What To Make of Donald Trump?

Forgetting for a moment that he’s crazy — a birther “politician” leading the Republican field, really? — there’s little that Trump adds to the ticket, and a lot he subtracts. The only thing I can tell that he adds, as the New York Post’s headliner for today seems to concede, is that he has just an ungodly sum of money.

On the other hand, the danger he presents seems much greater. To get an idea of why, picture this event described by Politico: a tea party event, headlined by Donald Trump. Doesn’t that feel wrong? But why?

As the avatar of the super-rich, Trump, to me at least, points out an uncomfortable (inconvenient?) truth for the tea party. It’s an ideology that disproportionately benefits the super-rich, on the backs of the super-poor, with homophobia and sexism tacked on as a sort of enteric coating to make the whole package palatable to some subset of the latter. Trump is a Galt-type hero of capitalism (YouTube), but it’s not clear what those who aren’t similarly situated gain at the end of Atlas Shrugged, aside from the gift of observing a human apotheosis in which they can claim no share. Perhaps tea party conservatism has a populist element. Sarah Palin certainly seems to think so. But the Galts of the world — and the massive, entangling corporations they represent — were the populists’ traditional enemies. To the extent that post-Reagan conservatism has transmuted populism into some loose coalition aligned against the morals rather than the power of the “elites,” meaning, people who live in cities, I wonder if that’s a reaction the right wants to test in the crucible of presidential politics.

I think no. Which leads one to wonder, how nervous are real politicians about this latest stunt? And when will a real frontrunner emerge, to put a definite end to it?

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31 comments

  1. ” It’s an ideology that disproportionately benefits the super-rich, on the backs of the super-poor.”

    I would say that is incorrect. Wage inequality, which is demonstrated best in your own city, actually comes about on the backs of the middle class, specifically the manufacturing base of this country. The rich have gotten richer because they are best positioned to take advantage of globalization, while the manufacturing base, once a major driver of the middle class, is worst positioned to deal with globalization. The rich aren’t hosing the poor. In fact, they aren’t really hosing anyone. China and Mexico and India are.

  2. “…and the massive, entangling corporations they represent — were the populists’ traditional enemies.”

    I think that’s more than a little incorrect. Populism is an extremely broad term and it is certainly not exclusive to opposing corporations. The Civil Rights Movement, for example, was directed primarily at the government.

    Populism simply refers to the masses rebelling against the elite. In the case of the Tea Party the ‘elite’ are those at the highest level of our government. Right now they are giving the Republican elite a pass because conservatism is supposed to represent limited government in theory. Sincle liberals are open about their love of government, there’s no support to be had. To be sure, I don’t know how long that will last if major reform doesn’t happen.

  3. oneiroi · ·

    I kind of view Trump as a less credible Giuliani.

    Opportunistically a Republican, with conflicting past, with a distasteful personality.

  4. Collected responses:

    Fine, but the target of the tea party jihad on big government is the regulatory framework that’s been in place for a century to protect the country from the excesses of corporate greed. Meaning the ultimate beneficiaries are…

    The middle class hasn’t included the “manufacturing base” for more than 160 years. Stripped of that point, I guess we agree that the lower classes are the main victims? In any event, the data agree too, and also support the argument that the poor aren’t just voting against their interest, they’re voting against their preference.

    Oops. That’s a song. Here’s the link.

    1. You’ll have to be a lot more specific about what regulatory framework they are opposing. I just don’t see that.

      Your second comment – I don’t even know how to process. The ‘middle class’ as an entity didn’t really even exist until the mid 20th century. And the ‘middle class’ is defined by income level. Manufacturing provided a large % of those incomes from WWII on. Most of the middle class kids I grew up with all had parents at Ford or GE. Are you familiar with American history at all?

    2. Were you watching when the GOP just tried to functionally defund the EPA? And fight meaningful regulation of the securities markets?

