Watching Donald Trump with the media I am reminded of the time my mother took me to a St Paul City Council meeting for an informal lesson in civics. The meeting was incredibly boring and exceedingly civil. Except, that is, for one obviously staged 45-second exchange of insults between the mayor and an ambitious Democrat councilwoman. Funny how the local TV news cameras came on five seconds before the verbal fireworks began. It was as if the media had been cued in as to exactly when the spat was to take place. As my mother pointed out, that staged war of words gave the media a story for that night's newscasts while reinforcing each politician's image with the base, but it meant nothing in the course of running the city.
Trump's beat-downs of the press are equally staged. Trump needs the free airtime and the media need the ratings his outrageous talk brings them. What his supporters see as Trump "sticking it to the liberal press" by being rude and politically incorrect is every bit as real as a WWE match. Rather than being different than regular politicians, Trump is taking their traditional ruse to an even higher level.
As with Obama in 2008, the media fix has been in from the start for Trump and low information types are once again eating it all up. But there is a pernicious difference with 2008. Back then while Obama's hardcore support was among leftist ideologues and media types. The idea they were selling to low information types was that a vote for Obama was a vote for idealism and for the future.
Trump's media support tends to be among careerists ever out to make a name for themselves, and what they have been selling is ratings and revenge hidden under a veneer of nationalism and nostalgia. I've had Trump supporters tell me they know he is likely to be a compete and total screw up, maybe even worse than Obama has been. That's a feature not a bug to them. They want Trump to do to "the other" -- depending on whom you talk to, blacks, immigrants, feminists or even those more successful in life than the Trump supporters -- what they feel has been done to them. They remind me of the client who told me he wasn't interested in minimizing income taxes when he had to sell off investment assets to fund a settlement to his ex-wife because "Every dollar I give to the IRS is 50 cents I don't have to give to her." Settling perceived scores is never a sound foundation for positive change. One of the interesting aspects of our language is that one short old English word serves as a synonym for three quite different concepts, the concepts of anger, of insanity and of infatuation. All three meanings can be applied to many Trump supporters. Mad, indeed.
Some of the pundits in the tank for Trump seek to flatter his supporters as being on the forefront of a political revolution. I think these pundits need to study a lot more history because nihilism and fear of the future mark not the start of ay revolution but rather the penultimate stage of failed revolutions. Let it burn! is the last cry of those whose often utopian wishes have been thwarted, not the cry of those who have a vision of the future. Note too the telling use of the word again in Trump's campaign slogan. Revolutions look forward in time, not back.
Rather than a dawn of a new era, this election marks the last ride of the I can have it all entitlement mentality that emerged in post WWII America. It also marks the endgame for the only model of government aging Baby Boomers have known, a model that does include many utopian aspects. America was in a unique situation in the 1950s and 60s. Almost all the other industrialized nations had been badly damaged by the war and there was immense pent up domestic demand because of the disruption the Depression and the war had placed on families. But within a decade after the war the other nations had begun to rebuild in earnest, while within another decade emerging nations were making their demands for a place at the economic table.
But human nature being what it is, many Americans people back then assumed that such unprecedented prosperity would and should continue forever. It was in that frame of mind that the nation first underwent a civil rights revolution and then adopted the Great Society programs. These programs began the slow, destructive march of unintended consequences through American families as America's economic competition from abroad continued to grow.
The unintended consequences of America's growing social welfare state were compounded by the Baby Boomers' embrace of transgressive values in public, even as the more prosperous among them largely practiced the traditional bourgeois virtues in their own lives. The who am I to judgeothers? mentality slowly spread until today demented wishes are being treated as unalienable rights. People conditioned into accommodating those who claim to have either special rights or special insights because of a deep belief in their own private reality are a threat to both our liberty and our prosperity. Someone who eagerly accepts an your face falsehood such as the claim of a 5'10" 20-something white man that he is 6'5" seven year old Chinese girl as the truth isn't likely to take the time and effort to check out more abstract lies that may be outside of their limited experience. People with that mindset have no issue with the right of a woman to kill an innocent baby, that a nation can tax its way into prosperity, that Obamacare would bend the cost curve downward, or that the clock can be turned back to some prior era. That is why which bathroom Bruce Jenner gets to use is, in fact, a vital question.
