Donald Trump’s election was a somewhat shocking and somewhat obvious result. Shocking, in part, because Donald Trump was so thoroughly unqualified for the job, and also because his life and words were so contradictory to the ideals espoused by the Christian base that Republican politicians focus so much attention and messaging on.
On the other hand, Trump did master one thing quite effectively during his career — branding. And in the 21st century, much of politics is little more than branding. In March of last year, Joe Romm illustrated the potential for Trump’s seemingly absurd rhetoric to win over enough voters to win the election.
But still, how did this happen? How did we get here?
I just published a long article titled “Hitching Your Wagon To A Con” on a CleanTechnica sister site, Planetsave. Below is a brief excerpt from that before I go further, with one part bolded.
In the end, though, voters wanted something.
Drain the swamp? Sure, if that means booting the middlemen and simply putting Goldman Sachs execs, billionaires, and ExxonMobil’s CEO in charge.
Bring back blue-collar jobs? Um, not so much.
Provide universal health care? Never mind.
Now Trump hypes tax cuts, but doesn’t quite share that they are basically just tax cuts for billionaires and multimillionaires. Trump hypes … actually, wait, what’s he hyping? All the rage now is “fake news,” crowd sizes, “witch hunts,” and … “Oh, hey, I’m president! Can you believe it?” He talks about not forgetting the forgotten people, but what the hell does that mean? What is he doing for anyone in the United States other than himself, his family, and super rich friends?
Here is apparently a real quote from the President of the United States to a top Russian spy and minister:
“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told Russia’s foreign minister and chief US spy (ambassador to the United States), according to a transcript that leaked to the independent US press, which wasn’t allowed into the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Hmm, something isn’t right. It’s surprising that more Republican voters haven’t woken to the con yet, but some are starting to smell the coffee, including within the White House, which has been leaking to the press in unprecedented quantity and quality.
“If Donald Trump gets impeached, he will have one person to blame: Donald Trump,” one White House official said.
A Justice Department official commented on this matter in a clear way via email:
“Individual acts/comments may not constitute obstruction [of justice], but the whole pattern—starting with the requested loyalty oath, ending with the firing—does look like obstruction. And then the question is, is he obstructing because he knows he is guilty himself, or is he obstructing because he doesn’t know the full extent of [former Trump campaign chief Paul] Manafort, Flynn, and others’ shenanigans, and is terrified of finding out. Both are plausible; we know where I would place my bet.”
Here’s a shocker of a quote from a hardcore Trump supporter who worked on the campaign and is working in the administration: “Every day he looks more and more like a complete moron. I can’t see Trump resigning or even being impeached, but at this point I wish he’d grow a brain and be the man that he sold himself as on the campaign.”
Ah, but that’s just the thing: Just because someone is good at selling doesn’t mean their product is any good.
Republicans knew on the campaign trail that Trump was lying like crazy — I think they knew, at least. His chief Republican opponents (and Democratic opponents) certainly tried to explain as much. “This man is a pathological liar,” Ted Cruz said. “He doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He lies practically every word that comes out of his mouth.”
Cruz had more to say that one would hope the American voters who elected Trump will come to understand before long: “[He’s] a narcissist at a level that I don’t think this country has ever seen. … Everything in Donald’s world is about Donald.”
In light of Ted Cruz’s comments, look at that bold line higher up again. It should come as no surprise to Cruz that Trump is constantly tweeting and talking about “wiretaps” that weren’t in place, “witch hunts” that are serious FBI and congressional investigations for obvious reasons, his crowd sizes, “fake news” that doesn’t treat Trump like a king or dictator, and federal judges who block his executive orders because of them being unconstitutional. Trump was focused on his own personal branding for decades, on the campaign trail, and in the introductory period of his entire presidency. Is he all of a sudden going to become more than a brander?
His White House aides have dramatically shortened daily briefings and repeatedly insert his name into them to keep his attention, according to leaks from his own administration. Despite having a Republican-dominated Congress, he hasn’t gotten through any significant legislation (resorting, instead, to executive orders despite heavily criticising Obama for using them when Obama was faced with an insanely obstructionist Republican Congress). Again, though, lack of interest in details, poor cooperation/negotiation skills, a chaotic management style, and obsession with unimportant side shows should come as no surprise to Republican voters — this was Trump long before 2016, was obviously Trump in 2016, and is still Trump today.
