As I saw both the Democratic and Republican conventions happen over the last two weeks, I experienced a strange phenomenon. Whenever I turned to Fox, or whenever I heard a Trump supporter talk about how the conventions went, I felt that the Rashomon effect was in play. I could not fathom where the Trump supporters were coming from in their interpretation of events. Did they see the same things I did or were we in parallel universes?
For example, apparently, Chris Christie’s public almost medieval call to “lock her up” at the RNC is the right thing to do, whereas when people of color were celebrated at the DNC, one of the Trump supporters said something to the effect that Democrats are the real racists because they were the party of slavery, segregation, and jim crow. Essentially, the responses were unhinged, seemed irrational at best and dangerous at worst. Trump supporters seemed to be behaving liked a cornered predator whose fundamental existence is being threatened.
Or take Trump’s campaign slogan: Make America Great Again. For a campaign slogan, it is just fine, maybe even great, but what puzzles me is how building a wall or stopping muslims will create jobs, reduce crime, etc., even if you were to, for the sake of argument, overlook the obnoxiousness of the proposals. If the argument is that illegal immigrants are taking away jobs from Americans, or keeping wages low as unscrupulous businesses hire illegals when they should be hiring locals to keep costs low. But study after study has shown that Americans do not want to do the jobs the illegals do. Regarding crime stats, while some of the statistics he quotes are true, the question is whether it is a real trend, and if so what is the solution. Even after the spike in 2015, apparently, crime rates are lower than when in the 50 largest cities compared to when Obama took office, contrary to what Trump implied in his RNC speech. So how Trump’s proposals are going to make America great again is something I do not understand.
That got me thinking who are these people, where are they coming from, what is their real grievance, what makes them support Trump and what is it that they see in Trump that seems to suggest that their grievance will be addressed by him and by nobody else. I think it is important that we understand this phenomenon and address it, or else we may have a situation that is worse than Brexit on our hands in November.
One thing I can gather is that it is the older, male, less educated, white folks who seem to gravitate to Trump’s message, and maybe it is nostalgia about how the country used to be before they had to share it with others. As a demographic, there are multiple studies that seem to indicate that they are worse off than they were a generation ago. In fact, I read that theirs is the only demographic whose life expectancy had dropped in recent years. This is a legitimate concern that needs to be understood and addressed, but, I do not see a discussion of the problems their causes and solutions. Building a wall or banning muslims is not going to reverse the factors that are causing the decrease in life expectancy.
The question is why do older non-college educated white men feel left out and why have their voices not been heard? I guess the argument is that the Republican and democratic party have disappointed/failed them because trickle-down economics did not work for them and unions are dead, and the tea party wing of the republican party has also failed them because obstructionist tactics do not work either. Part of the challenge is that the disappearance of jobs or the lack of wage growth in the last 15 years is a secular trend that economists are barely beginning to understand. Previously, whenever the economy grew because of increase in productivity, it translated into wage increases. However, since 2000, or so, since the “internet revolution”, productivity growth has been happening without increase in wages. Understanding the causes and coming up with solutions for this problem is the challenge for this generation. And we need as many smart people we can get from all over the world to help us solve it. Retreating inwards and espousing Americanism instead of globalism will only make it worse.
Regarding how do they expect that the Donald will deliver for them, my bet is that a more realistic outcome, even if Donald becomes president (god forbid), is similar to the outcome that Brexit voters wanted and got. In the UK, Brexiter’s irrational xenophobia has unwittingly put their own retirement pensions at greater risk while reducing the opportunities for the younger generation. So, while they voted to go back to a “better” time when the neighborhoods were more to their liking, chances are that they will end up disappointed and poorer, not just financially, but culturally as well. In Brexit, older non-college graduates, both male and female were for Brexit. Fortunately for us, older women seem more sane than their male counterparts here in the US and they may well be the key demographic that saves us from catastrophe in this election..
In essence, my sense is that while Trump supporters may have a pleasant nostalgic dream, disconnected from reality, what they will likely get is a nightmare even if they succeed. Because, you know, nostalgia isnt what it used to be..