Michael Pettis: Trump and the Re-Emergence of the Jacksonians

Yves here. Even though readers may disagree with Pettis’ dismissiveness about Trump’s prospects for suceess in November, trust me, this is a terrific post.

By Michael Pettis, a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a finance professor at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management. Cross posted from China Financial Markets

We’ve pelted Donald Trump with all the withering humor we can muster, and even though it is hard to imagine an easier target for elitist humor, with his blustering narcissism, his intellectual inconsistency, his questionable business record, and his truly stupid television show, above all of which rages his ferocious hair, it’s been so frustrating. Although we have shown again and again that he is dishonest, unfit for the presidency, and incapable of office, not only has he been able to survive, but he actually seems to thrive on the relentless series of what for any other candidate would have been knockout blows. Donald Trump’s supporters are indifferent to our wit and to our arguments, and we’ve convinced ourselves that this only proves what probably didn’t need much proving, that his supporters are racist nitwits and that they support Donald Trump for reasons that are too trivial to matter. This frightens us because collectively they seem to be bringing something new to American politics.

But we are wrong on all counts. Most of Trump’s supporters are not racist nitwits, and not only do they have legitimate reasons behind their support of Donald Trump, in fact they are very important ones. We are finally starting to see this. We are wrong, however, to see recent events as some kind of turning point in American history. The outrage which the American political establishment is being rejected certainly brings dangers and risks, but much fewer than we think because in fact we’ve been here many times before, and by remembering our history we can make some pretty good guesses as to how this all of will evolve.

Trump’s supporters belong to what we sometimes call the Jacksonian tradition in American history, and their history, which of course pre-dates the presidency of the man who gave them their name, combines the impressive with the shameful. Like Andrew Jackson himself they have been the strongest defenders of some of our most fundamental American values while undermining others. While their social peers in Europe have largely accepted their limited role in politics, except from time to time when they rise up in sans-culottes rage, the Jacksonians always demand to be heard when they feel their rights are threatened.

But while he may count on the support of the Jacksonians, Donald Trump is no Andrew Jackson and soon enough, like most of his predecessors, he will abandon his followers or be abandoned by them. Because Jacksonians lack sophistication, and tend to be largely uneducated, at times when the small victories they have worked for are threatened to the point of creating deep-seated anxiety it has always been easy for scoundrels to exploit them, but as one of the greatest of their heroes reminded us, you can’t fool all the people all of the time. The Jacksonians have been the defenders of American democracy even when their history has been marred by misjudgment, and although Donald Trump’s time will be limited, the effect of Trump’s supporters will be far-reaching, and probably positive for the US in the longer term even if it risks foolishness in the short.

I won’t pretend I’ve ever been a Jacksonian. In the early 1980s, when I was getting my Ivy League education, my brother and I lived in Manhattan’s notorious Alphabet City and ran a music space on Avenue C and 3rd Street. One of the friends we made in that heavily Dominican neighborhood was Dani, a bright, uncontrollable but ferociously charming 15-year-old, who at some point within a few months of our meeting him suddenly seemed to have constructed us into his family. As we got to know Dani, we quickly learned about a life very alien to ours but which he took for granted. Dani’s daily life combined what to us was the romance of New York street hustling and the sheer awfulness of life for a kid living in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. It consisted mostly of petty crime and street hustle, avoiding trouble with local gangs and only picking fights you knew you could win.

He didn’t stay often with his Dominican mother but, until my brother and I managed to get him a tiny apartment in the basement of our building, Dani usually slept in Lower East Side squats, friend’s apartments, and even sometimes in a wooden box tucked away on a side street. He went to school occasionally, and until we put him on an allowance he depended mostly on hustling, shoplifting and small burglaries to earn spending money (in fact we met him when he tried to charm my brother and me into not noticing as a friend of his made off with a crate of beer from our bar). When he was 16 he got caught up in the crack epidemic sweeping New York and it took us more than a year, and a tough year at that, to get him to stop.

Dani never knew his father but had been told that his father was half African-American and half Dominican, although if Dani wanted to seem white he easily could. Over time we met his two younger sisters, who both eventually became prostitutes and junkies, and both eventually died of AIDS before Dani turned 25. His older brother, with the very inappropriate nickname of Hippie, was a fairly scary guy, heavily scarred and stocky, who had been in and out of jail several times. He too died early, in his mid 30s, halfway through a 12-year sentence. Hippie had been convicted of a series of armed robberies at local ATMs, and because he had forced Dani to join him as lookout – and Dani, like most of us, was far too frightened of Hippie not to do whatever he demanded – Dani was himself sentenced to four years in jail.

I was glad to see Hippie in jail because of the way he had dragged Dani into dangerous crime, but my brother, both tougher and less judgmental than I was, would send him care packages six or seven times a year. After Hippie died my brother’s girlfriend showed me some of the letters Hippie had sent my brother from jail: badly written, misspelled, with the most hackneyed expressions of emotion, which conveyed nonetheless an almost heartrending gratitude for packages that were the only evidence Hippie had during his final years that anyone on the outside cared or ever thought about him.

With that kind of background it was easy to assume away any useful future for Dani, but he had always been bright and ambitious. I think I may have been the first person ever to tell him how smart he was, some time when he was still 15, because when I did, and then had to insist that I wasn’t just making fun of him, his mouth fell open with surprise and he began beaming cockily when he realized that I was probably right. He certainly was bright, and while in jail, Dani decided he would complete his high school education. We spoke by telephone nearly every week so that he could brag about his progress, and about the facility for computers he discovered he had.

How to Succeed

Over the next few difficult years after his release Dani made an amazing recovery. He got a job working in some computer capacity, and then another job driving a truck. After a lot of oats were sowed, mostly with the arty white girls who had begun moving into the neighborhood in the mid-1980s, he suddenly fell in love with a working class girl of Irish descent, and decided he had to marry her. He did, and they are still married nearly three decades later.

A few weeks after the events of 9/11, an event that shocked him terribly, I happened to meet Dani for beers when he told me, very casually and without the least sense of having done anything praiseworthy, that beginning two or three days after the Trade Center disaster, every morning he had joined the hundreds of volunteers working downtown to dig up bodies and clean up the rubble of the devastated Twin Towers. I didn’t know what to say when I heard that except that I felt very proud of him, which surprised him. After a moment of confusion, he suddenly figured out why his volunteer work was indeed sort of an impressive thing, and he beamed, realizing that he had just hustled some big points with me.

Around that time I left New York to live in Beijing, but from there I learned that Dani’s knack for computers paid off. A few years after 9/11 he wrote to me to say that he had started a small computer consulting business and had moved to the Midwest. He had three daughters, of whom he was inordinately proud, and joked about the dictatorship his wife exercised within the family. He was now a member of the middle class, and although he was much closer to the bottom of the middle class than to the top, he had achieved a social standing almost unimaginable for anyone in his family. He was very clear that his adored daughters were never going to be given the chance to return to the place from which he came.

Over the years during trips back to the US I saw him from time to time, although rarely, but I got emails and later was able regularly to check his Facebook page. His page consisted of the expected combination of family pictures, silly animal videos, and the corny jokes he had always been famous for, along with dutiful messages about the various volunteer work he and his wife (and the kids) were doing as community members and as a family. He had determined to become “normal”, as he saw it, but of course far from being normal what he had become was the result of extraordinary effort and determination.

Late last year I noticed for the first time on his Facebook page that he had taken an interest in politics, and this year I could see that the candidate of whom he seemed most to approve was Donald Trump. I sent him a joking Facebook message about his new-found interest in politics and asked him if he really was a Trump supporter. He wrote back, a little sheepishly, knowing that I was unlikely to be impressed, saying that yes, he was going to vote for Trump if he got around to voting.

After a few more kidding messages back and forth, as I expected, I could see that Dani didn’t know much about Trump’s policies and his background, even though many of his friends also supported Trump, and he didn’t mind that he knew so little. To the extent that he and his friends even noticed it they dismissed the controversy around Trump as noise, and probably to be expected by anyone who had decided to take on the establishment, which he believed Trump to be doing. He had never paid attention to politics before because he had never thought any of it mattered, but he had some idea that Trump was a successful businessman determined to toss out a political establishment for whom Dani had always seemed irrelevant.

