The phenomenon of US politics, which at first encounter is hardest for non Americans to understand, is working out how come a bizarre figure like Mr Trump has such a following?
The Republican Party and indeed the entire US electoral system has a number of features which suggest that it was set up to protect the exclusive interests of the rich and the powerful, but for many years the architects working behind the scenes of the GOP have appreciated that since the rich and powerful are a relatively small group numerically. Consequently each election, the trick has been to choose larger voting blocks to target for support amongst the general population to get the Republicans into power.
As a lower degree of sophistication and education often characterize such groups, finding over-simplified trigger issues to represent the interests of such groups has proved the key to guarantee their support.
Noam Chomsky’s take on this includes the concept that a number of Republican candidates are chosen each election to represent the different factions (not so that all the candidates are seen as viable – indeed they are almost invariably cast aside by the party before the final election for candidate)- but at least the message from the candidates tells the various factions that the Republicans have their interests at heart. This raises the interesting notion that perhaps Mr Trump who appeared to have no genuine chance and no credible experience was not meant to win.
Chomsky reminds us that a few years back Richard Nixon, together with his advisers, set the pattern when he chose several large sub groups as being easy to enlist. For example Nixon sought the support of the Southern whites who were concerned about the rising power of the non-whites in an area where previous discrimination had “kept non whites in their place”. This explains why in this Presidential term support offered to White nationalists (and even by implication, the KKK), by Mr Trump has not been seriously challenged by the GOP particularly since the party is well aware that such groups are still needed to bolster the Republican cause.
Two other large groups, also concerned about what they saw as alarming changes to community and religious values, were the Southern evangelicals and the Northern Catholics – particularly with their worries about the legalization of abortion.
What may appear a strange interest in Middle Eastern politics and in particular the strengthening of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians is of course because over recent years this is conflated with end-times and the interests of the fundamentalist “Bible believers”.
Since many are specifically following Mr Trump because he promised to do away with abortion we might note in passing that he consistently confused full term abortion with what actually happens in practice whereby most states only allow full term abortion if it specifically safeguards the life of the mother.
Unfortunately oversimplification can only be answered by detail which, for those who prefer to get their information from tweets, rallies, social media and channel new outlets, is bluntly not going to happen. Mr Trump is not the only one reluctant to read detail, which presumably is why, despite the release of the Mueller report, many in the GOP still parrot “no collaboration, no obstruction”, when even the Trump appointee, Bill Barr, was forced in his very brief summary to concede that the question of obstruction of justice is still an open question..
This attention to the interests of subgroups also explains the Trump setting aside the many thousand gun deaths each year to focus on the rights of the large gun lobby citing a very distorted version of the Second Amendment whereby the right to carry guns is highlighted – but the other part of the Second amendment (which explains the reason behind the amendment of providing an armed citizen militia for the defence of the country), which is clearly redundant in the light of today’s highly armed US Government and State military, is conveniently forgotten.
The somewhat cynical “dog whistle” approach with such groups includes offering immigration policies to discriminate against those who did not fit the self image of the typical GOP supporters.
Since some of the targeted voting sub groups included those recently unemployed and those at the mercy of criminal groups, Mr Trump chose to make some sweeping and clearly unachievable promises. He was going to reopen the coal mines, reduce the restrictions on mining and pollution and largely forget about clean energy. He was going to close the borders e.g. build the wall to cut down on the immigrant and refugees who might be competitors for work and of course his major Inauguration promise was to get rid of crime on the streets. He was going to bring the factories back home, bring about Peace by disarming North Korea, and make the US more competitive by introducing trade tariffs. The rich were going to get richer by cutting their taxes and would therefore employ more.
Although he promised to get rid of debt Mr Trump forgot to say – or more likely perhaps – may not have been able to work out – that the reduction of taxes for the rich would also mean sufficient money would not be available for the multitude of services which is particularly needed for the poorer sectors of society. The unsurprising result was that instead of the promise for the removal of debt, the actual result has included a vast increase of debt (three trillion dollars) for the nation. The reason why this may have gone unnoticed by the majority is that since there are so many ways of looking at the data Mr Trump tended to make up his dog whistle figures rather than look at the conventional official summaries. It is taking a long time for some of the less educated to Google the US Debt Clock which not only measures the real time debt but also shows that there were now fewer people employed in the workforce than had been in the year 2000.
At the end of his first year of the Presidency Trump was modestly suggesting that more look at his personal success with the economy by checking up on the boost to the US share market as the consequences of giving more tax back to the rich investors. Now in the third year Mr Trump is only drawing attention to the share market in the few occasions when there is a jump in fortune. On the occasions when share market is no longer increasing he usually directs blame to what he sees as the ineptitude of the Federal Reserve despite his replacing the director.
Thus far the Tweets are generally sufficient to hold favour with the chosen support groups. Although some of the chants of “Fake News” , and “Lock her up” are losing their pall, many of his Tweets are echoed by his supports in the social media together with the few Tabloid news channels like Fox. Since the target groups have been shown not to use some of the other mainstream news sources it is unlikely that their members are even aware of the profound loss of faith in the US presidency reflected in the international polls or for that matter the average loss of confidence across the local US polls.
While Mr Trump is quite correct in claiming that some nations have enjoyed disproportionate trade advantage with the US particularly since much of this comes about because the US enjoys 25% of the world’s GDP to be share among a little over 5% of the world’s population. It seems that trade will never be equal until the peoples of the world enjoy a much fairer allocation of access. However the more serious issue is that since under Mr Trump the US has become distinctly less concerned about disparities in wealth, eg the US has reduced aid to poorer nations, armed the enemies of weak nations like Yemen and arbitrarily torn up or introduced abrupt tariffs in longstanding trade treaties through the WTO.
Unlike past state visits to long term allies like the UK, I am guessing the current plans for Mr Trump to pay a state visit to the UK later this year is bound to provoke a much more dramatic reception that the last relatively mild baby blimp protests. Whether or not Mr Trump will care is another matter, but to say that there has been a loss of confidence in the leadership of the US is an understatement. That loss of confidence has been reflected in the drop in support via the international polls.(eg Pew International). Perhaps more dramatically it can’t have escaped the notice of US officialdom that the US is being increasing side-lined in trade discussions and international conferences.
I would be interested to know whether those who follow US politics are:
first: concerned about the apparent changes in international perception and second: convinced that the current policy of pandering to voting groups with extravagant political claims and dog whistle politics will continue to carry the GOP to victory in the next election.