Opinion: Trump and Truffles
Whitney Hoth ~
A few months ago, when “the Donald” was still just a joke, a colleague defended Trump to me saying, “even a blind pig sometimes turns up a truffle.” Well said. Donald has turned up a fair number of truffles since, and the sensible things he sometimes says have helped him to secure his party’s presidential nomination. The base of his support delights in his recklessness and vulgarity, but they also hear a champion who has identified real problems afflicting the lower middle class. I hate it when Trump makes sense because he is clearly the least qualified candidate for president we have seen in decades. Unfortunately, the solid truth in his rag-bag of fantasies and nonsense is the dangerous element that might give him a shot.
What is that truth? Globalization has fueled economic growth worldwide and made many people very rich, but it has been built at the cost of middle class security in the United States and in North America generally. The global economy has significantly improved. It would have to improve since much of the global economy was locked for a century in pre-industrial dependency and misery. Now, workers in India and China, and in parts of Latin America and Africa, are making steady wages for the first time in their lives. A worker in the developing world making a wage, however meager, is often experiencing a significant income boost when the comparator is mere subsistence or starvation. Income levels averaged around the planet have come up, but income levels in much of the developed world have come down, sharply and suddenly, and they will continue to come down if the globalization trend continues without vastly improved international regulation and control. Obama has defended his advocacy of the latest trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), as a necessary participation in an inevitable economic evolution, which he claims we cannot influence for good unless we are involved. He may be right, but it cuts no mustard with the unemployed factory and mine workers of Indiana and Pennsylvania.
The Republican Party establishment manipulated the middle class in the United States for decades. They offered them identity politics distraction as a compensation for real economic losses that served the interests of transnational corporations and financial speculators. The business interests dominating the Republican Party talked about crime while they closed factories and eliminated social supports. They decried unions and hymned the isolated individual, by which they meant corporate board members who resented taxation. For decades, the sad legions of Main Street swallowed the bait prepared by Wall Street and wallowed in culture war hatreds while their jobs disappeared and their debts soared. They still have their hatreds, but they have figured out that their enemies once masqueraded as their friends, and they have started now to include bankers and corporate executives in their roster of hatreds.
Trump has tapped into this. He trumpets disdain for trade agreements that were sold to the middle class as job creators, which they were, but not for them. The manufacturing and extraction industry workers know this now. The trick cannot be played again. That pied-piper has failed. When Trump called Cruz ‘Lyin’-Ted,’ he was boorish not wrong. The whole roster of his Republican opponents with their clap-trap about small government and ‘The Constitution’ have been exposed as frauds. Genteel frauds, perhaps, but frauds. Some of them may have been unconscious frauds, like Ben Carson, or conscious frauds, like Jeb Bush, but all of them were frauds selling destructive nonsense to the failing and flailing middle class.
Trump speaks this truth. Whether he means what he says is another question. Bernie says much the same sort of thing with a different inflection, but I am sure Bernie means it. Trump may not. In any case, he is saying it, and the teeth-gnashing of the Republican establishment has nothing to do with disapproval of his bad boy foolery, it is genuine fear that he may mean what he says about resisting globalization and disciplining transnationals. Even if he means it, it is doubtful he could do anything about it, any more than Bernie could with his utopian vision of American socialism. Rueful Obama is probably right that national governments cannot significantly change world economic trends, not without serious and unwelcome dislocations, such as trade wars and wars. This means the only secure pragmatist left in the running is Hillary Clinton, who has lived much of her life as a servant of corporate power and financial speculation, like her folksy husband who deregulated even more recklessly than Reagan. Some Republican traditionalist have made noise about moving toward Hillary. It makes sense. She supports the same neo-liberal compromises they do when it comes to substantial issues of economic power and control. What she does is offer a different brand of identity politics, but if Republican business interests believe she can protect them, they will make their peace with late-stage feminism and gender identity demands.
I sympathize with the outraged remnants of the blue-collar working class. They were played for fools. They were sold wild-west individualism in exchange for rising unemployment. I know these people, having worked alongside them in noisy factories and grubby hospitals for many years. They are not very bright, but they are often surprisingly decent. They fetishize violence and manliness because they believe it’s honest and forthright. They do not want to think very much, but they are willing to work hard. They need jobs to keep them busy, and they cannot readily accept that they earn less than their parents doing the same work. They have lost out, and they know it. No wonder they are angry. Both Bernie and Trump have identified this anger and respond to it directly. The rest of the Republican hopefuls tried the same old dodges, and Hillary talks endlessly about race-based entitlements and gender equity to direct attention away from her deference to Wall St.
Neither Bernie nor Donald can be president. They are both dangerous fantasists who cannot win a general election. Donald is entirely unqualified and unstable to boot. Bernie’s vision is unachievable without a real revolution, not merely a ‘political one’ has he advocates. Donald has no vision, only inflated egomania grounded in profound insecurities. He is certainly the most ignorant man to secure the endorsement of a major party in American political history.
In short, I cast my vote for Hillary, whom I can just barely endure. Trump’s truffle is not worth the ravages he creates digging it up.