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Thoughts on Trump

09/11/2016

Here are some thoughts about Trump’s election. The Trump campaign fed on their candidate’s supposed bonafides as an “outsider”. Breathless media hysteria in reporting every silly thing Trump said and fomenting faux outrage let the candidate build this narrative. Many in the media were way too eager to simply cast Trump in the role of horrible villain. Visceral dislike seriously impairs the capacity for objective judgement. The Clinton campaign, of course, was eager to encourage this because it drew attention away from the significant flaws of their own candidate (check out for example this report where a State Department senior aide asks whether potential contractors to the Haitian rebuild were “Friends of Bill”) I’ve not seen a smoking gun from the emails may but it certainly built upon a general perception that Clinton was untrustworthy. I think her public private positions are probably not all that unusual for normal politicians but, if you are already suspicious of a candidate’s trustworthiness, then this adds fuel to the fire.

There were also too many casual smears on Trump voters and their motivations. There was Hillary Clinton’s remarkable statement condemning about half of Trump’s supporters as a “basket of deplorables”. It’s one thing for politicians to sling mud at each other (although this election was worse than others, that is expected politician behaviour) but throwing shade at millions of voters is a different proposition.   I find it hard to believe that the nearly 58 million Americans (which google tells me) have so far been counted as voting for Trump were simply racists and sexists as some folks still believe.

I do not like Trump, his rhetoric or his policies (I broadly like globalisation, open markets and movement of people across borders. Trump, if his proposals to impose high tarrifs on countries importing products to the US and to build that infamous wall are taken at face value, does not.) but it behooves those of us thinking seriously about these things to understand what lay behind this movement. Reading the comments of Trump supporters as reported in publications such as The American Interest (where the reporter in question ventured to places outside the “beltway” such as New Orleans, Nashville, and Mississippi)  and others and taking those people at their word, dislike of foreigners and women do not seem to be determinant motivations (although some discomfort with demographic change plays a role). This was about disdain for that detached establishment and their lack of respect for ordinary people. It suited Trump and spoke to his supporters’ desires, as the campaign concluded, to deploy the slogan “drain the swamp” referring to a bloated and aloof Washington political elite.

In making comment after the fact it can be a bit too easy to fall into the trap of post hoc rationalisation (this is when you squeeze a theory retroactively to suit the facts of a situation) but I think Trump’s political success lends credence to Martin Gurri’s theory of the “Revolt of the Public” as articulated in his 2014 book of that name. In it, he conjectures that the public, gaining information now from a range of sources (obviously carrying varied levels of accuracy) is starting to reject traditional authority. What has started to emerge is the incapacity of authority to deliver on their promises. There was good and bad in the Obama presidency but the vague “hope” and “change” narrative built up expectations that were far too high. Gurri points out in his latest post that trust in the mainstream media, a traditional mediator of information flows and a key component of authority, is at an all time low in the United States.

Although I shy away from making big predictions I will say that the global trend revealed within the Trump movement and earlier by Brexit will not go away.

PS: Martin Gurri’s thoughts on this development should be worth reading. He last posted on his blog on the anti politician Trump and stale insider Clinton back on October 25. His blog is here.

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