A few weeks ago I sprung off my couch and bellowed, convinced a pundit had got it wrong about Trump. “No he isn’t aiming for the middle of the bell curve, he’s targeting the edge of the bell curve. Hasn’t anyone on this panel read Spin!”
Clive Owen’s Gladwell-esque take on politics and marketing identifies how successful campaigns target the edge of the bell curve, where the most passionate constituents exist, the one’s who shout the loudest, the one’s who influence the middle of the bell curve.
Trump yanked the chain at one end, which in turn yanked the other end, which again fuelled his targeted end. That’s how he grossed $2bn of free advertising over the course of his campaign. Trump was a natural for the edge of the bell curve, Hillary Clinton wasn’t.
Who knows what Trump believes other than winning, in this case no matter the cost to America’s social fabric. Racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and Islamophobia didn’t matter as long as it worked.
If what he unleashed gave legitimacy to misogyny, the KKK and every white supremacist thug to bully and intimidate America’s women and diverse population, it was irrelevant. He won, mission accomplished.
He just forgot the bit where he has to be President.
In the early post-election days Trump seemed like he was back-pedalling and watering down key promises to his electors, presumably on the evidence of actual facts and not baseless facts. Next to Obama he was little boy lost.
If he wants to change his climate policy, I’ve written the speech only he can deliver to his supporters — hint — something along the lines of how great the people at NASA are, they're the smartest people, so smart I thought they were Chinese... Do I think Trump will change? Sure, he will change colour and become the second black president of the United States. Orange is the new black he’ll tell supporters.
We should not be fooled at any time Trump is America’s kindly, paternal grandfather. His chosen chief advisor has cultivated the intolerance, ignorance, and anger present in the U.S., another man who plays the edges of the bell curve for his own gain. Trump’s subsequent appointments indicate a man who will choke the life from those who oppose his rule.
Trump and the Republicans have set the bar so low, logical changes to policy seem at once conciliatory and a blatant U-turn.
Questions abound for Trump, but they also do for his voters, not just the white supremacists who don’t number enough elect a chicken for a senate dinner, but those who saw themselves as good people, decent, well-meaning people, who don’t identify being racist or misogynistic, even those belonging to minorities. How were they able to overlook, ignore, deny, block, and excuse?
What happened to their values of decency?
Why did they allow anger to override human decency?
It’s actually hard to be angry all the time. It needs fire, grooming. Direction. It pointed at Hillary Clinton. She symbolized every grievance. She was the focal point of false accusations and dubious facts. Reason became subservient to anger.
People have to be kept angry. Fox News is an agent of anger. Breitbart takes it to the next level. Column inches, radio, and the Sunday TV Talk Shows skew to the right. People had been primed. It’s not a mystery, and it’s not because of Trump. People didn’t have a voice? They’ve been encouraged every inch of the way. Dialogue a victim, social media a conduit.
It’s the age of binary; win/lose, them/us, me/elites, black/white, college educated/non-college educated. The college educated voted for Trump in great numbers, while non-college educated voters are dismissed as simpletons with no expectations of understanding the issues. All I see is worthless education.
Society is cloaked in fear. If you don’t win, you’ve lost, and no one has time for losers. It’s reactive. Shut down. How can you have a conversation when you can’t listen? All that the Black Lives Matter movement asked white people to do (even those of us belonging to minorities) was to listen, and we couldn’t even do that.
Political correctness is attacked. Sure, everyone can find an example of where it’s gone too far, but political correctness represents human decency, when you free yourself from political correctness, you free yourself from being decent to other human beings.
Those who remained calm, and reasoned — even if with falsities — still have to answer the same question as the anger mob. What happened to their values of human decency?
The elites who complain about the elites had a choice to engage in constructive conversation. They are leaders too. They had a choice how to approach people’s fears and grievances, cultivate for their own gain, or address them.
Globalization, is the bugbear, and a label not unpacked. You can swing in any direction on this topic and select how much to emphasize trade over technology, or vice versa. Economists aren’t certain, politicians are.
Thirty years ago, in high school geography, we studied how Volkswagen shipped vehicle parts to Brasil, built the cars, then shipped the finished product back to Europe where they could sell them for 6% less and still make the same profit if the whole process had remained in Europe. It stuck. This was the future, tariffs or not.
The rising skill level in developed countries is consistently ignored. There might be large pools of unskilled labour around the world, but there are also large pools of skilled labour to be exploited.
I drilled down (one layer), and looked at the automotive industry, because it’s considered the heart of US manufacturing, and without it manufacturing in the US would be considered dead.
Complexities and paradoxes are aplenty. 2015 saw record sales of cars and trucks, usually a sign of a healthy US economy. Only one of the three NAFTA countries has seen a reduction in car production in the last four years, and it’s not America. It’s Canada. US production has doubled since 2009’s low. Canada is the biggest market for US made vehicles. China is second, Mexico fifth.
