13 November 2016

Why Trump Won

The Orange Man is now Mr. President.

No one predicted this outcome, including your humble contrarian.

But now that it has happened, I think I know why he won and I am here to tell you that it had very little to do with the so called voter anger.

The Donald won because he was at the fulcrum of three converging trends.

Before I discuss those trends let me first say that I am actually happy that he won.

Or rather, as I noted in my last post, I am happy that she lost.

For her sake, that is. Not ours.

Sure, defeat is painful, as you can see on her face, but now her legacy would be that of an extremely capable woman candidate who was snubbed by a reactionary electorate.

Had she won, with the House and the Senate in Republican hands, her record (as probably a one-term president) would have been terrible, and she would have likely been remembered as one of the worst president in US history.

That would largely be because the Republicans in Congress would never have confirmed anyone she nominated, nor would they have allowed her to enact any policy initiatives.

And given the deep suspicion even her party members harbors about her, the malleable Democrats would have given a hand to the GOP to destroy her.

It would also be because her every move would have been scrutinized by the media, she would have been portrayed "as coming across as" cold and untrustworthy and she would have been hounded more relentlessly than Bill Clinton ever was.

With this personal contrarian note out of the way, let me turn to the three trends that made the short-fingered vulgarian the President of the United States.

The first is the global backlash against women.

The New Misogyny 

Barely a month before the US elections, there was the UN Secretary General (SG) selection process.

Women's groups like WomanSG led a very public campaign to ensure that, for the first time in UN history, a woman would be selected as the next SG. If you followed the process through this blog, you know that women candidates were consistently at the bottom of the list and eventually another white guy was appointed as the new SG.

I think it is fair to say that both the SG process and the US presidential elections were a slap on women's face.

In the former, the world pretended that there were no qualified candidates who could do as good a job as Gutteres.

In the latter, a reality TV show star was deemed more qualified than Hillary Clinton who was more prepared for the job than any previous presidents, including her husband and the incumbent.

Throughout the campaign, the "omigod, the first woman President" narrative was pointedly missing. Whereas, "omigod, the first black President" meme was ever-present in 2008.

The message is clear: as a woman, it doesn't matter how qualified you are, you do not get a man's job.

I view this as part of a global backlash against women. Women's right are under attack in every sphere and everywhere.

I will give you two examples.

First. employment. Look at their decline in world labor statistics.

Secondly, violence against women is on the rise everywhere. And in some case this violence is so horrific that even patriarchal or macho societies are taken aback.

It must be indicative of something fundamentally wrong that the gang rape and murder of a young woman in India or the savage murder of a young woman in Turkey were explained by the perpetrators as a reaction to these women defending themselves. The obvious subtext is that they should allow men to use them as they please and if they refuse they die. And die horribly.

There is also the unspeakably brutal murder of a teenager in Argentina, which was so emblematic that women in South America decided to go on strike.

In that sense, politics is just a reflection of a very worrisome state of affairs. And Donald "lock her up" Trump was riding on men's open hostility to Clinton.

The second element behind Trump's victory is the conservative strategy to generate angry men. A process that started decades ago but is now reinforced by this backlash against women.

Generating Angry Men

Whatever else they may claim, the Republican Party is in the business of income redistribution. Bottom to top, that is.

In that vein, they give huge tax breaks to the One percenters, make free trade deals to break unions and increase corporate profits and "starve the beast," which means cutting services and social safety net.

Since pursuing this goal and winning elections is hard to do, they came up with an ingenious strategy.

The basic idea is to (a) obfuscate these policies with Ayn Rand inspired euphemisms or bogus trickle-down economic correlations like "wage increase = job killer" and (b) blame the resulting misery and poverty on lazy "welfare queen" Blacks, job stealing Latinos, culture destroying gays, enemy of traditional values liberals, terrorist Muslims and of course, those terrible countries like China which made competition impossible for honest and hard working Americans.

What was known as the Southern strategy under Nixon gradually became "Fifty percent plus one" under Bush's lizard brain Karl Rove.

Consequently, as I discussed before, race-baiting dog whistles, so called culture wars on the minority du jour, cynical fights to limit women's reproductive rights and xenophobia and Islamophobia have been the bread and butter of the Grand Old Party.

They have been helped in that endeavor:

By a fact-free echo chamber called Fox News which have been feeding the increasingly impoverished American electorate this toxic diet of sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and hatred of "other."

By hundreds of right-wing media outlets, like Infowars or Breibart that generate more traffic than any corporate media sites.

By Facebook, the main source of news for most Americans, which have been sending completely fabricated stories to hundreds of millions of inboxes.

And last but not the least, by the corporate media which have been refusing to counter these lies as it is terrified of being accused of liberal bias.

In that sense, contrary to what the GOP establishment claim, Donald Trump's outlandish statements are not outlier positions. They are not shiny objects he put in front of the unwashed masses to distract them in order to steal their votes.

They are the central tenets of the Republican party's philosophy and have been since 1972.

As Mitch McConnell famously said, the Republican Party is in the business of generating angry white men. And he was worried that they were not generating enough of them to stay in business.

Well, the Donald did find a way. He generated enough angry men (and even some women) to win the election.

He knew what they wanted to hear and he simply spelled it out as clearly as possible.

And he made them even angrier by discarding the dog whistle and amplifying the message.

That is why the vision of "Never Trumpers" like Mitt Romney or Andrew Sullivan or Max Boot fretting now, fills me with -admittedly petty- schadenfreude.

