Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Donald Trump's Supporters' Message

There is no end to the long list of negative things that one can say about Donald Trump and his thus far seemingly very successful campaign for the Republican nomination. But , however well he does or doesn't do in the campaign for the nomination, there is at least one aspect of his challenge to the "Establishment"  that I think represents an important message that Trump's supporters seem to be sending to the political, cultural, and economic elites that have led over the years  helped lead us to this present impasse,

As Thomas Frank noted in The Guardian a month ago, a map of Trump's supporters coordinates "with deindustrialization and despair, with the zones of economic misery that 30 years of Washington’s free-market consensus have brought the rest of America." The terrible irony, of course, is that, as Frank argues, "Left parties the world over were founded to advance the fortunes of working people. But our left party in America – one of our two monopoly parties – chose long ago to turn its back on these people’s concerns, making itself instead into the tribune of the enlightened professional class, a 'creative class' that makes innovative things like derivative securities and smartphone apps." 

(Thomas Frank's article in The Guardian can be accessed on-line at:

Now none of this is new or should be news to any observer of American politics since the sixties.  In fact, the Democratic Party's apparent abandonment of the working class began with the McGovern campaign in 1972. Cultural and "values" issues were obviously a big part of that - long before free trade and globalization took center stage. And that - as much as Jimmy Carter's failures as President - probably accounted for the strange subsequent phenomenon of the "Reagan Democrats," working-class voters who increasingly identified with a Republican Party, whose leadership has been consistently committed not to lifting up the working class but to policies to enrich the already richest segment of society.

My guess is that, in terms of economic growth and benefits to the human race, free trade and globalization have actually been a net plus for the world as a whole, and have undoubtedly helped all sorts of poor people around the world to become less poor. The problem is the disaster free trade and globalization have been for American workers, who have had to watch their jobs go away and their cities, towns, and neighborhoods devastated - along with the social and cultural networks that had been based in those communities and upon which working-class families had depended. Such communities had their limitations and faults. But they also fostered meaning and purpose and the prospect of material betterment, much of which is now gone.

To say that Donald Trump is a deeply flawed candidate would be an obvious understatement. But his bombastic candidacy has unexpectedly provided an outlet for millions of ordinary Americans who understandably feel abandoned by the elites who constitute the establishments in both parties. Perhaps those political, cultural, and economic elites, who have so thoroughly insulated themselves from other classes, can learn something about their own failures in national leadership from Donald Trump's surprising appeal. Donald Trump is no Andrew Jackson, who - whatever his personal and political faults - was someone who had achieved stature through his personal accomplishments and who had a coherent political ideology. But the Jacksonian displacement of the founding-era establishment in the 1820s is a not irrelevant historical memory. It behooves all who for so many reasons shudder at the prospect of a Trump presidency to take into account the social, cultural, and economic grievances that have fueled this candidacy and consider with what better alternative to answer those widespread grievances. 

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