Point of View Columns

Trump as Avatar

Trump as Avatar

What follows are excerpts from a paper on the Socioeconomic Impact of the 2016 Presidential Election presented on 4.11.17 in New York City at the Academy of Business and Retail Management 6th International Conference on Business and Economic Development

The morning of November 9, 2016 was like no morning in recent American history. There have been upset elections in U.S. presidential elections, but Donald J. Trump’s candidacy was sui generis. His fact-free and gaffe-full campaign shouldn’t have even come close to being successful – but it was. And there was a reason.

The Trump campaign may have been fact-free but it also offered simple solutions to America’s socioeconomic challenges, both real and imagined. For example, Candidate Trump bemoaned the rising crime rate that was sweeping the country when in fact during the past two decades the American violent crime rate fell by almost half, from 758.20 per 100,000 in 1991 to a low of 387.1 per 100,000 in 2011. Nevertheless, Candidate Trump created a new reality that supported the overly simplistic Law and Order solution to a nonexistent American crime wave.

 Similarly, Candidate Trump argued vehemently in his uniquely fact-free fashion that the American economy was “a mess”. ……….. What is so remarkable about this alternative fact is that by any useful indicia, it is simply not true. What is true is that between 2009 and 2016, the timeline and arc of the Obama presidency, unemployment declined from 9.4 % to 4.9 %. What is true is the Dow Jones Industrial average rose to a record high of 10,000 during this same period. What is also true is that in this fact-free and truth-challenged reality authored by President Trump, the truth doesn’t matter. …..in examining the socioeconomic impact of the election of Donald Trump, it would be a mistake to overstate it since November 8, 2016 was really a time of revelation. ………..Donald Trump’s successful campaign for president was the result of over 40 years of conservative progression. These efforts, carried on largely by the Republican Party, have sought to deconstruct the federal government so that the dispersal of power to the individual states would have the desired effect of diminishing the power of the federal government – forever.

 This vision of American governance is literally older than the Constitution itself. ….. a cursory reading of the contemporaneous writings of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay and James Monroe, including the formal presentations in The Federalist Papers reveal an almost genetic conflict built into the Republic, in effect a contest between those who believe in the need for a strong and powerful central government and those who champion the autonomy and sovereignty of the various and several states of the Union…..Donald Trump is a showman, marketer, occasionally successful real estate entrepreneur and most importantly, he is a man who has cracked the code on how to turn himself into a brand and then sell that brand worldwide.

President Trump is not the leader of a movement to change America. He is an avatar who conveniently appeared at a time when he could ride the rising tide of the conservative agenda – a tide that has been rising for half a century.

 There are deeper trends and movements that lie just below the surface and we ignore those trends and movements at our own peril. That is because the 2016 U.S. presidential election is mirrored in France and Germany and Poland and in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom. …..there is more to the ascendancy of Donald Trump than the vengeance of underemployed angry white men who never could accept the reality of an African American President of the United States. Although it would be a mistake to ignore the race rage that Donald Trump has been able to channel.

 There is the reality that the deconstruction of the American economy played a major part in the Trump as President scenario. Theories about the rights of states and the role of the federal government do not resonate as loudly with the base of his electorate as the very real fact that access to a better life is less accessible than ever before.

Terms like “leveraged buyouts” and “green mail” and “corporate raiders” and “vulture capitalists” entered the vocabulary of global finance about 35 years ago. Since then there has been an incredible accumulation of wealth for bankers, financiers and well-placed corporate executives……….This upward distribution of wealth – and power – is unprecedented in world history and has created political debates and contests that are unknowingly based upon new and uncomfortable economic realities.

 In this kind of a scenario, a Donald Trump can be successful because he has continuously provided simple solutions to what should be obviously complex problems. ………one could argue that Donald Trump is the perfect candidate for the conservative movement.

 First, viewing his public persona over the last four decades, it is clear that he is politically agnostic when it comes to most major issues………… Donald Trump weaves between expediency and reflecting the loudest, last voice that he has heard.

 As a result, he has been able to levitate from one political position to another without regard to his precedent position or his latest speech. Being politically agnostic also has allowed Donald Trump to espouse contradictory statements with ease and more importantly, he has advanced the conservative agenda without seeming to be fully conscious that he was doing so……………………Because he has few core beliefs, Candidate Trump had no problem advocating incredibly simple solutions to incredibly complex challenges facing the United States. Consider, for example, his “solution” to the issue of illegal immigration – deport over 12 million men, women and children, many of whom have established credible and worthwhile lives in this country – all while building and unbuildable wall…………………His position with respect to trade deficits and how the three card Monte of international trade had left many Americans with hands thrust into their empty pockets – to “get tough” with China and Russia and Mexico – toughness that to date has produced late night television fodder but no new jobs for Americans. And yet, the Trump base” has not wavered in its support.

The real issue for the United States, however, is how the various socioeconomic challenges of the world’s largest economy can be addressed. It is fair to state that many of these challenges – health care, income inequality, trade deficits, the lingering legacy of racism, structural unemployment, urban displacement and environmental endangerment, lend themselves to simple conservative solutions. In many instances that solution can be summarized as giving the power to the states – a.k.a. the people – denying the reality that these challenges are impervious to local or regional solutions.

Donald Trump is the perfect messenger for these simplistic solutions.

 And, since many Americans do not have the appetite for, or interest in, the more complex and nuanced solutions to these challenges, progressives find themselves marginalized as the United States careens from crisis to crisis, a player in a demonic pinball game where the American people lose every time. And, in the process the socioeconomic changes do not disappear, they do not go away, they do not get better.

 The delays in addressing these concerns only exacerbate these concerns and, in the final analysis we find that the socioeconomic challenge of the Trump presidency is the deferral of legitimate and thoughtful solutions. And since the time of any nation is never infinite, delays can result in irreparable damage.

 This vision only seems apocalyptic if viewed in a singular prism. But history tells too many stories of great civilizations that became memories because they did not act,

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