Friday, March 4, 2016

Playing the Trump Card

Though it was nearly twelve years ago now, I can remember it like it was yesterday. I sat around a lunch table with a bunch of coworkers in my new job and one of them picked up the newspaper to look at the election results. “I just don’t understand how anyone can vote for them?!” Them, in this instance, being Republicans. John Kerry has just been beaten handily by incumbent George W. Bush, despite all attempts to make the latter out to be the cronyist incompetent that he had become. The sentiment was widespread, and not just limited to our lunch table. But if you look at the map from that election, the widespread nature of this sentiment was limited to geographically small, but very densely populated sections of the country.

Fast forward to 2016, and those same areas of the country are bewildered at how anyone could vote for Trump in their own backyard. Let me say this at the outset – I would never, ever vote for Trump. I don’t think he’s a good human being, never mind a good presidential candidate. But deep down, I have to admit something: I understand why people are voting for him. 

As Reason Magazine has put it so eloquently, for the last few decades, people have seen the government wield its power to the benefit of a select subset of individuals and entities. There is a good reason why the zip codes in and around DC astronomically increased in property value after Obama’s re-election: there’s money to be made there, if you know who to talk to. The trouble is, the average American doesn’t know who to talk to. And they’re tired of seeing someone else reap the benefits of their hard work. Or worse yet, reap the benefits when they can’t even find good work. Don’t let that fake unemployment rate fool you folks, there are lots of people out there still looking for meaningful work.

So they have a choice: look for someone to blame, as the Sanders camp has encouraged them to do, or look to be the one getting the benefits. And that is what Trump is promising, and why Chris Christie, always the political opportunist, has lined up right behind him, albeit with a look of some exasperation. People want the power to make their lives better, and we have slowly taken that away from them and handed it to government. So the logical extension of this is that if you want the power, you have to be in control of the government. At the face of things, that is what Christie and millions of voters are hoping for.

But The Donald also hates losers. And our government as it stands right now is about picking winners and losers. So don’t be surprised when Donald says he is going to weed out who he thinks are the losers, and that his voters will be the winners. Like Tammany Hall of a century ago, Donald is rebuilding the political machine that never went away. The difference is, he is doing it out in the open, without subterfuge.

For decades now, Democrats have promised union support, thus cementing the stranglehold public sector unions have on our government and ensuring the box gets checked for D each time they got to the polls. And by promising a strong military and defense complex, the Republicans lock in the camouflage vote and the support of hundreds of thousands of Grumman, Raytheon, and Haliburton employees across our nation. What Donald is promising is no different, he’s just telling it like it is: the country has always been for sale folks, but the difference now is the guy running it will be looking out for you. Hardly.

So the party leaders on both sides come out and condemn Trump for nearly everything possible. Romney claims empathy for the anti-establishment sentiments espoused by Trump voters, then suggests they vote for establishment candidates. And make no mistake: right now, no matter what your history, if you held office as a D or R, and are running as D or R, you are the establishment. It does matter how you got there, or what you did when you arrived (and let’s face it, neither Rubio nor Cruz have done anything remotely productive), you are a party member. And the fact that the leadership is coming out to tell you how wrong you are for liking Trump is only going to reinforce the feeling that you are right in that belief.

And there is one other element at play here. For eight years, a lot of people have been criticizing the current administration. And whether their criticisms are justified or not, they have frequently been labeled as racists just for deigning to question the authority of a black president. They have been openly mocked by the likes of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and an army of armchair political commentators. The media has played the 'race card' relentlessly and conditioned them to feel marginalized and humiliated, and in doing so has taken all of the strength out of these arguments. Is Trump racist? No doubt. Is a person voting for Trump racist? Could be. But the things is: they won’t listen to the people saying that now because the media cried wolf for eight straight years rather than listen to often legitimate feedback from voters. And if you think any of those folks are going to vote for a woman now..? Good luck.

I referenced Sanders earlier and his desire to blame the woes of our nation on the billionaires of Wall Street. What Bernie and his legions tacitly acknowledge by saying ‘the system is broken’ is that it isn’t just the billionaires that have power, someone conferred that upon them through legislation and regulation. While Trump is creating and ‘us vs. them’ mentality using borders and religion, Sanders is drawing the lines with wealth. The wealthy have too much power! They have corrupted our government! The solution? More government!! But this new government will give that wealth to the people instead! Sanders is no different than Trump, people. He is telling you he will create a bigger government, with more power, and take wealth from some and give it to others. It doesn’t matter who he says he will give it to, because as we have seen so clearly over the last several years, the money has a way of being siphoned off to special interests.

The dividing lines in our country are not about race, as our current president would like you to believe. Or about religion, as Trump is campaigning. Or about wealth as Sanders preaches. It is about those who receive substantial benefit from the party in power, and those who receive nothing from the federal government. That is the real dividing line of ‘have’ and ‘have not’. All of the Democratic and Republican candidates, in some way, shape or form are campaigning on a platform that will continue to grow the list of ‘haves’, and only further anger those who ‘have not’.

The reality is, none of the major party candidates, whether they are real party members or not, are promising any solutions that will help move our country forward. They all seek to divide and conquer, to add the necessary incremental votes to achieve the slimmest of electoral college victories come November, then celebrate their ‘mandate’ – despite the fact the combined number of voting age Americans who voted for the opposition or stayed home not only exceeded their popular vote tally, it doubles it. Mandate, indeed.

So while the media and candidates insist on making this a X versus Y situation, and focus their energies on destroying each other, take a look around at your country and see how the poison of that mindset is infecting everything about our lives. Tolerance isn’t about other people accepting your view of things, it is about everyone accepting that everyone’s views will differ. And the only way to support that is with a limited government whose job is not to pick winners and losers, and not to confer benefits based on the party in power, but that steps back and allows people’s views to be represented well no matter who is in power.

Even if, heaven forbid, that person is The Donald.

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