First off, I have been wrong about Donald Trump. A few months ago, I thought that by now he would be gone. In terms of political ambitions, I have thought him a clown – not stupid, but neither funny nor nice. Now I fear he is a demagogue.
When a leader (or would-be leader) appeals to emotions and prejudices rather than intellect and reasoning, or spews vitriol rather than hope, and when he (or she) appeals to those who prefer to be led rather than guided, the ground is set for demagoguery.
Mr. Trump has tapped into the unhappiness, which polls show to be prevalent, and the cynicism it breeds. Some of his followers may be ill-informed, but they all recognize condescension. Many Americans find offensive the aura of sanctimony that enshrouds politicians in Washington and much of the press. People abhor attitudes of moral and intellectual superiority. Mr. Trump pierced that veneer and has shown it to be shallow. Despite his privileged background and his wealth, he has become the champion of the disenfranchised – or, at least, of those on the right.
The economic recovery, now more than six years old, has been anemic. Attempts by the president to claim he is working for the poor and disadvantaged are not supported by results. The labor force participation rate remains at its lowest since the 1970s. While the Administration boasts about the number of jobs created, most of them have been low-paying and part-time. Nominal wage growth has been flat to low. There has been no fiscal reform. In 2010, Mr. Obama rejected the Simpson-Bowles recommendations and his stimulus plan proved ineffective. Income and wealth gaps have widened. The Federal Reserve, which has kept interest rates at near zero for six and a half years, has been the only game in town. Raising taxes and increasing regulations served to make a difficult situation worse. All this has been fodder for the effervescent Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump has placed his Republican competitors on the same manure pile of elitist, political establishmentarians. He speaks of how cronyism defines Washington – that it is prevalent in both Parties. Its root causes lie in the size of budgets controlled by Congress, but more importantly in agencies that are responsible only to the President – the EPA and the Justice Department, for example. It is seen in mandates and regulations that are sold as being in the self-interest of the people, but in fact that support special interests in serving the President’s agenda. Wherever there is money, locusts will gather. A tough economy and an aloof Administration have created a world of “them” versus “us”, with the “them” being government, not the “one percent” as some would have us believe. The public sector, supported by lobbyists and the most powerful unions in the country, has prospered. It is not coincidental that Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington Counties in Virginia, along with Howard County in Maryland, rank among the richest in the Nation.
In times of uncertainty and discontent, voters turn to candidates who speak plainly, shun nuances and who fearlessly take on the establishment. These are candidates who appeal to passions and who prey on fears like xenophobia. Mr. Trump has capitalized on concerns over immigration, an issue that has been discussed ad nauseum but without resolution. Those on the Right see it in economic and societal terms – a sector of the population that takes from government without contributing, while criminal illegals escape into sanctuary cities. The left speaks of humanitarian concerns, but in fact sees the issue in political terms – a source of votes they want to protect. Resolving the issue would deprive them of a political cause.
To divert attention from their own weaknesses, demagogues find someone or some group to blame for woes experienced: In Trump’s case, apathetic Republicans, disingenuous Democrats, Mexican illegals and Chinese exporters. Mr. Trump offers sound bites rather than proposals that have merit. For example, building a fence almost two thousand miles long is unrealistic, as is the prospect of rounding up and deporting ten to fifteen million illegal residents. And so is the prospect of imposing tariffs on Chinese imports. We know that border security is an issue and that there are illegals who have become criminals. The border can be enhanced with more personnel and better technology. It doesn’t require Mr. Trump to construct a wall. Sanctuary cities could and should be eliminated and the million or so illegals currently in our prisons could and should be deported. Placing tariffs on Chinese imports may sound appealing, but would negatively impact global trade and would harm our already too-slow-growing economy. The Smoot-Hawley Act of 1930 was one of the root causes of the Great Depression.
Mr. Trump has argued that his personal wealth means that he is not obligated to any special interest or lobbyist. Believe that at your peril. He and his business interests are inextricably tied to government. He is a lobbyist. His businesses are dependent on tax breaks and on regulations designed to inhibit competition. If only the rich ran for office, we would live in a plutocracy. Political campaigns consume money, but that is no reason why the talented and aspirant should be denied the opportunity because of a lack of personal wealth. The mixture of money and politics dates back centuries. We should, however, demand full disclosure, complete transparency as to who gives how much to whom. Congress should pass a bill that removes the tax-exempt status for any group that fuels political campaigns – including all PACS and organizations like the Sierra Club and the NRA.
Businesses are profitable when efficiently managed, but democracy is cumbersome. It requires competency, but it is not meant to be efficient. It is meant to be fair. That fact has frustrated many White House occupants, including the current President. Freedom is not easy; it requires vigilance and nurturing. Running our government requires consideration for opposing opinions, the art of persuasion without intimidation and the willingness to compromise – not traits we see in the voluble and egotistical Mr. Trump, nor are they characteristics possessed by Mr. Obama.
Accused of not being “nice,” Mr. Trump responded by saying nice is not necessary and in fact is a hindrance. We need people, he says, who can get things done. That may be – Hitler was efficient in dispatching Jews to extermination camps and Benito Mussolini got trains to run on time – if that is what we want, which I am sure it is not. But nice also refers to character – a person true to their word who will stand on principle, an individual with moral standing who is respected and respectful; one who can be trusted. In my opinion, Mr. Trump fails when those standards are applied. As a conservative, it is my hope that he fails in his bid for the nomination.