May 13, 2016 by Thomas Hauber
When the Trump steamroller finally squeezed Ted Cruz and John Kasich out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, PBS chief punsters Shields and Brooks were both particularly contrite on last Friday’s Newshour. Both for the first time admitted they had in Shield’s words, “… missed the Story.” The “Story” they and most of America had missed was not the rise of Trump, but the Who and the Why people are voting for him at all.
Brooks, ever the philosopher and social commentator, reasoned, “Republicans have been coasting on the fumes of Reaganite philosophy for too long which are not applicable to the day.” He then voiced disapproval of the voters by warning their white male ideal of America is never coming back. He then hedged by admitting “people were hurting for perfectly legitimate reasons, but that “…pessimistic voters were willing to take a flyer on the guy.” The pensive Brooks, shaking his head and again declaring the illegitimacy of Trump as a candidate, ended by admitting, “What’s happening in the country has to be respected.”
For me, Brooks missed an important distinction. The only ones coasting on the fumes of Reagan Republicanism were its Party’s leaders, the voters have known for some time the Republican Party offers nothing to working class America.
Mark Shields, ever the realist and not missing an opportunity to expose GOP weaknesses, zeroed in on the rest of the story. The pillars of establishment Conservatism — an aggressive interventionist foreign policy, a muscular military, friendlier immigration policy, smaller government and tax cuts– just wasn’t cutting it anymore. What’s more, offered Shields, Trump was further overturning the establishment GOP by his open support of Social Security and Medicare, his criticism of the war in Iraq and unilateral US action and opposition to open trade policy. Trump was talking to the working class like neither party had spoken to them before. Rather than having government the enemy, he, Trump would make government their friend, to be on their side, on the side of people who are hurting. It was far from an endorsement from Shields, but a reluctant acknowledgement what Trump has achieved through his message was remarkable.
Trump’s stated message aside, not many people trust The Donald to be their friend. People are starting to worry what a Donald Trump presidential nominee might actually look like. Garden Party liberals and Paul Ryan Republicans are both terrified for different reasons but nobody really knows. You assume Trump will do what he says, but you never know what he will say, much less what he will do next. Trump supporters don’t seem to care. Why?
David Brooks points out the Trump message is all style, but no policy. I sense Americans don’t want policy; they want vision, even if it’s half or completely baked? People want to be led, want to be told they can be great, again. They want unfiltered optimism and they don’t like to be pushed around by anybody. Talk is cheap, they want action and they want it now. Policy is what we have now, what we are tired of, what government has become, programs and policies, budgets and tax plans, stalling and stalemates, endless squabbling and bickering over telephone book-size Bills dreamed up by wonkish Senators and Congressmen that end up favoring the ruling class and offering the confused, obfuscated and bamboozled worker nothing. This is what Trump has tapped into. No wonder some are willing to take their chances on an outsider, the Republican Party establishment hasn’t offered them anything for a long time.
The GOP mythology, first advanced in the 80’s by Ronald Reagan, successfully claimed a party basically controlled by a growing corporate America had working people’s interests at heart. All of society’s ills were therefore caused by big government — that meant Democrats. Voters have been wrongly blaming government and essentially each other ever since. Corporate America continues to sell the story that government is the problem and that they are being picked on. The truth is corporate America could not exist without big government support from both parties. They’ve never had it so good. Complicit establishment candidates skillfully play a shell game, shaking their fingers at big business while they take their money and do their bidding and sell the working/middle/under classes short.
I am encouraged the ruse is over for some of working-class America, including modified Reagan Republicans, who now blame job losses, declining wages and pensions and deteriorating quality of life not only on Democrats, but on their own Party’s establishment. That is the Trump outsider gambit: the fault is establishment politicians. It is only part of the story.
America’s corporations have essentially constituted an invisible enemy to the working-class all along through union busting, downsizing, off shoring, out-sourcing, job discriminating, and their outsized use of federal courts including bankruptcy. They ceaselessly pursue oligopoly and monopoly through the relentless elimination of competition through price-fixing, collusion, merger and acquisition. They are NOT people. They have all the rights of people but take no responsibility for anything. Their only objective is making money and lots of it. Corporations blind the voter to this chicanery by clever advertising by its own controlling media, all the while blaming any hiccoughs in the economy (and drops in their profits) on high taxes and too much government regulation.
Do we really need my Nader-esque rant to remind us corporations control America? Do we need Noam Chomsky to convince us the government is non-functional, i.e. the will of the people is not being translated into public policy? What defines the American governing process? There are the actual voters, the elected officials in each party and the ruling elite who increasingly control them through lobbying and overpowering financial support. The charge that elected government through the years has become a willing servant of big money campaign contributions is a fact both Sanders and Trump are quick to point out and is curiously a shared cornerstone of both campaigns. This is also a serious charge against Hillary Clinton and one of her deepest potential vulnerabilities.
So is Trump any different? Who is Donald Trump? Just another big-business candidate, a billionaire charlatan, a mythmaker and working-class hero of comic book proportions? I don’t think the voters know much; many don’t even care. Corporate America doesn’t know what to expect from him, or do they? We’ll see if the “self-funding” campaign ends and whose big money goes into his account. The Donald is a businessman, but unlike them he’s not a team player. He is a renegade whose fortune in real estate, hotels, golf courses and casinos are privately owned ventures feeding him, his ego and his oldest children. Does he want a bought and paid for President replaced with a dictator?
Brooks ended by warning a Trump/Clinton campaign would not likely be civil. That’s an understatement.