Few people who follow the Trump saga will be surprised to learn that Dani never really was able to explain to me very clearly why he supported Trump, except to the extent that he felt a vote for Trump was a vote against everyone else, and that rather than be swayed by the howls of liberal or conservative anti-Trump rage, which he barely followed, he thought that every time some over-educated pundit attacked Trump it only reinforced his sense that Trump was probably taking on the Washington establishment. Democrat or Republican, Dani wasn’t able to distinguish among the Trump critics, and we shouldn’t be too quick to take that as evidence of how hopelessly naive Dani is when it comes to politics. As fas as he and his family were concerned there really was little to distinguish the two.

Dani’s success in life was tenuous enough that he was unwilling to admit that his middle-class life was threatened in any way by financial difficulties, but from the way he talked about how the government had mismanaged the economy, and his concern about illegal immigrants taking jobs, I suspect that things weren’t always easy financially, and the educational needs of his daughters would certainly be creating pressure for him. The things that worried him seemed to be the things that were weakening his grasp on the edges of the middle class.

Trump and the Dummies

Dani clear doesn’t seem to most of us to be an obvious Trump supporter. Given his background he is clearly a tough guy who can handle himself in a fight, but I know him well enough to know that if he ever actually attended a Trump rally, which I doubt, there is no way he would be one of the trouble-makers that joined the mobs looking to beat up protesters. He probably wouldn’t have any sympathy for the protesters, but in Dani’s world you mind your own business.

So how does Dani fit in? Clearly he isn’t a racist, and just as clearly he isn’t one of those losers who flock to Trump campaign events to get reassurance that their failures are caused by someone else. He is a successful, middle-aged, middle-class family man, not terribly educated but smart, of black and Latino descent, who participates and volunteers in community events (grumbling just enough to be good-natured about it), and who cannot hide the sense of joy and even surprise whenever he looks at his daughters.

And yet he supports Donald Trump, a man who probably isn’t especially racist himself but is distressingly reluctant to reject racism, and who is so intensely narcissistic that the idea of his volunteering to help some abstract community, and for no reward, wouldn’t even register with most of us. It is almost impossible, for example, to imagine Donald Trump working shoulder to shoulder with Dani, digging through the fetid ruins of the World Trade Center to pull out bodies, simply because, as Dani tried to tell me that night over beers, he felt there was an obligation to show respect to the bodies of the people who had died there, especially the cops and firemen.

It is also hard to imagine that Dani could have much sympathy for someone who inherited a fortune. He came from a wholly dysfunctional family, and shortly after he turned 18 he was in jail for violent crime, had almost no education, and a history of crack addiction, and yet he was able to turn himself around through hard work and a total lack of self-pity. Even Donald Trump might agree – or perhaps he is narcissistic enough not to – that Dani’s pitiful success is heroic in a way that Trump’s magnificent success isn’t.

But in fact Dani’s support for Donald Trump isn’t any more surprising then the fact that Dani is almost completely ignorant of anything Trump has done or said. His support for Trump simply reflects a recurring and predictable feature of American history. There are so many historical precedents for anyone willing to read American history in light of the Trump campaign that it should have been obvious from the surge in recent years in immigration and, even more so, the surge in income inequality, that sooner or later someone like Trump was going to emerge and someone like Dani was going to support him.

In fact what is important about Dani’s support of Donald Trump is what it says about the bulk of Trump’s supporters and what it says about the ignorance of the opposition to Trump. The political establishment in the US, the press, and much of the huge anti-Trump constituency loves the excitement of the Trump campaign because Trump has given America and much of the world a wonderful gift whose value we are too embarrassed to acknowledge. He allows us to feel the thing that we most eagerly want to feel: unified and justified outrage.

Nothing seems to make us happier than when we are able to join hands to recoil together in outrage at some thing that is unambiguously detestable. We count with delight the racists who flock to Trump’s campaign speeches as fodder for our outrage, we quiver with an almost delicious anger as we note the redneck shit-kickers who show up hoping that some raghead will allow them to unleash their hatred of Muslims, we recoil when Trump measures his penis, we are enraged when Trump has the effrontery to contradict today what he said only yesterday, and then we damn the sheer stupidity of anyone who is unable to see the contradiction. We are certain that Trump’s supporters consist of the worst people in America, and there are enough of them to make him president.

But Trump’s supporters are not the worst people in America, and they will never make him president. Of course it is true that many of the worst people in America do support Trump. Why wouldn’t they? There is no doubt that if you think black people have slyly and unfairly, and no doubt at the connivance of the Jews, gained the upper hand in America and deserve to be knocked down a notch or two, or that the only important decision that must be made by the mob of which you are a part is whether to beat up the Mexican first or the Arab, or if you loathe foreigners but aren’t really sure where you stand on people from Oregon because you can’t remember whether or not Oregon is a foreign country, then of course you are going to attend a Trump rally – which gives you the comfort that a homogenous crowd grants itself – and roar with approval every time Trump says something outrageous.

But who cares about whether or not these people attend Trump rallies, except for those who are eager for the excitement and danger of showing up to protest? We must remember two things. First, these people, the dumb ones, are not the ones who are going to win Trump the presidency, or even the Republican nomination, because these people don’t vote. They aren’t smart enough to vote. They find voting to be too complicated and confusing.

Second, the dumb ones and the thrill seekers who attend the rallies only because they are cheap entertainment have locked Donald Trump into an unwinnable position. If he wants to keep them roaring their approval at ever-larger rallies, and his narcissism makes him want it desperately, Donald Trump must be outrageous every day. But our standards of the outrageous adapt so quickly that this only means that every day Trump must do or say something more outrageous than he did yesterday, or he risks losing his momentum. The whole penis incident only makes sense when you recognize the pressure under which Trump has placed himself to remain outrageous.

Strotspheric Outrage

But if you have to be more outrageous every day than you were yesterday, and the election is months away, it is certain that at some point you will become stratospherically outrageous, and you will have gone way too far. This is when Trump’s real supporters will begin to get over their intoxication, as they eventually almost always do, and this is why it is probably only a matter of weeks before the whole Trump phenomenon begins to collapse. You cannot easily maintain a geometric progression when it comes to outrageousness.

Because while the dummies of America may indeed flock to Trump’s campaign speeches in order to enjoy the spectacle, it is unfair to dismiss Trump’s supporters as if they are all the same. Many people who support Donald Trump, and Dani is an obvious case, are good people, honest, hard-working, perhaps not especially well-educated, but they are often the backbones of their communities and their country.

And they are not as stupid as we want to believe. Does immigration hurt them? Yes it does, and while I believe that immigration has always been one of the greatest and most powerful sources of American success, and will continue to be for decades, if not centuries, I also fully understand that only someone who treats trade as a matter purely of ideology can deny that there are short-term costs. But Dani and millions of Americans do risk paying these costs, and it is unnecessary and even stupid to point out the irony of Dani’s own immigrant background as if this conclusively proved anything because it is wholly besides the point. When Dani worries about immigration it is because he is worried about his daughters’ education, and not because he has forgotten that his mother is Dominican. Trump’s supporters know that some of them may end up paying the short-term cost for what many of them even know is America’s long-term benefit, and they know that they do not have enough slack in their incomes and savings to afford it.

And what about their fury at what they believe to be unfair international trade? While there may well be global benefits to free trade, and almost certainly are, it isn’t so incredibly hard to recognize that the global trading environment is systematically gamed by many countries – and yes, sometimes by the US too – and that they do so because there are gains to be had at the expense of other countries. The global trade regime has undoubtedly benefitted certain constituencies in the US, but it has also created significant costs for the US and, more importantly, has resulted in a redistribution of income, and while the hard-working if uneducated millions who support Trump may not be able to explain the costs to them as glibly and as self-confidently as they are denied by bankers and other winners from free trade, they are right to complain. Trade is undoubtedly a complex issue, but there is a real case against the current system of free trade that must be addressed in a way that makes sense to Trump’s supporters.

And finally Trump’s supporters are enraged by the inexorable rise of income inequality. The only response they have been offered is that this rise in income inequality is natural, probably the result of technology, and cannot in any way be reversed, so we might as well get used to it. This response is so profoundly untrue that it can only be seriously proposed by someone for whom American history is a total mystery. We have had periods of rising income inequality before, and they have always been reversed once there was a political determination to do so. Dani, and the millions like him, have every right to be enraged by the past three decades of rising income inequality, and if they dismiss every anti-Trump witticism as completely irrelevant until it addresses income inequality, they are right to do so.