But then, why did ~26% of the country vote for Trump? What policy proposals made voters think Trump was going to do something for them (instead of simply his billionaire/millionaire friends and family)?
Well, that’s the thing — policies are largely ignored in US politics today. If an average person can talk about specific policies, they can only do so in the most cliche, generic, politicized way. It often ends up they aren’t talking policies but politics.
People fell for the Trump con because they long gave up on trying to learn and dig into politicians’ actual policy proposals and what the effects would be. Trump didn’t have many significant policy proposals, and when he did, they often were things that have been demonstrated to have a net negative effect on American citizens and American society.
To finish this thought, I’ll quote again from “Hitching Your Wagon To A Con” to dive into what I think is the underlying “policy vs politics” problem that has led to the Trump White House we have today:
I would give the majority of politicians the benefit of the doubt and say that they went into politics to try to help society (not to just make as much money as possible in underhanded ways). I think Paul Ryan thinks his policies are supposed to help the country. I think Donald Trump thinks the same (as much as he pays any attention to policy). And I certainly think people like Al Franken, Tulsi Gabbard, and Ted Lieu are trying to help society as much as possible.
However, at the core of all the politicking/messaging are actual policies that either help the “average Joe” or hurt him.
- Not letting old coal plants pump a tremendous amount of pollution into our lungs and atmosphere either hurts the average Joe or helps him.
- Not letting oil & gas companies dump toxic, cancer-causing chemicals into our water supplies either hurts the average Joe or helps him. (This includes indirect as well as direct benefits and costs. For example, Joe may not live in an area where this matters, but if Sam does and gets cancer from these chemicals, that can then increase health insurance costs that hurt Joe.)
- Requiring that corporations pay a minimum, livable wage either helps the average Joe or hurts him. (Again, there are indirect effects here too. Joe doesn’t earn minimum wage, but if the minimum wage is high enough to be a livable minimum wage, that means many more people in his community and society will make enough money for some discretionary spending, which then goes to the local and national economy to a considerable degree and eventually benefits Joe.)
- Not requiring that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions either hurts the average Joe or helps him.
- Not letting Wall Street gamble in too extreme ways helps society to avoid things like the Great Depression and Great Recession.
- Not giving billionaires massive tax loopholes obviously benefits the rest of society.
The somewhat surprising thing is that the Republican Party’s core policies are hugely harmful for the average Joe … yet approximately half of “average Joe” voters vote Republican and don’t understand that they are voting against their own interests.
The core policy isn’t “small government versus big government” (or variations like “state government versus federal government”), as is often claimed. The core Republican policy in the 21st century is essentially to fight incessantly for an ideal of “no government.”
Don’t think for a moment that this is about federal versus state rights — these same Republicans fight the same actual policies on the state level that they fight on the national level, and they fight them on the regional or city level as well. What they are constantly fighting for is “no government,” which is fine on certain topics, but not for other topics like the ones I mentioned above.
How this plays out in policy and hurts average Americans has been understood by legitimate researchers for decades. But many Republican voters and even politicians don’t get it.
Who are the con men? Who’s being conned? It’s hard to know precisely who the con men are, since it’s hard to know which high-rolling Republicans realize “no government” is a con on the American people. But there are certainly some super rich Republicans who realize they are robbing the middle class and poor, while there are other Republican leaders who genuinely think deregulating corporations as much as possible is somehow a good thing for Joe. (In other words, the con men have sometimes simply been conned themselves, so they aren’t so much con men as idiotic.)
But how do you get voters to look at policy details and decades of research?
How do you get voters to understand that tax cuts for the super rich hurt America, and that a core Republican policy focus is tax cuts for the super rich?
How do you get voters to understand that deregulating polluting industries hurts American health, costs American lives, and is bad for the American economy, and that deregulating polluting industries is a core Republican focus?
How do you get voters to understand that letting insurance companies pick and choose who they insure is going to hurt Americans, and that this is a core focus of Republican politicians?
How do you get voters to understand that letting Wall Street fat cats gamble, with the security that taxpayers will bail them out, is not good for the US economy, and that this is one of the Republican Party’s core “deregulation” focal points?
If you can’t get voters to figure out that one party’s policies are focused obsessively on shifting more money to billionaires on the backs of the middle class and poor, perhaps it’s just time to run Oprah or Harrison Ford for president.
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