by Alex McKirgan
|(image: Wiki Commons)|
Donald Trump is a joke, a buffoon, a narcissist, a braggart. He has never held elected office and has declared bankruptcy 3 times. Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee and if Hilary can't escape from her email nightmare, he could be the next President of the United States.
To have said this a couple of months ago would have sounded ridiculous. He declared his nomination descending down a gold escalator to the Lobby of Trump Tower on 5th Avenue with his daughter. When he called the majority of Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists his poll numbers went up. When he mocked John McCain's war record because he got captured, his poll numbers went up. He was actually ripping off a Chris Rock line from his HBO Special but when Chris Rock said it, people laughed because he is a comedian, Trump wants to be the Commander-in-Chief. When he says he wants to build a wall at the border and forcibly deport 11m illegal immigrant immigrants, his numbers go up even as conservative commentators say that the plan is impossible. When confronted by Megyn Kelly in the Fox News debate about his numerous misogynistic and sexist comments, he made a joke about Rosie O'Donnell and his numbers went up again. When he explains his plan for dealing with ISIS (go in, take the oil and only give it back to 'good people') his numbers go up even further.
What is happening here?
When asked why his campaign is gaining so much support, he replies that people want to "make America great again". Trump supporters yearn for a return to the times when, with much of Europe and Asia devastated by war, the U.S. was THE dominant economy in the world and THE global superpower. Well-paying jobs were plentiful and everyone bowed to America's will. When asked to explain the decline, Trump puts all the blame at the feet of "incompetent leaders who do terrible deals....they're all idiots". He says people want to "take back their country" from the immigrants. Everyone assumes that the U.S. economy has grown at a much faster rate than Europe because of its innate economic dynamism but if you strip out population growth, U.S. growth rates are exactly the same as in Europe. The U.S. growth premium has been entirely driven by immigration. When he sees Japanese cars being offloaded in LA, he says this is only happening because of "incompetent trade deals" rather than the fact that Toyota and Honda make fantastic cars at a great price. He says China is "stealing our jobs and money.....ripping us off". He calls the Chinese devaluation of the RMB a dirty trick despite the fact that every country reserves the right to lower their currency to help their economy. Rather than the Chinese stealing American money, they are the ones buying the Treasury Bonds that the U.S. has to issue to fund its deficit. So really, the Americans are taking money from the Chinese rather than the other way round. If the Chinese and Japanese weren't buying so many Treasuries, U.S. interest rates would be much higher.
If only someone as talented as Trump was in charge then everything would be OK. But he is selling a lie. He is a snake-oil salesman selling a "miracle cure". Just rub on this lotion and you'll feel like you are twenty years old again. Since the 1950s other countries have developed economically and as a relatively open economy, the U.S. has taken advantage of the availability of cheaper, higher quality goods. Trump wants to know why Apple don't do more manufacturing in the U.S. I'll tell you why......the phones would cost twice as much and be less reliable. Trump voters look at the world and America's position in it, and they don't like it. Saying you want to make the world different doesn't make it so.
There is a common thread with similar movements in other countries. People feel that societies are not working for them. The hark back to a supposed Golden Age when things were better. They are attracted to simplistic, bombastic leaders who tell them they can magically turn back time and make everything OK again. For people like Trump to do this, it would take not just fantastic leadership "I'll be great for the Military. I'll be a great 'jobs' President, "I'm really smart and really rich", but an ability to change the world by force of personality. It's ridiculous but he could still win.
Running against him is an impressive array of experience. Successful current and former State governors, high profile senators, a brain surgeon and former CEO of HP. How do the polls look? The three people with no political experience (Trump, Carson and Fiorina) are the ones with the momentum. With the current level of dissatisfaction discussed above, it is no surprise that the conventional politicians are failing to garner support. People are ticked off with politicians of all hues and they are attracted to someone like Trump, who despite his many failings, certainly says exactly what he thinks and with a self-funded campaign, certainly isn't pandering to special interests. America has only twice elected someone as President with no political experience but they were both successful Generals after winning historic wars (Ulysses S. Grant after the Civil War and Ike Eisenhower after WWII).
The fact that Trump gets so much support is a damming indictment of conventional politicians but it is deeper than this. If people think "the system" isn't working for them then they are going to shun conventional "system" politicians. They all tend to sound the same and no one believes them anyway. For generations, the 'system' delivered 'The American Dream'. Anyone who worked hard could get on, buy a house and have a nice retirement. Each generation would be better off and better educated than before. Living standards would consistently rise over time. That world has gone and it's not going to come back soon. Finding a new economic model that can deliver rising living standards for the broad population is the challenge of the next generation but there is nothing credible on offer at the moment.
What this leaves behind is a sour mood and a sense of disillusionment. Conventional politicians try to tap in to this sense but all their solutions sound exactly like before. Trump is different. He is more like P.T. Barnum, celebrated showman, businessman and promoter of hoaxes, than Clinton, Bush, Nixon or Reagan. Trump has the money to go all the way to the Convention. The fact that he is completely unsuited for the job of President doesn't seem to matter too much. He's offering people something that they want, and when he tells them he can "Make America Great Again", it makes them feel good. They want what he is selling and the fact he might win is a huge indictment of our modern politics.
I think he will win the nomination and really hope he does. I'm an avid fan of US political satire shows and a Presidential election with Trump would be comedy gold. Jon Stewart was only half-joking when he said he was tempted to postpone his retirement when Trump announced his run. For weeks now commentators have been arguing about when the Trump wave will peak but every gaffe just pushes him higher. He has the momentum and the money to go all the way.
As the man himself would say........"It's gonna be YOOOOOOOOGE!!!"