There is a distinction to be made in politics between the yearnings of certain people for authoritarian leadership and political leaders who articulate a message that people are willing to follow. The former speaks to those who will follow in lockstep those leaders whose appear “powerful” and whose promise is to unburden their followers from the need to decide their individual and collective futures, offering themselves as saviors. The latter, are those capable of articulating a vision for the future that can provide a framework for planning for the future. As disgusting and demoralizing as it is for me to see Trump as President, I must confess that his message to his voters played into their deepest yearnings for someone who would save from their imagined terrors of the future. Contrary to the phantasms of establishment punditry mythologizing the discontented, White Blue Collar Worker, the Trump Base turns out to be less educated, but not necessarily of lower income in Nate Silver’s estimation. Yet Silver”s analysis may be somewhat flawed:
“The voters Clinton really lost—the ones she was targeting and relying on for victory—were college-educated whites. Most polling suggested she would win these voters, but she didn’t, according to exit polls: White men went 63 percent for Trump versus 31 percent for Clinton, and white women went 53-43 percent. Among college-educated whites, only 39 percent of men and 51 percent of women voted for Clinton.”
What this suggests to me is that Trump‘s victory was fueled much more by his presentation of himself as a powerful leader, whose unerring skills would relieve the voters of the burden of decision making and who would stand up against the forces of chaos defined as people of color. Yes it was racism and xenophobia that got Trump elected and higher education provides little bulwark against those prejudices.
The Trump voter was predisposed to follow authority figures, especially those that appeal to their prejudice. They saw this man, a creation of branding and “reality show” unreality, as his marketers portrayed him: A strong, successful entrepreneur, whose business background made him capable to lead our country. Since a has-been actor, with no entrepreneurial skills, was elevated to the Presidency by a well paid cabal of corporate PR people, the entrepreneur has been lionized as the “true American Hero“. This “heroic” figure was supposedly the apotheosis of the “American Dream”, but the “American” reality is that the most lionized entrepreneurs inherited their wealth and concomitant “White Privilege“. Thus the Trump voter was oblivious to his inarticulate lack of a coherent vision for our country and chose to believe that whatever real or imagined problems there were to be faced, Trump would provide the absolute best leadership and solutions possible. Realistically, the Trump program for the future of the country is: Racism, xenophobia, privatization, de-regulation and military belligerence. This Trump program seems guaranteed to diminish our country on the World “Stage and to further hasten the ever mounting gap between the wealthy and the rest of us.
Since his election Trump’s approval rating is hovering at about 38%. Those 38%, his base, is made up of hard line Right-Wing Authoritarians who in my opinion will slavishly follow any leader whom they perceive is Strong and Authoritative. While the unvarnished truth is that Trump is weak, clueless and lacks any vision for the future. Yet for those who idolize him, he is their vision of who the President should be and they are immune to any proof to the contrary. Sadly, for the prospects of American Democracy these voters are a lost cause simply because they are immune from facts and live in an alternate reality of their own psychological projections. So the political question for the future of our Country devolves into whether the Democratic Party can develop leaders who are able to articulate a message that people and Party are willing to follow.
In this past election, there is no doubt that in her mind Hilary Clinton had a clear vision of where she wanted to take the United States and how she wanted to provide U.S. leadership in the World. However, despite Hilary’s superb intelligence, resolution and foresight, she is like the most of us, a product of her own life experience. Ofttimes, we humans allow our experiences of the past, to stultify our dealing with the future. Bill and Hilary Clinton achieved electoral success by a strategy known as “Triangulation”.
“triangulation is the strategy in which a political candidate presents their ideology as being above or between the left and right sides (or “wings”) of a traditional (e.g. American or British) democratic political spectrum. It involves adopting for oneself some of the ideas of one’s political opponent. The logic behind it is that it both takes credit for the opponent’s ideas, and insulates the triangulator from attacks on that particular issue.”