Trump’s followers may not articulate it very well, and they may too easily allow their anxiety about immigration and trade to spill over into nativism and hatred of foreigners, but they do have a strong case that makes them in fact part of a venerable history. Trump is almost certainly not going to resolve any of these issues for them – the historical precedents are pretty clear on that point – but it isn’t stupidity that drives them anyway to Trump. It is the recognition that because anyone that belongs within the political establishment has clearly proven himself unwilling or unable to resolve any of these issues, then gambling on someone “outrageous”, who they identify as outside the political establishment, is perfectly reasonable because it has no possible downside. Their logic is the logic of successful hedge funds: when there is no cost to being wrong, then you must gamble, no matter how small the chance of being right.

The Jacksonians Ride Again

The Jacksonian tendency in American politics has existed throughout American history. Their first flag bore the motto “Don’t tread on me”, and all of their subsequent flags have retained that message in one form or another ever since. Their often-admirable self-reliance, however, comes with other qualities.

They are often ferociously nativist, i.e. anti-immigrant, and while we think they are always foolishly unaware of the irony of their provenance, in fact they understand that irony to be irrelevant. They know that the filthy immigrants that thirty years ago threatened to corrupt the American ideal are today the nativists that are determined to protect American purity, but the fact remains that they often have too little slack in their daily lives, and those of their families, to afford any financial interruption. Perhaps that is why they seem so unimpressed with irony and it is probably only arrogance on our part that assures us that they are too stupid to see it. Dani and I have spoken about his family background many times, and he knows full well that his American genealogy is shallow, but he grew up in the streets of New York and he is convinced that he is as full-blooded an American as any one else, and of course he is.

Jacksonians can shift their views haphazardly. In modern times, for example, they usually support states’ rights, although during the 19th century, during Andrew Jackson’s campaign, they demanded a much stronger presidency. But there are also rock-hard consistencies. Jacksonians romanticize the common man, whether he happens to be at the time the frontier settler, the homesteading farmer, or an employee of the Ford Motor Company in the 1920s, in the same way that Dani spoke feelingly about the police and the firemen whose bodies he felt obliged to dig up after the tragedy of 9/11. They have always fulminated against anything resembling a hereditary aristocracy, and instead admired or even worshiped, sometimes with astonishing foolishness, the nouveau riche that displaced them because these men made their own way. Trump has convinced them, in spite of the truth, that he is one of these self-made men, and as long as they believe him they will forgive his clownishness and his self-importance.

This is because Trump has positioned himself well, if dishonestly, among people who have a long history of loathing monopolists and big city bankers. Jacksonians have always despised New York and Washington (and now Los Angeles too) as the homes and headquarters of all that is wrong with the Republic. They value fair play and a level playing field as the highest aims of government, and oppose on principle government actions that attempt to redress social wrongs by favoring any group – and while this hatred of government redress can very easily slide into racism, it is unfair to dismiss it as only racism, especially when many conservative and religious but often silenced African-American and Latino families scattered around in cities, small-towns and farms across the country share the same feeling. In fact if someone were ever able credibly to overcome their fear that nativism leads automatically to racism, many of these blacks and Latinos would quickly join the Jacksonians.

Jacksonians include the original tea-partiers and the Sons of Liberty, who despite their subsequent glorification included hooligans and sometimes-vicious mobs who were often revolutionaries less for love of liberty than for hatred of the rich. They included the Know-Nothings of the 1850s, nativists who rose up in anger to purify an America that was likely to be overrun by filthy Irish Catholics, along with the Locofocos of the 1830s, who rose up in anger to protect workers from the depredations of rich monopolists. William Jennings Bryan counted on them in his crusade against gold, and even more against the New York City bankers who backed the gold standard. His followers were known as the progressives, and their racism and nativism was largely romanticized out of history, but they were no less Jacksonian than those who say they support Trump today, something Harvard historian Niall Ferguson has already pointed out.

The Jacksonian fury with the changes brought about by rapid industrialization and the monstrous Second Bank of the United States, around which the new country suddenly saw individuals of once-unimaginable wealth emerge, put Andrew Jackson in the presidency, and it is unfortunate that the real concerns many Americans had in the 1830s have been subsumed by the racism of Andrew Jackson and his followers – both against black slaves and against native Americans – but we do no favor to our understanding of American history if we allow racism to be the whole story of Jackson’s presidency, any more than if we forget that people like Dani, who is not a racist, comprise a larger share of Trump’s supporters than the racist fools we love to mock.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

The strength of the Jacksonian tendency has waxed and waned depending on American conditions. It is during periods of especially heavy immigration, and during periods in which income inequality is especially deep, that they have come out in force, so much so sometimes that they rock the political establishment to its very bones, and usually none too soon. But with very few exceptions the Jacksonians have almost always chosen as their leaders the worst and most hypocritical of scoundrels, scoundrels who nearly always betray them once they’ve pocketed the millions they’ve obtained from thrashing the old elite.

When we tremble at the idea of Trump as president, we should remember their weak track record in putting presidents into office (even William Jennings Bryan for all his oratorical brilliance got trounced). Perhaps their only triumph was Andrew Jackson himself, but his success in no way suggests that Trump can do the same. Andrew Jackson, for all his barbaric treachery towards native Americans, was no hypocrite and no opportunist, and his accomplishments, especially as a soldier, put in him in a category that is wholly out of Trump’s reach, so much so that to compare the two is meaningless.

But while they have nearly always been unlucky or foolish in who they end up choosing as their leaders, the Jacksonians have still managed to disrupt the political establishment in ways that proved pretty permanent, and they are doing so again. As absurd as Trump may be, he channels their sans-culottes hatred of the elite in ways that might actually strengthen democratic institutions. Trump’s supporters might be why the US has never developed a European-style permanent aristocracy or its institutionalization of power. And perhaps it is not just coincidence that any period in which there has been a significant downward redistribution of wealth seems to have been preceded by a period in which the Jacksonians have done well. For better or for worse, Trump is not exceptional in American history and the good news is that even though he will never win the presidency, he has made it clear that future presidential candidates have no choice but to address income inequality and the anxieties of the Jacksonians if they want to keep the likes of Trump out of office.

Even if Trump does get the Republican nomination, the only effect might be to destroy Abraham Lincoln’s party forever, and the Democratic candidate, almost whoever it is, will win by an historic landslide. And for those who need the bogeyman of a possible Trump presidency in order to maintain that delicious feeling of justified outrage, so what if Trump becomes president? That is not the end of the world, or even close to it. The first thing every American president learns is how little he is able to do, and President Trump will be in office for four years, with a Congress in which both parties despise him, and he will accomplish nothing, after which he will exit office with among the lowest popularity ratings ever recorded.

And about that wall, how many times have we heard our liberal friends threaten that if Trump becomes president they will give up their US citizenship and move to Canada? What idiots. In the incredibly unlikely circumstance that Trump becomes president, the very first decision he will make, because he has no choice but to make it, and probably the last he will ever implement, is to build the wall between Mexico and the United States that he has promised. But anyone whose has followed Trump’s business career knows damn well what will happen. He will indeed build the wall, but inevitably he’ll build it on the wrong side of the country – perhaps out of incompetency or perhaps because there is a lot more money to be made with a longer wall. Those liberal idiots can talk all they want about going to Canada, but they won’t be able to get there. There’ll be Trump’s wall in the way.

P.S. I don’t really write about political events on my blog, but after a discussion about Trump with an English friend during one of my business trips, I wrote this on the flight home with some vague idea of perhaps submitting it to some publication. However I didn’t want to spend too much time on this as I am swamped with other commitments and so have decided to publish it here. By the way I wrote this just before the horrible events Tuesday in Belgium, which reminded me that while I dismiss the chances of Trump ever making president, or even of lasting much longer as a candidate, there is a fly in the ointment that will give him a few more weeks purchase. Terrorist organizations seem to know that we are in a period of elections in the US and Europe, and that to the extent that they can affect the election process in the West – and clearly they can – they must do what they can to ensure that the extreme parties of the right perform well. The two are in a self-reinforcing loop. The awful events in Brussels will not only strengthen Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin and a host of others, but their increased strength will raise the number of domestic recruits for terrorist organizations. It is a maddening process.

