Wednesday 9 November 2016

Trump's Victory: A Revolt against Complexity?

Trump’s Victory: A Revolt against Complexity?

Like many Canadians, this morning (November 9, 2016) I woke to the shocking news that Donald Trump is to be the next President of the United States.  I am no expert on American elections, and I am waiting to find out who voted for Trump where and why. Most of the pundits I’ve listened to or read discussed disaffected white male voters lacking a college education. But such people are a relatively small part of the entire American population. To whom else did he appeal?

I think that one appeal he had was to people who want simple solutions to their problems.  “Elite”, “establishment” politicians like Hillary Clinton can’t offer them such simple solutions. 

Trump speaks slowly. He uses simple language (although according to a recent report on the CBC program As It Happens, there was a surge of searches of the Miriam-Webster dictionary for the word “stamina,” after he said Clinton lacked it).  He proposes very simple solutions to very complex problems. He repeats his key phrases ad infinitum. (And he has a reassuringly deep male voice, unlike Clinton, whose voice became higher and more strained as the campaign wore on.)

Trump presents clear explanations and enemies. China is the reason free trade deals don’t work.  Free trade deals deprive Americans of jobs. Illegal immigrants, mostly Mexican, are the reason that Americans can’t get those jobs that remain. Muslims in general cause terrorism. There’s too much crime. All these problems can be fixed by one-step solutions: end free trade, deport illegal immigrants, deny entry to Muslims, let police use stop-and-frisk tactics.

Trump implies that there are simply solutions to complex foreign-policy questions. Hillary Clinton should have known what to do about ISIS, and she didn’t (this is, of course, partly because she wasn’t Secretary of State when ISIS arose).  Trump “alone,” as he frequently said, knows what to do in the Middle East.  He isn’t interested in the Middle East’s complex history, America’s role in destabilizing the region, or the numerous political and military actors involved. Bomb the hell out of them is probably his solution.

Trump is anti-fact. This plays well with people who don’t like evidence, who like to form their opinions based on their prejudices, who don’t like to evaluate the legitimacy of the sources they watch or read.  Facts aren’t just irrelevant; they are an annoying challenge to imagined reality.  Facts are what teachers expect you to consider.

So for Trump and his fans, the “elite” isn’t the rich, including him. The elite is those who insist on complexity, who try to evaluate conflicting pieces of evidence, who refer to empirical facts rather than to prejudices. They are highly educated people.

I’ve seen the same attitude among some of my neighbours and among acquaintances at the gym where I assiduously lift weights three times a week.  I’ve been advised to read the “Clinton Chronicles” instead of mainstream media (actually, I read “elite” media such as The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books). I’ve been told that I would learn that Hillary Clinton does not even have a law degree from Yale, that the Clintons used their time in Arkansas to run drugs into that state, and that the Clinton foundation is stealing billions from Africa. I’ve learned that I should just thank these individuals for the information they offer me and carry on: there’s no use arguing.

In January 2016 I posted a blog discussing whether Trump was a fascist. You can find it here:  I think he does have some characteristics common to earlier fascist regimes, and of course to the nationalist, anti-immigrant right in the United Kingdom, France, Hungary and elsewhere today. But maybe it is not so much fascism as simplicity that is attractive to Trump’s voters. Hitler blamed Jews, modern demagogues blame foreigners like Mexicans, Muslims, and Chinese.

Trump claims he can fix Americans’ problems easily and quickly, implying that the elites he despises could do so too if they weren’t so self-interested. People want to believe him, so they do. As my local paper, the Hamilton Spectator, reminded its readers in an editorial this morning by Howard Elliott, Canada is not immune to Trump’s type of appeal. As Elliott put it, “We should be worried.”

Meantime, my biggest worry is that the US will shortly have a President who denies climate change and who thinks that it’s okay for more countries to obtain nuclear weapons. His saner Republican advisors will probably persuade him that the latter isn’t a good idea, but many of them also deny climate change. Climate change is probably too complex for many Republican voters to understand, though for others, mitigation of climate change might lower their profits.

The real elite is the one Trump belongs to: the corrupt, self-interested, tax-avoiding, scofflaw capitalist class.