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Monday, January 4, 2016
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

Damon Linker recently wrote a great article about the whole Trump phenomenon, an article that is both reassuring and scary. Linker repeats the growing wisdom that Trump’s support comes mainly from the down and out working-class white population. As I noted in my previous post on Trump (Time to Take the Donald Seriously?), a growing number of writers are taking the time to think this whole Trump thing through, given that it doesn’t seem to be fading quite as quickly as was expected. As Linker points out, there is a growing consensus that non-professional / non-college whites are the intended target of Trump’s message, and that they have been buying it in bulk.

So, it turns out that Trump is indeed a “populist”, a politician who speaks directly to the problems of an unhappy population and promises direct relief for each malady. But here’s the rub — if Trump’s working class whites only wanted better economic circumstances, Bernie Sanders should be their man. Sanders is making all sorts of promises (which I doubt that he could actually keep)(not in the long run anyway) to improve the lot of those who have been excluded from the dynamic growth of the American economy over the past decade or two. Sanders is willing to address the travesty of an America growing richer and richer and yet sharing its riches with fewer and fewer each year, promising to us whatever means seem necessary. Mostly those means would be a highly interventionist, quasi-socialist government.

Personally, I don’t think that a socialist political economy would be good for us in the long run. But certainly in the short run, a Sanders administration would manage to take from the rich and give to the not-so-rich. You would think that might be attractive to non-professional whites struggling to get by on low-wage or itinerant jobs in the service sector, now that the unionized manufacturing jobs that once gave their families so much opportunity are long gone.

So why isn’t Sanders holding massive rallies for disenfranchised white workers in post-industrial midwestern towns like Youngstown, OH or Kenosha, WI? Well, for better or worse (probably for worse), Trump is playing the classic GOP “culture” card. Do you remember President Richard Nixon and his talk about “the Great Silent Majority”? Nixon and his advisers had found a way to separate large portions of the working class from the young idealists of the 1960 and 70s who, in the wake of anti-Vietnam war activism on the college campuses promised to re-make the world and to fairly share its wealth. Nixon found a way to convince those who hadn’t been educated on these campuses that the protesters and long-haired activists weren’t like them, that despite their seductive economic reform messages, the new-generation would impose a world of drugs and promiscuity and disdain for religion, a world that the working class would not want.

And even worse, if mostly unspoken, the Nixonites hinted that this new-generation really wanted to help those who were even worse off than them, i.e. the “undeserving poor” from the largely minority urban and rural communities. By the time the young reformers got through with giving those people lots of new housing and daycare and schools and medical care, there obviously wouldn’t be much left over for the struggling white towns and neighborhoods.

If you ever read Thomas Frank’s 2004 book “What’s the Matter With Kansas“, you understand that the “Silent Majority” tactic was and continues to be a winner for the Republican Party. This is why Sanders stays close to college towns and isn’t sweeping the Rust Belt. It’s that magical mixture of magnifying social value dissonances while playing one group’s needs against another’s that convinces many disgruntled whites that the anti-government Republican conservatives are their friends. Even when they talk about cutting back on Medicare and Social Security, while those like Sanders talk about expanding these supports.

If this is true, then Trump and his “white populism” isn’t going away anytime soon. Linker refers to certain liberal commentators who appreciate Trump’s appeal, and who suggest that his supporters could be enticed by promises of policy tweeks meant to help working families. Linker rightly rejects these suggestions — Trump’s supporters want a lot more than expanded child care tax credits and job relocation assistance from the government. They don’t particularly trust the government anymore — it seems to be run mostly by those long-haired people (or wanna-be long=haired) that Nixon didn’t like (take a look at Sanders’ hairstyles over the years). So, even though Trump may lose some of the GOP base, i.e. the true conservatives and Tea Partiers who realize that Trump’s anti-immigrant initiatives will require even bigger government interventions than what they currently rail against, Trump may well bring in a lot of new primary voters from his constituency.

(But that’s the wild card for Trump — a lot of his supporters were never really politically active; many probably didn’t even vote in most general elections, to say nothing of voting in primaries, or even harder, attending party caucuses as in Iowa. Can he get them to do so now for him?).

