Friday, November 18, 2016

What Happened And Why (Maybe)

There was a great op-ed by Fareed Zakaria with his autopsy of the election here.  In it, he echoes the collective mea culpa coming from many journalists and pollsters who got their predictions so spectacularly wrong (many of the same journalists who enabled Trump).  He admits that the great sin of the Left has been elitism.  He cites an op-ed from the satirical website Cracked by David Wong, who grew up in rural Illinois.  I know it is partly satire, but Zakaria was right to quote it at length in his own op-ed, because it is key to understanding Trump’s surprising victory.  Wong writes: “The whole g***amned world revolves around [America’s cities].”  Zakaria writes “The vast majority of the country’s pop culture is all about city dwellers. Most new movies, shows, songs and games are about New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or some fantasy version of them. Nearly every trend comes from a metropolis. All the hot new industries are in hip cities.”  Back to Wong: “If you live in [rural America], that f*cking sucks…To those ignored, suffering people, Donald Trump is a brick chucked through the window of the elites. ‘Are you a**holes listening now?’”

That last line is key.  “Are you a**holes listening now?”  To me, that explains Trump’s election more than any data could show.  I continue to think that most (many?) of the people who voted for Trump did so in spite of his rhetoric regarding women, immigrants and various minorities, not because of it.  Or maybe because of it, but not for the reason you might think.

Look at the electoral map.  The Democrat blue is on each of the coasts (and in some urban centers all over the country), and in between is a vast ocean of red.  “Flyover country” as the traditional media often unwittingly dismisses most of the rest of the country (traditional media being centered in New York and Los Angeles).  Well, there are a lot of people who live in that vast region between the coasts.  A lot of people who have seen wages stagnate or their jobs go to other countries.  A lot of people who have been pushed to the background amidst admirable but news-dominating struggles for minority rights and issues.

People from all walks of life have gotten angrier and more disgusted with disconnected and dysfunctional politics.  People are equally angry at both major parties.  Bernie Sanders’ success was the populist Left flipside of the Trump coin.  Same root anger.  As another op-ed I read put it, lots of voters wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail at Washington.  No matter that the Molotov cocktail says mean things about women or minorities.  He is a blunt weapon whose purpose is to bust things up.  Which is also a variation on the primal, resentful, desperate plea of “Are you a**holes listening now?”  As Zakaria admitted, “yes, I am listening now.”

Yes, Trump got the Klan vote.  There are plenty of people who are old fashioned racists and nativists who voted for Trump.  But I don’t think that is why most people voted for him.  Many others are the forgotten voters in Kansas who barely make ends meet yet who are still patriotic Americans (or who may even be veterans or have a close friend or loved one who is a veteran) and are tired of turning on Sunday night football and watching a whiny back-up quarterback who makes a million dollars a year refuse to stand for the national anthem.  That explains the Trump vote too.  Believe me. It is more complicated than simple racism. An aggressive and at times haughty, elitist Left creating "safe places" at universities. A protest movement that at times cares less about the actual facts of certain cases than the color of the skin of those involved in an altercation and that demonizes the country's police officers wholesale. A welfare system that had admirably been reformed in the 1990's (under a Democratic president and Republican Congress) that has slipped back to making it more profitable to collect government payments than to work in many cases. All of these things have contributed to the backlash that manifested itself in a Trump win.

How did the pollsters get it so wrong? As the elitist mainstream media often does, they probably concentrated too much on the urban vote. Where all the action is. Also, as a friend of mine who voted for Trump told me the other day:
"if a pollster had called me and asked me who I was going to vote for, I probably would not have told them. I would have confirmed that I'm a registered Republican, but I probably would have said 'undecided.' Same goes for some of my family members. To avoid the arguments and agitation, I wouldn't have, and haven't, told certain family members that I was going to vote for Trump. He wasn't my first choice, I don't like him. He's crude and rude and an egomaniac. But given the choices, I had to vote for him. Plus, I was pissed at the direction this country was going."
I think that summarizes it for many. Also, do not overlook just how flawed and weak Trump's opponent was. I think this country would be ready to elect a woman. Just not Hillary Clinton (yes, I know she won the popular vote. I reluctantly voted for her myself).

On to what we have to look forward to for at least the next four years (barring impeachment).  I don’t think Trump is as radical or reactionary as he campaigned.  If you look at many of his positions prior to the campaign, he was very moderate, and had as many left positions as right.  You also hear many testimonials that in person, behind closed doors when it is time to get down to business, he is a very different man.  A more sober and reflective man.  I have also heard that Trump actually does take counsel and listen to advice.  Not that they have much in common, but like George Washington, I can see Trump leaving the details to key underlings and he makes the final decisions after being briefed.

Herein lies another problem.  Who will be advising and briefing him?  George Washington had the dueling visions of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton advising him and giving him options from which to choose.  "Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and a vindictive young son in law" doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.  I was heartened to see Trump choose Priebus for Chief of Staff, about as establishment as you can get.  But then Bannon.  There’s your Molotov cocktail, the Alt-Right now in the Oval Office with the president’s ear.  It is like Trump is trying to please establishment, mainstream Republicans (by choosing Priebus) and also the radical Right Wing (Bannon) by pitting these two figures against each other in his administration.  There is something to be said for establishing competing centers of power within an administration from which to take advice (again, see Jefferson and Hamilton for Washington; or Lincoln’s cabinet).  But then it requires a wise arbiter as “the Decider” (in George W.’s words).

I didn’t vote for him.  But I am willing to give him a chance.  He is, after all, my next president.  And yours too, like it or not.  I understand the fear and disbelief, especially if you are amongst the many groups whom Trump insulted and marginalized and dehumanized during the campaign (yes, I know it is easier for me as a white male to sit back and say ‘give the guy a chance’).  But I also think we all need to at least wait for him to mess up before we get too angry with him.  What choice do we have, really?  These marchers in the streets eventually need to get back to their jobs, if they have any. Or maybe Trump will create real jobs for them, as he promised. Who knows.

One of my main concerns is his lack of preparedness and how influenced he can be by those around him.  Contrary to him not listening to people, he actually listens too much at times.  Since he is not actually prepared to be president and because he shows no real desire or ability to dive deep into policy, he depends on others to give him all of the information and perspective.  His partial reversal on Obamacare this last week is a case in point.  During the campaign he blustered that he would repeal Obamacare wholesale “the first day in office” and replace it with “something better.”  But after meeting with Obama for an hour and a half and actually reading a bit about Obamacare (apparently for the first time), he now thinks we should keep part of it and change other parts.  (Or has he reverted back to getting rid of it wholesale?  Hard to keep track.)  Put Trump in a room with Vladimir Putin for a couple of hours and who knows?  Maybe he will emerge supporting a new Iron Curtain.  That is the problem with being willfully out of your depth on almost every issue.  Others will pick and choose how to explain things to him, and he will not know enough about it to call BS when warrented, but be more influenced by whoever flattered him the most, or who had the most charismatic personality, or maybe even whoever talked to him most recently. That is my fear.