3520 – Wednesday, September 11, 2019 — Can We Ever Understand the Trump Phenomenon?

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Pontificating and writing books and articles about what I will call the Trump phenomenon has become (forgive my use of this cliché), a Cottage Industry.  I have three books on my shelf right now in which an author has gone on a quest (to a remote area of America) to find the reason why so much of rural and middle America embraced Trump.  The ostensible goal of these quests is to understand why anyone would vote for a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic bigoted egomaniac.  Fully twenty-eight percent of American voters selected Trump as well as more than 75 percent of the Republican Party.  Most of those on the left, regard it as the proverbial enigma wrapped in a riddle.

Many of these quests endeavor to be “objective” exercises to find out why Americans voted for and in many cases “love” Trump.  Not surprisingly, these authors tend to be on the left of the political spectrum.  I suppose to be objective and qualify as research, each author must show sympathy for the “deplorables” that elected Trump by trying to listen, empathize and gently understand the forces that were at work in their embracing Trump.  In one case, the author assumes that if you can party with the other side, you will better understand their perspective. 

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A few of these books have sold quite well, even if they do very little to shed any real light on the Trump phenomenon.  They all seem to be researched (research to these authors means meeting with rural folks over tea or coffee and talking to them without insulting their intelligence) by a well-meaning liberal.  Usually, the author is an academic who thinks that talking to anyone who would vote for Trump can solve the puzzle and perhaps make America great again.  Reading these books, you will be no doubt be embellished with many narratives that involve a poignant description of a “typical” rural American to show how the other side really lives and how sad some of their lives are.

I find the solution to the enigma much less puzzling and much less difficult to solve.  I did not need to go on a quest to find the solution.  The solution simply involves “looking at rural America.”  Rural America is dying, dying, dying.  Churches are dying.  Restaurants are dying.  Retail stores are dying.  Industries are dying.  Banks are dying.  Resorts are dying.  Jobs are dying.  Small farms are dying.  Rural America is dying, and no one seems to notice.  Even the people living there do not really notice.  It is a case of the fish being the last ones to see the water.  But on many levels, the angst exacts a toll on the citizens of these areas.   Alcoholism, drug addictions and guns are all means of coping in rural communities.  

People who live in many of many of these rural depressed areas have been told to “get retrained.”  “Find employment in the new emerging industries.”  “Join the information age.”  “Learn computer programming.”  “Go back to school.”  “Go where the jobs are.”

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In 1979, I was hired as a DVOP (Disabled Veterans Outreach Person) by the State of Minnesota.  I worked as a job counselor with the DES (Department of Economic Security.)  At about this time in Minnesota, the iron range was shutting down, many foundries in St. Paul were closing and the stock yards were closing.  For years, these industries had provided relatively decent pay and benefits for people more amenable to working with their backs than with their intellects.  As an employment counselor with a Masters in Employment Counseling from the University of Wisconsin Stout, my job was to help them regain financially viable employment.  Here is what this meant.

I had to take a man (most often a man) with twenty or so years working in one industry, a bad back, little or no education beyond high school, responsible for supporting a wife and two or more children and find him or her a job paying twenty or so dollars per hour with benefits.  There were no funds provided by DES for this man to go to school and even if there were, what kind of school could he go to?  Over the years, both Wisconsin and Minnesota had shut down many vocational training schools to emphasize college over vocational education.  Unions seldom provided apprenticeships and even if they did, most would go to younger workers with less physical problems. 

Globalization was hailed as a great concept and as a business person, I would argue it was good for many Americans and much of the world.  But for the man or woman who worked in American industries that were either outsourced, replaced by foreign labor or moved overseas, it was not so good. 

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I continued working as an employment counselor for the DILHR (Department of Industry, Labor and Human Relations) in Wisconsin.  I had taken a Wisconsin State test and found work closer to my home in River Falls, Wisconsin.  I became a Manpower Counselor II in charge of an office in Hudson and Ellsworth Wisconsin.  I ran the WIN Program (Work Incentive), IHRAP Program (Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program), LEAP Program (Labor Education Advancement Program) and several programs for veterans and minorities. 

