Friday, July 8, 2016

Understanding the Trump Juggernaut

Things haven't been looking great for Donald Trump the last couple of weeks, if you listen to the Talking Heads and read The Polls.  It doesn't matter - I've been saying for months that Trump will win in a landslide, and the world of October 8 will look very different than the world of July 8.

To understand why, you need to spend some time at the most interesting blog that I've seen in a long, long time - certainly over a year, maybe the most interesting I've found in 4 or 5.

It started with a Google search for the term "Crisis of governmental legitimacy" and it led me to a 2012 post at The Archdruid Report.  I didn't notice that he had over 3,000 followers because when I read this I was hooked:
Political power’s a remarkable thing. Though Mao Zedong was quite correct to point out that it grows out of the barrel of a gun, it has to be transplanted into more fertile soil in short order or it will soon wither and die. A successful political system of any kind quickly establishes, in the minds of the people it rules, a set of beliefs and attitudes that define the political system as the normal, appropriate, and acceptable form of government for that people.  That sense of legitimacy is the foundation on which any enduring government must build, for when people see their government as legitimate, no matter how appalling it appears to outsiders, they will far more often than not put up with its excesses and follow its orders. 

It probably needs to be said here that legitimacy is not a rational matter and has nothing to do with morality or competence; great nations all through history have calmly accepted the legitimacy of governments run by thieves, tyrants, madmen and fools. Still, a government that has long held popular legitimacy can still lose it, and can do so in a remarkably short time.  Those of my readers who are old enough to have watched the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact satellites will recall the speed with which the rulers of several Communist nations saw the entire apparatus of their government dissolve around them as the people they claimed the right to rule stopped cooperating.
At this point, those of you who have been following the voting in the UK are nodding your heads.  That wasn't actually the part that had me fixed to my chair, that was just the set up.  This is what has made me add The Archdruid to the blogroll here:
It’s all too common for the political class of a troubled nation to lose track of the fact that, after all, its power depends on the willingness of a great many people outside the political class to do what they’re told. In Paris in 1789, in St. Petersburg in 1917, and in a great many other places and times, the people who thought that they held the levers of power and repression discovered to their shock that the only power they actually had was the power to issue orders, and those who were supposed to carry those orders out could, when matters came to a head, decide that their own interests lay elsewhere.  In today’s America, equally, it’s not the crisply dressed executives, politicians, and bureaucrats who currently hold power who would be in a position to enforce that power in a crisis; it’s the hundreds of thousands of soldiers, police officers and Homeland Security personnel, who are by and large poorly paid, poorly treated, and poorly equipped, and who have not necessarily been given convincing reasons to support the interests of a political class that most of them privately despise, against the interests of the classes to which they themselves belong.
Some of you have been wondering where Donald Trump comes into this, but that paragraph should lay out the landscape.  Fast forward to the beginning of this year, when the Archdruid called the election for Trump:
Broadly speaking—there are exceptions, which I’ll get to in a moment—it’s from one of four sources: returns on investment, a monthly salary, an hourly wage, or a government welfare check. People who get most of their income from one of those four things have a great many interests in common, so much so that it’s meaningful to speak of the American people as divided into an investment class, a salary class, a wage class, and a welfare class.
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I must say that I find it gratifying when people link to me using terms like "wicked smaht bahstid", but damn - I wish I had thought of that.  It is a conceptual framework that predicts a lot about what's going on politically - both here and in Europe.  And it keeps on going:
Just as the four classes can be identified by way of a very simple question, the political dynamite that’s driving the blowback mentioned earlier can be seen by way of another simple question: over the last half century or so, how have the four classes fared? 

The answer, of course, is that three of the four have remained roughly where they were. The investment class has actually had a bit of a rough time, as many of the investment vehicles that used to provide it with stable incomes—certificates of deposit, government bonds, and so on—have seen interest rates drop through the floor.  Still, alternative investments and frantic government manipulations of stock market prices have allowed most people in the investment class to keep up their accustomed lifestyles. 

The salary class, similarly, has maintained its familiar privileges and perks through a half century of convulsive change. Outside of a few coastal urban areas currently in the grip of speculative bubbles, people whose income comes mostly from salaries can generally afford to own their homes, buy new cars every few years, leave town for annual vacations, and so on. On the other end of the spectrum, the welfare class has continued to scrape by pretty much as before, dealing with the same bleak realities of grinding poverty, intrusive government bureacracy, and a galaxy of direct and indirect barriers to full participation in the national life, as their equivalents did back in 1966. 

