Friday, March 3, 2017

How Trump???

We just read a David Frum article in the Atlantic[1] about the global growth of autocratic movements, including, obviously, here with the Trump groups. As best I understand them, the analyses concerning Trump suggest that folks out there in America-Land are damned angry, and they’re not going to take it any longer.  They voted for Trump as a gesture to throw out all the rascals—their version, I guess, of “draining the swamp”.  By coincidence, one can observe a similar feeling/belief system operating around the world in other industrialized nations. Certainly the Brexit vote in Britain is but one such example. British workers are fed up with the same things that annoy folks here—mainly the conviction that their careers, their very jobs are either gone or at serious risk because of immigrants, or because of trade pacts that undermine their own national industrial base.  In Britain, unlike here, there is the added annoyance that Europeans are dictating laws that affect the British homeland, and they don’t want their laws dictated by Belgians, French, Germans, et al.

Here, it would seem, the Trump forces divide into a few different population sets:

·         The middle and lower middle class workers whose jobs are threatened, or have disappeared due to technology, shifting plants overseas, or replacement by other industries;

·         A second group of middle class workers who, while perhaps not threatened directly, have grown up within family/business circles that despise government and believe that private business should be unimpeded by government. They seem to love the rhetoric about government being part of the problem, rather than the solution (thank you Ronald Reagan)-- the Reagan “welfare queens driving around in Cadillacs” remains a vital core of their belief system;

·         Racists and other neo-Nazi groups that have emerged as a result of Trump rhetoric that makes it ok again to hate people of other racial, ethnic, or cultural groups;

·         Moderate to Wealthy corporate executives and right wing lobby groups aimed at reducing/eliminating the intrusion of government into their corporate lives. This group is especially active, heavily monied, and seeks to end government regulations across the board.

But, I keep asking myself, why would all these groups vote for Trump? We heard folks out there say that, Trump is a businessman, and that government would definitely benefit by being run like a business.  On the other hand, Trump is also a demonstrably unsuccessful businessman, almost uniquely so. His businesses have failed spectacularly. Six times Trump businesses have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, meaning that many investors lost much of their invested capital.

But he has also demonstrated what can only be called corrupt business practices, when he refuses to pay workers, or contractors who work for him, always claiming that their work was “inadequate”.

So, folks would like to see government run in this same fashion? Really folks??

And then, of course, there is his personal depravities.  Three marriages, multiple trashing of the very concept of marriage, through his casual approach to sex with many partners, and his utter failure to respect women in or outside his family.

It is not the case that all these flaws were hidden from the voting public. They were prominently on display to anyone interested in even casual information gathering about the candidates.

So tell me again why anyone voted for him?

It would seem that the racists/Neo-Nazi’s would continue to be drawn to Trump because he appeals to them much as autocrats of old (see Mussolini) appealed to their native populations. These groups were apparently offended by the election of an African-American President, and, despite his generally statesmanlike behavior throughout his eight years, there was nothing President Obama could have done that would satisfy the primal urges of such folks.  Many have never recovered from the Civil War, and sport Confederate flags at will on every occasion they can.  Trump fully recognized these groups and refused to publically condemn them.

The monied corporate set was also largely “in the bag” as soon as any republican was nominated. The fact that the nominee was a deeply flawed, mentally questionable person with serious personality disorders, apparently troubles them not at all. My assumption is that they believe, since they largely frequent the same country clubs, that he was controllable by them, and that he was largely already in their philosophical frame.  To be fair, some heavily monied corporatists declaimed him, but not enough of them to dissuade the voting public.  Big Bidness was seen as a loyal Trump ally, and the “government should be run like business” set liked that.

So, then we are left with the Middle and Lower class workers who were actually or potentially threatened by the extant global marketplace. Trade pacts such as NAFTA and the TPP were assumed to be bad by definition, because they caused American business to be undermined, as business drifted off to the other countries involved.

This group opted for Trump apparently because Trump voiced their concerns and fears directly, whereas the Democrats, Hillary especially, failed to do so directly.  He disparaged the global trade pacts, described our economy as being practically in the toilet, and blamed Obama and the Dems for its pitiful state.  Someone finally was “telling it like it is”. He was “taking names” and kicking ass, and they rallied to that approach enthusiastically.  His rallies resembled high school football rallies with the faithful screaming loudly in support, even to violently in support.  Trump applauded the violent displays, as they seem to appeal to his basic personality. His nauseous commentary, when he thought he might lose, about how her election might be beyond their control, “aside from those second amendment folks” seemed an outright appeal to assassination, although he would deny that.  Still, he appealed to their basest emotions, and identified with their real pain. Hillary never connected with these groups, and they seemed to see her as being part of their problem.

