The carnival barker. Enter the confidence man. That’s Donald Trump in 2016. His products: nostalgia and magical thinking for a desperate people.
Of the 300 million people living legally in the United States, about 189 million of them are white (63%), and half of those have IQs (by definition) of less than 100 (the IQ median is 100, thus half of this population must be above that number, half below).
This translates into about 95 million people who are pissed-off in part because white privilege, and the economic social contract that accompanied it immediately after WWII and into the early-1960s, is no longer reliably operative–and they’re the ones who relied on it most. That’s Trump’s base. Those 95 million people. Some individuals from other demographic groups might warm to Trump a bit (such as those who are wealthy, with authoritarian temperaments), but this group of whites represents the lion’s share of his supporters.
Steady decline. How did white privilege, and the economic advantages that accompany it, degenerate since the 1960s, and how did blue-collar whites adjust? The standard narrative (as rehearsed by Robert Reich, among others) runs as follows.
First, there was the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Many blue-collar whites adjusted to black equality by realigning politically with Southern Strategy Republican politics (first via Goldwater, then Wallace, then Nixon).
Then, in the 1970s, when middle class household income began to stall and feminism was on the rise, two-income families became, ever-increasingly, the norm.
Next came the decline of unions during the Reagan years, and blue-collar whites attempted to make-up for stalled incomes with ever increasing overtime hours.
Next came anxiety about NAFTA and Hispanic immigration (parts of the Zeitgeist of the Clinton years).
And then came George W. Bush.
By this point, blue-collar whites were running out of financial options, and ran-up unprecedented levels of private debt–even as they hoped that rising prices on the homes they owned would guarantee their futures.
Of course, this was followed by the collapse of the housing market, and the election of Barack Obama.
So the past several decades have seen the rich get richer and the prospects for the white poor and blue-collar middle class deteriorate–even as globalization continues apace, immigration continues apace, and women in the workplace continues apace.
Multiculturalism also continues apace. Let’s not forget multiculturalism. The times, they’ve been a-changing. “All that is solid melts into air.”
The cult of personality. So if you’re white without a college degree in 2016, you’re feeling a particular sort of ethnic, cultural, and economic pinch–if not for yourself directly, then for your children and grandchildren–especially if they’re not college-bound.
Donald Trump is thus your man. He has your back. He’s the Big Father selling magical thinking and nostalgia: he’ll “make America great again”; he’ll build a wall and make Mexicans pay for it; he’ll impose tariffs on American companies that ship jobs oversees, he’ll punish your enemies, etc.
But these promises, and the ease and speed with which he claims he’ll accomplish them, amount to simplistic nonsense. Our political system is not set up for one man, authoritarian rule. The country’s Founders wisely dispersed power into three co-equal branches of government–and made it so that this power-sharing arrangement is dogged by a free and rambunctious press. No single man can therefore change decades of global capitalist transformation of the economy, nor reverse multiculturalism–and, frankly, the majority of Americans wouldn’t want these things–nor would they benefit from the reversal of them.
This means that a white middle class in possession of secure blue-collar jobs is never coming back. Ever. And so the Republican Party in 2016 is in Kubler-Ross territory. Trump as a cult-of-personality phenomenon is telling us that the Republican Party is at the stage of denial in a process on its way to a death–the death being the end of the sort of world that followed the post-WWII baby boom and lasted into the Eisenhower 1950s–and that has been on steady decline ever since.
So this is what Donald Trump has been successfully selling: the denial of a death. He’s Wallace Stevens’ “palm at the end of the mind”–but in this case, Trump is a palm that stands, Custer-like, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, representing the end of a mindset, the mindset being that of the generation of whites, born in the two decades after the end of WWII, that grew up taking white American superiority, patriarchy, and privilege for granted.
Half the Republican Party is buying this Trump fantasy of the return of Eisenhower’s America. As with Rihanna’s song, they’re finding “love in a hopeless place”–which means they’re desperate, being duped, and betting on a losing horse. In a general election, Trump is going to lose, and lose badly–as will Ted Cruz if he gets the Republican nomination, for he too is selling an elixir of political nostalgia and simplicity.
Enter Hillary. Hillary Clinton is retort to the cult of personality overtaking Republican politics. She’s boring. She’s establishment. She’ll accept the limitation of the office she’s running for. She won’t be a miracle worker. She won’t stop the march of ongoing capitalist globalization. She won’t build a wall on the Southern border. She won’t slap significant tariffs on corporations. She won’t demean non-white people or women generally. She might make gestures toward populist white politics (maybe she’ll pick Sherrod Brown or Elizabeth Warren for VP), but at bottom she’ll be serving up broccoli and 21st century adulthood over pies and adolescent tantrums.
And for precisely these reasons, she’ll make it to at least 50% of the vote + 1, and she’ll find herself on election night with 270 electoral votes–and perhaps considerably more. She’ll be exactly what the doctor ordered: a boring politician from Trump’s generation (Hillary was born in 1947, Trump in 1946) who lacks charisma when the country actually needs a boring politician who lacks charisma.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will constitute the fulcrum over which the country will choose its tilt: living in reality vs. living delusionally.
Hillary is thus perfect for the role of Calvin Coolidge. Hillary will be boring. That’s her selling point in an age of confidence man posturing and a lust for autocratic glamour (Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump). She is the way America will say no to cult-of-personality politics and yes to the actual system of government we have: a Republic with a balance of powers. America is not Putin’s Russia, and we’ll see this reaffirmed on the day after the election, when a widespread coalition of voters has overcome an angry minority faction of the population in thrall to a demagogue.
President Hillary Clinton. Get used to saying it because it’s coming in January, 2017. Love her or hate her, Hillary will prove to be the republican (with a small r) antidote to Trump’s cult-of-personality and strong-man quackery. She’ll be Billie Jean King to Trump’s theatrical Bobby Riggs, and we know how that played out. Like Billie Jean King, Hillary will be nothing exciting, but she’ll get the job done of vanquishing Donald Trump–and we’ll all be glad, in retrospect, that she did: that her voters did. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will be a civics lesson in the rejection of cult-of-personality politics. At least, this is my hope.