Over the last 20 years, Kia, Honda, Mercedes, Hyundai, and Volkswagen opened and expanded facilities in the US, but critically not in Michigan, Ohio, or Indiana. They created jobs in the red states of Alabama, Georgia Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. Between 2009 and 2013 the US exported $227.7 billion worth of passenger vehicles. In the same period the US saw a 683% increase in vehicle exports to China.
Watch out trade wars.
The industry has collectively spent $46bn in expanding and retooling U.S. facilities since 2010.
The question turns to other manufacturing industries, what happened to them, why aren’t they doing as well?
And there’s a further question, what if the malaise, the discontent at politicians and elites is rooted elsewhere, but the source becomes hard to trace as it’s overgrown with other weeds of discontent, or should I say “cultivated”?
Anger at changing societal values, anger at taxation, anger at government, just angry people, the people who have spun a negative story on the state of America, the exponents of indecency, the group of elites who rage at elites, who rage at doing anything for a greater good for fear of losing, whether it be their wealth or ideology.
Forgotten in the mix is the erosion of the social safety net.
I say pick any two of the following:
· Disconnection from nature,
· Disconnection from each other, and
· The devaluation of creativity.
Driving from mall to mall, big box to big box, life-sucking florescent lighting, fast food, trained to consume (I see this in myself), buy, buy, buy, until there is nothing more to buy, or you’re excluded because your wages are suppressed – or don’t exist.
Who wouldn’t be disgruntled at the lack of the promised life? The jobs are shitty, the wages low, and your only power comes from the vitriol you can spread through social media. The positive facts of America’s automotive industry don’t help if you’re excluded.
We’re baited by this global phenomenon (social media), and we use it like the two year old who’s discovered they can shout.
Then there’s the pace of change, the over arching story.
Maybe trade and automation isn’t the problem, but where the money is funnelled. Income tax is the fairest way of redistributing wealth, but you can’t redistribute wealth when the prevailing narrative of your society hangs a devil and a pitchfork over the word tax.
John Steinbeck said socialism never took hold in America because the poor see themselves as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.
Maybe the poor now see themselves as permanently poor and are embarrassed by it, angered by it — even if they’re not as poor as their fellow citizens, the one’s who don’t vote because their situation is so bad, they don’t think casting a ballot will make a difference.
There is no flip of the globalization coin. No space to do so. I’ve been waiting since the Seattle anti-WTO protests in 1999. I had sympathy for the concerns of protestors, but anti-globalization troubled me for what it missed in opportunity toward pro-globalization: global healthcare, global education, global (standard) corporate tax rates (so jurisdictions aren’t played off each other).
This seemed to be worth fighting for, as well as making sure global CO2 reductions were met. Kyoto had no teeth — and nor does Paris — but the idea of what we can achieve globally, that aspiration, soared. Take the economic slogan/buzzword and turn it on its head. If global trade is good, so are all these other “Globals,” but I too, had no teeth.
The rage against globalization was chosen as an explanation, but this wasn’t a massive vote for an American Brexit. Even Brexit was a wafer-thin victory, despite what Britain’s gutter press and pro-leave politicians would have you believe. And if you oppose that narrative you are destroyed
Brexit was a simple Yes or No vote, with a majority to win. If the US presidency was decided the same way, Hillary would have won, and there would be no Amexit.
If Hillary Clinton had garnered 120,000 more votes in Florida and 15,000 more in Michigan, it would have been game over for Trump under the EC system, and a different narrative spun.
Trump had a smorgasbord of buttons to press on the political right, and he pressed them all.
Literalists told us not to take Trump literally, social conservatives turned a blind eye to social indecency, fiscal conservatives embraced (and let me tell you) huge deficit spending, folks claimed Trump didn’t mean what he said yet the other candidate couldn’t be trusted, Main Street chose Wall Street, those crying to drain the swamp elected the same Senate and House, anti-Semites chose a Jewish son-in-law, and the list goes on. Either Trump’s campaign was genius, or this is one confused electorate.
Or, America must have hated Hillary. I imagine Chris Rock hosting the Oscars again (please), "Man, I knew America hated black people, but geez, they really hated Hillary."
I can’t imagine the response if she had refused to release her taxes, or say she was smart not to pay them because she had run up a debt of one billion dollars. Trump pushed every button of hate and sixty million Americans said it was okay to do.
If Hillary had won, we’d all be gasping relief that racism and misogyny didn’t win, it would have been a victory for human decency. We’d move on, perhaps not taking the concerns of those who had lost seriously. Yet the same questions we ask now of that part of the electorate would still have been relevant had they lost.
Trump needed to be thumped, humiliated, for America to confirm it repudiated human indecency. In that sense the vote wasn’t even close, and therein lies what’s so troubling, how could so many people deny the obvious.
Several years ago I read a memoir by Israeli human rights activist Daphna Golan-Agnon. In it she references the work of Dr. Stanley Cohen’s States of Denial, how people are in denial about racial oppression, slavery and other suffering, how we can exist knowing, but not-knowing. It was so to the point (even beyond the political) that I kept it bookmarked.