And the wage class? Over the last half century, the wage class has been destroyed.
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This is so simply and elegantly stated as to be almost crystalline in beauty.  And you can see where this is going viz a viz Mr. Trump:
It’s worth noting, along these same lines, that every remedy that’s been offered to the wage class by the salary class has benefited the salary class at the expense of the wage class. Consider the loud claims of the last couple of decades that people left unemployed by the disappearance of wage-paying jobs could get back on board the bandwagon of prosperity by going to college and getting job training. That didn’t work out well for the people who signed up for the student loans and took the classes—getting job training, after all, isn’t particularly helpful if the jobs for which you’re being trained don’t exist, and so a great many former wage earners finished their college careers with no better job prospects than they had before, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt burdening them into the bargain. For the banks and colleges that pushed the loans and taught the classes, though, these programs were a cash cow of impressive scale, and the people who work for banks and colleges are mostly salary class. 

Attempts by people in the wage class to mount any kind of effective challenge to the changes that have gutted their economic prospects and consigned them to a third-rate future have done very little so far ...

There’s a further barrier, though, and that’s the response of the salary class across the board—left, right, middle, you name it—to any attempt by the wage class to bring up the issues that matter to it. On the rare occasions when this happens in the public sphere, the spokespeople of the wage class get shouted down with a double helping of the sneering mockery I discussed toward the beginning of this post. The same thing happens on a different scale on those occasions when the same thing happens in private. If you doubt this—and you probably do, if you belong to the salary class—try this experiment: get a bunch of your salary class friends together in some casual context and get them talking about ordinary American working guys. What you’ll hear will range from crude caricatures and one-dimensional stereotypes right on up to bona fide hate speech. People in the wage class are aware of this; they’ve heard it all; they’ve been called stupid, ignorant, etc., ad nauseam for failing to agree with whatever bit of self-serving dogma some representative of the salary class tried to push on them.
Is everyone thinking about Trump right now?  The Powers That Be keep feeding the Beast that is his support:
... he knows that every time some privileged buffoon in the media or on the internet trots out another round of insults directed at his failure to conform to salary class ideas of fashion, another hundred thousand wage class voters recall the endless sneering putdowns they’ve experienced from the salary class and think, “Trump’s one of us.”

And now we come to where the Archdruid closed the deal with me, in his analysis of the mindset of the Powers That Be:
The result in both countries was a political climate in which the only policies up for discussion were those that favored the interests of the affluent at the expense of the working classes and the poor. That point has been muddied so often, and in so many highly imaginative ways, that it’s probably necessary to detail it here. Rising real estate prices, for example, benefit those who own real estate, since their properties end up worth more, but it penalizes those who must rent their homes, since they have to pay more of their income for rent. Similarly, cutting social-welfare benefits for the disabled favors those who pay taxes at the expense of those who need those benefits to survive. 

In the same way, encouraging unrestricted immigration into a country that already has millions of people permanently out of work, and encouraging the offshoring of industrial jobs so that the jobless are left to compete for an ever-shrinking pool of jobs, benefit the affluent at the expense of everyone else. The law of supply and demand applies to labor just as it does to everything else:  increase the supply of workers and decrease the demand for their services, and wages will be driven down. The affluent benefit from this, since they pay less for the services they want, but the working poor and the jobless are harmed by it, since they receive less income if they can find jobs at all.
Again, this is the setup, which is more or less impossible to argue against.  The close is this:
The enduring symbol of the resulting disconnect is the famous Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, where the last three French kings before the Revolution secluded themselves from an increasingly troubled and impoverished nation in order to gaze admiringly at their own resplendent reflections. While Marie Antoinette apparently never said the famous sentence attributed to her—“Let them eat cake”—the cluelessness about the realities of life outside the Hall of Mirrors that utterance suggests was certainly present as France stumbled toward ruin, and a growing number of ordinary Frenchmen and Frenchwomen turned their backs on their supposed leaders and went looking for new options.


Fast forward to the Brexit campaign. In polite society in today’s Britain, any attempt to point out the massive problems with allowing unrestricted immigration onto an already overcrowded island, which can’t provide adequate jobs, housing, or social services for the people it’s got already, is dismissed out of hand as racism. Thus it’s not surprising that quite a few Britons, many of them nominally Labour voters, mumbled the approved sound bites in public and voted for Brexit in private—and again, the pollsters and the pundits were blindsided. That’s one of the downsides of the schism between the dominant minority and the internal proletariat; once the dominant minority loses the loyalty of the masses by failing to deal with the needs of those outside the circles of affluence and privilege, sullen outward conformity and secret revolt replace the mutual trust that’s needed to make a society function. 

The EU, in turn, made a perfect target for disaffected voters among the working class and the poor because it’s entirely a creature of the same consensus of the affluent as the Labour party after Tony Blair and the Democratic Party after Bill Clinton. Its economic policies are guided from top to bottom by the neoliberal economics that came into power with Thatcher and Reagan; its unwavering support of unrestricted immigration and capital movement is calculated to force down wages and move jobs away from countries such as Britain; its subsidies inevitably end up in the pockets of big corporations and the well-to-do, while its regulatory burdens land heaviest on small businesses and local economies. 