The bad thing is that Trump has a “movement” behind him, a movement whose rapid rise in support is probably not going to fade quickly as recently happened to Ben Carson, and in 2012 to Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain. The GOP is going to have to deal with Trump, one way or another. Even if Trump’s support level doesn’t grow much past what the polls currently indicate, i.e. between 35 and 40 percent of potential Republican voters, it would be hard for the rest of the party to unite behind a Trump alternative and get the 50 percent or so necessary to beat him. The Republicans appear to be split in 3: aside from the Trump faction, there are the Establishment (Bush, Christie, Rubio) and the non-Trump “purer” conservatives (mostly lining up now behind Ted Cruz). Even if the pro-Establishment faction soon decides on one standard-bearer (probably Rubio, but that would require Bush and Christie to fold early, which they don’t seem inclined to do), I don’t believe that they and Cruz could make peace and decide on a “coalition candidate” anytime soon. This suggests that the GOP candidate will be decided upon at a “brokered convention“, where the 3 factions would have to hammer out a messy deal.

In the wake of such a messy deal, I can’t see how the Republicans could win against Hilary Clinton in November, even if she encounters more troubles along the way (which seems quite likely; for one thing, the FBI e-mail server investigation is still not resolved). The GOP will go into the final months before the general election as a weakened, ad hoc party held together with duct tape. Obviously, Donald Trump and his white army is good news for the Democrats. If Trump were to be the GOP candidate (or VP candidate through some compromise), he would bring out a lot of white voters who probably otherwise would have stayed home. But his presence on the ticket would inspire all the more turnout from those groups that the Democrats are banking on, i.e. blacks, Hispanics, women and educated / professional white voters. The “new demographics” which opened the White House to Barack Obama would probably overcome any Trump-inspired white-effect, given the general growth of the Democratic constituencies relative to the stagnant white working class population.

Will any good come out of the Trump phenomenon? If you are a Democrat, especially a Clinton Democrat, you obviously believe that a LOT of good will happen. Hilary Clinton will most certainly become the 45th President, and perhaps the Democrats will retake the Senate. But will Hilary then “hear” what all those working class whites who will vote against her are trying to say? Her husband Bill was rather popular with them, he was able to “hear” them, or at least he make them believe that he did. Bill Clinton’s presidency is still popularly remembered as a “good presidency”, despite his on-the-job shenanigans.

Right now, Bernie Sanders and the Democrat activists are distracting Hilary and discouraging her from embracing her husband’s generally successful leadership formula. As such, she could have a close call against a Trump-powered GOP ticket (she could lose one or two previously reliable Democratic states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota or Iowa, and probably would lose Ohio; although she would probably gain enough in the South and Southwest to make up for this, e.g. North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico). A close shave might convince her party to allow Clinton to “triangulate” back to Bill’s more centrist positions. And if that were to happen, then I believe that Hilary Clinton could have a very good presidency, perhaps one even better than her husband had.

So, in the end, perhaps the Trump phenomenon WILL have a good effect for the nation as a whole, and not just for Democratic partisans. It will make Hilary Clinton a better leader. Or let’s hope, anyway.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:57 am      

  1. Jim, It seems the articles about Trump, the GOP, and what may happen should Trump win or lose the nomination (to say nothing of the election) all seem somewhat similar. They talk about what the “issues” are and how the hopeful nominee might handle them. (Certainly, that’s about the only thing one can discuss in an article about presidential nominees – that is, until Donald Trump came along.)

    What surprises me about these articles, and is something I’ve noticed over the last few elections: The voters seem to be doing less “thinking” about who gets their vote and more “feeling” about for whom to vote. (Do they like how she/he looks? Do they like how the person presents her/himself? What is actually said, as I see it, seems far down on any voter’s list. It seems the voters are going by how they “feel” toward an individual running for office rather than the nominee’s ability for the office, ideas regarding what needs to be done, and how it should be done.