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  1. Disturbed Voter

    Why has it been automatically assumed, since the League of Nations, that nationalism is obsolete? Who would such a policy serve? Nationalism has obvious drawbacks, but most of us aren’t ready to live in a global village, ruled by iron fisted bureaucrats … for our own good. Smells of snake oil.

    1. Moneta

      The right wants globalization and the left world peace with one big happy global family.

      Maybe one day we’ll be able to properly mesh the micro with the macro… and understand that healthy sustainable communities needs some level of self-sufficiency and industry diversification.

    2. Minnie Mouse

      What can be said for the nation state is that it functions as a defacto safety firewall against screwing up everything all at once. That alone justifies nationalism. Any mono culture can get wiped out by a single infection.

      1. scraping_by

        There’s a small but growing line of thought that nationalism has worth because it values people on a basis other than economic utility. It may be sentimental, subjective, and conventional, but it is a recognition that a human being is more than a cost input in a profit machine. With the last humane impulses being beaten out of religion and professional psychology mired in identity politics, history weaponized and literature divided into silos, it may be one of the few paths to human recognition we’ve got left.

        1. Minnie Mouse

          National self sufficiency tends to diversify the overall global supply chain simply because everybody must produce at least some of everything to be self sufficient, hence “biodiversity” is a hedge against global catastrophic failure. Concentration of anything is a single point failure vulnerability. Nationalism is more than sentimental, subjective, and conventional but mitigates global systemic risk.

  2. Andrew Anderson

    Andrew Jackson took on the banks, not very intelligently because it caused a depression (of 1837 iirc).

    Today we know better and can deprivilege the banks safely but we’d best start planning carefully how to do so.

    1. SufferinSuccotash

      He actually took on only one bank, the Second Bank of the United States. But the results were pretty definitive.

      1. barefoot charley

        Driving a stake through the heart of the ever-never-dead central bank was a great left-wing issue throughout the 19th century, second only to slavery. Leftists cannot and will not be serious until they get off the banksters’ bus. Good essay. Jackson embodied the strengths and contradictions that Trump lampoons like a reality tv show: he’s the authoritarian father-figure who knows what’s good for you; the daddy who loves and hates for you; the rabble-rousing honest broker who’s not above an occasional shooting or clubbing, usually well deserved; above all he’s a man, not a worm like the bankster buddies and biddies Trump’s running against. (Forgive me for not mentioning Bernie, perhaps the last ghost of Lower East Sides past. In a better America after WWII, his views got trampled like Jackson trampled Indians.) If we could fuse the nativist/populist and elite Progressive strains of our country, we could recognize the deep overlaps of Trump and Sanders. It’s culture, not policy that most divides them. Note that Marine le Pen and Nigel Farange also have vastly more progressive social policies on banksters and centralization than leftists, who are as captive as government regulators. Trump/Sanders 2016!

        1. Andrew Anderson

          A Nation’s money, fiat, exists in only two forms, physical fiat, aka “cash” and convenient, inherently risk-free account balances at the central bank or equivalent.

          So a central bank is a great idea. The problem is that only depository institutions, aka “banks”, may have accounts there. But that’s absurd since fiat is the Nation’s money and all citizens should be able to deal with it via convenient, inherently risk-free account balances at the central bank or equivalent and not just be limited to physical fiat.

  3. Carl

    Great post. I’ve almost given up trying to convince people in my circle that, no matter how mendacious, racist and xenophobic Trump is (or appears to be, who really knows?), there really is value in trying to understand what’s behind his massive popularity. Apparently, they’d rather just call names or snicker (or gasp in horror) at the “idiots.” I agree with the WaPo, for once: there is some real rage out there at the system.
    Thanks to the author for giving this phenomenon some historical context.

    1. jrs

      And how would we go about understanding what is behind his popularity in a way that at least had some standards of social science? Or are any such ways of understanding society even that mature? I think the “authoritarian personality” theory was at least trying. I mean of course I know there might be many different individual reasons people may have to support Trump, but what does really drive it as a larger social phenomena, and how would we know our theories had merit?

      Because I don’t believe that most of what I read on this is backed by much evidence at all really. It’s speculation, a whole industry of unmoored speculation and theories at this point. Ok sometimes the speculation is fairly well done, but it’s speculation nonetheless. And sometimes the speculation seems to directly contradict what evidence we do have. We’re told it’s poor working class whites, but what actual demographic polls we have seem to show Trump draws from a much wider section of the population than this (the only common feature is that it is mostly white I guess, but it spans a much larger income range – working class people but also up into the upper middle class and beyond, conservatives and moderates etc.).

  4. Moneta

    Rob Ford was voted mayor of Toronto and no matter the extravaganza, nothing deterred his supporters. I see many similarities between Ford and Trump.

    The fact is that the general population has lost trust in its leaders and anyone using gobbledygook or langue de bois is to be distrusted.

    1. EoinW

      Yes Rob Ford turned into a circus act eventually but the guy never had a chance. He is the perfect example of how vicious the hatred the Left can muster when it feels its privilege threatened. The Left feels equally threatened by Trump, thus the same reaction. The loyalty Ford earned continued because the reasons he was elected in the first place continued to exist for those who voted for him. Likewise, the reasons behind Trump’s support will continue long after Trump has gone. The Donald is simply the present rally point. People will defend that point because they believe their cause is just.

  5. Woodrow

    “reminded me that while I dismiss the chances of Trump ever making president, or even of lasting much longer as a candidate, there is a fly in the ointment that will give him a few more weeks purchase.” –

    Looks like yet another person underestimating the anger of the political status quo in this country.

    As authoritarian as Trump may be, he is by far less vile of a human being than Hillary. This is a sad statement as a voter, because I will be voting for the lesser destructive force for President, while already aware that my entire government, especially a CONgress that has sold out for so long. If the 2012 Electoral Vote map is used as a guide, Trump has to grab Florida to be in the running, and any other combination of PA, OH, or VA, and a couple smaller electoral vote states (NM, CO, split ME) and get the 270 to win.

    Even if Trump were to win, simply due to a divided and corrupt CONgress, 99% of his platform have zero chance of ever passing. If Clinton were to win, an establishment Republicans dream, you can be sure bakers will be getting a lot more business due to all the cake that will be needed to be served.

  6. Dino Reno

    So much certainty about the future from a guy who has been wrong about Trump from the beginning.

    1. diptherio

      This part I did not like — not at all:

      [Dani] isn’t one of those losers who flock to Trump campaign events to get reassurance that their failures are caused by someone else.

      Isn’t that the same charge leveled at Occupy and BLM protesters? Occupiers need to get a job and BLMers need to comply with police orders. Typical blame-the-victim BS.

      Only Pettis knows better, and he devotes a whole section to detailing why the miserable outcomes for so many working class people are, in fact, “caused by someone else,” namely our political elites. So what am I missing here? Some sarcasm that’s not getting through?

      I like most of this, but that one sentence really stuck in my craw.

      1. weinerdog43

        ” So what am I missing here?”

        Nothing. Instead of hippy punching, we get middle class punching. The elitist attitude is pretty noticeable.

      2. jrs

        Even if our failures our contributed to by ourselves, our actual personality flaws come into play and don’t help us say.

        Even in that case the current economic system requires *someone* to fail. If it wasn’t one person it would be another. That is what is meant by “natural rates of unemployment”. That is what is meant by lower than living wage at the bottom end of the income scale etc.. It means some people MUST fail.

        1. Jamie

          Yes, failure is baked in. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a zero sum game and those who have could not ride on the backs of those without.

  7. DakotabornKansan

    An interesting contrast between Pettis’ dismissiveness about Trump’s prospects and Scott Adams’ assertion that Donald Trump will win in a landslide. [Today’s Links: Donald Trump will win in a landslide. *The mind behind ‘Dilbert’ explains why. – Washington Post]

    Having lived for some time in Kansas, the bedraggled lab rat of bad conservative ideas, my money is on an agnotological Armageddon, where reality dies screaming. Ignorance is now regular rather than deviant.

    1. diptherio

      Reality doesn’t die, but our denial of it may lead to our own demise…which is what I think you’re getting at.

      1. scraping_by

        Then, too, make a distinction between ignorance and operating with misinformation. The two are functionally the same in the short run, but ignorance is far more likely to leave behind.

        Oh, and make that operating with disinformation.