In the 1990’s, as the Conservative soporific known as the ““Reagan Revolution” still swayed the minds of Beltway punditry professing a mealy-mouthed concept of Bi-Partisanship , the leadership of the Democratic Party moved away from the values of “FDR’s New Deal” and towards the triangulation strategy which blurred the lines between political parties.This version of “Republican-Lite” did win Bill Clinton the Presidency, but it was at the expense of a Congress chock full of Democratic politicians willing to move to the Right of Center. Led by the embattled Clinton, Congress nevertheless passed much retrograde legislation, seemingly aimed at enriching the wealthy, by taking from those of lesser wealth. Following Clinton, Gore versus Bush was the contest of a Right of Center Moderate against a hawkish neophyte with family connections, most helpful being his brother’s being the Florida governor. The neophyte, with his neocon fraternity won, 9/11 happened, and the rest is a history of government for the rich and famous.
For many of us Barack Obama seemed to break the triangulation mold and ran promising hopeful change. Conveniently for some, the financial meltdown ensued before Obama could be sworn into office. In a seemingly inexplicable turn from his campaign’s promises of change, policies were pursued that not only saved the corrupt financial institutions guilty of reckless fraud, but then instituted a financial program that aped that of his predecessor. In military and foreign policy, contrary to the vision Obama expressed in his campaign, he actually became somewhat more hawkish than the prior Neocon Administration. The passing of the American Healthcare Act, was given the times, an extraordinary success, yet it was followed up badly and many Democratic legislators tried to deny its existence. The Democratic Party paid the price of its desertion of the principles of the New Deal and quickly lost both houses of Congress.
All of this history contributed to Hilary‘s loss and a Electoral College Victory by a mean-spiritedly, dangerous buffoon. The truth of this opinion was confirmed by the improbable success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. That Hilary had the nomination shouldn’t have been in doubt, given the control her Centrist supporters had of the Democratic Party. Yet despite the notion that somehow it was Sanders‘ charisma that had many voters flocking to him, it was really that Bernie had articulated a clear, progressive vision for the future of the country. The years of the political system skewing in favor of wealth since Reagan had taken its’ toll upon the United States. Triangulation really played out as a surrender to money and power. Democrats were co-opted and corrupted by the political donations of the wealthy, who indeed were rich enough to play on both sides at once. The Sanders’ vision was a breath of fresh air to most citizens who had seen their prospects on a continually diminishing spiral downward.
Yet the Sanders‘ campaign never really had a chance as exemplified by Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Party Chairman, who stupidly affirmed at one point that the Democratic Party was a private entity run for the benefit of its’ elected officials and not for the democratic aspirations of the people. While as the Bernie phenomenon continued to perform impressively, Hilary began to triangulate her campaign by adopting some of Bernie‘s progressive positions, it was Trump who gained the most traction by also aping some of the Sanders’ populist talking points.
This is all water under the dam so to speak, as we are faced with the danger of an unhinged, incompetent President, who seems through his appointments to be trying to turn back the national clock towards the days of the Robber Barons. That this sits well with the “Tea Party” Republicans, who along with their “Birther Allies” control Congress is a given. One might say even that the current situation is a “wet dream” of their Ayn Rand sexual fantasies of power.
Certainly, the way forward for those of us Left of Center, is Resistance to Trump’s legitimacy. We cannot allow fatigue or boredom to diminish our capacity to resist. If Leftists could glean any direction from the state of our country since that fateful election of 1980, it must be that the ideals of the New Deal are just as meaningful, if not more so today, as a vision of our direction for the future. We must discover political leaders who articulate a message that people are willing to follow. That message is what made the Democratic Party great in 1932 and led this country to become the most admired and powerful on the planet. That message is not about detailed programs, it is about general principles of a Fair Government, working to ensure that all of us start at a somewhat equal point in life, at least as far as the laws and policies go.
What this past election proved, is that the trend since the election of Reagan which skewed the direction of government on all levels to accommodate to the needs of One Percent of the population, is no longer tolerable to the majority of the American people. Enough people were fooled this time into believing that their interests would be best led by a bankrupt, narcissistic fraud. It is time to find those leaders who will again articulate the need of the people for a fair, just and caring government. Most importantly though, the thing that puts Trump into a powerful position, despite his incompetence, is that the Republican Party has operated brilliantly on the local and State levels, while Democrats have only paid attention to the Presidency. We must look for progressive leadership at all levels of government, articulating the vision and values that make us progressives first and foremost. While we aren’t the future quite yet, I believe that we can be.