Trump World: The American Pivot?
As a commentator who predicted Trump’s success as far back as 2011 here’s what the future looks like through the crystal ball I used.
Overall, it’s a lot better than most liberals expect although they may not like it for a while and it may never return to the way it is. We may have pivoted out of the monolithic 2 Party State and the classic Labor vs. Corporation conflict.
We are pivoting towards political coalitions and an opportunity economy with more freelancers than salary people and money may actually recede as the primary form of wealth because otherwise, robots would outearn us.
First, consider the reason, I predicted Trump would do well – although honestly, I never expected him to win, especially in light of his many errors and transgressions.
But the message I first heard 5 years ago is what triumphed.
This is what I heard in 2011 and what I think is likely to transpire in 2017.
The first thing about Trump is that he spoke like a world class businessman and not a glorified attorney trying to negotiate legalisms. We forget that most politicians are lawyers, they think like them and they talk like them. That is not necessarily a bad thing but it is nothing like how real people operate and it does not in any way prepare them for true leadership. Trump therefore sounded like a total breath of fresh air t many and made all politicians seems suspect. Suddenly the classic politician’s words, “we must do more” sounded like pure bunkum.
The bottom line is that he tapped a sense among many traditional Americans and older folk that we just don’t carry the same weight in the world that we used to. Regardless of what you think of Hillary Clinton, when her and the DNC’s self-serving activities were revealed, most Democrats sloughed it off, but the bedrock red states dug their heels in with mounting ferocity. While Democrats thought Trump was ignorant and erratic, the “people of the heartland” were just glad to hear someone bring up the issues that seemed so wrong and yet so accepted but the media and political elite. When Democrats called Trump unqualified they saw what “qualified” people were generally up to and it was mostly looking out for themselves. When Hillary labeled them deplorable – as indeed many on both sides were – she reminded them of what a typical discussion with a liberal tended to be: everything you wanted to discuss was off the table and you were a dog/pig/racist/scumbag just for bringing it up. The rioting and occasional Trump voter bashing of the two-fisted and foot-kicking type certainly reinforces that.
The other driving force was the Obama issue and how, in a strange way, he ushered in the Trump era. Since I voted for Obama, I can say this with open heart: people liked him but they became worried as he backpedaled on American exceptionalism. That was a good thing at first, in the wake of the disastrous Iraq and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan experience. After Bush, it seemed like everyone hated us, so surely a brown man with an Islamic name, no real racial animus and a Harvard pedigree would be the ideal candidate to make the world love us again. Europe agreed and immediately offered Obama the Nobel Peace Prize.
But reality had a different take on it.
The Islamic World didn’t quite agree, which is mighty interesting. In Egypt they thought it meant he wouldn’t support Mubarack and so they felt free to overthrow him only to bring in the Moslem Brotherhood. In Syria, Assad knew we wouldn’t intervene. ISIS saw weakness borne of an apostate who looked Moslem but chose Christian. But regardless, Obama had no real vision about America as the 21st Century Superpower, just America as a power, with a lower case p. Obama was Superman hung up his cloak and just wanting to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, scratch golfer and pickup basketball player if that’s OK with you all. And sure, he’ll have a beer and some fish tacos with you any time he can.
Trump, by contrast was more than happy to play the comical superhero and the elite press made sure we never forgot that. But what they also forgot is that the public long ago forgave comics for being comical. They go to ComicCon. They mostly go to movies based on comic book heroes. So all that pooh-poohing only worked on their elite followers and not on the “people of the heartland”. When most of the media veered from reportage to plain anti-Trump propaganda, the heartland folks noticed while the Clinton/Media followers didn’t, hence the surprise.
The Birth of the Media Candidate
Most people think that JFK ushered in the era of the media-friendly candidate. Indeed, JFK’s imagery is so powerful that no matter how much dirt they have dug up on him, it has not changed our attitudes a whit. He is somehow sainted. The same could be said about Bill Clinton.
Obama took this to a whole other level because he was actually born as President as a kind of an American Moses story: a stranded outsider who became an insider due to thealignment of various stars. The easiest way to see this is to compare him to Jesse Jackson who fell off the map after he uttered the most Biblical of threats, to castrate Obama (how many people remember that?)
Obama was born when Bill Cosby showed America just how cool, intelligent and loving a sophisticated black father could be. He happened to be advised by a African-American, Harvard educated psychiatrist. What came to be revealed about the Cos after the fact will be about as harmful as what was revealed about JFK. His image remains and over time we’ll just get over the bad stuff.
Obama’s leadership role was paved by the nest great African figure, Nelson Mandela. Truly our first African Saint. All that had to happen was for America’s equivalent of the Paharoah’s daughter, Oprah Winfrey, to notice, nurture and then anoint Obama and we had our next President.
While many Republicans and most racists freaked out, Obama didn’t turn out be half bad. He was highly likeable, funny, cool as heck and took us all out to dinner a lot on America’s credit card.