    2. RabidGandhi

      Total tangent, but I remember Kansas in the early 80s being ground zero for the Sanctuary and Central American Solidarity movements that opposed the Carter/Reagan wars on Central America. I’d be curious to find out how it went from a hotbed of bleeding heart solidarity to a “bedraggled lab rat of bad conservative ideas”.

      1. scraping_by

        Internal immigration of Mean Jesus “Christians”, outflow of talented, bright young people, and a lot of oil money (Anschutz, Koch brothers, etc.). Electronic voting is usually present when a state government goes right wing, also.

        1. RabidGandhi

          Not sure what you mean by “Mean Jesus ‘Christians'”, but these solidarity movements were very much protestant church based back in the day.

      2. Darthbobber

        It was both. I still lived there until ’88, and there was a very strong core of peace activists, including those from the Mennonite towns that dot parts of the state. But the prevailing atmosphere at an electoral level was very conservative, though not in the present whacko sense.

  8. RabidGandhi

    Pettis talking about how Dani has no idea what Trump’s policies are draws an obvious analogy to Obama in 2008. Obama was a tabula rasa upon which many of his supporters drew whatever caricature they wanted in a president. But I had never seen such fervor in favour of a blank slate! Both speak to the very likely possibility that their supporters are not so much in favour of Obama or Trump as they are brilliantly aware that the Establishment needs a guillotine and pronto, and so flock to anyone they think might have hammers nails and lumber.

    Then again, this ignorance of policy was inculcated in them by the PTB. I remember in the 2000 elections over 60% of Bush voters thought he was in favour of the Kyoto Protocol. Voters could rarely name any of the candidates’ policy stances, but most knew the name of the Bush family dog. This has been the goal of the MSM farándula-style election coverage, and it worked to the Establishment’s advantage with Obama, but they should not be surprised it now acts against them with Trump.

    1. diptherio

      Pettis talking about how Dani has no idea what Trump’s policies are draws an obvious analogy to Obama in 2008.

      Good point.

      Falling in love w/ a political candidate is like falling in love with a romantic partner: we are attracted to our idea of what they are, not the reality (and, of course, you never find out what the reality is until it’s too late and you’ve already opened the joint checking account…so to speak).

  9. JCC

    Very good article and a reasonable explanation why a Trump presidency doesn’t frighten me that much. A Clinton presidency, on the other hand…

    1. Benedict@Large


      What I don’t understand is why leftists have taken sides against Trump, who they despise for obvious reasons, and for the GOP central committee, who they also despise for much the same obvious reasons, especially where the differences between the two usually consist of Trump being the more liberal. Why are we helping the GOP central committee?

      Shouldn’t we be cheering the fact that the GOP has lost control of it’s politics? Then why are we trying to help them get that control back?

      Shouldn’t we be cheering the fact that the GOP’s racial bias is finally being put on the front page? Then why are we trying to silence the guy who’s putting it there?

      Shouldn’t we be cheering the fact that the GOP rank and file is being separated from the GOP elite? Then why are we trying to remove what is separating the to?

      All I can think of is because that is the story the media is telling us. The media wants the status quo to remain intact, and so they are telling us to help them do that.

      Pity. For all the talk about lesser evilism, the left really seems to be dropping the ball on this one.

      1. James Levy

        You don’t burn down the house without knowing where you’re going to live. Destroying the Republicans and putting an imbecile in the White House is not the way to a better future. Putting Bernie Sanders in the White House is. I’m sorry, but too many people forget that in 1933 the Communists were gung-ho for Hitler getting the Chancellorship so as to “discredit” the Right. Just wait six months, they said, and the people will turn to us when they see what a dimwit Hitler and his preening SA are. How did that work out for them?

        What the author completely ignores, in fact, is Sanders. One wonders if he got the memo from On High. How does Sanders fit into this picture? He doesn’t, so the author pretends he isn’t there. That’s some lousy scholarship.

        1. EmilianoZ

          Yep, it’s the same problem as with the Thomas Frank piece. Sanders is totally airbrushed out of the picture. At this point, it doesnt take a genius to notice that most people are fed up with the establishment and want more equality. The real question is why some people are choosing Sanders and others Trump. I guess Sanders sounds too educated, too weak for people like Dani. The louder the mouth, the stronger the person.

          1. RMO

            You have to actively look in places other than the most popular mass media to hear much of anything about Sanders so there are lots of people dissatisfied with the status quo who likely haven’t even heard of him. With the slight increase in coverage of late some may be starting to hear of him but mostly as joke candidate dismissed as irrelevant and ordained to lose the primary. I’ve read a lot about how the GOP has played a dangerous game with it’s “dog-whistle” politics, appeals to bigotry and the de-ligitimiztion of the very idea of government but I believe the Democrats are playing with fire every bit as much. There’s only so much disillusionment people can take before the whole shared imaginary construct of a party breaks apart and they are running dangerously close to that breaking point. With an openly nihilistic GOP and an openly corrupt Democratic party that pretty much outright says to it’s base “Vote for who we tell you then shut the hell up and don’t complain when we stab you in the back. Whadday gonna do vote Republican? Third party? Ha! We OWN you!” it’s not too far fetched a possibility that the whole idea of the U.S. as a nation will start falling apart.

        2. RUKidding

          Agreed on all points, especially the air-brushing of Sanders completely out of the picture. Thanks for nothing, Pettis.

          It’s apparent that Pettis isn’t sending Facebook messages to his pal, Dani, to have a look at Sanders. Why not? Therein lies a critical missing piece to the puzzle. Is Pettis indicating that he’d rather have anybody than Sanders?? And if so, why?

      2. jrs

        Leftists should be pushing Sanders. Sanders, Sanders, Sanders! (Or for those for whom Sanders is not acceptable then a people’s movement and a protest vote maybe. A movement is probably necessary regardless of whether Sanders wins).

        “Shouldn’t we be cheering the fact that the GOP has lost control of it’s politics? Then why are we trying to help them get that control back?”

        Uh it depends on what one assumes REPLACES the GOP! Look if I could wave a magic wand and the GOP could just disappear without a trace, that would be nice. But if a neo-f-ist party replaces the GOP, due to Drumpf, that’s NOT an improvement. Most people seem far too optimistic in my opinion. So it all depends on one’s predictions of the future. And the future is notoriously hard to predict.

        “Shouldn’t we be cheering the fact that the GOP’s racial bias is finally being put on the front page? Then why are we trying to silence the guy who’s putting it there?”

        If making it more explicit empowers say more hate crimes etc. then no that wouldn’t be worth cheering.

        “Shouldn’t we be cheering the fact that the GOP rank and file is being separated from the GOP elite? Then why are we trying to remove what is separating the to?”

        Because I believe that the differences could be papered over, either by the GOP becoming more Trumpian (and again probably not in good ways) or just by more propaganda. What are you going to do … it’s a two party system :)

      3. John

        Several points:
        Pettis is part of the Bernie blackout.

        Many Bernie supporters (BBS), like me, see Hillary will continue obamas policies (just as she promises) of protecting bankers from the pitchforks, jailing whistle blowers etc, but, also promised, to fight to our last soldier in the Mideast and beyond. This means many BBS will see trump as lesser evil… The danger for her is that they don’t stay home.

        A few weeks ago rep establishment was coming around to trump, now they are swallowing their bile and supporting Cruz. wTF? The banker masters read them the riot act; Bernie and trump are unacceptably dangerous, either might destroy civilization as they know it and actually jail some bankers… No doubt about Bernie, of course, but remember trump is above all a populist… Imagine how popular he would be if bankers were dragged off in cuffs.

  10. oho

    The Left really needs to do some soul-searching over its Woodrow Wilson legacy—-global military adventurism in the name of American idealism paid in blood and money by the US middle class with the benefits going to the 1%.

    So long as the Democratic Party figurehead ticks off the culture wars litmus test (saying the right things about abortion, LGBTQ, diversity), everything else—economic, military—is given a pass by the bulk of the party activists.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      I don’t get who you are referring to when you say “The Left.” If you mean D voters, I’m not sure how many of them I would categorize as left. If you mean D party activists, then I am sure how many I would characterize as left, which is virtually none.

      Most leftists I know today are basically anti-interventionist.

  11. DolleyMadison

    What a load of condenscending horse pucky. Tools like this are responsible for the rise Trump. SMH

    1. scraping_by

      Trumps rhetoric (script?) is anti-corruption, anti-globalization, and anti-Political Correctness. All of which are held and defended as unquestionable virtues by the educated elite. All three are seen more objectively by the people who have to live them, rather than simply promote them.

