In an effort to get my head around Trump’s victory, I’ve spoken with several good friends with diametrically opposite political leanings, folks in the demographic that used to be called Northeast Republicans. The conversations have been long, heartfelt, passionate, and courteous. Here’s what I’ve learned.
The depth of disgust for the Obama years is deep. One very knowledgeable colleague described economic growth under the President as “zero”. While GDP growth has not been anywhere near as robust as one would like, it has averaged 2.1%. A detailed and dispassionate perspective is here. Job growth has been anemic indeed, labor force participation is low – but improving, while wages have improved markedly – if only recently. And, the last 8 years has also been a time of relatively low growth in world GDP, much lower than it was during the Reagan, GW Bush, and Clinton eras. Tough to grow a very mature economy when our buyers and sellers aren’t growing at all.
The discussions have been wide-ranging but all come back to this sense that the country is somehow on the “wrong track.”
Into this comes Donald Trump, a candidate with a chequered business career, well-documented behavioral issues that would disqualify him from being hired by most employers, is notoriously thin-skinned, and has policy positions that are, at the very least, confusing and ideologically inconsistent. And that’s leaving out the really ugly stuff.
Among his policy ideas/positions/stated plans:
- building the wall – consistent with GOP orthodoxy
- renegotiating NAFTA – not consistent
- declaring China a currency manipulator – not consistent
- raise the minimum wage – not consistent
- ramp up fossil fuels – consistent
- friendship with Putin – not consistent
- spending a trillion dollars on infrastructure- not consistent
- reduce taxes on the wealthy – consistent
- repeal “Obamacare” – consistent
- climate change is a hoax – consistent
- add $10 trillion to the debt to accomplish varied goals – not consistent.
Point here is not to get into policy details, but rather to note Trump doesn’t toe the ideological line, rather he jumps back and forth with amazing rapidity.
When I ask my friends why they voted for Trump, it clearly isn’t about policy. Trump’s “policies” are decidedly NOT conservative. They say things like:
- “I hope he surrounds himself with people smarter than him and listens to them”
- “he didn’t mean those things, he just says crazy stuff”
- “the legislature will do most of the policy setting work”
- “he will get the best SecDef (Secretary of Defense) and he (Trump) will lead from ahead”
I don’t see it. Trump won by ignoring all experts, by going his own way, by following his own genius. And that has brought him to the most powerful position on the planet. Why would he listen to anyone else?
If anything, these conversations have gotten me even more bewildered. Middle-aged successful intelligent professionals decided to vote for – and support – a candidate with many views directly contrary to theirs, with serious behavioral issues, and with a temperament they acknowledge is highly concerning instead of a pretty ordinary but highly experienced center-left politician with a long reputation for working well with Republicans.
The risk:reward thing is what stumps me. Trump will have the nuclear codes. He will have the “trade-war codes”. He has control over foreign policy. All areas with huge risks – some of them existential. Yet none concerning enough that my colleagues didn’t vote for him.
I very much hope my colleagues’ optimism is well-placed.
And very much fear it isn’t.