The Many Roads That Led to Trump

Here are some articles to read together — “How the G.O.P. Elite Lost Its Voters to Donald Trump” by Nicholas Confessore; “How The Democratic Elite Betrayed Their Party And Paved The Way For Donald Trump” by Zach Carter; and “The truth about Donald Trump’s angry white men: Inside the media narrative that the media doesn’t understand” by Heather Digby Parton. And don’t miss “The Media, Nick Kristof Included, Still Doesn’t Understand Its Role in Creating Donald Trump” by Charles Pierce.

In brief, Confessore says that the working-class whites that Republicans counted on as their base finally realized that GOP elites were doing nothing for them. Carter writes that Democratic Party elites have nothing to offer them, either. Digby points out the Great Ironic Myth beloved of both parties and the media that salt-of-the-earth working-class whites are the only constituency that matters. And Pierce wrote that news media have been afraid of the truth for a long, long time.

Hence, Donald Trump.

It may seem hard to reconcile Carter’s and Parton’s opinions, since they appear to be saying the opposite — Parton is saying that the Dems have catered to white “Reagan Republicans” way too much, while Carter says the Dems threw the working class under the bus. But I think both perspectives are valid, within their own contexts. The bottom line is that the elites of both parties and of the news media covering national politics have no clue whatsoever what the lives of real working-class people are like. And this is true even as both parties (and the news media) pay lip service to how much they respect real working-class people.

But in truth this beloved constituency is treated in somewhat the same way 19th century Europeans treated their colonial subjects in Africa and Asia. They are increasingly seen as uncivilized and indolent, and possibly dangerous. They’re also a resource that often is easily exploited, as needed.


Many trace the rupture to the country’s economic crisis eight years ago: While Americans grew more skeptical of the banking industry in the aftermath, some Republicans played down the frustrations of their own voters.

While wages declined and workers grew anxious about retirement, Republicans offered an economic program still centered on tax cuts for the affluent and the curtailing of popular entitlements like Medicare and Social Security. And where working-class voters saw immigrants filling their schools and competing against them for jobs, Republican leaders saw an emerging pool of voters to court.

“They have to come to terms with what they created,” said Laura Ingraham, a conservative activist and talk-radio host. “They’ll talk about everything except the fact that their policies are unpopular.” …

… Most of these voters had long since given up on an increasingly liberal and cosmopolitan Democratic Party. In Mr. Trump, they found a tribune: a blue-collar billionaire who stood in the lobby of a Manhattan skyscraper bearing his name and pledged to expand Social Security, refuse the money of big donors, sock it to Chinese central bankers and relieve Americans of unfair competition from foreign workers.

If it weren’t for the fact that Trump seems to have no clue whatsoever how the federal government works, or to care about anyone but himself, one might argue a President Trump might not actually be that bad compared to other Republicans. Of course, we still don’t want to think about his foreign policy.

See also The White Man Burden.

On to Zach Carter:

But this only explains why the rabble are abandoning their well-heeled overlords in the GOP. It does not explain why they have embraced a xenophobic authoritarian instead of, say, the Democratic Party.

The most comforting rationale for Democratic true believers is that these voters are racist and ignorant and hostile to Democratic policies on social issues. That’s part of the explanation. But the full truth is a bitter pill for Democrats to swallow. Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of People? documents a half-century of work by the Democratic elite to belittle working people and exile their concerns to the fringes of the party’s platform. If the prevailing ideology of the Republican establishment is that of a sneering aristocracy, Democratic elites are all too often the purveyors of a smirking meritocracy that offers working people very little.

Of course, we could point to the Affordable Care Act as something that has helped tons of working-class people, and yet those same working-class people want to see it destroyed.

Carter reviews Thomas Frank’s argument that the Dems pulled away from the working class in the 1970s.

Organized labor’s status was about to plummet within the Democratic Party. Gary Hart started winning Senate campaigns by denouncing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Jimmy Carter lent his ear to deregulation advocates and appointed a Federal Reserve chairman bent on breaking union power. Frank quotes former Carter adviser Alfred Kahn:

“I’d love the Teamsters to be worse off. I’d love the automobile workers to be worse off. You may say that’s inhumane; I’m putting it rather baldly, but I want to eliminate a situation in which certain protected workers in industries insulated from competition can increase their wages much more rapidly than the average without regard to their merit or to what a free market would do.”

As fond as I am personally of President Carter, his economic policies were Reaganism Lite.

The idea that collective bargaining is incompatible with a free market would have been madness to FDR or Lyndon Johnson or Elizabeth Warren. But there’s also a not-so-subtle moral judgment about union workers embedded in Kahn’s econo-speak. The rednecks don’t deserve high wages because it takes money away from the good people. You know, the ones who went to college. This brand of elitism would come to dominate the worldview of Democratic Party leaders and the agenda of President Bill Clinton.