    2. jgordon

      Best comment yet. People spend a lot mental effort trying to intellectualize this crap, but that’s the wrong approach. People are suffering and they want to lash out. And they especially want to lash out at these self-satisfied elite pricks who’ve been living high on the hog off this new crony-capitalist global economy they’ve created. Trump is winning because he’s the only one offering a vent for the rage.

      Also, in response to Pettis’ seeming mystification about Trump and his attempt to understand and rationalize what’s going on with Trump’s supporters–that’s pointless. The job of the elites is not to understand why they’re about o be dispensed with; it’s to stretch their necks across the board when the time comes. The situation is already well past being salvageable.

    3. RabidGandhi

      Funny. I wasn’t going to respond to Dolley’s comment because it just seemed like trolling (ie, essentially making no arguments, but saying it’s ‘horse pucky’ with no evidence as to why in order to elicit a response). But since it got some play I’ll retort:

      I read the article completely differently. The line we have been getting from the MSM and Team Blue is that Trump supporters are ignorant rednecks clinging to their guns and bibles and that he’s the second coming of [Godwin]. Because she did not elaborate beyond horse pucky, I assume this is what Dolley believes too and she is upset that anyone would challenge this narrative: because by trying to get a more nuanced look at the Trump phenomenon, Pettis is responsible for the rise of Trump and for Dolley’s SMH.

      I would never vote for a Trump or an HRC (and yes I think the two are equally horrendous), but I do appreciate Pettis for trying, albeit in a condescending manner, to give a better understanding why intelligent people like Dani would support Trump. It’s a lot easier to just vilify them, but to be honest I think most Trump supporters could easily be Sanders supporters, and by sticking to the MSM ‘rednecks!’ narrative, all we’re doing is misunderstanding and alienating people who have many of the same complaints as those voting for Sanders.

      In other words, the Establishment’s goal is to divide people with similar interests into Left/Right, Occupy/Tea Party, Blue/Red… and Pettis’ article is an antidote to that false dichotomy.

      1. JCC

        I agree. The article had only one theme – Trump – with a decent attempt at an explanation using an old and apparently close, though not daily close, friend as an example. It was not unkind and it was not about Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton… or any of the other candidates.

        For those who think Pettis is somehow anti-Sanders, here is a quote from one of his earlier blog posts:

        “I ran into some Bernie Sanders supporters and discussed various issues with them. Needless to say, we agreed on 80-90% of the issues that were on the table and the rest of the issues were primarily minor disagreements.”

  12. geoff

    “First, these people, the dumb ones, are not the ones who are going to win Trump the presidency, or even the Republican nomination, because these people don’t vote. They aren’t smart enough to vote. They find voting to be too complicated and confusing.”

    Wow, I don’t like Trump either, but this kind of condescending nonsense is just the sort of thing that fuels his supporters. At this point, if Trump does not win the nomination, it will be because the Republican “establishment” (such as it is) steals it from him at the convention, thus confirming and reinforcing those supporters’ fears about and anger at that very establishment.

  13. frosty zoom

    this man is wrong. donald trump will easily win. and he will have a congressional landslide obliged to act on his behalf or face a very short stay in washington.

    i mean, ¿hillary clinton? she’s nuts. look at those eyes.

    and yes, mr. trump is nuts, too.

    but, honestly, on a long plane ride, i’d rather sit beside mr. trump and his ego than mr. pettis and his laptop.

  14. Carolinian

    Pettis is trying to be fair in his academic way but I’m not sure he really gets Trump or the Trump phenomenon–something that probably falls more within the realm of psychology rather than ideology or policy. I suspect the essence of Trump’s political appeal is his alpha dog emphasis on strength and masculinity. The public instinctively understands that the bad policy compromises seen in things like the ACA stem in part from a lack of assertion by the leaders who are mere figureheads for other forces pulling the strings. With Presidents like Obama, Clinton and even Bush jr.–often the pawn of his vice president–we are a long way from the president who “welcomed their hatred” when referring to the powerful business figures who opposed him. Indeed we are so far away that many are quick to label a candidate who condemns weakness as the new face of fascism. However it’s Trump’s very lack of ideology and even ignorance about the specific issues–the Washington Post editors were practically sneering about it–that makes him an unlikely reincarnation of someone like Hitler who had way too much ideology of the demented kind.

    The real precedent for Trump is probably Reagan who also offered up a kind of leadership cult and denounced Carter for being weak. However Reagan also represented a demented ideology when he wasn’t taking his naps. With a President Trump–a far more likely prospect than Pettis understands–who knows what would happen.

    1. polecat

      yeah….seeing obama on a golf green does nothing to give me the impression of strength and masculinity………more like a dilettante actually.

  15. Watt4Bob

    Given a choice, I’d rather be confronted by the rise of Jacksonians who know they are Jacksonians, than by people who we hope are Jacksonians, but might not be.

    1. Ulysses

      X1000!! This whole post seems full of a lot of wishful thinking, although I agree with the author that the Trump phenomenon is more anti-elitist than anything else.

      1. James Levy

        My problem: the idea that Trump is not part of the elite is asinine. This renders most of his supporters irrational idiots. A similar problem is the irrational idiocy of imagining that Hillary Clinton has anything to do with the Democratic Party of the New Deal and Great Society. What we have are a majority of Americans living in a fantasy land of projection and wishful thinking. This is spooky and dangerous, and making appeals to the wisdom of the common man and the evil of education doesn’t change that or reduce my fear. Being educated doesn’t make you right but this idea that ignorance makes you wise is just nonsense. And the idea expressed in the article about the powerlessness of the presidency is a joke–more wishful thinking.

        We are in deep, deep trouble.

        1. Left in Wisconsin

          What we have are a majority of Americans living in a fantasy land of projection and wishful thinking.

          True, but when hasn’t then been the case? “All men are created equal:” what was that all about? The 1950’s as a “golden era?” Yikes.

          Where we are better off now is that most Americans are developing a clearer view of how the economy really works, and doesn’t work. There will always be charlatans selling the quick fix based on their secret, special formula. And PT Barnum’s formulation is probably still the most accurate short description of American politics. The key now is organization – something our side has precious little of.

        2. Ulysses

          ” What we have are a majority of Americans living in a fantasy land of projection and wishful thinking.”

          Yep. I feel, given the highly visual and non-verbal aspect of today’s pop culture, that widely circulating the famous picture– of Bill and Hillary at the Donald’s wedding– would do more than anything else to restore a little sanity.

          Or the picture of Bill, Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and the Donald golfing… whatever it takes to wake people up to the fact that Trump is OF the Oligarchy, NOT against it!

        3. RUKidding

          That’s been my issue with most Trump voters. I have heard some Trump voters who are more realistic about who, exactly, Trump is. If they choose to vote for him based on true reality, so be it.

          Sadly, it seems to me that too many of Trump’s fans view him through some weird rose colored glasses, whereby they see him as some Anti-Oligarch/Elite. True that Trump talks trash, so he seems very trashy. For me, it’s just W Bush 3.0. Pretending that Bush was some Texas dude who cleared brush just like the local boyos. As IF.

          Ditto for Trump. He’s a bit better at presenting himself as a one of the boys, but he’s not. I don’t see him as any much different from Bush or RMoney… he just talks a good game (for those who like that sort of thing) and presents himself better than JEB did (not hard).

          And so forth. Yes, I think a lot of Trump’s fans are hornswaggled by his persona, and they perhaps would come to regret their vote over time.

          plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

        4. Jim

          Is it possible to be part of economic elite and also stoke a legitimate anti-elite sentiment?

          What passes for the Left in the US has never understood the Jacksonian tendency in American politics. Sanders has, to some degree, been successful in taping into one or two of its components–a strong belief in equality and its historical rebellion against centralized economic authority. But Sanders has never been able to figure out how to appeal to the Jacksonians’ attachment to self-reliance, personal self-improvement and individualism.

          The major reason for this is that the Left/ Sanders does not have an American political theory of the State–other than a call for some kind of totally inappropriate Jacobin concept of centralization

          A call for a genuine federalism, local control and more direct democracy stands within are American cultural/political traditions and can appeal directly to these other Jacksonian passions and consequently allow these emotions to be expressed institutionally.

