Raise Your Hand if You Don’t Like Hillary

DEM_2016_Clinton.JPEG-09fe7_c0-174-2166-1436_s885x516

 

Hillary Clinton may be the luckiest person in the world; certainly in presidential politics. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election with lower “likability” ratings than Hillary Clinton; except for one, Donald Trump. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election with a longer list questionable and seemingly corrupt activities than Hillary Clinton; except for one, Donald Trump. No presidential nominee of any major Party has ever entered an election under an active investigation for possible illegal actions, except for Hillary Clinton; not even Trump.

And yet, despite carrying around 30 years of scuffed-up political baggage and the rotting stench of a landfill full of political scandal that has made Hillary possibly the most distrusted and disliked candidate in presidential election history, as of now, it appears likely that she will be elected as the next president.

What’s going on here?

Hillary is not even all that popular with traditional Democratic voters. The Democratic primaries were intended to be a parade to her coronation, but instead they turned into a slogging slug-fest against a little-known 74 year old admitted Socialist. In the end it was the system not sentiment that gave Hillary the nomination. Makes you wonder how lucky Hillary is that Joe Biden was unwilling to take her and the system on in the primaries.

In the meantime, political neophyte Donald Trump using bluster, insults, grandiose promises and racist fear-mongering was improbably bulldozing through 16 other Republican candidates to (presumptively) secure the Republican nomination. Clinton is lucky that Trump took the Republican nomination, because he is probably the only candidate the Republicans could nominate that she could beat in the election. While Hillary is loathed by many, the prospect of a Trump presidency is terrifying to even more.

The story goes deeper than Hillary and Trump

Aside from the obvious deficiencies of Trump and Clinton, there is something deeper impacting this election that makes it even more difficult to pick a winner.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders offer forensic evidence that American voters – of both Parties – are dissatisfied, frustrated and angry with the status quo of the establishment political system. If that were not the case, Trump would have lasted about a month and Sanders would have remained an unknown Socialist senator from Vermont. The electorate has indicated, in no uncertain terms, that they want change; and are so desperate for it they will support one totally ill-prepared candidate and a Socialist.

In effect, Trump has been anointed as a “change agent” in this election, while Hillary embraces a continuation of the status quo. Under normal circumstances, when the voters have the attitude of “throw the bums out,” as a change agent, Trump would have an easy path to victory; especially considering how unpopular Clinton is personally. But these are not normal circumstances.

Trump is not your prototypical change agent who presents a clearly defined and understandable vision of change.  He does not have a history of persistent and consistent opposition to the status quo and, most important for a change agent, he has not been able to build a consensus of trust among voters that he is doing the right thing, the right way. Under normal circumstances it would be difficult to see Trump as an effective change agent, but these are not normal circumstances.

Change to believe in …

The concept of change is complicated and is often seen as both friend and foe. Those most frustrated with the status quo are the most vociferous in calling for change, but for some strange reason, they are often the most likely to resist change when it is presented. Maybe it is the like the old idiom, “better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.” This feeling is akin to the actions of an abused spouse who desperately seeks to change the situation, but fears what a change would mean for the future. As a result, there is often a willingness to accept the abuse, based on the false hope that the environment will change on its own.     

Real change only comes about when people fear the status quo more than they fear the unknown of change. This axiom was effectively demonstrated in the recent “Brexit” vote in the United Kingdom.  A slim majority of British voters were so fearful of their future in the European Union, they were willing to vote for a totally unknown future.

Trump has the opportunity to be a true change agent for the political system. As much as the idea of political change in this country is appealing and exciting (and needed), the reality of change is unsettling and scary; even for those who clamor for change. In the end, people are willing to embrace real change, only when they have justified trust in the leader who is leading them into the unknown. Earning the trust of the average voter (who does want change) by demonstrating that he is about the right change in the right way, is a bridge that Trump has not yet crossed.

