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Sunday, December 20, 2015
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According to the 15-day moving average of poll results for the GOP presidential nomination found on Real Clear Politics, Donald Trump has been in the lead since July 19. Many pundits at first speculated that he would be another “flavor of the week” phenomenon such as Rick Santorum, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich were in the 2008 primary season. But OK, we’re now going on 5 months, and the first primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire are only a month and a half away. Trump’s RCP average just hit a new high at 34%, and one poll from last week (Monmouth) put him at 41%. An increasing number of political junkies have decided that we’d better take a closer look at what’s going on here and figure out whether something is changing among Republican voters (and possibly among the American population in general). I’m going to get on board with that trend and have a look myself.

Two recent articles by journalist Thomas Edsall make a good start at analyzing the Trump phenomenon from a political science point of view. In the first article, Edsall says that even though Trump’s future as a presidential candidate is uncertain (we don’t know yet if all those people who say they love him will really show up at the polling booths and party caucuses once the primaries begin), “we still need to understand the roots of his current success”. In order to get a start on that, Edsall cites a recent Pew Center research paper showing that “Trump’s backing from voters with a high school degree or less is twice as high as is it is from those with college degrees; the percentage of men lining up behind him is eight points higher than the percentage of women; voters from households making $40,000 or less are 12 points more likely to cast a Trump ballot than those from households making more than $75,000.”

According to Edsall, “Trump appeals to the anger, discontent and sense of entrapment that plague contemporary voters . . . ” As with most, if not all GOP presidential candidates, Trump’s support comes primarily from Euro-Caucasians, i.e. white people; but Trump specializes in discontented, down-on-their-luck whites. “Trump makes white working-class voters, the core of his support, feel safe . . . ” In his second article, Edsall states that “three current trends — voter anger over immigration, over offshoring and robotization, and over damage wrought by the economic meltdown of 2008 — [have] been crucial to Trump’s success.” Yes, these do sound like the things that have been making a lot of white working-class people upset in recent times.

Robert Reich came to a similar conclusion just a few days ago in an article in the Huffington Post. Reich’s article is the most cogent and “on target” analysis of Trump’s support I’ve read thus far; unlike Edsall’s academic approach, it comes across as a wake up call. Reich warns that even if Trump eventually flops, the discontent that he managed to appeal to is not going away, and is going to become an increasingly powerful and potentially dangerous force in American politics in the near future. Reich’s article is entitled “The Revolt of the Anxious Class”; this is one of those rare titles that adds a lot of punch and substance to what the author tries to get across in the bulk of the article. The word “revolt” is powerful, and it is not being used lightly here by Reich; he means REAL REVOLT, stuff that could truly change our nation as we know it. (And not necessarily for the better.)

I’m going to quote some parts of Reich’s article, maybe more than the “fair use” doctrine would allow. But this article is so darn good, so on-target — it’s a MUST READ for anyone interested in current American political trends.

. . . the middle class is shrinking . . . [the] odds of falling into poverty are frighteningly high, especially for the majority without college degrees . . . many are part of a burgeoning “on-demand” workforce — employed as needed, paid whatever they can get . . . the stress is taking a toll. For the first time in history, the lifespans of middle-class whites are dropping . . . they’re poisoning themselves with drugs and alcohol, or committing suicide . . .

(Reich here is citing a recent research paper on increasing mortality rates in recent years for non-college white adults, see http://www.pnas.org/content/112/49/15078.full.pdf)

Can government help? Those who support Obama, Clinton and Sanders would think so, but Reich’s anxious middle class thinks otherwise:

Government can’t be counted on to protect them . . . government won’t protect their jobs from being outsourced to Asia or being taken by a worker here illegally . . . government can’t even protect them from evil people with guns or bombs. Which is why the anxious class is arming itself, buying guns at a record rate . . . they view government as not so much incompetent as not giving a damn. It’s working for the big guys and fat cats — the crony capitalists who bankroll candidates and get special favors in return.

When I visited so-called “red” states this fall, I kept hearing angry complaints that government is run by Wall Street bankers who get bailed out . . . it was only a matter of time before the anxious class would revolt . . . They’d support a strongman who’d promise to protect them from all the chaos. Who’d save jobs from being shipped abroad, slam Wall Street, stick it to China, get rid of people here illegally, and block terrorists from getting into America. A strongman who’d make America great again — which really means make average working people safe again.

Reich then goes back to the real world, a world in which neither Donald Trump nor anyone else could accomplish what Trump promises to do, given the boundaries of the American constitutional system. But that fact doesn’t diminish the sense of hope that Trump brings to his anxious and dis-spirited followers: “Still, they think maybe he’s smart enough and tough enough to pull it off. He’s rich. He tells it like it is. Most are good people, not bigots or racists. They work hard and they have a strong sense of fairness. But their world has been slowly coming apart. And they’re scared and fed up. Now someone comes along who’s even more of a bully than those who for years have bullied them economically, politically, and even violently. The attraction is understandable, even though misguided.”

Reich’s leaves us with a warning:

If not Donald Trump, then it will be someone else posing as a strongman. If not this election cycle, it will be the next one. The revolt of the anxious class has just begun.