      I’m reaching beyond American history. “Middle class” as a term is relatively novel (early 1900s, I think), but the distinction between bourgeoisie/petit bourgeoisie and proletariat dates to, and acquired global meaning with, at least Marx. It’s possible to be middle class and work in manufacturing, I guess, but bourgeoisie generally imports, career-wise, some managerial function, i.e., not a welder, or something. Maybe that breaks down community-by-community.

      None of this really rebuts the contention that the rich get richer on the backs of the vast majority of substantially poorer people.

      1. I don’t really understand why you would reach beyond American history, given that i thought you were discussing the American economy. I mean, should we also include the trading habits of Athens and Sparta?

        Again, the rich aren’t getting richer on the backs of substantially poorer people, at least in the US. American workers are simply feeling the impact of globalization which the rich are largely insulated from. It’s not a zero sum game though, as your comments would suggest. The rich can stay rich AND American workers can seize more of the global wealth IF they develop traits which make their labor a better investment that foreign labor. Productivity is already at something like 5 times the average of Chinese workers. Couple that with more skilled maufacturing (think vocational schools) and a lot of that wealth comes back to American shores.

        It’s very easy for liberals like yourself to blame economic ills on the generic rich (who knows how you would specifically define them) but it ignores the reality of market economies and the realities of a global labor market.

      2. I should think the answer to your first question is obvious: the experience of other industrializing nations in the 1800s is relevant to, and describes the same in the United States, at least in this case.

        Further, your point, about educating the lower classes and preventing job loss abroad, can co-exist quite happily with mine. Treating American income as a constant, the tea party (without realizing it) wants more of that money in the hands of the upper classes. That’s bad and should be fixed. Simultaneously, we should increase external competitiveness to offset separate causes of loss.

        1. Ames, the experience of, say Britain, in the 1800s has little or nothing to do withthe US economy in 2011. You’re reaching way too far in an effort to cast this as a populist struggle against the bourgeoisie.

          I don’t think the Tea Party has a position on how much money rests with any specific class. Given that a big part of their membership are middle class themselves it would hardly seem logical to think they are all working towards a goal of boosting the upper class. That’s you projecting your own beliefs onto them. What they actually favor is every American doing as well as they can based on individual effort. They simply don’t believe in income redistribution in the way you do.

          I have to reiterate that you can’t view wealth as a zero sum game. Your assumption is always that in order for one side to benefit the other side must suffer. It doesn’t actually work that way.

        2. This is quickly becoming a case study in missing the point. The assertion was mine; the reference experience abroad was to explain how the classes are normally viewed, worldwide; and domestic evidence sustains my point too. Regardless, the larger point stands.

          And, it’s not that the tea party favors one type of income distribution, it’s that they adopt positions that lead to the same. Here, the issue isn’t redistribution. It’s about adopting positions that actively shift wealth away from the middle classes, like regressive modifications to the tax code, fighting the minimum wage, etc.. So, redistribution in reverse.

          1. I’m just gong to ignore that first part because obviously we are talking past each other.

            As to the second – please help me understand how a Tea Party position makes unskilled or semi-skilled manufacturing less lucrative now than it would have been 20 years ago.

          2. Opposition to minimum wage laws seems to be the easy one.

            1. So if we raise minimum wage then suddenly everyone involved in semi-skilled and unskilled manufacturing will see a big increase in their income? Really?

            2. Now you’re changing the target.

              1. You just said that opposition to minimum wage increases are one of the causes of wage stagnation for unskilled workers. So if conservatives allow an increase – shouldn’t we see wages go up?

                1. I don’t really understand the purpose of the link so i’m just going to ignore it. As for raising minimum wage – it’s a pretty popular understanding among economists that raising the minimum wage triggers more unemployment AND triggers inflation. Yes, a small % of semi-skilled workers will see a slight uptick in their wages but i would hardly say it will catapult them back into the middle class if they have fallen below that line (the ‘trickle up’ from a minimum wage increase doesn’t trickle very far). At the same time unskilled workers will be squeezed out of the job market.

