Listening with Trumpian Ears

(Note:  This is republished to correct the publication date in the Permalink.)

I have been trying to hear the news recently through the ears of a Trump supporter.  I’m beginning to understand why he had enough supporters to win.  There are several  themes.  I’m trying to describe them so I can follow them for a while to see how  he does on these issues and to refine my understanding of what his supporters expected.  I am not arguing the right or wrong side of these issues but only that this is what a lot of Trump supporters see.  So here they are in no particular order:

  • Many of his basic policies appeal to conservatives.  Smaller government, lower taxes, strong defense spending are all standard Republican issues.  Jobs through government spending on infrastructure do not necessarily fall in that camp but a sufficiently strong Republican Congress could put some checks on that issue.  Likewise, repeal of the ACA is a six-year Republican dream.
  • Bringing jobs back to the US is one of the most powerful of Trump’s themes.  The frustration felt by many is either triggered by or worsened substantially by the real loss of higher paying middle class jobs. Both parties made some hay on the issue of gains going to the top 1% and many people taking home smaller paychecks.  Even though the economy has grown steadily for some years, many people have not been riding the wave.  Job growth does not necessarily equate to  middle-income pay growth.
  • A lot of people feel “left behind”.  Those are people who have not gained from globalization, free trade, automation and expanded human rights.  They have seen local jobs disappear across the world and feel nothing of nearly equal value has come back.  Being a greeter at Wal-Mart is not as lucrative as being a lathe operator and for many people not as satisfying either. They do not see how government programs have helped them but do see a lot of interference in things like land use and business regulation.
  • Another issue is “line skipping”.  Some folks (immigrants, minorities, city dwellers, others getting “special”  treatment) seem to get benefits for being members of a group and not for what they have done in life.  They are seen to be cutting in the line to the American dream ahead of others who have worked hard and neither ask nor get much from government.
  • National security and protection against terrorism is another theme that has broad appeal.  Thoughts and images of Orlando, San Bernardino and other attacks are compelling and make many yearn for a strong defender.
  • “America first” and “America for Americans” address the fear that America is losing not only its jobs but its predominantly northern European cultural foundation.  Things are changing too fast and without thought for the future consequences.  Combined with fears of increasing violence in some cities and perceived decline in respect for all forms of authority, especially the police, this creates a longing for the law and order candidate and greater control of immigration.
  • I wondered for a while what complaints about Democrats offering “free stuff” meant.  Then I heard Bernie Sanders talking about free college and it clicked.  Plans for free college and elimination of college debt don’t do anything for me if I have no college ambitions.  Programs for special groups sound like giveaways to the line skippers.
  • President Obama ran on a “Hope and change” platform.  Things that changed were largely inconsequential to many of Trump’s supporters.  ACA arguably got many people health care they needed but healthcare is complicated and expensive.  When premiums went up, as they have always done in private insurance, many ACA beneficiaries felt cheated.  Bank bailouts seemed to help only the elites.  Dodd-Frank is too esoteric for most people and too complicated for everyone.  The complete grid-lock in Congress showed everyone what a swamp the federal government can be and gave all voters someone to hate in Washington.  An outsider who promises to drain the swamp can easily sound like just what the doctor ordered.  People were still left hoping for change that Trump promises to deliver.
  • Trump’s apparent personal qualities are also important.  He is a successful business man, ran a TV program that presented him as a strong leader, is independently wealthy and cannot be “bought”, and as “The Apprentice” suggested, is able to select capable staff. And, he is not part of the professional political establishment.  He’s tough and strong and can run the country like a business.  Many people see very admirable presidential qualities.
  • Then there is the final argument that Hillary would be worse!  She had no obvious grasp of the issues that were important to much of the country and no message other than “It’s my turn”.  She was associated with thirty years of real or made-up scandal and is an ultimate insider in the year of the outsider.

The underlying message is that a lot of people fear the country is changing too much, too fast and beginning to wobble on its foundation.

So what now? I understand better.  I desperately do not want to be one from the other side who is guilty of the knee jerk reactions that I thought I see in many.  I want to continue to give thought to the issues and the facts that support or contradict them.  That will continue to drive me to the media and to research sites and Think Tanks.  And I still won’t have time to become educated enough on all the issues.  I have expanded my news feeds to include more conservative sources and will continue trying to understand  and think of solutions that will work for everyone.

In that vein, I will continue to revisit this list periodically and look at progress by the administration toward dealing with them.  I will also look at why I think his policies and actions will be a disaster for American ideals and for his supporters.


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