We had minimal funds for people that could qualify for education and we had maintenance funds for eligible job seekers to help support them while they looked for gainful employment.  With respect to education, there was no way anyone could go to school and support a family while they were in school on the available funds.  For job seekers, the maintenance funds could help while they looked for employment but, in many cases, they had little chance of finding employment without further education.  Regulations prohibited many of these “eligible” job seekers from going to school while they received AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children), Welfare benefits or unemployment benefits.

Bottom line, both the Democrats and Republicans threw many of the people who lost their jobs because of Globalization under the bus or over the cliff.  “Go get retrained they were told.” 

694940094001_5470675642001_5470650547001-vsThe research that purports to explain the Trump phenomenon almost never goes beyond the “Right Wing” narratives for Trumps election.  These narratives all point to abortion, guns, taxes, small government, immigration and jobs as the key factors in Trumps victory.  Trump blames the Democrats for everything wrong in rural America and the Republicans have provided a compelling set of schemes that have convinced many in rural America that a partial solution to their problems lies in more capitalism. 

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Greed is good is a mantra among Republicans and they have managed to sell desperate people needing desperate measures with faith in the “Trickle Down Theory.”  For those who might question this theory, the fallback narrative is to blame immigrants, Latinos, Blacks and Muslims with usurping the American Dream.  Trump and the Republicans have sold the rest of the solution as “Make America White Again.” 

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Is it any wonder that people are sick of government and politicians?  The vision and mission of most government agencies hardly ever comes close to matching the reality of the policies, laws and regulations that spew forth from these lawyer led entities.   You would be forgiven for not realizing that the citizens of the United States of America are the customers of government rather than the other way around.  Trump is a phenomenon of distrust, disgust and despair.  Trump promised solutions to these problems while the rest of the government slept and slept and slept.

“I’ve always resented the smug statements of politicians, media commentators, corporate executives who talked of how, in America, if you worked hard you would become rich. The meaning of that was if you were poor it was because you hadn’t worked hard enough. I knew this was a lie, about my father and millions of others, men and women who worked harder than anyone, harder than financiers and politicians, harder than anybody if you accept that when you work at an unpleasant job that makes it very hard work indeed.”  ― Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jane Fritz
    Sep 11, 2019 @ 10:12:02

    Well stated, as usual, John. One thing to keep in mind is that your description of rural America emptying out is not an America-only phenomenon, it’s a world-wide phenomenon. And it’s not going to go back. Thanks to many factors, including technological innovations in agriculture, powerful multinational (mostly American led) agri-business that has put small farmers out of business, automation in manufacturing plants, as well as globalization, this is not going to change. It is the same American-led companies that basically run the world, that donate to political parties and lobby congressmen and women to ensure that it favours their interests. Rural areas will have to figure out a new way forward (and I live in one, too). One of the biggest challenges is that young people don’t want to live in rural areas; they want to go to where the action is. Many small towns in our areas can’t find locals people to fill jobs they used to be satisfied with, hence the advantage of a working immigration system.

    Reply

  2. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    Sep 12, 2019 @ 13:52:58

    Hi Jane, I always enjoy your comments and insights. What you have said puts things in a very unique and interesting perspective. We are obviously dealing with a Global Phenomenon here and not just a US problem or a Trump problem. I have often wondered we do not get a systems view when we are too narrowly focused. Hard to see out of ones bubble. I think that is why we must have friends and contacts with the rest of the world. I was never one for isolationism or America First. I believe in a cosmic perspective on the John Donne poem that says “Ask not for whom the bell tolls.” It does not matter whether it tolls in the US, Australia or Africa, it still tolls for us all.

    Reply

    • Jane Fritz
      Sep 16, 2019 @ 17:15:21

      I certainly believe in a global view. Sadly, its strength and natural advantages have been severely weakened in the past 3 years. Keep your posts coming!

      Reply

  3. Dr. John Persico Jr.
    Sep 16, 2019 @ 17:38:31

    HI Jane, how would you like to be a guest blogger on my site? Pick any subject you would like to write about. An international perspective would help.

    Reply

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