Friday, 15 June 2018

Donald Trump’s Ascendancy in 2016

President Donald Trump comes up often in general discussions of late and, considering the prevailing consensus that he is grossly unpopular, quite often people, chiefly those residing outside of the U.S., tend to question how he won the Presidential contest in the first place. It is precisely this that served as a catalyst for this post. I am not advocating for Trump through this writing, accordingly when you read the line in the paragraph below, “Donald Trump was brilliant”, I am merely referring to his contestation as a Presidential candidate in 2016 race.

In an unattractive way, Donald Trump was brilliant. He may not have been an accomplished politician on his journey to Presidency however, when he entered the contest he was already a accomplished individual though not, as a career politician. Yet despite this and, a privileged personal history, he quite remarkably identified and zeroed in upon the discontent in middle America and, not quite by accident, how to get around the 240-electoral vote “Blue wall” that ran from Wisconsin to North Carolina. Metaphorically speaking, a barrier that has successfully encased a Democrat vote for the past six elections.

Consider, we had well over a dozen talented and more experienced candidates within the Republican camp and yet slowly, Trump lay them all to waste, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and more. This was no indolent process it was more dynamic. Over a year-long primary race they, and his Democrat rival in Hillary Clinton, could not match Trump’s better instincts about what troubled so many an American voter, the forgotten middle - the exception was Democrat Bernie Sanders but the Hillary camp took care of him before Trump could. It matters little that Trump’s modus operandi was ugly and most certainly cynical, it soon harboured its own momentum and, as the November 2016 election drew closer, it seeped into Trump and his camp, as if by osmosis, that they were gaining the upper hand. Incidentally, this was entirely missed by mainstream media from their lofty LA, New York and Washington pads. Thus, a very rich Manhattan resident felt the public angst more comprehensively than vanilla media, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, not to mention a talented pool of Republican wannabe’s, and in populist fashion, he courted them, made them feel good, he won them over, he became President.

In terms of extent, at the time of this writing Russia's influence on the election result remains an unknown factor and, though still under investigation, I suspect it was noteworthy, but I am willing to bet that Trump would have achieved the feat anyway.
... he chose to focus on three significant ideological issues of our epoch, illegal immigration, employment and trade and political correctness ...
Quite nearly all politicians have a streak of anti-elitist tendencies, Donald Trump was by far the superior populist in 2016. I viewed his campaign as crude and different yet effective, because he chose to focus on three significant ideological issues of our epoch, illegal immigration, employment and trade and political correctness. He also pressed a hot button by questioning the extent of America's overseas interventions - foreign policy.

Looking at foreign policy, Trump’s simple message went something like this. Why invest resources in parts of the world where Americans are hated, while at home we’re stuck in low paid jobs and struggle to find work. “America First” resonated with a substantial portion of the populace who faced income disparity and rising inequality. He proposed several initiates including a re-negotiation of U.S. alliance terms with Japan, South Korea and NATO – he had not specifically named my homeland Australia, but was on the record saying that the U.S. had no interest in being in Asia militarily. Such pitches tapped into an emerging desire among Americans that their nation should not attempt to solve the world’s problems. Trump rejected the notion that the U.S. should act as global police, indeed Obama had a similar viewpoint, but Trump went much further by suggesting that the U.S. does not even need to be involved in enforcing international law & order in its present definition - incidentally, something he's forgotten since becoming President, think Syrian intervention following the gas attacks on its population. Trump also questioned nuclear non-proliferation, mutual self-defence treaties and overseas military bases.

Obama had also demonstrated a degree of foreign policy separation but with alarming results. His lukewarm responses to regional issues left a security vacuum, and when that happens the “bad guys” are always there to fill the void. While America stuttered, Putin attacked the Ukraine and has since launched a reckless campaign in Syria, attacked Georgia and annexed Crimea. In this light, I was no fan of Trumps America first rhetoric but many an American obviously was.

Trump was also clever with immigration. He would often criticize elites knowing full well that he was one himself and it’s the elites who are least affected by illegal immigration's consequences on U.S. communities. First, he highlighted the pitfalls without holding back. Illegal immigration meant more “hit and run accidents", “crowded emergency hospital rooms", "social security offices”, “more drugs”, "more gang violence”, increased load on an already stretched education system etc. And with such loud pronouncements he opened a plethora of populist overtures that would transcend political affiliations and loyalties and, in doing so, he suddenly even tapped into the Democrat working class vote. Who would have thought so.

Moreover, Trump knew that's it’s not the well to do and elites who suffered most in competition for limited subsidies and entitlements due to illegal arrivals, rather it’s the lower middle classes and poor minorities who had to compete.

While the media and its cache of progressive disciples, including but not limited to, Hillary Clinton and many Republicans shouted xenophobia and the like, Trump successfully turned the discourse into a question of fairness and lawful equality. “Why” he would shout at his rallies, should select foreign nationals not be subject to federal laws while “you” (American citizens) are not permitted to pick and choose which laws to follow?

He also focused on employment by reminding would be voters that economic growth was weak and that labour non- participation was still very high and competition for jobs, intense. Thus, why was the U.S. allowing foreign nationals to compete in the workforce under illegal auspices whereas those who sought legal entry were not rendered the same rights and privileges?

