born in Czechoslovakia; he has grown children with her. Would he send his own children back to “where they came from?” Were/Are they “anchor babies”?

    A definite “who’d’ve thunk” as I see it. Is he thinking of sending his own wife/wives back and his own children who are now adults back to “where they came from”? Or maybe he means only the “poor” ones. Just a few questions.

    Maybe he’s just what this last generation (or two) coming up respond to as they think exactly like Donald Trump does – everything they think, do, and are is just “Great”! Or maybe I have a wrong impression of them.

    Seems as it stands at this point many of those immigrating from Middle Eastern countries already have the message and understand it as they are heading toward Germany now it seems. That’s another “who’d’ve thunk” if there ever was one, I’d say.

    Then too, I find myself wondering if Trump’s rising in the polls is a function of people who just want to “stir the pot” and are having a good laugh about things now; but when it comes down to their actual vote, might these individuals revert back to voting for whoever they’d have voted for had Trump not been running. In other words: Let’s have a little fun and see how outrageous Trump can get. But when it comes right down to it, I should will *not* vote for Trump.

    As to your points about the economy being a source of our nation’s problems: I could not agree more. However, I do think that the entire information age is on the verge of changing things economically. I’m surprised at the number of projects (right word?) that are new “inventions” by common people, designed to change how the economy works. E.g.: Such “projects” (still can’t figure out the appropriate word) “Kickstarter” designed to get people with little or no money – or perhaps less money than needed but more than one might initially think – funded in a new business. There are also other types of “gimmes” (“please send money”) designed to help people that are in serious need of money with little or no way to get it, such as “Gofundme” or “Indiegogo” who do raise surprisingly large amounts of money from ordinary people contributing (more or less amounts) to a particular need. I myself have given more than once to such fundings. Then there are such beginning businesses as those on “Etsy”; I find myself wondering just how much money these people bring in per year. But it must be sufficient as they seem to stay around for some years.

    Of course, the really only way for these groups to raise the surprisingly large amounts of money is to have a “following” of some sort or to be known through some social media that goes “viral”.

    I look at these fundings and starts of home businesses and find myself wondering if I’m seeing the start of a whole new economy and way of doing business. Or is this just something to hold people over so they have a meal once a day? I tend to think it’s more the start of a return to the early 1000 years (say 1200s, 1300s, 1400s, etc.) where people worked at home; other people who wanted to learn a trade of some kind became apprentices, gradually worked themselves into journeyman status, and on to “master”. I’m not saying the present way of doing this would be the same as a thousand years ago; we’d have to establish present day ways of doing this; but perhaps these are the start of a change in the economy. Maybe the new way of doing things is right in front of us, but we just don’t see it yet. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — September 7, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

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