They did not lift a finger when Koch brothers created and financed the Tea Party or when the Tea Baggers removed every moderate Congressman or Congresswoman from the GOP roster through nasty and well financed primaries or shut down the federal government over culture wars.

If Trump is the monster, the GOP establishment is Dr. Frankenstein.

What is remarkable is the fact that it is a winning formula and it is infinitely adaptable.

Look at Britain and the decade preceding the Brexit vote.

Cameron and the Tories inflicted ideologically motivated unnecessary budget cuts, got rid of over a million public sector jobs and reduced government services by at least 25 percent. The top one percent got richer and the bottom 99 percent poorer.

To explain the massive unemployment and needless misery they created and the double digit in weekly wage drop suffered by the British public, they claimed that the country's resources were being syphoned off by Brussels, its jobs were taken over by European immigrants and its services were plundered by unwanted refugees.

Their version of the welfare queens and job stealing Latinos and terrible China.

Lacking their own Fox News, they did the next best thing and planted completely fabricated stories in sympathetic media outlets and accused anyone who questioned them with treason.

And when people voted to get rid of Brussels, immigrants and refugees, everyone feigned shock and surprise.

As to be expected, we now have countless Brexit and Trump parallel anger stories all over the places.

But no one mentions why and how people got so angry in the first place and who was responsible for kindling and stroking their anger through false information and cynical finger-pointing.

Oh Dear, indeed.

The third element behind the Donald's ascension to power is the rise of tribal politics.

The Rise of Tribal Politics

What is tribal politics, you might ask and why are we talking about tribes?

Well, these are virtual tribes to which people affiliate themselves. They are different from regular identity groups which exist in a multipolar society and cover a multitude of overlapping identities.

These new tribes divide the world neatly into "us" and "them" and every fact, every action, every event is seen through the prism of that tribe. All other identity categories like gender, race, religion and socio-economic status are secondary to the tribal identity.

There is no right and wrong or good and evil. Everything the leader of your tribe does is right and good and everything the other side does is wrong and evil.

In fact, they don't even have to do anything, everything your leader tells you that they do is wrong and evil.

This is different from political polarization as there is only one group that self-identifies with a tribe, the "others" in society and external enemies are just a bunch of disparate groups unable to form a second pole to justify the term polarization.

Since facts and rational discourse are irrelevant, the tribe has two motivations, to exalt the leader no matter what he does and kick the other side in the teeth.

In 2009, a blogger explained this with a vivid analogy:
Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years.
Actually, you can take the analogy as one side being insane or literally. It works both ways.

If you take it literally, what that means is that the reason one side offers tire rims and anthrax is not because they believe they are delicious; but because they cannot stand the possibility of the other side to eat anything better they are willing to swallow anthrax.

In policy terms, that means that they will forgo cheaper health insurance, because it might benefit the other side. The will make do with backstreet abortions and get them banned to prevent the other side to have access to them. They will resist tax increases on the wealthy, which might lower their own taxes but they do not lower the taxes of the other side.

I could go on.

Roy Edroso calls this "the age of Il Douche," referring to the rise of the strongman and his populist support, which I find very funny.

But I prefer the term tribal politics coined by Atrios because fascism is a tricky concept and I don't want to go there. (h/t Atrios)

Let me give you three recent examples.

You must have read that a majority of American women voted for Hillary Clinton. Did you know that 53 percent of white women sided with Trump against Clinton?

Think about that for a minute. A majority of white American women chose a man who said this:
“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.”
“And when you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.
“Grab them by the p---y,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”
Some even went this far.

You might be surprised to find out that Trump was favored by a four point margin by white women with college degree, a group that was supposed to have been solidly behind Clinton.

There is more.

In exit polls,
18% of respondents who felt that Mr Trump was not qualified to be president nonetheless voted for him, as did 20% of those who felt he did not have the necessary temperament.
Do you see what I mean by nothing matters beyond sticking with the tribe and kicking the other side?

Here is the laundry list:
  • This is a man who mocked John McCain for his POW ordeal. 
  • He insulted a Gold Star family. 
  • He used the most common male put down against a popular TV presenter Megyn Kelly. 
  • He told his supporters to shoot Hillary Clinton
  • He made fun of the weight of a Hispanic beauty pageant as Miss Piggy and implied that she was a cleaning lady because of her heritage.
  • He boasted about sexually assaulting women. 
  • When others came forward he said that they were not attractive enough for him to assault them.
  • His debate performances showed he was unprepared and had no knowledge of the issues.
  • He changed his position on almost every issue and his flip flops covered a huge spectrum.
None of it mattered.

200 newspapers endorsed Clinton and 20 sided with Trump. Yet these 20 were at best lukewarm about Trump but this is what they liked about him:
What they did like was the fact that he had "all the right enemies: the pundits, the 'social scientists', the Beltway insiders, the academics and the righteous mongers of failed policies." (...)
Trump's victory, then, was a brutal kick in the teeth for those loathed pundits, insiders and "righteous mongers". But it was also a humiliation for the thousands of journalists who had spent months trying to warn the public about Donald J Trump. 
This was one almighty, two-fingered salute to much of the "mainstream media"
See what I mean?

In fact, after telling his supporters he would repeal Obamacare on day one, the bete noire of the Tea Party wing, he simply stated that he is actually keeping it as he likes it.

And the infamous wall? Well, not gonna happen but there might be fences in some places.

Deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants? Well, up to 3 million Latinos with criminal records might be targeted. The rest stays put.

What will be the consequences of this complete about face two days after the election?


Because the evil bitch lost and that's what that matters.

Welcome to post-modern tribal politics.

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