Opinion: What’s driving The Donald winning streak?
Whitney Hoth ~
Colleagues have sometimes joked with me about Donald Trump. Since I’m a refugee from Texas, I sometimes take heat from my Canadian brothers and sisters, as if I’m somehow responsible for the excesses of my birth country. Very well, let me run with it.
I haven’t lived in the United States for 17 years, and when I did, I lived on one of the outer margins in a part of South Texas called the Nueces Strip where the population is 80% Hispanic, or “Mexico North” as locals call it. Still, I am an American Citizen, and I did grow up in the Middle West, so I do know something about what is going on down there, and in my forthright American way, I will tell you. So listen up!
In himself, Donald Trump is without significance. He is an inarticulate real-estate speculator with more money than brains and his type is legion. He has no meaningful ideas about anything, and he has no personal distinction whatever except the ability to make and lose prodigious amounts of money. He is not, fundamentally, interesting at all. But what he represents is something else again. He has become the focus for a very real and dangerous despair building in the lower middle class which may carry him to the presidency. It does not seem likely, but it is not outside the realm of the possible, and that appalling fact is painfully significant.
Recently, I heard someone in the office say that voter participation is low in the United States. It is not, and it has not been so for years. Americans are turning out in record numbers for elections. When there is a stable social consensus in modern democracies, voter turnout declines. People feel that there is little difference between parties in times of general consensus, and they are right. That’s what consensus means. That is old news now. Consensus in the United States is breaking down and the country is increasingly polarized, which is reflected in rising rates of voter participation in all age categories.
The people who support Trump are motivated by disappointment and anger. They are the people who have not benefited from globalization and the increasingly unrestricted accumulation and movement of capital. They have been losing out for years. They are mostly white, poorly educated, socially isolated, increasingly under-employed, and looking for someone to blame. They see immigrants and poor blacks as threats because the old economic/social boundaries that separated them from immigrants and poor blacks are coming down. The new American underclass does not discriminate like it once did; everyone who cannot manipulate symbols or accumulate capital is dumped into welfare state holding pens without respect to color or creed. There is nothing like the terror of a collapsing social class, one that knows it is falling, but cannot break the fall.
In the panic of freefall, the disenfranchised industrial working class has seized on Trump as their tribune, and they will not let go of him no matter what he says or does. They have not identified with him. They have identified him with themselves. They see his vulgarity and vanity. They see his taste for trash and display. Most of all they see his insecurity and his ignorance. They know educated people disapprove of him; they know people with taste and pedigree sneer at him; they know that the people who despise him despise them, and the more he is despised, the more they cling to him. Trump says he “loves the poorly educated,” and they return the compliment. I want you to understand that they love him. He is their champion of resentment, their defense against a traumatizing narcissistic wound.
Here is the rub. This avatar of the mob is a creation of the elites who now denounce him. For years, patrician Republicans with Ivy League pedigrees have played with xenophobia, racism and rage to generate votes; they have tossed Main Street red meat on social issues in return for its support of Wall Street speculation and capital control of the economy. It is an old game in American politics, and Trump appears to mark its end. When the genuinely decent and genteel George Bush senior allowed race-baiting ads about Willie Horton to run in support of his candidacy, he was working from an old playbook of mob manipulation that has now backfired. Yes, the mob is poorly educated, but it is just smart enough to know now it has been played, and it wants to call the shots.
Main Street is turning on Wall Street
Trump’s campaign is a slave revolt. Main Street is turning on Wall Street and making its own confused form of revolution. Revolutions from the Right have a nasty track record, but if you want to understand what is happening in the United States, you need to understand that the people supporting Trump have real and enduring grievances. They are not just ignorant bigots spouting hatred. Some are that, yes, but many are simply maligned, ignored, abused and neglected citizens at a loss because the elites abandoned them, exploited them, and most recklessly, despised them. The elite of the Republican Party incited them for decades while working to destroy the last remnants of their economic independence, and the Democratic Party elites demonized and derided them as obstacles to multiculturalism and gender harmony. These scorned and belittled Americans of limited intelligence and declining incomes are frightened and angry, and they want someone to pay. They are so hopelessly infantile they believe a wall a thousand miles long will protect them from themselves. Arrogant Libertarianism has produced its inevitable by-product: the uncared for child of laissez-faire democracy, the humiliated loser. Watch out.
The great danger is that Trump might be able to pull some of the disaffected Democrats and Independents away from Bernie Sanders. He has already demonstrated some ability to attract voters across party lines and against the grain of traditional liberal/conservative affiliations. It is also increasingly likely that the remnants of elite Republicanism will back him if they have no one else to run interference. That will mean lots of money. This combination might give Trump an opportunity. There is also a not entirely negligible nihilist vote going to Trump. These voters are motivated by nothing but hate and anger and probably have never voted before. Their vote is a more-or-less conscious act of political vandalism, a tantrum of resentment and disgust. Hate Voting.
What most Trump supporters think they hear in Trump is an economic nationalist who will look out for the interests of American industrial workers, and it is even possible that some of the opposition to Trump coming from the beleaguered Republican establishment means they believe it too! No one really knows what Trump will do, and I am convinced he has no idea himself. Celebrities are cyphers invented minute-to-minute, whatever enhances celebrity is repeated and repeated and repeated. Trump has no policies, only phrases.
The other factor in the Trump equation is Hillary Clinton. Her husband was one of the great enablers of unregulated capitalism and speculation. An orgy of deregulation is his legacy. She has taken to sounding more like Bernie in an effort to conscript his following, and it may work, but she is hard to warm to, and many people do not trust her. Will she be able to inspire the outpouring of black and young voters that twice carried Obama? We had better hope so. However, understand this: if she does pull off the Obama strategy, it will leave us where we started. We will have a polarized nation until someone figures out the formula to address the grievances of the white lower middle class and bring them in to the national community. If the drive for globalization continues, and laissez faire capitalism and tax cuts rule the agenda, the underclass in the United States will fight back, confusedly and dangerously. That’s what Americans do. They fight. They’re very proud of fighting. Right now, they are backing Trump in their fight. He’s an inarticulate clown, but he is combative, and for now, that’s enough for him, and them.