I don’t have anything useful or smart to say on Trump being elected. Just the fact of it happening is already bad news, but what scares me much more is what Trump will do as president. I hesitate to try to say what this proves, since I had no idea it was coming. And regardless of what I say, I’m sure Zuuko will come in and say I’m not really getting it and am just repeating the latest liberal talking points. I’m actually really curious as to his analysis of the situation. Still, it would be weird to post on the blog as if the Trump election didn’t happen, so we might as well acknowledge it. This is the purpose of this post. Random thoughts follow.
- There’s currently two narratives about why people voted for Trump: the “economics” narrative of a hard time for midwestern whites and the “nationalism” narrative of midwestern whites liking Trump’s anti-immigrant anti-elitist identity politics message. I think the economic argument is hard to square with the data, whereas the nationalist one is easy to square with the data. Note also that the perception of the economic situation has apparently been… uhm… changing rapidly (seriously, take a look at the graph in that link).
- What follows every time someone says this, and will follow here as well, is that this doesn’t absolve Democrats of putting together a better economic agenda. It is an especially urgent problem because even if the economic situation in the US is not currently dire, increased automation will surely make it so. But of course if you think a universal basic income will make Trump voters vote for the Democrats, you’re crazy. Trump voters want respect most of all, and UBI is not that.
- What is also true is that saying Trump’s support is based in nationalism doesn’t mean that Democrats, or the left more broadly, or even anti-Trumpers most broadly, can wash their hands of those voters and their concerns. If you think that these people are irredeemable and we shouldn’t sully ourselves with trying to appeal to them, I’ve got a Bertolt Brecht poem for you:After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?
The point I want to make here is whether you think their motivations are moral or not, as a political party you have a responsibility to your electorate, and also you are dependent on them. So you have to address their concerns. In particular, I think looking to reduce immigration levels overall is the correct step, both in the US and in Europe. Morally imperative aid to the world’s poor can be done with foreign aid and foreign investment rather than with borders that are more open.
- I want to make clear that limiting immigration shouldn’t mean mistreating current immigrants and racist government. The problem is that the only people who have been immigration restrictionists have been nationalists and racial demagogues and vice versa. This is where the Democratic party needs to step in and offer an agenda that’s inclusive but without high levels of immigration. This hasn’t been done, because politically foreign aid costs money and is extremely unpopular with voters. And the theory was that since immigration is economically advantageous, you can avoid doing the costly and unpopular thing. But it turns out that immigration, while not economically costly, ends up pushing racism and destroying trust if it’s done too fast. You can only say “trust me, you’re actually enjoying this” to someone who isn’t enjoying it and expect them to believe you for so long.
- But I must admit that you shouldn’t listen to me, because this election showed that how I thought about the world was wrong. I know, Scott Alexander says not to change your mind based on the election. But I’ve drastically changed my mind not on what Americans are like, but how to best run the country. I thought that basically Obama had the correct theory of change: try to move towards a more just, peaceful and sustainable future given institutional constraints and without making steps that are too large and untested. Check your plans with the relevant experts to craft the ones most likely to work with the least collateral damage. As can be seen from the aftermath, Obama’s theory is wrong. Obamacare is very likely going to be repealed, as will Dodd-Frank. The CFPB will cease to exist. The US will pull out of the Paris Climate accords, destroying them. The Clean Power Plan will be cancelled, among other things. What will remain of his “legacy”? Absolutely nothing. The small, incremental steps weren’t really worth anything at all. I will need to recalibrate my opinions of what should be done and how to deal with this reality.