          Such a theory of the state should also be thought through by such groups like Black Lives Matter. The Black misleadership class was content with being managed by the Democratic party but its local communities have continued to deteriorate. It desperately needs a conceptual framework through which real grass-roots control can emerge–a type of genuine federal populism(independent of the center) that could be applicable to all ethnic communities of color.

  16. Detroit Dan

    That was an interesting post, and I appreciate hearing Mr. Pettis’s perspective. Thanks.

    I find it interesting that there was no mention of Bernie Sanders’ candidacy. Sanders would seem to offer more to a struggling middle class family such as Dani’s. If educating his daughters is a top priority, why not give Sanders consideration, for example?

    The Jacksonian connection seems like a stretch to me, but still interesting. Apparently, Trump supporters are better able to identify with a more authoritarian perspective. Having grown up on the mean streets of NYC, Dani is perhaps less inclined to vote for a liberal who may be perceived as being too soft to be successful? The strand of Americana running from Jackson to Trump is built on a background of desperate poverty that has no patience with liberal ideals.

    1. Ulysses

      ” Sanders would seem to offer more to a struggling middle class family such as Dani’s. If educating his daughters is a top priority, why not give Sanders consideration, for example?”


  17. Henriux Miller

    I think that an author that places so much emphasis on the “we” (“We’ve pelted Donald Trump…”; “we have shown again and again that he is dishonest”; “we are wrong on all counts”…) without bothering explaining who is considered to be part of that “we”, doesn’t deserve much credit nor respect. What is the class, race, gender, professional background of the author’s “we”? How come it is so obvious that it can be left unexplained? Seems to me like an extremely weak assumption and the ideological foundation for a sloppy piece of writing.

  18. JTFaraday

    “Jacksonians”– eh, I don’t know. I think it’s a stretch. I can’t seem to get over the difference the industrial revolution makes. I don’t think people in the Jacksonian era really saw “jobs” as a good thing. Jobs bad. Property ownership good. That’s why you have to run the Indians off the reservation, so to speak.

    I’m surprised more people don’t talk about Ross Perot.** I kind of see Trump being in some ways like Ross Perot, minus the data and charts plus anti-PC outrageousness. If you’re high enough on the corporate food chain, you don’t need data and charts. You have people for that. People also poked fun at Perot for appearing on the teevee armed with visual aids and a pointer, like a 19th c schoolmarm.

    As for Trump’s brand of anti-PC, it is true that liberal political correctness in the form of anti-nationalism and the accommodation of illegal immigration protects neoliberal economic ideology in the areas of trade and labor migration. (This is where his anti-PC concentration is, although he’s not above wandering off point).

    In so doing, although Trump doesn’t make this point, this brand of liberal political correctness also protects the kind of nation dissolving policies we see represented in the most recent trade bills. This entirely ironic, because liberals are supposed to be in favor of governance, and do seem to be, but they can’t help shooting themselves in the foot.

    Where Trump seems to be running straight off the rails is in going well beyond speaking the unspeakable straight through verbal bullying– which admittedly gets him free air time– and into condoning physical bullying. If he had stopped with the speaking the unspeakable, supercharged with the right balance of attention seeking behavior, he would probably have an entirely legitimate campaign. How good a president he would make, I don’t know.

    **Or Pat Buchanan, as this rather interesting article claims:

    “How an obscure adviser to Pat Buchanan predicted the wild Trump campaign in 1996”

    1. philnc

      Once again, the comments to a post on this site turn out to be just as thought-provoking as the post itself.

      The Mike Dougherty piece from this January cited makes some good points, a nativist/nationalist vs conservative framing for Trump makes a lot more sense in light of it.

      Of course Trump has something Buchanan never had: celebrity. The problem with populism is that you need a leader who people will follow. Buchanan never had that. Trump, on the other hand, has been playing the role of a populist icon for decades.

  19. Jesper

    The first thing every American president learns is how little he is able to do

    Doing nothing is sometimes better than doing something. If Trump were to manage to block some of the things coming out of the Congress then maybe that would be a good thing? Or is it always better when the President and the Congress are in agreement? The system of check and balances might require someone like Trump to actually work as a system of checks and balances….

    1. bob

      How’s obstructionism been working for the past 8 years? You’ve probably been around for at least some of it.

      1. Jesper

        & how many of the things that actually were done during this 8-year period of obstructionism turned out to be good for anyone but the self-serving ‘elite’? If the choice is between Hilary and a guy blocking as much as he can coming from Congress (such as it is now) then who is the best or worst choice?

          1. Jesper

            To answer your question I’d have to go through all proposals during the 8 year period. Going through what was passed shows where the political leadership found it important enough to compromise for the common good (or for other reasons). Obstructionism these past 8 years? Or more of a choreographed dance? & there you have two more questions :-)

      2. NotTimothyGeithner

        The GOP went from near extinction to control of everything outside of the White House. Objectively, the obstruction worked. Of course, opposing terrible ideas and right wing policies is always a winner.

    2. RMO

      Yeah, George Bush sure did nothing much in his eight years, right? Eight year snoozefest, business as usual!

  20. flora

    Great post. The story of Dani and his older brother Hippie sounded like Oliver Twist and Fagin. Pettis writing about the Jacksonian tradition in American history is a welcome reminder. Very enjoyable read.

  21. cm

    Apologies if this is a double post.

    There is no doubt that if you think black people have slyly and unfairly, and no doubt at the connivance of the Jews, gained the upper hand in America and deserve to be knocked down a notch or two, or that the only important decision that must be made by the mob of which you are a part is whether to beat up the Mexican first or the Arab, or if you loathe foreigners but aren’t really sure where you stand on people from Oregon because you can’t remember whether or not Oregon is a foreign country, then of course you are going to attend a Trump rally – which gives you the comfort that a homogenous crowd grants itself – and roar with approval every time Trump says something outrageous.

    That is some insightful stuff. No, wait, it is simply ad hominem tripe.

    Yves states “trust me, this is a terrific post”

    Did someone hijack your user account?

    PS – Yeah, I know where Oregon is.

    PPS – I support Sanders, and if he isn’t in the running then Trump. I want to destroy the establishment parties. Somehow the moron who wrote this article doesn’t get it. I’m surprised at Yves’ deciding to promote this particular piece of garbage.

    1. Synoia

      I believe as you do. And there are many other who think similarly.

      Clinton wins primaries in states where she cannot win the presidential vote. AZ being the latest. AZ will vote for a democratic president sometime after the start of the next Ice Age (which is probably not a distant as we’d like to believe).

    2. flora

      Guess I have a different take on the para you quoted and others similar. I thought the author was doing a subtle take-down of elitist smugness and disregard of Trump voters; showing the elitists’ own dumbness and bigotry by mimicking their statements about Trump voters.
      i.e. elite establishment is clueless and trapped in a bubble.

      Of course, I could be quite wrong about the author’s intention.

      1. flora

        see, for example of type, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” or C.S.Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters.”

        1. cm

          I see no intention of satire in this article. If it was there, then there was also massive misunderstanding of the article as evidenced in the comments in this post.

    3. John

      Agree with your voting pref.
      Trump is a populist, meaning he would do what would boost his popularity.
      Bernie is running on a platform that is extremely popular… Imo trump if elected would hijack Bernie’s platform… Anathema to banks and their lackeys.

  22. Synoia

    Although we have shown again and again that he is dishonest, unfit for the presidency, and incapable of office

    And all others are honest, fit for the presidency and capable how? Rubio? Cruz, Clinton?

    Please provide proof, with references.

    1. James Levy

      Why do you find in Trump being as unfit for high office as the others you mention such a ringing endorsement for Trump, to the point of pulling the lever for him? “Yea! I’m voting for a lying sack of shit just like Cruz and Hillary!” Three cheers for me!!!”

  23. Synoia

    While their social peers in Europe have largely accepted their limited role in politics, except from time to time when they rise up in sans-culottes rage, the Jacksonians always demand to be heard when they feel their rights are threatened.

    I understood that petitioning the government was a right of Citizens in the US.

    This is a very arrogant and condescending statement. Along the line of “you peasants should not argue with your betters,” as one expects of people with a narrow elitist point of view.

    1. Eureka Springs

      Enjoyed the post. Thank you.

      Lots of projection going on. Mr Pettis, Danny and in comments.