This led to another pitfall by Trump's political opponents, detractors and the media. The broad consensus suggested that DT would fail with any tough immigration stance because Latino’s, - those of Latin American origin who comprised a great many illegal immigrants in the first place, - were an emerging voting force to contend with. It was widely assumed that going hard on immigration would be political suicide. But Latino communities were not totally uniform, hence established Hispanics, Latinos whatever, were actually targeted by Trump and made to understand that it was they who suffered most due to the consequences of illegal immigration, and it worked and many voted for him.

Trade is complex or, at the very least hardly the zero-sum game that Trump successfully turned the discourse into. Republican  - and Washington -policy regards trade has always been tantamount to an unconstrained form of free trade regardless of potential pitfalls for U.S. consumers and its local producers. U.S. policy makers and politicians did not bat an eyelid as the EU or Japan subsidized their exports and even raised barriers to imports. While such policy adjustments abroad angered American producers and voters, Washington accepted the imbalance in the knowledge that local producers would be forced to tighten their costs, seek greater efficiencies and become more competitive. But alas, Trump seized on this as evidence that it was Americans who paid the ultimate price through job losses and/or lower incomes. The U.S. has always been an advocate of the globalization experiment; accordingly, any trade liabilities were consented to without push back as part of its hypothetical responsibility to further the globalization cause among weaker trading partners. After all, it was still the world’s largest economy, even if only just still ahead of China and, most certainly the most powerful nation militarily.

Trump was gaining traction though his message that such lopsidedness hurt ordinary Americans and that U.S. policymakers, being the architects of this trade ideology, were not impacted by its ramifications. Lest we forget, Trump himself was a billionaire Manhattan man with much privilege, a man who, like those he criticized, would hardy have been impacted by the trade policies he was attacking. But here we witnessed Trumps brilliance through his channeling frustrations to middle America, ordinary factory workers, plumbers, electricians, retail workers and the like with much empathy. He avoided the singular, instead focusing on plural possessive pronouns, “our workers”, ‘our farmers”, “our….”, as he assured them that the pain they felt was not beyond their control, that their economic circumstances were not predetermined but regulated by elites and that only he could liberate them. Little wonder he soon penetrated the Democratic “Blue wall”. In the rallies that followed, the populist language was adjusted to fit the parameters of general electoral college vocabulary. Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania etc. soon internalized the mantra. Trump would save mining jobs, construction and manufacturing and the more he spoke in politically incorrect terms, the sharper his message. The trade conversation surrounding the 2016 Presidential race was effortlessly won by Trump. 

Finally, can anyone offer a more effective tool for a populist to advance his course that head butting the concept that is, political correctness. If you need any evidence that PC is the current day turn off one need only witness the global sensation that is, Jordan Peterson. To the delight of many, Trump liberally offered terms like, “Merry Christmas” and “Radical Islamic Terror”. Nor would he shy away from saying something as benign as, “Mr” or “Mrs”, “waitress” or “man made” etc. Trump proudly advocated orthodox terms without fear or favour at the delight of his emerging base. It did not matter what the subject matter, “Black lives matter” or, the Environment, Trump spoke in the language of yesteryear as if seeking to rekindle a past moral universe where the “forgotten man” resided. “We're gonna get away from political correctness” his often-banded quote. This language resonated with a significant proportion of would be voters who have little affinity for progressive culture – identity politics, radical feminism, boutique environmentalism and metrosexual careerism. Remarkably, a proportion of the voting population that resided in more than 70 percent of America’s geography somehow remained largely unknown to media, academia, celebrities, politicians and Hollywood sorts, but not to Donald Trump..

Lines like, “America First”, “Build that Wall”, “Drain the Swamp”, “Lock her up” (Hillary) and Trump’s official campaign slogan, “Make America Great” (MAGA) resonated with many, and gave Donald Trump the Presidency, a result that surprised so many an elite that incorrectly assumed their own values were shared by all Americans. As one source put it:
Trump won with the endorsement of one major newspaper; his party establishment disavowed him, and many of its billionaires sat out the race; his campaign was out-spent and out-organized; his tax dodges were exposed; and a video documented his predatory sexist boasts reinforced by testimonies of several of his victims. 
Bellicose President Trump has many flaws but we should not be surprised that his base looked to him and rewarded him, not merely in the hope of getting back to work or, to reclaim a forgotten way of speaking in public, but for paying tribute rather than scoffing at their way of living as Hillary did with her "Basket of Deplorables" statement.

At first glance, the videos below may come across as a crass exercise in cherry picking, or otherwise confirmation bias on my part and that of others, to both strengthen and authenticate an argument, this being an inevitable and tiring contention to refute. Nonetheless, leaving aside commentary by Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Bernie Sanders which ought be excused, I challenge anyone to suggest that such content does not highlight a broad consensus of thought and opinion regards Trump. An unanimity harboured and communicated by a far-reaching range of anti Trump sources including Journalists, Hollywood actors, Musicians and Artists, Comedians and nightly skit hosts, all possessing obvious and notable media influence.

Finally, one needs to understand the framework from which I am inferring my contentions, readers should pause if steeped in ideology for the latter, is merely like an unyielding fusion of ignorance and certitude.

Continuing the theme...

Further reading:

The Unbearable Smugness of the Press
American women voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, except the white ones

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© 2018 Ottavio Marasco. All rights reserved.

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