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Why Trump is popular …

… and his fans will be disappointed.

Mother Jones puts it this way:

“Trump didn’t win in spite of being a boor, a bigot, and an analog internet troll; he won because he was proudly all those things. For all the diversions (who picks a fight with the pope, anyway?), he articulated a remarkably clear theory of politics: Other people are screwing you over, and I’m going to stop it.”

(Read story here.)

ON-BN212_Cov101_KS_20151009203553That’s fine, as far as it goes. A lot of Americans feel screwed over. But Trump, even if he becomes POTUS, can’t change this.

First, American democracy doesn’t work that way; our presidents aren’t dictators, and it’s difficult to enact major changes. Our governing system was intentionally designed that way, so no faction could seize power and subjugate the others.

Second, Trump is shooting at the wrong targets; building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting 12 million illegals won’t bring back the blue-collar factory jobs lost to globalization, nor will discriminating against Muslims defeat jihadist terrorism.

Third, many of the forces causing middle-class angst are a result of changes in technology and the economy; it’s not possible to turn the clock back to the 1950s, when Middle America made its living manning telephone switchboards, driving streetcars and buses before most people had cars, and making consumer goods like washing machines and TV sets. And anyway, we weren’t so rich then, compared to today; families were larger, houses smaller, and most households owned only one car. People didn’t have computers or cellphones, jet travel was too expensive for most, and college degrees were still an uncommon luxury. Who really wants to return to that lifestyle?

Trump, who inherited a family fortune, and then expanded it by building real estate developments that catered to the affluent classes, is tapping into a decades-old frustration among the working-class dispossessed. His supporters, by and large, are people who never had much to begin with, and have been left behind by economic change that favors the educated and technically skilled. He can’t bring back the buggy whip jobs or give them the skills they need to compete for good jobs in the Information Age. And he certainly can’t solve their problems by encouraging them to hate immigrants, Muslims, or minorities.

Economists talk about “disruptive technologies,” e.g., Polaroid and Kodak, once giant corporations, were destroyed by the invention of digital photography.  Trump is a disruptor in politics, but not in a constructive sense. He is rather typical of the demagogues who come out of the woodwork, or spring out of the soil, to exploit popular discontent in trying times. Except the soaring residential towers of Fifth Avenue and the Atlantic Boardwalk casinos are strange soil from which to grow a populist politician. In any case, when this sort of thing happened in the past, America’s voters had enough sense to choose an FDR instead of a Huey Long to lead them through the Depression and World War 2; and probably will again.

But let’s say Trump wins. Then what? Does anyone really believe he can remake America simply by asking Congress to give him everything he wants? Or that Mexico will pay for a border wall because he orders them to? Or that he can bring Putin and ISIS to heel by making them “respect” him? A President Trump will encounter the same obstacles and roadblocks every other president does. Change in America happens gradually and incrementally, and it will under his presidency, too.

Electing Trump president won’t bring nirvana, or even a minor revolution; it’s simply choosing one set of policies and judicial nominees instead of others. Yes, our country has some problems, but if they were easy to solve, they would already be solved. Voting for Trump is not an act with magical properties. All you’re buying is a bottle of patent medicine called “snake oil.” What Trump is selling — cheap demagoguery– has never worked in the past, and it won’t this time, either. Quite possibly the worst thing that could happen to Trump’s supporters would be for their man to win, because they almost surely will be left holding an empty bag again.

 

 


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