Sure, Trump has the blind trust of his core voters, but they are not the majority of voters. Trump has a unique generational opportunity (just as Ronald Reagan did) to be a positive agent for change, but to do so he must earn the trust of voters. However, earning this trust is not accomplished with bluster, fear-mongering and demagoguery. If Trump fails to pass this test of trust, he will fail and so will the hope for change.

What is ironic (sad) in this situation is that at a time when people are crying out for change, but fearing that they can’t trust the unknown of change presented by Trump, they likely may elect the very person they distrust and dislike the most and she will bring about the least change in the system.

Will Trump Receive or Does He Even Want the Republican Nomination?

trumpthinking

 

No doubt about it, this has been a tough week for Donald Trump. He was tied to the mast of the Ship of State and flogged from all sides; the leaders of the Republican establishment, self-important political pundits and the mendacious media all went after Trump with viperous abandon. Of course Hillary took glee in attacking him, but even the President took valuable time away from managing the country and leading the fight against terrorism to savage Trump.

So what is it that triggered this blitzkrieg attack on Trump? True, Trump did make a series of outlandish, bombastic, conspiracy mongering, divisive and even outright racist comments, but that was just Trump being Trump. He is acting the same way and saying the same things he has for the past year. But from the perspective of the Republican establishment, the problem is that Trump is still playing small-ball, when he needs to be engaged in a home run hitting contest.

Republicans – We Have a Problem

When it comes to presidential elections the Republicans have a problem because it is a minority party. If 100 percent of Republicans voted for their candidate in the general election, that candidate would still lose. (The last non-incumbent Republican nominee to win a majority of voters was Ronald Reagan in 1980, with 50.75 percent of the vote.) Republicans who yearn to be president must first appeal to one core group of voters to win the nomination, but when it comes to actually winning the presidency, the Republican nominee must shift their positions in an effort to appeal to a broader base of voters. Unfortunately for the Republicans, this strategy has, more often than not, failed. Just ask Mitt Romney.

Each time a Republican candidate for president uses this bait-and-switch strategy and loses, the base of the Party becomes more frustrated and angry. This year the hard-core Republican voters rejected those candidates they feared would say one thing in the primary and then “pivot” away from that in the general election. Instead, they rallied behind an unconventional candidate, because they believed he would be consistent in the now and after.

With the nomination apparently in hand, Trump has rejected the bleating of the Republican elite to change his message. Trump seems to understand that to do so would totally alienate the 13 million Republicans who supported him in the primaries, and that would guarantee his loss. Trump’s thinking seems to be that if he can solidify the base of the Republican Party and then cobble together enough Independent and Democratic voters who are frustrated with the direction of the country and those who viscerally distrust or hate Hillary, then he will have a path to victory. Trump’s message to the Republican establishment so far is: You guys have been consistent losers doing it your way, while I have been successful doing it my way; so just “be quiet” and I will show you how to win.

As a result, the Republican Party is in chaos. The Republican Party is like a colony of hungry ants that has stumbled upon a piece of sweet candy. But as they swarm around the prize, they discover that it has been sprayed with poison that will probably kill them. The ants have to decide: Do they eat it anyway because they are hungry or do they move on and hope to find something else to eat that at least won’t kill them? All this ranker and dysfunction leaves the Republican Party with three options for this election.

Option One: Take one for the team

The Republican establishment can buckle-up, suck-it-in and go with the candidate who won the primaries, even though the Party may be totally vanquished in the election and end up dealing with President Hillary. (A result many Republicans consider a fate worse than death.)

The Republicans could turn this situation into a positive by sticking together, taking their lumps in November and then starting all over with a fresh start. This strategy would be humbling and embarrassing, (not something likely to be accepted by the egos of the establishment) but it would give the Party the freedom to purge the ideas and approaches that do not work.