Utopian minded American political leaders in the 1950s and 60s sought to end poverty as it was then known. They never imagined the symbol of poverty some fifty years later would not be the pinched faced wife of a coal miner outside an unpainted shack in Appalachia but decidedly chubby members of a single parent family sitting on a threadbare couch in front of a super sized HD TV eating junk food. Nor could they imagine the crippling spiritual poverty of those whose basic physical needs are met through welfare but who now lack meaningful daily tasks.
There is great truth in the old saying that idle hands are the devil's workshop, but it should be added that often that devil is urging self-destruction though drugs, alcohol and especially the deadly sin of false pride. There are constant complaints from those who do have entry level work to offer about how many of those they hire refuse to listen to performance feedback of any kind or who are rude to customers. I suspect that is why Trump uses H2B employees in his private club. Foreign workers are less likely to impulsively insult the members the way an American worker raised on the public school curriculum of self esteem may tells a customer ordering a pizza from him, you don't look like you need a large. For that marginally skilled young man, fired for just those words, it mattered more that he got dozens of likes when he posted his tale to his Facebook page. Such widespread attitudes combined with a push for laws increasing the minimum wage are a tremendous incentive to automate as many functions as possible, which will further reduce the number of jobs available to the working class.
Then there is the looming economic crisis of the Baby Boomers now retiring as new family formation among younger Americans lags. There are now only 2.1 workers paying into Social Security for each person collecting benefits. The average family today has two children. It won't take long for younger voters to figure out they would do better to support their own parents directly than to continue to pay retirement tax into a system top heavy with administrative costs and riddled with fraud.
Both Clinton and Sanders seem oblivious to these economic facts as they continue to channel 20th century socialists. Trump, the self-professed expert on all things related to real estate, doesn't seem willing to commit to the gut level rehab now long overdue for the American model of government. Far from being willing to lead a revolution, Trump seems geared more to preserving the outmoded New Deal-Great Society model upon which he and his corrupt political friends have fattened themselves across the decades. Indeed, Trump's recent embrace of antiquated and corrupt political fixers like Paul Manafort suggest it will be very much business as usual. He talks of restoring past glories, but in Trump fashion that is likely to mean a new marble foyer and a fresh coat of gilt on the chandelier to revive a hotel set in a neighborhood that has not been economically viable for some time now. In that way he reminds me a great deal of the liberal Eastern Republicans who ran the party before Reagan with their biannual election promise of being able to more efficiently manage the ill conceived programs the first FDR and then LBJ had put in place.
Indeed, Trump's offered solutions are often eerily similar to those made by Obama in 2008 -- smarter diplomacy, especially with China, more efficient management to cut waste, and rebuilding infrastructure to create jobs. Also note that neither man ever talks much about the fundamental principles of classic 18th century liberalism upon which this nation was founded. Funny how both men have champions willing to argue their corrupt ties to failed urban political models are all just something their man had to do in order to get ahead and that once in power, the candidate won't act like the past predicts he should act. Obama has been everything his ties to Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers and the Chicago political machine predicted he would be.
There will be a genuine revolution in America's future, but it won't be lead by the likes of the self absorbed gilded sleazebag, the women who would be Governess to the World or the affluent alms seeker who passed from the age of Pampers to Depends while never once earning his own keep. They are all mired firmly in the past. The revolution will come when the nation is ready to address several painful truths about both the present and the future.
The first is that people who don't have genuine daily challenges to cope with tend to do one of two things: They will either become self destructive or they will create illusory problems to solve. Second, traditional blue collar jobs for working class America are not coming back, at least not in the same form they existed in in the past. Thus we need to find ways to put meaningful work back into the lives or bluecollar workers. Three, many white collar jobs are also at risk or should be at risk. The internet has eaten into the revenue of both lawyers and accountants in private practice and promises to change how people are educated. Perhaps more importantly, the nation badly needs to strip illusory meaning from the lives of a huge numbers of lawyers, academics, bureaucrats and sleazy political fixers whose make-work tasks solving nonsensical problems have created a crushing level of bureaucratic sclerosis in our economy. No one wedded to a big government model will ever be able to do that.
Let me close by noting that I've been following politics for a long, long time. One thing that I have learned is that when you ask voters to choose between a Democrat who proudly states he or she is a Democrat and either a Republican talking about the need to reach out to Democrats or a candidate with Democrat beliefs pretending to be a Republican, the unabashed Democrat always wins.