It’s hard to believe Donald Trump is running for president. It’s the sort of thing I’d expect for the plot of a movie, where the egotistical billionaire with the magnetic personality plays his cult of personality into a political career. I admit that I laughed when he announced his candidacy. I laughed (and celebrated) when he knocked Jeb Bush on his behind (we’ve already had Bush v. Clinton once). I figured, like everyone else, that his support would dry up, and his candidacy would crash and burn long before he got close to the nomination. It was sort of humorous to me, watching the Republicans flounder about as this outsider made them all look like idiots by pulling them down to his level, hurling personal insults back and forth. I don’t much care for the establishment of either political party, and I like to see elitists who think they’re in control get their comeuppance. Laying that aside (I’ll revisit later), I would say Donald Trump is about the last person I’d have chosen or predicted to lead a grass roots revolutions against the political establishment.
Now, nobody’s laughing anymore. Now he’s won the nomination, which everyone said was impossible. Predictably, everyone now says it’s impossible that he’ll beat Hillary. At this point, I hesitate to say that anything is impossible in American politics. Now, I don’t want to get into bashing either candidate. They frankly don’t really need me or anyone else to make them look stupid, dishonest, and arrogant. They do a fine job themselves. I also don’t want to get into comparing the policy of the two. Hillary’s policy is just as inconsistent as anyone who’s been in politics for twenty years. It changes based on which way the wind is blowing. Donald’s isn’t really coherent enough to analyze. It doesn’t seem to make sense to anyone but him
As I’ve written before, I’m a proud non-voter. I just don’t think it matters all that much. This is where my perspective differs markedly from others. As an Aspie, I lack any social identification. I don’t consider myself an American, or a Kentuckian, or a white person, or anything else. I’m me, and I’m not really interested in what labels other people use to describe me or place me into some category. It’s my understanding that this may seem very strange to my readers. Most people seem to draw a significant portion of their identity from the ways they’re viewed by other people. I do not. This gives me a rather different perspective than most people.
From my perspective, then, politics looks quite different. Where most people see their own collective action, or that of those who disagree, I see something more akin to a vast, complicated, interplay of forces, some known and some unknown, most well beyond the ability of any individual to influence or control. Now I’m not saying that politics, law, and government doesn’t matter. It clearly does. Law and government affect everyone, but then, so does the weather. I don’t control either one, and they’re large and complicated enough that it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen. I view government much like the weather. It’s a set of conditions I have no control over, and I should take those conditions into account when I make decisions.
So, what strange set of conditions could result in a man like Donald Trump getting the Republican nomination. The articles I’ve read have various suggestions. Some blame the Republicans for courting southern white racist resentment after the civil rights movement of the sixties in order to gain political territory in the south. Some blame the existing racist sentiment in the country now. Some attribute his rise to yet another revival of traditional American Populism, which has a long history. Some media perversely blame themselves for giving The Donald free media coverage, while they’re continuing to cover him. None of these sentiments are entirely right, or entirely wrong, but they all have the same thing in common. The overestimate the importance of individual human actions and opinions, and underestimate the importance of impersonal forces, and basic human nature.
To me, it seems they all miss the mark slightly. To quote a famous President, “It’s the economy stupid.” The economy has been changing. Corporations have grown very large, and effectively operate in many countries. As such, they cannot be effectively controlled by any government. Think GE is putting out too much pollution? America can pass a law, but they can’t enforce it on a factory in China. Is the tax rate too high in Germany? Fine, we’ll move our headquarters to Switzerland. The decisions of those companies affect millions of people, people who buy their products, people who are their employees, and people who operate and work for the businesses that supply them with parts/materials. The removal of a factory to Mexico has a profound effect on the economy of any town. The benefits of free trade are never evident in the short term, and that isn’t the point anyway. The point isn’t whether people are materially better or worse. The point is they don’t have any say. They have no power, no control over their destiny.
All people know is that the high paying, unionized jobs are gone, and they’re replaced with non-unionized service jobs, (Wal-Mart, McDonald’s). The high wages and benefits that their fathers fought tooth and nail for are yanked out from under them by executives living hundreds of miles away. Those jobs then go overseas, where executives can exploit workers in the same ways the law prevents them from exploiting American workers. They’re building mansions on the backs of Asian and Latin American labor who operate under conditions and at wage levels that have been illegal in this country for three quarters of a century, and there is no way to make the people who make those decisions answerable to anyone. The problem is simple human nature. Given the chance, the most ruthless will exploit people to the greatest extent possible. Then, in order to compete, everyone else is forced to match that behavior. Governments exist, in part, to prevent people from exploiting one another, but when the people doing the exploiting can easily get beyond the reach of the government, there is no accountability. The aristocrats are global, able to easily move across borders. The people are generally not
Now, I’m not trying to demonize these people. Most executives who make those decisions are just doing their jobs. I’m not innocent. Our small business purchases cartridges from foreign manufacturers. We couldn’t stay in business if we didn’t. Nobody is Snidely Whiplash, toiling their black moustache and plotting how to make people as miserable as possible. That’s not how it works. 99% of them have no more control of their situation than anyone else. They’re just doing what they feel like they have to get by. There are certainly a few who are putting profit before anything else, and aren’t very apologetic about it. The Republican nominee may very well be one of them. The problem lies in the fact that everybody doing what’s best for them individually, isn’t necessarily good for anyone collectively.