It would not be the first time such a strategy has been employed. In 1964 the Republican nomination was hijacked by the rise of economic and social conservatives who forced Barry Goldwater on the Party. Goldwater went on to suffer one of the worst drubbings in the history of presidential elections and the Republican Party was decimated. Many predicted the Republican Party would never rise again. And yet, just four years later Richard Nixon was elected.

Option Two: Ditch Trump at the convention

There is a growing movement (really more a desperate dream) to change the convention rules in a way that would block Trump’s nomination. The motivation for this radical action is fear that a Trump nomination would be so disastrous to the Party and the entire slate of down-ballot Republican candidates, that it would be worth enduring the chaos that would ensue at the convention.

It would be counterproductive to nominate one of the candidates who has already been rejected by the Republican base, so many are suggesting that House Speaker Paul Ryan could be a Party savior. Ryan has verified Conservative credentials, but is also able to work both sides of aisle. Sure, Trump supporters would be furious, but what options would they have? Most of them hate Hillary even more than they like Trump. They would have the choice of staying home and guaranteeing a Clinton victory or vote for a proven Conservative.  

At the very least a Ryan candidacy would bring some sanity to the campaign, while also making it easier for Republican Senate, Congressional and state governors in the election. And who knows? With Clinton’s approval ratings almost as low as Trump’s, Ryan might be able to attract enough voters from outside the Republican Party to actually win.

Option Three: Trump Could Withdraw Before the Convention

Does Trump really want to be president? Does a 70 year old billionaire really want to give up the freedom and fun of the life he has lived and take on the responsibilities, rigors, frustration, criticisms and confinements of being president? It would be one thing if Trump had spent his entire adult life – like Hillary and other politicians – seeking the highest office in the land, but he hasn’t. Trump has dedicated his life to making money and himself famous, not to battle in the political trenches to make policy.

And there is another thing: Trump, who has sought adulation almost as much as money, has not developed the thick skin of a politician that can take criticism and brush it off. Trump’s reaction to criticism is to lash out, not seek resolution.

When Trump announced his candidacy he did not think he would win nor did he really want the nomination. For him it was more for ego and the marketing of his brand. But now he is trapped. His ego does not want him humiliated and ridiculed for suffering the worst defeat in presidential history. The best option for Trump and his ego, is to announce that he has recognized that he does not have the political experience or temperament to be president, and for the good of the Republican Party and the country, he will not accept the nomination. If Trump were to take this approach, he would walk away a winner, with more publicity than even his ego dreamed of; he would be in a position to make more money and have more freedom and fun than ever.

One thing is certain: No matter which option the Republicans take, they are in for a long cold summer.

 

Trump Makes America Great

trumpamerican

 

Trump is like the safety-valve that was attached to the old railroad steam engines. This safety-valve would automatically open to harmlessly relieve any excessive pressure building up in the boiler; preventing an explosion that could derail and destroy the train. In a sense Trump’s presidential campaign has served as a safety-valve for society by allowing voters to vent pent-up feelings of powerlessness, disenfranchisement and the tension of economic displacement that has built up; preventing an explosion that could potentially change the very structure of American government.   

Frustration with the established political process reaches a dangerous boiling point every few generations because the American government is an oligarchy masquerading as a democracy. The only thing the founders of the American government feared more than the tyranny of a monarchy was the power of the people. Not trusting the actions of the people in a true democracy, the founders created a representative democratic republic. The government structure outlined in the Constitution was intended to limit, not liberate the power of the people. Just a couple of examples make the point: When the Constitution was adopted, only six percent of the American population were eligible to vote; people could not vote directly for their senators or president. Even now the president is not elected by a direct vote of the people.

The idea promulgated by those in power that the American government is “of the people, by the people and for the people” is at odds with reality. The American government is, and always has been, controlled by an elite few. That is what the drafters of the constitution intended. This contradiction creates a natural friction between the masses who are told that they have power, but don’t, and those elite few who really do have power. If this tension between the myth and the reality of where power resides is allowed to fester for too long, it could lead to catastrophic consequences for the country.

