Tuesday, October 8, 2019

And Why Trump Will Win Again in 2020

In his own P.T. Barnum way, Trump united small town working people with each other and with family farmers who had been driven to the wall by industrial farming, produce imported from low wage countries, and constant manipulations of financial markets that generated obscene profits for speculators but created wide swings in the prices of commodities and agricultural land that made small farming unsustainable.  In doing so, he turned the century old farmer-labor coalitions of Midwestern Democrats and Progressives on their heads, and managed to get enough votes to turn back the new Obama urban coalition of educated young professionals, aging liberals and poor minorities that had enabled the Democrats' to elect a black candidate despite their loss of traditional support among working people outside of the major urban centers.  Unlike Hillary Clinton and the establishment and Tea Party Republicans he out polled, Trump appeared to finally listen to the grievances of his new “silent majority”, and even pretended in his semi-coherent way to stand up for them after 35 years of neglect and betrayal by both parties by dumbing down his message and selling it enthusiastically and relentlessly.  Along with their respect for the power of the "big lie", Trump and his surrogates also used rallies and events in the same clever ways as the Nazis had in the 1930s - to amplify the supposed voice of "little people" by gathering them into crowds where they gained an initially unrealistic but increasingly self fulfilling view of the power of their own numbers and Trump was the only star.  In contrast, Clinton's rallies drew countless famous people from pop culture to energize her supporters, but did not provide the same immersive emotional experience of being part of a larger movement to the little people in attendance and tended to upstage the qualities of the candidate with the star power of her endorsers.

The final results did not so much reflect a lack for support for Clinton as a net rise in voter participation for Trump among people who had stopped caring about the government (as opposed to Tea Partiers who already actively hated and feared it), and this edge was enough to sweep an unqualified, temperamentally unsuited, and generally dishonest person into leadership of the Free World.  The media and Democratic Party analysts can slice and dice the data in a thousand ways, as they did before the election, and it still won't explain why Hillary lost after she had run the right kind of campaign to win an election in an increasingly pluralist and supposedly data driven America.  My post mortem review indicates that all anyone needs to know about this election can be seen in the maps showing vast red expanses of counties in rural areas of the swing states that had turned colors many times over past election cycles in favor of particular candidates or messages, and in some of the lopsided vote totals these smaller counties returned for Trump.  While Trump's support in urban areas was generally a distinct minority composed of his basket of young deplorables from the alt.right and aging Archie Bunker holdouts in shrinking white neighborhoods, he almost uniformly swept the votes in districts which used to have functional Democratic Party support in those cities of under 100,000 people anchored for many decades by local industry, and these allowed him to win the electoral vote with close races in swing states despite coming up short in the total popular vote.  I guess it took the gut feelings of a “big picture” promoter to see through the details of single issue voters and demographic voting propensities that for years have hidden a larger and simpler (and therefore more troubling) picture of the mood among the least cultivated and often least rational segment of our electorate.  From the evidence in the swing state voting, I think this election was more about geography and economics than age, sex, religion or level of education (although many of these may correlate statistically by reason of self selection - i.e., young people, liberals, gays, atheists and highly educated people tend to move to urban areas where they find better opportunities and social acceptance).  While Trump's marketing ploys may have exposed a more realistic fault line in America than the market segmentation and targeting of minorities and single issue voters that got Obama elected and reelected, I personally find it sad that Trump and his racist allies have replaced Lincoln and his abolitionist allies as the face of the Republican Party, and I still believe from the exit polling that there were more people on the wrong side of the fundamental geographical, economic and cultural divide who were willing to overlook the racist and misogynist overtones of his campaign than the numbers who actually embraced it.  Because so many of the Trump voters were willing to ignore facts and common sense to vote against the establishment, this election has provided future Republican strategists with a new corollary that Lincoln left out of his famous quote on the American electorate – “You can win an election if you fool most of the people most of the time.”

To illustrate the problem with an analogy, most people know that even the most loyal and good natured dog can turn vicious and aggressive if it is abused or neglected over a long enough period, and once a good dog turns bad, it takes an enormous amount of time, attention and consistency to restore its trust in people and bring back its original character.  Some people are willing to make the effort to turn the situation around and have the love and patience to rescue a dog, but others don't believe that it is worth the time and effort, or the risk of the rescuer being attacked and injured during the process because of the evils inflicted by other people over the years which the dog comes to associate with people in general.  I have likely wasted thousands of hours over this long election reading, researching and vacillating between mindless rants and more elegant but equally feeble efforts to explain things political and historical in an election that defies precedent, and while I like to think I understand what went wrong with politics in this election, I came away with no good ideas of how anyone would fix the situation, regardless of who ultimately won the contest.  In my frustration, I have been forced to fall back on a piece of blunt New England wisdom offered at the end of what is perhaps Robert Frost’s most morbid poem, “Out, Out”, where a young New England farm boy bleeds to death after cutting his hand off with a power saw.  After recounting the boy's last moments, the surreal nature of the momentary violence of the accident and quiet fading of his life, and the helpless moment when the family confirms that his heart had stopped, Frost closes with words that resonate with me today:

 "No more to build on there. And they, since they
 Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."

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