Could Hillary have appealed to these groups? Perhaps, but it really seems fairly unlikely. They were angry; Hillary represented the cause of their anger, and there was not much she could do to dissuade them from their position.

Curiously, Bernie Sanders seemed to appeal almost directly to these same fears and concerns.  So, might Bernie have formed a more formidable challenge to the Trump phenomenon? Maybe, but we cannot know at this stage. Certainly Bernie represented a fierier approach that had great appeal.  Maybe next time, or maybe in the form of another similar charismatic, such as Elizabeth Warren.

But more fundamentally, what must be done to retrieve the trust of this segment of our voting public, especially after Trump trashes their belief in him. When Trump and his republican buddies get rid of “ObamaCare” without replacing it with something as good or better, they will begin to understand that Trump and the republicans are an empty set, intent on maintaining and enlarging their power without fixing any of the underlying problems in America, other perhaps than the entirely fake problem of an undernourished military.

So, what could we have done, or more to the point, what could be done in the future to remedy these entirely real problems facing the American workforce, and the voting public?

It seems to me that we collectively have simply adopted this global economic model that multilateral trade will always be good for the nation, without dealing with the inevitable negative side effects of these trade systems.  While acknowledging that multilateral trade probably is good for the world, as it spreads money throughout the globe, its effects are not uniform. If Mexico or China can produce something that we used to produce at less cost than we can manage, then they gain and we will lose. The assumption of global economics folks is that, while we will lose on some deals, textiles for example, we will make it up on other commodities, maybe high tech goods or services.  And over time, as we lose those higher tech commodities, we will gain in some other newer set.  Except . . . ahhh, there’s always an exception. When we gain in some new set of commodities, a new group of workers are involved, and the set of workers who lost out??? Well, they are simply unemployed.

Now this trade effect can be seen vividly in the old textile industry, where production moved from the North here in the US to the South, and then farther South into Latin America, thence on to China. Our textile workers became casualties, and many never recovered. Similarly, when coal mines gave out, in favor of other mines, or other energy sources, the miners became permanently unemployed, mainly because they had no other skill set on which they could rely for obtaining employment in a different sector of our economy.

And the list goes on and on.

So, what did we do about these many “side effects” of global trade? Well, largely, nothing—enter Donald Trump.

But what could we have done? Well, here is where a government-business partnership seems appropriate. We all know that, when a coal mine closes, we would not expect the mine owners to devise another enterprise that would accept their now unemployed miners. It would be nice, but that typically is not the way business works. Business owners protect their own capital, and seek new ways to enrich themselves without worrying overly about the workers who used to enrich them.  They are just casualties. Onto bigger and better ways of making money.

See, this is the single thing that folks who want government to run like business don’t get. Business largely cares only about profit and loss. Whatever will enrich the owners is the path that will be followed. Government, on the other hand, is supposed to have a larger set of objectives, more aligned with the citizenry and the safety and wellbeing of that enterprise called The Nation. So, when a President develops and sets into law something like the WPA[2] to put people to work, it is an act that a business would never entertain.

So, have we needed a modern WPA? Maybe, but the central issue is that we have needed for at least the last 50-60 years, some function within our government that is charged with working with industry to devise solutions, both short and long term to correct for the effects of global trade imbalances and damages. Sometimes, the solution might be a short term public works investment, but sometimes we might need to devise longer term approaches involving training, or public-private investment strategies that will keep our work force current.  We might need tax dollars for these investments, and we might need private capital investments in new technology or new facilities.  Who knows, perhaps the nation’s workforce of economists could join together in some enterprise that causes them to do something beyond statistical extrapolation.

But it seems to me that we need something new and that it cannot be solely a government or a private sector initiative, but some combined effort. It might well involve retraining whole workforces, or some permanent systems to retrain threatened sectors. It would certainly involve research into alternative industrial investment patterns, which could include both public and private. And for those who imagine that governments should not be involved in industrial enterprise development, they need to examine the nation a bit more in depth.  Our entire military-industrial complex, which Ike warned us about, is precisely a government-private sector investment strategy. We make no argument here to duplicate that approach, but we argue instead that we need something similar in terms of a cooperative endeavor between the two economic forces.

And the efforts need to be made public, so that our workforce can always see that both our government and our private sector industrialists now always include their welfare in the decision processes.

One final note here. Because many of the abandoned workers have no skill sets beyond their now abandoned industrial jobs, they need to be made part of this system. They cannot simply sit on their asses and whine about how unfair the world is. They need to be active partners in their own economic redemption. Now, how’s that for a challenge???

[1] Frum, David, How to Build an Autocracy, The Atlantic, March 2017
[2] The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.
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