Globalization has taken away some of the power of governments to reign in the worst excesses of the aristocrats. It has changed the nature and types of American jobs, and left a lot of people, many of them being older and less able and willing to retool themselves for different jobs. In this, at least, Trump has, perhaps accidentally, tapped into an undercurrent of resentment that has been building for generations. The consequences of free trade and globalization are very real, and politicians in power have mostly ignored them. The result is, well, Donald Trump.
A government, any government, can only ignore the wishes of its people for a certain amount of time, before those people get angry. Well, people are angry, and a lot of them are willing to put a buffoon on the throne just to take the aristocrats off of it. Every candidate in the Republican primary, every single one, who was embraced by the establishment, the ‘donor class’, was immediately and thoroughly defeated. First Bush, then Rubio, then Cruz. All it took was the very wealthy elites that rule the Republican Party supporting a candidate, and that candidate tanked. They never figured it out either. They still haven’t. They’ve instead decided to attribute the failures of those candidates to transient, probably irrelevant, trivialities like saying something wrong, or making a bad strategic decision. If saying stupid things or looking foolish on camera were going to sink someone, wouldn’t Donald be the first casualty? No, make no mistake. There’s an undercurrent of anger at the political and economic leadership of this nation, and they ignore it at their peril. Revolutions seldom end well for the aristocrats.
Racism is, as is often the case, a red herring. Blaming ‘outsiders’ like immigrants, foreigners, etc. is a fairly predictable human reaction to economic hardship, especially when that hardship is largely a result of changes in the nature and type of job skills required by an economy. It is a symptom, but it is not the root cause of the illness. The fact that terrorism has risen over the past two decades and the influx of Hispanic immigrants only really has the effect of choosing the targets. Hence, a man who promises to ban Muslims and build a wall suddenly has a message that resonates. Many of his supporters are probably not racists, at least not consciously so. They just want the government to recognize their grievances. They’ll willingly vote for someone they don’t personally like in order to depose someone they hate passionately, if their person is willing to (at least superficially) give them a voice. This is how despots come to power. America is not immune just because it’s America.
So, that’s my assessment. Trump is the inevitable result of an unresolved conflict between the political ruling class of the United States, who by and large benefits from open immigration and trade policy, and the people, who don’t want to hear about invisible benefits while factories sit visibly empty. They don’t want to hear about curbing carbon emissions when they know the Chinese aren’t going to cut theirs. Uneducated does not equal stupid. If Trump fails, someone else will come along, then someone else, then someone else, until and unless some limitations are imposed upon unrestricted free trade, and/or some measures are taken to directly ameliorate those affected by globalization changes, in the form of tax breaks, social welfare programs, etc. It will not go away because politicians would rather stick their heads in the sand than risk offending their precious campaign donors. This conflict can only continue for so long before the people take more drastic measures. I recently looked at a map of the United States based on Google Search results. The person typing started with Texas wants, or Kentucky wants, or California wants, and then, as we’re all familiar with, Google Search completes the sentence based on what searches people are searching. Here’s a link.
Still wonder how we ended up with Donald Trump? I don’t. Still think he can’t win? I’m not at all sure. I can’t make much of a difference either way, and I’m not sure it matters. To me, there’s a degree of historical inevitability to things. If Trump isn’t America’s Julius Caesar, someone else will be. I’m not sure Trump is the worst kind of tyrant either. He’s clearly not ideologically driven, so comparing him to Hitler misses the mark by a wide margin. He doesn’t appear to be motivated by a lust for power as much as a lust for popularity, and while neither are particularly attractive in a presidential candidate, the latter is probably less dangerous. He wouldn’t be the first ‘man of the people’ to be universally loathed by the political establishment either. Everything that’s being said about him was being said about Andrew Jackson over 150 years ago. He’s a buffoon. He’s a clod. He’s a dangerous loose cannon. He’s a tyrant in the making. Jackson was most of those things, but it didn’t destroy the nation. The thing that will probably doom Trump is his unpopularity with women, which is probably deserved. Women didn’t vote when Jackson was elected.
I have been a proud non-voter for several years, and I’m not seeing a compelling reason to change that policy now. If I do vote, it will probably be for the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. If it looks like he has half a chance to win, I probably will vote for him. A lot of things can happen before election day, and the two major parties have picked probably the two most reviled candidates in history. If ever there was a time for a third party candidate to make a legitimate run, this is it.