Populism as a Safety-valve to Release Political Tension   

Over the years the tension between the people and the government has given rise to a number of presidential candidates who were identified as “populist leaders.” Some of the best known of these populist leaders include William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, George Wallace and Ross Perot. The appeal of these populist leaders was based on the economic grievances of those who felt financially exploited by the system – farmers, factory workers and small businesses. Ancillary to these economic issues, the populist leaders promised a “crusade” that would bring to task the entrenched elites of the political establishment, powerful banks, the Lords of Wall Street and the national media that is seen as gatekeepers of established power.

While none of the populist provocateurs were able to wrench power away from the establishment elite, they did give voice to those who felt disadvantaged and powerless; releasing the tension between the powerful and powerless before it reached the boiling point. (It can be argued that Andrew Jackson was a populist leader who did succeed. Jackson had a plurality of votes in his first campaign for president, but not a majority, so the election was thrown into the House of Representatives where the establishment elected their own candidate, However Jackson did come back to win the presidency in the next election. Seeing himself as the “direct representative” of the common man, Jackson brought about fundamental changes in the political and economic power-structure that took the establishment almost 60 years to undo.)   

Trump is the Heir to Frustration, Distrust and Disappointment

Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders too) has inherited the legacy of the populist leaders who have gone before him. There are those who suggest that Trump is better described as an egotist than a true populist for the common man, but nevertheless he has touched the nerve of disenchantment with the overwhelming power of the elite establishment felt by the average person. Trump’s candidacy has given those who are frustrated with the reality of power in America a venue to vent their feelings. And they have by – much to the shock and chagrin of the establishment – making him the “presumptive” Republican nominee for president.

At first Trump’s candidacy was viewed as an egotistical lark or ingenious marketing campaign for the Trump brand. (Ted Cruz was initially seen by the establishment as the real threat as a populist candidate.) The establishment underestimated Trump and his appeal. What Trump had – and the other candidates lacked – was flamboyance, personality and exceptional savvy as a marketing genius. Because Trump was not seen as a serious threat, the establishment either ignored him or treated him with kid-gloves. After all, Trump had little experience in politics and certainly did not have a history as a populist. (As did Sanders.) At the same time, the media was mesmerized by his flair (something lacking in all other candidates) and what were seen as his free-wheeling audacious comments and antics. The media not only gave him a platform, they egged him on.

The combination of the establishment’s ambivalence toward Trump’s candidacy (until it was too late) and the fawning of the national media allowed all those who felt powerless and frustrated with the establishment to latch on to Trump; even though he shared few of their beliefs and is anything but a traditional populist. In essence, Trump became this generation’s populist candidate by default. People were looking for someone to speak for them against the establishment and Trump was the only one they could find.

Now What Do We Do?

Now that Trump has (supposedly) secured the nomination of the Republican Party, the establishment (of both Parties) and their media bedfellows are in a panic. With the fear that Trump might actually be elected president and upset the establishment applecart, all the guns of the elite establishment and the media have been turned on Trump in a unified effort to vanquish him. There are even those in the Republican Party calling for a change in convention rules that would deny Trump the nomination. The media has gone from fawning to flogging in their coverage of Trump.

This is not surprising. The last thing the elite power establishment – political and moneyed – want to see happen is for a candidate who is perceived as populist to win a presidential election. That would give too much power to the people who are not supposed to have power.

The likelihood is that Trump and those who support him will be crushed. That’s the way it is supposed to be, but give Trump credit for one thing. Trump has served as a safety-valve that has given those who feel powerless, disenfranchised and frustrated by economic displacement to make their views known. But there is something even more important here. Trump’s campaign – as flawed as it and the candidate may be – has made America great again by showing that people do have power and that it is possible to challenge (or at least really frighten) the elite establishment. Maybe the next populist candidate will have the experience, talent, temperament and unifying “crusade” to win the battle against the entrenched elite establishment. And that would be a good thing.