For most Democrats today, the Clinton years remain the good old days. The country prospered, incomes rose, and good-guy Bill survived all the insane political attacks from the Republican bad guys. Frank’s chapters on Clinton will make these Democrats feel terrible. Because for anyone who takes economic inequality seriously, the chief villain of the Clinton years wasn’t Ken Starr. It was Bill Clinton.

I’ll let you read the rest of this argument for yourself.

Both Digby and Charles Pierce criticize this Nic Kristof column, titled “My Shared Shame: The Media Helped Make Trump.” Sounds like he has a clue. Kristof’s perspectives aren’t bad, as far as they go. He admits media didn’t take Trump seriously and has not provided a context to readers/audience to explain how Trump’s various ravings might actually translate into real-world policy.

But Digby writes:

Evidently, Kristof believes that if you’re talking about racial, ethnic and gender diversity you aren’t talking about the jobless or the part of America that is struggling. Basically, he’s saying the media’s ignoring white men. Again. …

… Every single election cycle since 1968 the press has been obsessed with this mythical Real American who is always angry, always frustrated, always railing against the so-called elites because they allegedly only care about the racial minorities or the women or somebody other than them. Then we end up with a mass soul search in which we all come to understand that the key to the election is to address these people’s grievances.

Yes and no. The “angry white man” has become a stock character in American political theater. He gets a lot of attention in every election cycle, but at the same time no one seems to take him seriously. He is treated as a kind of anthropological specimen. He is reported on but not engaged with. His more flamboyant Joe-the-Plumber behaviors get on the teevee. But there’s no attempt to look deeply at the rage, what is fueling it, who is exploiting it.

(Aside: This is a delicate point, apparently, but I reject the notion implied in a lot of leftie political commentary that economic inequality is a white’s only issue. Yes, racial minorities and women bear additional burdens in our economy, but ultimately economic inequality is hurting all of  us.

I reject the idea that because racial minorities and women get the worst of it, as a result of systemic bias built into the system, that economic inequality can be ignored while we work on the systemic bias. That makes no sense to me. By the same token, of course, addressing economic inequality by itself doesn’t mean those systemic biases will go away.  Both issues need to be addressed together, seems to me.)

Finally, we get to Charles Pierce, who writes of Kristof’s column:

This is all my bollocks on a number of levels. First, there are people covering the plight of the disappearing middle class all over the place–in local papers, in academic studies, on the electric teevee machine, and even in Kristof’s own newspaper. There is a Democratic candidate for president whose entire damn campaign is based on the premise that the American middle class is going the way of the Anasazi. It’s a little late for the elite political media that boomed “free trade” and the miracles of the “globalized economy” in a “flat” world to suddenly look up and discover that a 55-year old steelworker in Indiana likely will not be getting a job writing code for the Next New Thing. It’s a little late for the elite political media to discover that de-unionization has not been altogether a boon in those few sectors of the industrial economy that haven’t been cored out or sent to Vietnam.

But, in any case, as far as Kristof’s main point goes, that’s not the story that that “we in the media” missed. For four decades now, ever since Ronald Reagan fed it the monkeybrains in the 1980, hitching his party to the snake-oil of supply-side economics and to the sad remnants of white supremacy, often as expressed through an extremist splinter of American Protestantism, the Republican Party has been afflicted with the prion disease that now has blossomed into utter public madness. That’s the story everyone was too blind, stupid, or afraid to tell. You know who in the media really created He, Trump? Anyone who laughed at Ronald Reagan’s casual relationship with the truth and with empirical reality. Anyone who blew off Iran-Contra. Anyone who draped C-Plus Augustus in a toga after 9/11. Anyone who cast Newt Gingrich as a serious man of ideas. Anyone who cast Paul Ryan as an economic savant, that’s who. Anyone who wrote admiring profiles of how shrewd Lee Atwater and Karl Rove were. Anyone who put Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck on the cover of national magazines based simply on their ratings. Anyone who put Matt Drudge on a public-affairs program. Anyone who watched the conservative movement, the only animating force the Republican party has, drive the party further and deeper into madness, they are the ones who share the blame. He, Trump merely has taken the bark off ideas that were treated as legitimate for far too long by far too many people, most of whom don’t really give a damn about the plight of the vanishing middle class except for its use as fuel for rage-based, self-destructive politics.

Let me repeat what Pierce says here: You know who in the media really created He, Trump? Anyone who laughed at Ronald Reagan’s casual relationship with the truth and with empirical reality. Anyone who blew off Iran-Contra. Anyone who draped C-Plus Augustus in a toga after 9/11. Anyone who cast Newt Gingrich as a serious man of ideas. Anyone who cast Paul Ryan as an economic savant, that’s who. Anyone who wrote admiring profiles of how shrewd Lee Atwater and Karl Rove were. Anyone who put Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck on the cover of national magazines based simply on their ratings. Anyone who put Matt Drudge on a public-affairs program. Anyone who watched the conservative movement, the only animating force the Republican party has, drive the party further and deeper into madness, they are the ones who share the blame.