The first stage of denial is not-knowing. It’s not true that Trump used racist language.
The second stage of denial is we say that the situation is not quite as it seems, and even if it is, there must be no other choice. It’s true that Donald Trump may have used racist language, but he doesn’t mean it, he has to do it because the media won’t give him fair coverage.
At the third stage of denial the situation is bad, (real bad), hopeless, but I can’t do anything about it, there’s no point in voting.
Trump didn’t mean those things and almost everything else he said, so go the apologists, maybe he didn’t mean to run for President.
It’s absurd. On this basis, when Trump says he wants everyone to love each other, or if he ever gets to it, call for racists to stop attacking their fellow citizens, the KKK and their affiliates will turn around and say “He doesn’t mean it”, it’s just to placate those liberals.
If all groups who fell under the Republican tent have their own interpretation of what Trump means, then he has leeway to do whatever he wants among his voter groups, as long as he makes sure to press their buttons at the appropriate time.
As Obama said, sound bites do not always make good policy. As Trump backs away –
· There will be no prosecution of Hillary Clinton (costly and not guilty).
· There will be no wall (I could’ve told you that, because you’d sound like a right dipstick shouting “build the fence”), and Mexico won’t pay — at least directly.
· He’ll do what Hillary would have done with Obama Care, amend it, and find a way to control costs, give it a name change, and shout from the rooftops it’s truly affordable.
· He’ll symbolically rip up NAFTA, but essentially it will remain the same as he risks putting millions of American jobs on the line,
· There won’t be mass deportations because there will be no one to do the jobs white Americans don’t want to do.
· His infrastructure program may be reduced to putting up signs “Making America Great Again,” because Republicans after eight years of political haymaking on Obama’s deficit cannot possibly add billions to the deficit and look at themselves — or their voters — in the mirror, and the deficit is going to be huge with all those tax cuts. Seriously, become a signmaker.
· The Iran deal will remain in place.
· NATO will be unharmed – someone has to protect his European properties and destabilizing Europe will affect those American car exports (Germany is 4th on that list).
· Helping people in inner cities. Yup.
He’ll find a way to sell this to his voters, because Trump excels at that, and he’ll declare himself the greatest president ever for keeping his word. You will see clips of Mexicans being deported and he’ll say we are deporting the rapists and criminals. He only has to make a few changes to NAFTA and he’ll sell it as a great deal.
He’ll sow confusion and uncertainty, only to emerge as the guy who can solve it.
In the end, there isn’t much left of Trump’s policies that aren’t up for grabs. So what did people vote for, what did they vote on?
Across the board whether people actively engaged or denied, it was hatred, anger, misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, a hollow set of values.
They voted for change?
No, this is what Trump voters did:
Baiting, the binary aspect of society, the denial, Trump needed another factor to bind the indecency, the one thing he’s good at, and something he will continue to do as President, put on a good show.
Trump tapped into America’s love of spectacle. Without spectacle Trump doesn’t win. Whipping up crowds, inciting violence, triggering innate racism, entertaining punch lines, grabbing headlines, and providing a great act where straight shooting was equated with honesty.
I saw Donald Trump being honest twice, or should I say authentic, the rare times it wasn’t an act. One was at the end of the debate when he was asked for a positive characteristic of Hillary Clinton. The other was early in the primaries, when walls were being called for on both of America’s land borders.
Trump was walking through a melee (in Central Park) when a Canadian reporter asked if he was going to build a wall on the Canadian border. He was bombarded with questions from others as well, so the question had to be repeated. He wasn’t able to face the camera, but there was enough of a turn to see a smirk, a smile at the absurdity of that question. He had let his guard down.
Everything else was an act. No he wasn’t going to build a wall on the Canadian border. He said he loved Canada, the same way movie stars say it when they’re on the red carpet at the Oscars.
I’m sorry Americans didn’t get to see the 50% of the time when Trump was authentic.
He was playing a role, it was a ruse, and in the end he knew his audience better than most. They had seen him make decisions on television and identified him as a leader.
Sixty million people bought the act, or suppressed the fact it was an act, denied what the hatred implied, the indecency, the consequences, indulging Donald Trump.
They chanted, creating the sense they were part of something bigger than themselves, unable to realize they were part of the hallmarks of fascism.
On Tuesday November 8th 2016, I was on the Millennium Falcon, hanging out with Chewie, R2, Obi Wan, and that annoying Luke kid. We had almost reached America.
Then I felt a great disturbance, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.
My heart dropped. America was gone.
And I was left wondering…
Didn’t Trump voters get Star Wars? Is the only thing they got from it, “Fuck, yeah, we blew up the Death Star?”
Maybe that’s why (spoiler alert) they keep blowing up Death Stars in Star Wars films — and in too many films since.
One Trump policy plank will make it through intact — unless he reads my speech to his supporters. It’s tearing up the Paris Accords. Congratulations Trump voters, you’ve blown up the Death Star, it’s called Earth.
Oh, and by the way, I don’t mean any of this, of course.