This isn’t particularly hard find out—in fact, it takes an effort to avoid noticing it.  Listen to people bemoaning the consequences of Brexit in the latest reports from the British media, and you’ll hear a long list of privileges mostly relevant to the affluent that the speakers worry will be taken from them ... If they were willing to talk, though, I suspect you’d hear a long list of burdens that have mostly landed on the ordinary working people so many of the affluent so obviously despise. 


Meanwhile, a very similar revolt is under way in the United States, with Donald Trump as the beneficiary. As I noted in an earlier post here, Trump’s meteoric rise from long-shot fringe candidate to Republican nominee was fueled entirely by his willingness to put himself in opposition to the consensus of the affluent described earlier. Where all the acceptable candidates were on board with the neoliberal economics and neoconservative politics of the last thirty years—lavish handouts for the rich, punitive austerity for the poor, malign neglect of our infrastructure at home and a monomaniacal pursuit of military confrontation overseas—he broke with that, and the more stridently the pundits and politicians denounced him, the more states he won and the faster his poll numbers rose.
The Establishment in the UK took the "Let Them Eat Cake, the damned racists" strategy to the extreme.  People noticed.  That dynamic is alive and well here on this side of the Pond.
It has apparently not occurred to those who parade up and down the Hall of Mirrors that there are many more people outside those gates than there are within. It has seemingly not entered their darkest dreams that shouting down an inconvenient point of view, and flinging insults at anyone who pauses to consider it, is not an effective way of convincing anyone not already on their side. Maybe the outcome of the Brexit vote will be enough to jar America’s chattering classes out of their stupor, and force them to notice that the people who’ve been hurt by the policies they prefer have finally lost patience with the endless droning insistence that no other policies are thinkable.  Maybe—but I doubt it.
There was a huge Bradley Effect in the Brexit vote: the polls were off by maybe 10% - even the bookies didn't see the private repudiation of the Political Class that was building.  The same dynamic of what is allowed to be said means that there is a Bradley Effect in play here as well.  Whether that effect is huge or yooge remains to be seen.  Me, I think that the combination of the working class overwhelmingly voting for one of their own and people like me who are sick of the existing political hypocrisy means that this will be a yooge win for Trump, one that will be as big a surprise to the chattering classes as Brexit was.

This post is already far too long, so I will end by saying that The Archdruid is the most interesting and intellectually challenging blog that I've seen since Moldbug, only without all the opaque terminology and am I serious or not sub theme.  It's been two or three years since I've been intellectually excited about blogging something.  Highly, highly recommended.

And blogrolled.  Did I mention this is recommended?  So why are you still here?  Go read all the posts.


Chickenmom said...

Thanks for the tip, Borepatch. Bookmarked.

New Jovian Thunderbolt said...

" an investment class, a salary class, a wage class, and a welfare class."

forgot the Power Class.

Irish said...

Thanks Blogbrother, I'll spend some time there.

Stay safe.

Ruth said...

I've seen (and linked too) several articles that try to explain why Trump is so popular. The good ones, who took the job seriously, all boil down to the same reasons, and he sums it up nicely.

matism said...

I would merely note that the Only Ones are salaried. And will continue to do WHATEVER they are told, as long as that paycheck keeps comin' in. Which is why the Elite want to go away from physical money.

I would also note that it is not just Democrats who spit on Mere Citizens, but Rove Republicans as well. You say Trump is the Republican nominee? Wanna bet on that? The Rove Republicans are conspiring right now to make sure he DOES NOT get the nomination, even though he has over 300 votes more than he needs. Will they succeed? I would not be against them.

Weetabix said...

That guy can think and write. Thanks for the tip.

Weetabix said...

Forgot to add:

I could never figure out how the Power Class, a subset of the union of the investment class and salary class, couldn't see that if they ran their schemes as hard as they do that it would not collapse. I always viewed it as an analogue of the Laffer Curve. The Power Class is running it too far to the right of the peak.

I always saw Trump as an unreformed part of that Power Class. Now I'm beginning to think maybe that, while he's still a member, he may be a smarter member and be trying to pull it back to whatever he views as the peak point on the Laffer Curve of Power.

Just as the Archdruid notes that many in the wage class have tried unsuccessfully to enter the salary class, maybe the people inside and on the fringes of the Power Class are trying to enlarge their slice, and they've taken it beyond the sustainable portion of the population.

Must think about this.

Tami Von Zalez said...

Read both of your blogs and I prefer your writing style. Got you on my Feedly now.