And therein lay the problem. People of the heartland were the ones to realize that we had run out of credit and they were paying the interest by shipping their jobs to foreign lands or become the victims of one kind of regulation or another. Since the media elites were doing just fine they didn’t hear them at all. That is why DC is now home to some of the richest zip codes in the nation. DC produces almost nothing other than regulations and hot air. So when the WikiLeaks double-dealing info came out, there was just no spinning their way out of it. The Clinton foundation may have helped the poor but only while helping themselves and their cronies even more. When you can’t name a substantial accomplishment of Secretary of State Clinton, which is fine for her supporters but then you find out because she was busier making deals for her foundation, husband, friends and possibly the DNC, the people of the heartland got the picture. Throw in the private servers and all the stonewalling and you get the idea that the political class works for itself and not the people. But the coastal elites weren’t too concerned.
When Trump came along with just enough f-you money to say exactly what he wanted to, blue collar folks warmed up to him. The fact that he doesn’t drink, smoke or drug but has a philandering side, thereby putting him on a par with JFK, Clinton etc. you can see how they just might forgive even if they didn’t like it. At least they know what his vice is. Everyone else was able to hide theirs for some amount to time.
More importantly, Trump too, was born in the media. Most of it was self-driven and at always deliciously controversial. Mark Burnett turned out to be his Oprah by anointing him the “Master” in the Apprentice. To everyone’s surprise – including the NY Times – we liked what we saw. He appeared strangely judicious and he even got to show off his finest assets: his progeny. Anyone who watched the show had to ask themself, how bad can this guy be to have kids like that. Privileged but still grounded and seemingly hard-working. Hmmmm.
The bottom line about Trump’s win is exactly what makes any Social Media campaigns work. You don’t have to have the most fans, you just need a critical mass of the most avid fans. They will come out, they will evangelize and they will go on to the last mile. His rivals who just took their following for granted did none of that and so most followers didn’t even bother to show up. In viral terms, Hillary’s supporters were not carriers. Trump’s supporters were quietly rabid and the media did a great job of inadvertently keeping their blood at boiling temperature.
Trump was a kind of gutter superhero, a Tony Stark with his own jet, suit of armor and cloak of nonsense. People bought it and paid for the biggest tub of popcorn to watch it….
Winning by Losing
Every time Trump picked another fight he seemed to lose another constituency. Yet, he appears to have done better math than most of us. Annoying the right people is a great way of bolstering your supporters. What really surprised people was that he got a higher number of votes from African Americans, Hispanics and Muslims than Mitt Romney. Likewise, driving away all those Republican insiders, the notorious scolds that all progressives hate, helped him too. He won over a lot Sanders Democrats because of that.
Luckily for Trump, the numbers added up in the right places, but only by a hair…..
Into the Future
The Death of Party Politics
What all of this portends is that political parties are not trustworthy and the voters will start to demand direct politics rather than political loyalty. They will vote for people cliques and coalitions and will learn to benefit by playing them off against each other.. Parties will become more like federations than strict orders. This election set that off, the internet will bring it to fruition. The bigger picture is that the rationale for parties – big business vs. labor is going way. The organizations no longer represent the majority of working Americans and so the battle is no longer center stage. Just as importantly, as we move to more of a freelance economy this will become the silent majority that neither party represents.
That is why Trump’s party crashing looked pretty good to a lot of people trying to make it on their own.
Unleashing the “Dirty Giant”: Why Bankruptcies and Vileness May Have Helped
Trump’s crudeness and bankruptcy-dodging is not necessarily a bad thing. The country is on its way to bankruptcy and we have been way too nice to people who really aren’t nice themselves. Yet, to the powers like the media, business and the political elite that was just fine since they generally profited from those people. Sending our factories overseas, fostering the debt, taking money from foreign interests and acting as if America was some kind of high-minded priesthood suited them just fine. But not the struggling nobodies in the hinterland.
In that light, someone like Trump, a scrappy guy who knows how to dodge bills and is willing take on some sacred cows is not necessarily a bad thing.
What a lot of people forget is that America has become something like a waxed factory-farmed orange – plenty of vivid colory on the surface but empty of flavor on the inside. As we lost our industrial heartland, the great service and financial jobs moved to the coasts, where the political parties and media reside. So yes, the elites have it good and world looks great to the coastal populations but the inlands are hollowing out financially.
This was not a big deal when oil was trading at $100 a barrel. That kept many people employed and flowed enough money through the heartland that they didn’t mind factories slipping off to China or Mexico. They didn’t mind corporate inversions or Apple tax shenanigans in Ireland.
However, at $30 a barrel that has gone away. Yet the Democrats still don’t want us to export oil or more significantly, natural gas. As for coal, it is all but dead. Simply unleashing these energy sources can change the world balance of power. The US can offer to replace Russia as the lead supplier of natural gas to Europe and pull the plug out of their advancing power.