    I once heard that perhaps 3 or 4 decades ago the Democrats had done a documentary regarding the GOP individual running for president. The Dems had the idea that the words they said were devastating to the GOP. However, the GOP blatantly was very glad for that particular documentary, saying that people only looked at the pictures, that the words meant little or nothing to the voters. Since the pictures alone, without giving attention to the words said, were favorable to the GOP, the documentary was favorable to the GOP. I find myself wondering if the only ones “thinking” about the “Trump issue” are those few who write about it and those few who read what is written about it. How do the ordinary voters “feel” about Trump as president? How do they “feel” about Trump as a, to put it crudely, “loud mouth”; to put it genteelly, “bluntly says what he thinks” president?

    From another standpoint, I once saw a program called “Undercover Boss” which featured Donald Trump. (The high level officer disguises him/herself and works every, single job in the company, particularly the lower level jobs paying minimum wage.) Trump had a peculiar attitude toward being on this program: He refused to be “in disguise” – so it was obvious who the “chief honcho” was. When told by a woman housekeeper to clean the bathroom (and the toilet), he flat out refused to do any of it. His approach to that was a blunt: “Hell, no, I’m not doing *that*!” A strange attitude toward those who work to maintain his stature in the 1%.

    While my attitude toward Trump is that should he be elected, I may have to move to Canada, I find myself wondering why nobody (as in no nominee) is listening, much less speaking about the idea that Pope Francis [yes, I’m bringing him into this] brought up: It may be possible that the changing world we have, whatever the change brings for the world as a whole, will require some different kind of economic system than Capitalism. (I have no clue here about what different kind would be appropriate; I’m just asking the question and wondering about the situation.)

    And sure enough, it’s the 1% who seem to be most worried on a sort of unconscious level about the economic system. While the 1% is not saying it in words, it seems to me they are most concerned about keeping the system we currently have that brought them into the 1%. The rest of the population may not even have a good idea of what Capitalism is, to say nothing of the concept of supply and demand, for instance. I’m not disparaging “the rest of the population”, I’m just wondering about them if their approach to those is office is how a voter “feels” about someone running for office.

    It does seem to me that Donald Trump is, on some level, well aware of the “feeling” aspect of voting and using it to best effect for himself.

    I also find myself wondering if just worrying about an economic system is enough. As a president, or even as someone who gets to the point where he/she could be one of two who might hold that office, the individual holding that office must have knowledge about so many other areas than the economic system; and here I would include the immigration issue as part of the economic system, to say nothing of the immigrant/war issue(s) that plague so many parts of the world and bring pain and suffering to so many people in the world. They seem to be very different issues, but in the end they boil down to money and the economy.

    From my point of view (and I know there are many who would disagree with me) I certainly hope Donald Trump will bring only good news to Hillary Clinton. I liked (notice a “feeling” word). . . let me rephrase: I would judge she did an excellent job as Secretary of State, an office that brings her experience and knowledge with most of the world and which is a most important factor in judging who might be president. Yet, are there enough people who factor in that aspect of her experience and knowledge to bring her to the presidency? Or would she be judged on how her hair was fixed or what she wore the day before voting?

    And an added note: “The Atlantic” has two articles, one on the GOP and one on the Democrats and their nominees. I’ve not finished reading both of these articles so have not commented on them. But one thing stands out in my mind about Donald Trump: He seems to be a “street fighter”, i.e.: No rules, any way to win works. He is very “personal” in his attacks on other nominees, another version of “street fighting”; if he can’t win by “thinking”, he’ll win by “feeling”. (Say something that really hurts another person, as in: “Did you see her face?” or regarding John McCain: “I don’t like losers; he’s a loser, he was captured by he enemy.”) His appeal is more to the negative than to anything positive. It’s so easy to say what’s wrong; it’s so difficult to find a good way to “fix” what’s wrong.

    All of Donald Trump’s approaches and words may possibly appeal to a voter who gives little “thought” to issues but a lot of “feeling” to them. Let’s hope we get someone who is able to “think” well and sensibly on the enormous issues presently plaguing the world; but someone who also has a “feel” for the voters and respects those who elected her/him. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — January 4, 2016 @ 3:31 pm

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