  5. victorydave1 · ·

    On paper Trump may be worth an un-godly amount of money, but I don’t think much of it is at his disposal ? If he spent 600 million of his own money tring to get elected he’d have’ta file Brankruptcy again (for the 3rd or 4th time) I might add !!!

    1. That is true and hilarious. But I have to add, his defense of the “you went bankrupt” thing is probably right. Companies go into strategic bankruptices all the time. That’s weird, but not unexpected.

  6. I really don’t want to hear, think, or talk about the election yet, since I really don’t like them what with the whole “pick the lesser of two evils” routine every time. But I realize not everyone shares my antipathy towards the topic, so…

    I can’t take Trump seriously. The man’s a clown in my mind, and his “candidacy” strikes me as an egotistical joke – the same as Colbert’s was in 2008. Set aside that he’s a birther. The man’s a salesman whose product is himself. That “all style, no substance” accusation the Republicans leveled against Obama? HELLO, That is the perfect description of Donald Trump!

    I thought there was no way in hell I’d vote for Obama again (I’ve long regretted doing it in ’08, but I honestly thought that terrible as it was, a progressive and an elderly was still a better choice than an elderly and an imbecile, and there are 4 specific issues where generally I prefer Democrats to Republicans – although Obama’s only delivered on one of the 4, and the least important to me at that), but if the choice comes down to him or Trump… no, I still won’t vote for Obama again, I’ll go 3rd Party or write-in.

    And as for Trump going bankrupt… you know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have…

    1. This is one of those things that I don’t think makes sense. Writing in a third party makes you feel good about your vote NOW, but if it’s the decider, you won’t feel good about it later.

    2. It’s pretty much axiomatic that in a single-member plurality system (which the US electoral college essentially is as long as all electors are bound by their state’s result), a vote for a third-party candidate equals a vote for the winner. So I guess the question the enlightened voter should ask him- or herself in that situation is whether the small pleasures of making a statement outweighs the consequences of potentially voting for Donald Trump.

      (Unless that voter is in Nebraska or Maine. Then it gets a bit more complicated.)

      1. Set aside the whole “You can vote for the lesser of two evils or you can not vote for evil in the first place” thing, and set aside the self-fulfilling prophecy issues of the sort of thinking you both espouse.

        Both of you seem to be speaking from the assumption that it matters to me whether Obama or Trump wins. That assumption is wrong. As it stands, I don’t care whether or Obama or any of the Republicans whose names I’ve seen floated – including Trump, or, fuck it, Michelle Bachmann – wins the election. Either way, I’m going to be pissed off.

        On the one hand, yes, the Republican is going to piss me off with their opposition to the separation of church and state, their opposition to abortion on demand, and their opposition to gay rights, and will probably not be as good as Obama on environmental issues (although remember, on the single issue of the environment, there’s a strong case that the best President ever was Nixon). Oh, and some of them – like Bachmann and Trump – are too far into “Bat Shit Insane” territory, while others (Pawlenty, Palin) are incompetents or imbeciles.

        On the other hand, the incumbent President Obama… Well off the top of my head, he’s done a grand total of one thing I liked, and that was sign the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal. Oh, and of course the routine flip-flopping of the Mexico City Policy when the White House changes party. Besides that? I think the EPA made a half-hearted attempt to come up with a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, but I don’t think it went anywhere. Other than that? From his signature piece of domestic legislation to his support for Manuel Zelaya to his appointment of Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation and changes to the New Starts cost-effectiveness criteria the man’s been doing things left and right that I strenuously disagree with. For me, “Anybody but Obama” has replaced “Anybody but Bush”.

        So, where’s that leave me? Well, I could flip a coin and vote for either of the Two Annointed Party candidates like yall are saying I should, but at that point I might as well not vote at all. Alternatively, I could vote for someone I’d actually want to have as President.