OK, perhaps Reich is something of a drama queen here. He is a liberal labor economist, after all, and probably takes Karl Marx more seriously than most of us do. We may not be on the verge of a mass uprising, of huge citizen rallies lit by bonfires. Still, this is certainly something to think about.

In a way, Trump’s support is not all that different from Obama’s message in 2008 — Hope and Change. People, especially younger people, believed it and believe IN it. As it turned out, Obama hardly came close to doing what he made his followers dream of, i.e. an American transformed, an America coming together and leaving behind the bitter partisan political fighting. But as a skilled politician, Obama still got re-elected and (presumably) will successfully complete his second term as President in another year. So Obama did OK for himself, but America . . . not so much. Trump would be something of an inside-out Obama; perhaps the scientific concept of symmetry also applies to politics. I rather doubt that Trumps’ “Hope and Change” for anxious whites is going to do any better than Obama’s Hope and Change for Millennials and minorities. I hope that we won’t find out.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:16 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, All the points of this post are so right that it’s enough to make some people cry—almost, or feel that should Trump actually become elected they may have to move to Canada.

    Something about this seems odd to me: As you mention, it’s generally the Middle Class who are descending closer to the “poor class” who tend to want Trump as president. Yet, somehow it does not occur to these same descending Middle Class individuals that Mr. Trump is part of the 1%, which he seems unable to stop telling people, rubbing their nose in the fact of his “rich-ness”. Something is wrong with that picture.

    Trump would send all immigrants, and their children, back to where they came from. Has it occurred to him that his own wives have all been immigrants and thus all his children are also part of the group to be “sent back”? I’m sure he’d make an exception for them. They’re rich.

    One wonders if Mr. Trump has ever read the Constitution of the U.S. What else need be said about that?

    Those who hope Trump would “protect them” from having jobs sent overseas should look to the TV program “Shark Tank”. I’ve noticed whenever one of the members of that group (all of whom one might posit are easily members of the 1%) is interested in a product for investment the first question out of his/her mouth is “have you considered sending work overseas yet?” It seems to me that the 1%-ers have little use for preserving jobs in America. What makes people think Trump would be interested in keeping jobs in America?

    Should Trump become president will it be the turn of the U.S. to have a president somewhat like Kruschev who back in the 1960s banged his shoe on the podium of the United Nations? (I see some articles indicate the situation was faked. But I remember the “scandal” of the entire thing and the inappropriateness of the situation that someone of the stature of leader of an important power of the world would do such an indecorous thing. Most people attributed his actions to his being inebriated.) I do not think Trump tends to be inebriated; but he certainly does not seem to have a wide vocabulary. (I’ll leave the rest unsaid.)

    One would hope that Trump has been in just a few states, that somehow some of the states he’s not been in and does not seem to have polls for rate him as high as he’s been rated up to this point.

    Another thing that occurs to me is the comparison to Hitler that some people make: It certainly is true that Hitler in his very early days as a leader in Germany did help the German people. At that time the rest of the world, as punishment to Germany for WWI, refused to help that country rebuild itself. The people were unable to even begin to get themselves back to any semblance of a return to an ability to restore their country. Hitler did help Germany in that regard; but then his continued actions became those of a madman. (Thus after WWII we had the Marshall Plan which was designed to help countries rebuild and thereby avoid the same situation that occurred after WWI.) At this point the U.S. Middle Class is hardly in the position European countries were in after either of the “great wars”. It seems to me that some better consideration be given to the Trump as 1% appealing to the Middle Class becoming poor class.

    It may be helpful for Hillary (or whoever the Dem nominee ends up being) to show some real “feeling” for the Middle Class and their needs.

    Russia is already on the verge of having another demagogue, if not there already; no wonder Mr. Putin likes Trump. Not only does Trump have the drive for power Putin recognizes, but Putin likely recognizes that Trump might easily be manipulated as he seems to be largely uneducated when it comes to anything beyond the concept of “I’m rich”.

    Years ago in the 1940s I had a 5th grade teacher who said that in 50 years the word “Democracy” would mean “Communism” and vice versa. Well, she was wrong by perhaps 50 years; but I keep thinking of her and wondering if, should Trump become president, she might have been wrong on the timing but right with the idea.

    And a word about Hillary: I’ve seen polls (and I say to myself “Who can believe them?” but this is one I’d like to believe) regarding who would win should Trump become the GOP nominee and Hillary become the Dem nominee: Exact numbers are not my forte but they came out something like Hillary in the 60%’s and Trump in the 30%’s—popular vote, not considering electoral vote, which may be the catch here. If that is/were true, there may be some hope yet should the popular vote and the electoral vote mesh. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — December 21, 2015 @ 2:57 pm

  2. Jim, Trump’s latest comment re Hillary is an example of what women can expect from the president should Trump get elected. This is not his first attack on a woman for being a woman; should he become president, women can expect just more of the same.

    Here’s an example of a man saying about a woman something he’d *never* say about or to a man, lest the man simply reach out and punch him in the nose.

    Seems the women will have to make it a point to vote in the presidential election and make sure the vote’s not for Trump, unless they want to be treated like 2nd class citizens for the time he’d be president. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — December 22, 2015 @ 10:04 am

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