Kristof’s mea kulpa should go back decades. Coverage of national politics has been junk for decades. Both parties have ignored the real problems of the American people. People march to polls and vote in ignorance.  And here we are.


14 thoughts on “The Many Roads That Led to Trump

  1. F ‘Em ALL!



    It’s like the millions who are paid millions to say, “Hey, I think they waz niggerz, ur udder dam wanna bee niggerz who dunn stohl her damn shit, but dey was dark, ‘n de day ain’t getting no lahter, so, y’all look fer them jigger-niggerz down dehr…

    WTF that means, I have no idea,
    All I know is that if I turn my f’in TV on, I hear some bullshit version of this bullshit!!?
    Minus the cussin, fucks!
    Oops, folk’s! 😉

  2. Why does the corporate media persist in considering the Republican Party as a serious, legitimate party instead of the dishonest extended con game that it is? One reason is perhaps that they have taken the notion of “balance” as axiomatic (does money have something to do with this?), while the aim of giving us an accurate understanding of reality in the political world is completely forgotten. E.g., one of the most salient facts of public political discourse these days is the prevalence of intellectual dishonesty, primarily as a characteristic feature of the Republicans. The journalists apparently have no way of dealing with this. But an objective critique of political discourse would use a single set of criteria to evaluate the statements of both parties, and would judge the Democrats as at least mostly trying to apply rationality to the solution of practical problems in an equitable way, but would judge Republican output as not even trying to solve problems or engage in a meaningful dialogue, not even trying, but only using language to express desired outcomes that have an emotional resonance with their “base”. The fact that these outcomes violate ethical principles of fairness and equality and simply preserve the plutocratic status quo is not available for discussion.

    Anyway, it’s a big problem that needs a deeper analysis. The inability of the media to function effectively as a forum for ideas is definitely a big part of the problem. Why can’t, or I should say, why doesn’t the media function more like a scientific community? Can we start a movement to get the Chuck Todds of the world fired (man, he is bloody useless!) and replaced with something like the Melissa Harris Perrys of the world?

  3. I’ve noticed a distinct turn in the treatment of Trump in the last week or so. The corporate media have cashed out on Trump the reality-star ratings juggernaut and are now starting to question his foreign policy, they seem spooked by his ideas to cut military spending, he promised to look at the “bloated bidding” process, he wants to cut the USA’s contribution to NATO, South Korea, Japan. They were fine and dandy with him berating women, minorities, the disabled, immigrants, ragheads, etc. but it seems once he went after their glorious cash cow (the defense industry) he had to be stopped? Don’t get me wrong I think Trump would be a disaster as president but I have to admit he is the only candidate that has even hinted at cutting our bloated military budget, and on that point alone I support him 100%!

  4. Oh I forgot to include the drug industry, he’s also promised to have medicare negotiate with the MSM’s biggest advertiser, big pharma! I don’t think Trump would do any of these things but he is at least talking about them?

  5. To uncledad. The reason only Trump suggested cutting our military budget is because Bernie Sanders has been black-listed by the media.

  6. Patty Duke died, at age 69.

    My one contemporary coworker is out today, so I have no one here to sniffle with. “Cousins, identical cousins…!”

    Patty/Anna found a way to live a contented life, after a long time battling unnamed demons. Rest well, dear lady.

  7. Elizabeth… good link..Thanks. Although that article probably the closest explanation to what’s really going on with the Trump phenomenon. I prefer the simpler explanation of the GOP supporters as being a bunch of bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, self indulgent racists. I maintain the idea that it doesn’t matter what the underlying cause for the appeal for Trump is, he provides enough prima facie evidence in his words and speech to make clear that whatever he’s peddling is just plain no good for America, and people should have a responsibility as informed citizens to discern that basic truth.

    Sad to hear about Patty Duke.. Another light shines on our mortality.

  8. Thanks so much, Maha, or should I say gassho.

    This is the best attempt I’ve seen to synthesize the conflicting views on the topic of Trump and his appeal to the white working class. My only slight quibble is with leaning too much on anything by Thomas Franks. He is, after all, the guy who wrote What’s the Matter With Kansas, which I always thought was a great example of allowing ideology to trump (no pun intended) objective reality. Franks wrote that book operating within a narrow materialist ideology–the only rational vote is one that reflects one’s economic status–and when the data (actual voting patterns) didn’t agree with what his ideology predicted, instead of questioning his ideology, he decided there was something wrong with Kansans.

    • Joel — Being from Missouri myself — I thought What’s the Matter with Kansas was a great book that went a long way to explain how middle- and working-class midwesterners were being emotionally manipulated by the Right into voting against their own economic interests. I agreed with about 90 percent of it.

  9. Pingback: Trump Voters: Left Behind - Steven Savage

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