        1. So you’d rather have a “bat shit insane” Trump than Obama, who’s at least done one thing you agree with? That doesn’t seem quite rational.

          And in a plurality system, not voting is essentially the same as voting for a third party. Still supports the winner. So my point is, since your vote is going to have an effect no matter what you do, why not vote for the lesser evil? At least that way you get to decide yourself, rather than vesting your vote in the electorate as a whole.

          That kind of situation, by the way, is one (and by no means the only) reason why single-member plurality is a really crappy voting system.

          1. So you’d rather have a “bat shit insane” Trump than Obama, who’s at least done one thing you agree with? That doesn’t seem quite rational.

            No, I have no preference between the two – there’s no “rather” involved. Trump’s bound to do a few things I’d agree with, which would balance out the crazy. Obama’s not crazy, but his track record of policy decisions I agree with sucks and balances out the not-crazy.

            And yes, single-member plurality is an unspeakably crappy voting system – although I think the problem’s entirely due to the plurality part. Single-member non-plurality voting would be better – and I think you might be able to sell Americans on single-member Borda count. After all, we use it for all our sports!

            1. Borda is better in some ways, but it has the crucial disadvantage that it can create a situation where a candidate supported by an absolute majority is a not actually elected – or to be technical, it fails the majority criterion.

              I think a better solution would be if the electors were apportioned proportionally in each state instead of the current winner-takes-all. That would even (as much as I generally dislike that argument) be closer to the original intention.

              1. I don’t know that I think Borda’s the best, I just think it’d be easier to sell Americans on than several alternatives because, hey, it’s how we pick our college football “champion” and a variety of awards (sticking to college football, the Heisman Trophy For Overhyped Quarterbacks And Runningbacks At Traditional Football Powers is one), so it’s already familiar.

    3. oneiroi · ·

      I always disagree with this kind of thinking.

      I personally think that the president controls a large part of policy, one small policy change can affect millions of peoples. It affects lives and deaths. President’s set the agenda, they change subtle language, and when push comes to shove they support their parties core positions.

      So that alone makes it an important thing to be a part of. I am also not self centered enough to believe that I will agree with every policy decision that is actually made.

      So I am very utilitarian when it comes to the actual voting. From my opinion and perspective, generally Republicans cause net harm, Democrats cause net good. So if I can move that little arrow one step to the good side and/or prevent negative outcomes, then morally that’s the choice I should take. So most of the time, abstaining is a morally negative choice.

      Yet if you’re extra divided on your beliefs between two parties, I can see where neither would really be that appealing.

  7. david boudreau · ·

    For those who don’t care to talk about the Donald you just gotta hang on till May 16 ……Thats when his new show debuts , then we can all forget about it! He’s NOT running folks!
    Bye the bye do you remember Forbes doing a article on the Donald a few years back?? It was calimed Trump had the largest “negitive net worth of anyone in America !

  8. You know, I just noticed the end of the post. I kind of hope a real frontrunner doesn’t emerge. I like that in 2008, the Democratic primary was still being contested way up until the end. I’d like that sort of thing to happen more often. I think it’s that it makes the primaries (or cauci) relevant in the majority of states – you know, the ones that aren’t up front and getting five to ten people to choose from.

  9. Pretty accurate analysis of the Trump candidacy from Scott Adams:

    Normally I wouldn’t call out a prankster while the prank is in play. But this is a special case because the people who think he’s serious have made up their minds. In order for them to accept that this is a prank, they’d have to accept that they can’t tell the difference between a real candidate and one who is yanking their chains. Brains are not wired for that sort of 180 turn. In the history of humankind, no one has ever said, “I thought I was a brilliant observer of politics but this new information proves that my brain is the size of a tiny mouse turd.” Trump’s prank literally can’t be exposed by anyone but him.

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