Exporting gasoline means that the middle east may undercut us but they are no longer a monopoly. We can now threaten to leave the key oil sites unprotected creating fear in the Persian Gulf. Yet the Saudis have done nothing to resolve the Syrian Crisis, they accommodate no refugees and have no apparent skin in the game. The same applies to the Palestinian issue. While they may not be the only ones to resolve, no solution will occur without Saudi’s full support. No one seems to have persuaded them to get on board. Oddly enough, Obama’s accommodation with Iran may have paved the road for Saudi involvement in all of the above, including an alliance with Israel in the face of Iranian expansion.
Trump understands that, by selling energy and fighting for America’s place in a new energy world, the US can sway major powers, stem the tide of energy imports and bring in major revenue. The country gets dirtier but we get to keep our homes. Some of the same can be said about infrastructure improvements but paradoxically, better roads make it easier for imports to reach our markets than for exports to leave. But at least for a decade or so, there will be plenty of work to be had but only if the unions are cowed. You can’t build a lot of stuff if you are forced to pay three or four times the standard labor rate to get anything done.
Yet that is what unions have mostly done for the past 60 years and they are likely to continue. However, this time it could be different.
We are about to seriously compete with robots and are about to enter the jobless world.
Jobless America – The Structural Change the Trump Addresses Whether He Likes it or Not
The fact is, we are undergoing a major structural change as the knowledge economy kicks into the super-knowledge economy and middle level jobs disappear. Only the highest and the lowest remain. The rest of us will serve or be on our own.
Here are a few data points to consider.
Self Driving Trucks
About 8.5 million people drive trucks and it is one of the few ways a working person can make a middle-class living. You can live almost anywhere and so many famers stay alive by driving on the side. But in any case, it supports about 19 million American though the industries like rest stops, hotels, repair shops and so on.
Self-driving trucks will destroy about 80% of those jobs.
Robot Factories, Stores, Construction and Farms
As labor flexes it muscles again, robots will strive to become cost-effective. Unlike low cost labor from Central America they will not have to scale any walls or file for any papers. They will sweep through factories than can manufacture that way, they will take you orders at MacDonalds, they will do the work of many construction laborers and white collar workers alike and they will run many farms – especially ones that are close to their markets.
Trump may not have any solutions to this but he does have what no other politician has, no obligations to either corporate or labor interests. He is free to act in the best interests of the country and not his constituency. A new class of blue collar digital literates will take over. They will know how to program, manipulate and otherwise hack robots and other machines. They will form their own idea of unions and the current parties will see their bases shift.
Dealouts? The End of Stringless Handouts
If there is one thing we now about Donald Trump, he does nothing for nothing and he always seeks some type of payback for offenses to him. This does not necessarily make him uncharitable but it does reveal his mindset: every entitlement will come with some type of payback. He will try to give opportunity instead of cash. This is not necessarily a bad thing either but it is very different from what we do now and there will be plenty of push back.
One thing is clear, Trump doesn’t believe in a free lunch and there are lots of ways of putting people to work. This will become a big issue as automation and artificial intelligence takes over more and more rote jobs.
What Trump believes is that people who get something for nothing are at the heart of inner city despair. But can he generate enough opportunity? New kinds of public service and even renumeration may fill that gap. Not everything should be measure in money and as long our basic needs are taken care of, money is by no means everything……
Trump the Dictator?
You may not love Trump’s idea of democracy but unlike most dictators who are extremely fixed in their thinking, Trump is nothing if not changeable. If he becomes a Hitler it will be like the screwball one played by Dick Shawn in the Producers. And if he is an anti-Semite he is one strange version who makes his Jewish son-in-law chief of staff and his kosher-keeping daughter his advisor.
The Next Four Years? Back to the Future, but Still the Future.
In some ways, Trump is reviving an older America when it had swagger and could say fairly arrogant stuff without seeming too ridiculous. Watch any movie from the 40’s and something will make you cringe. It would be the doctor smoking a cigarette while taking your pulse or a comment about broads. Most of all people were fairly free to be who were, warts and all. Now, we haven’t learned to evolve as much as we have learned to conceal our real selves. Not a true evolution. Trump’s funky openness may turn out to be a better impetus to growth than political correctness.
On the other hand, America may have become more racially and political diverse in a way that cannot be bridged.
It’s a huge challenge but given the comparison between Trump and Romney, being tough and outspoken is more impressive to people who are supposed to hate you than being kindly and mealy-mouthed. Trump is likely to keep playing that card and generally winning more than he loses. Likewise, the comparison between Jackson – the angry redux of a tragic racial history vs. Obama, the optimistic straddler of races and history but without the baggage, makes it clear what works.
You can be tough, politically incorrect and worse. You just can’t bring out historical baggage and you’d better come up with ideas, opportunities, jobs and solutions in droves.
The electoral college seems to think Trump can do that.