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April 30, 2018

Trump is a Symptom; The “Resistance” Should Act on Causes

David Brooks wrote in The New York Times:

“Over the past year, those of us in the anti-Trump camp have churned out billions of words critiquing the president. The point of this work is to expose the harm President Trump is doing, weaken his support and prevent him from doing worse. And by that standard, the anti-Trump movement is a failure…”

The “resistance” is ignoring the problems in our country, which led so many of us to vote for obnoxious Trump. Many of these are the same problems which led Democrats to vote for socialist Bernie Sanders in the primaries. Eight years earlier many of the same people who voted for Sanders and Trump gave the Democratic nomination and the presidency to the extremely inexperienced Barack Obama because he represented “change”. Twice the country rejected Hillary Clinton (and John McCain and Mitch Romney) because they are all part of the establishment which is the cause of many of our problems.

Personally, I have little to complain about; America has been good to me and good for me. But I’ve come to realize that “the system” is corrupt in a very bipartisan way. The deck is stacked for certain people, so success for others is harder and harder to come by. No wonder people are angry and afraid.

Examples:

Exhibit Number One: The outrageous bank bailout (TARP) at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of Obama’s. It was Congress’ last major bipartisan act. In normal times the rich get richer; in recessions and depressions the rich get poorer faster, perhaps because they have more to lose. The economic cycle does a much better job of wealth redistribution than politicians. But not last time: the bankers’ gains, ill-gotten or not, were protected; workers lost. Certain unions like the United Auto Workers  (as much a part of the establishment as CitiBank) got bailed out by the “Stimulus Package”. The rest of the country hasn’t really recovered until now.

Exhibit Number Two: The political clout of the National Education Association (teacher’s union) has enabled it to prioritize job salvation for its members over an effective education system. It’s not wrong for a union to try to protect its members; it’s wrong for politicians to conspire with the union to the massive detriment of education for Americans.

Exhibit Number Three: Pensions. In both the public and private sector, employer executives and union executives have conspired to promise workers retirement benefits which will be impossible to deliver but for which the bill won’t come due until the co-conspirators have gone on to their own golf courses. We will bail out some of the private sector workers; there simply isn’t and won’t be enough money to keep the promises made to public sector workers.

Some smaller examples: The perpetual mandates and subsidies for corny ethanol for the good scientific reason that Iowa has the first primary in the nation. The tax loophole for hedge fund managers that neither Republican nor Democratic administrations can ever get around to closing. Government-by-grant: I get you a grant through legislation or influence and you give me a campaign contribution, often in the opposite order. The Export-Import bank whose purpose is to subsidize a few large corporations like GE and Boeing.

Although neither Trump nor Sanders agree that these are all problems, each of them has targeted more of this list than Hillary Clinton did or does. As long as outrages like these continue and as long as Americans are denied the opportunity for an excellent education, a fair shake at upwards mobility, and protection from corporate and union monopolies, people will be – and should be – angry.

As long as Americans are angry and feeling helpless, they will vote for those who seem to feel their pain and share their disdain for the establishment. Fear is a perfect opening for demagogues of both the left and the right. Choices made by fearful people will lead to an erosion of civil liberties. Neither Trump nor Sanders caused the problems which scare people; both know how to harness resentment; neither hesitates to fan the flames of division in their own interest. But they do hear what their supporters are saying.

Those who focus on blind resistance are missing the point that Trump is a symptom, not a cause. If we want to be effective in preventing the rise of demagogues, we must address the problems which give rise to them.

Brooks concludes:

“The main reason Trump won the presidency is that tens of millions of Americans rightly feel that their local economies are under attack, their communities are dissolving and their religious liberties are under threat. Trump understood the problems of large parts of America better than anyone else. He has been able to strengthen his grip on power over the past year because he has governed as he campaigned.

“Until somebody comes up with a better defense strategy, Trump and Trumpism will dominate. Voters are willing to put up with a lot of nonsense for a president they think is basically on their side.

“Just after the election, Luigi Zingales wrote a Times op-ed on how not to fight Trump, based on the Italian experience fighting Silvio Berlusconi. Don’t focus on personality or the man, Zingales advised. That will just make Trump the people’s hero against the Washington caste. Focus instead on the social problems that gave rise to Trumpism.

“That is the advice we anti-Trumpers still need to learn.”

Anti-Sanders people need to learn the same lesson. Think a socialist president is unthinkable? That’s what we thought about Trump when he announced his candidacy.

See also:

Election Analysis: It Was TARP that Boiled the Tea

Confessions of a Stimulator

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