How did this happen? How did this man who, among other things, hounded and harassed President Obama to produce his birth certificate, but in turn refuses to reveal his own tax returns – become President?
There are many reasons for Trump’s triumph. And they’re not complicated or obscure; they’re real simple. Here are a few –
JUST PLAIN ANGER – a fed up and angry electorate. Why?
Many Americans are economically worse off than they were a quarter-century ago. The median income of full-time male employees is lower than it was 42 years ago, and it is increasingly difficult for those with limited education to get a full-time job that pays decent wages.
Trump was supported by voters angry at a clannish, Ivory Tower Washington, angry at various elites, the media and political correctness — so angry that all they cared about was shattering the system. Nothing else mattered — not the issues, not the candidate’s qualifications, not even his moral character. In other words, there’s a lot of anger out there.
Trump struck a chord with voters anxious about the changing racial and religious demographics of the country — anxieties that in some cases crossed the line into bigotry. These voters were drawn to him because they believed that somehow he would restore an America (that no longer exists) – “WE WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”
Yup. They bought that slogan – hook, line and sinker.
Bernie Sanders was right when he kept saying, over and over, like a mantra “It is not moral, it is not acceptable, and it is not sustainable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.”
Real (inflation-adjusted) wages at the bottom of the income distribution are roughly where they were 60 years ago. So it was no surprise that Trump found a large, receptive audience when he said the state of the economy was rotten. But Trump is wrong both about the diagnosis and the prescription. The US economy as a whole has done well for the last six decades: GDP has increased nearly six-fold. But the fruits of that growth have gone to a relatively few at the top – people like Trump, owing partly to massive tax cuts that he will extend and deepen.
LOSS OF TRUST IN GOVERNMENT
Reforms that political leaders promised would ensure prosperity for all – such as trade and financial liberalization – have not delivered. Far from it. And those whose standard of living has stagnated or declined have reached a simple conclusion: America’s political leaders either didn’t know what they were talking about or were lying (or both).
Trump wants to blame all of America’s problems on trade and immigration. He’s wrong. The US would have faced deindustrialization even without freer trade: global employment in manufacturing has been declining, with productivity gains exceeding demand growth.
Where the trade agreements failed, it was not because the US was outsmarted by its trading partners; it was because the US trade agenda was shaped by corporate interests. America’s companies have done well, very well indeed. But where are the shared benefits/profits? In the pockets of the ultra-rich corporate executives and shareholders; the 1% that Bernie Sanders kept harping about.
Many Americans feel buffeted by forces outside their control, leading to outcomes that are distinctly unfair. Long-standing assumptions – that America is a land of opportunity and that each generation will be better off than the last – have been called into question. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 may have represented a turning point for many voters: their government (we’re talking Obama here) saved the rich bankers who had brought the US to the brink of ruin, while seemingly doing almost nothing for the millions of ordinary Americans who lost their jobs and homes. The system not only produced unfair results, but seemed rigged to do so.
Trump’s proposed policies will make a bad situation much worse. Surely, another dose of trickle-down economics of the kind he promises, with tax cuts aimed almost entirely at rich Americans and corporations, will produce results no better than the last time they were tried.
Launching a trade war with China, Mexico, and other US trading partners, as Trump promises, will make all Americans poorer and create new impediments to the global cooperation needed to address critical global problems like the Islamic State, global terrorism, and climate change. Using money that could be invested in technology, education, or infrastructure to build a wall between the US and Mexico is a twofer in terms of wasting resources.