      I’ll just reiterate what I’ve been thinking as one who isn’t voting for any party mentioned so far. And this would be a critique of the Greens had they been mentioned as well.

      We need to get away from cult of personality, identity, non issue specific discussion/politics/party/governance. Everything devolves as long as we go to these angles/ modus operandi and nowhere else.

      Whether Trump Clinton or Sanders we are all failing ourselves expecting an individual to lead in an authoritarian way. And it allows the media to operate in such a despicable manner as well.

      On at least 97 percent of all elected officials responsibilities I don’t want a person at the top to tell us what to think or what he/she will do… I want us to tell them how they will represent what we (party participants) tell them to do. A platform should be finalized and all but written in stone before a primary begins. The platform should be binding and where all of this time and energy is spent. It should be the template for all debate and the person elected should be the best orator, most trusted not to go it alone, while selling the platform, not themselves to the rest of the country…not all this guessing game about what individuals really think or how they will really act.

      This cycle feels like history repeating on far more levels than just Jacksonians and the Hopiates too.

      1. Ulysses

        “A platform should be finalized and all but written in stone before a primary begins. The platform should be binding and where all of this time and energy is spent. It should be the template for all debate and the person elected should be the best orator, most trusted not to go it alone, while selling the platform, not themselves to the rest of the country…not all this guessing game about what individuals really think or how they will really act.”

        This would be wonderful. yes. Sadly, there has never existed, in all of recorded history, a society that was egalitarian enough for such a scheme to work. Even the great orators of Ancient Athens or Rome were listened to in the first place because of the status they enjoyed outside of the agora, or the forum. Pericles and Cicero weren’t just random guys who wandered in out of nowhere! The populist generosity of the Gracchi brothers was only conceivable for them because of their family’s longstanding wealth and power.

        Heady egalitarian moments. like those of the Paris commune, are exceptional in human history. It is encouraging to see how well Bernie Sanders, with very little in the way of traditional “charisma,” has been able to sell the New Deal restoration platform. Yet even in this instance, I’ve noticed an effort by many of his supporters to try and increase his hipness quotient. People are not only rational, and are often more impressed by a Danny DeVito introduction than by the content of the Bernie speech that follows.

  24. Michah Himmelman

    35 States and Counting…
    It will take you less than a minute to read this. If you agree, please pass it on. It’s an idea whose time has come to deal with this self serving situation:
    Children of Congress members do not have to pay back their college student loans.
    Staffers of Congress family members are also exempt from having to payback student loans.
    Members of Congress can retire at full pay after only one term.
    Members of Congress have exempted themselves from many of the laws they have passed, under which ordinary citizens must live.
    For example, they are exempt from any fear of prosecution for sexual harassment.
    And as the latest example, they have exempted themselves from Healthcare Reform, in all of its aspects.

    Damn as hell anyone that votes for a “politician”. There’s your message.

  25. Paul Tioxon

    From “Turtle Island”
    by Gary Snyder


    What the Indians
    used to do, was,
    to burn out the brush every year.
    in the woods, up the gorges
    keeping the oak and pine stands
    tall and clear
    and kitkitdizzie under them,
    never enough fuel there
    that a fire could crown
    Now, manzanita,
    (a fine bush in its right)
    crowds up under the new trees
    mixed up with the logging slash
    and a fire can wipe out all.

    Fire is the old story.
    I would like,
    with a sense of helpful order,
    with respect for laws
    of nature
    to help my land
    with a burn, a hot clean
    (manzanita seeds will only open
    after a fire passes over
    or once passed through a bear)

    And then it would be more
    when it belonged to the Indians




  26. Alex morfesis

    Of farohs and seizerz…mankind for millions of years of civilization, destruction and rebirth has found a need for big daddy to fix things and make it right…there is always “those people” on the other side of the mountain who are keeping us from the promised land…the glorious future…
    The little gnatzee took advantage of talking movie pictures and did polling showing that german women (who were just getting the right to vote) loved the chaplin mustache…hence that little cropping under his nose…

    the donald is taking the first run through the social media presidency…he is up against the stale old bread of billary who have not noticed the world has passed them by…at least until the bern wins in new york…if sanders can pull off new york he is the nominee and trump loses…but even bernie is having the grandpa/faros effect with the young…pleasant but stern…

    As a side bar…it is unfair this rewrite of history that the donald was rich to start…his family (like many ny real estate families) was underwater cash flow wise when the cost of oil to heat apt units went up but the capacity to increase rents to match the new costs was restricted by rent stabilization laws in ny…he was a bridge and tunnel kid whose family was really a cut out for the tammknee hall pyrate krew to milk and bilk govt funding…an insider perhaps….but more a corporate carabiniery than a self made or independent group…

    When every one else was running away from new york, the donald, edward s gordon and faith hope consolo did their alamo and by sheer ego or force held back the hoarde and kept the patient alive…

    The donalds business formula is pretty much like almost every other developer…option a property with smoke and mirrors in a spot that is a bit undeveloped…option other properties around the development quietly…announce the project…and flip the exterior options…if enough others buy the exterior options you use that money to fund the original project and you also have a critical mass of people invested in your success to help insure probable long term success…if not enough exterior interest…you come up with some cheap excuse and file a few lawsuits to cover your tracks as you move the circus to the next town…

  27. Jerry Denim

    Very interesting essay indeed. It’s nice to read something about Trump that isn’t hysterical and is willing to imagine the possible silver linings of a Trump Presidency. I say this not as a Trump supporter but as someone who detests the lazy, brain-dead, media group-think surrounding Trump at the moment and as someone who believes a Trump Presidency is a highly likely outcome in the event the Democrats decide to run Clinton as their nominee. I agree with the other commenters here though; Pettis comes off as extremely elitist, condescending and academic, and of course the best question: Where is Sanders in his discussion of the anti-establishment electorate? A more interesting question concerning Pettis’s old charity case friend Dani, is why does Trump’s message resonate with Dani but not Sanders?

    Another point of contention is Pettis’s dismissal of Trump’s base of support and his prospect for winning elected office. Concerning Trump’s supporters that attend his rallies Pettis concludes: “…these people, the dumb ones, are not the ones who are going to win Trump the presidency, or even the Republican nomination, because these people don’t vote. They aren’t smart enough to vote. They find voting to be too complicated and confusing.” The exact same thing could have been said about Hitler’s brown shirts and it might have been true, but it didn’t mean these early Hitler supporters didn’t serve an important role in his rise to power. Furthermore the mere existence of the brown shirts did not mean that the S.S. was imaginary. It is possible for a single political phenomena to contain multiple demographically diverse layers of support. I’m not about to regale anyone here with a “Dani” anecdote but I’ve spoken with multiple educated white males who make north of 300K a year that plan on voting for Trump. They know how to vote and do so regularly, and I don’t think they are outliers.

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      That $300K a year could be just one H1B visa, one robot, or (in the case of an entrepreneur), one dumping drive, as in anti-dumping, away from being vaporized.

      1. Jerry Denim

        You don’t even know how right you are. All of my anecdotal white professional males happened to be work associates with the same job title. They just happen to be employed in a highly regulated and protected field that executives are dying to drag down with both automation and cheaper immigrant labor. I doubt this has any bearing on their vote though, as almost all of them are unaware how precarious their jobs are. They are quite smug and think of themselves as indispensable and underpaid. They are somewhat correct, in that for the near term, their jobs are secure. I see serious challenges to their jobs 5 to 10 years from now, but these guys are all within 5 to 15 years of retiring. As with most everything in United States today, it’s the young who should be the most worried.

  28. Jim

    There does appear to be a legitimate linkage between Trump and the Jacksonian tradition in American politics, that is centered around the Donalds capacity to activate a particular code of Jacksonian honor that has long existed within in American culture: consisting of a strong sense of self-reliance (independent of both inherited wealth and government assistance), a deep skepticism of authority, a strong belief in equality(no one who is part of the American community is better than anyone else) and a powerful individualism expressed through a continued drive for individual self-improvement.

    But the elements in this code of honor have historical origins that goes back even further– to 16th century England– where the idea of equality among citizens was first embedded in the then new concept of nationalism and where the idea ambition as a passionate emotion for self-improvement was first being linguistically expressed–along with a new conception of love and happiness, articulated by Shakespeare in such plays as Romeo and Juliet.

    Since what passes for the American left has no concept of culture, nor an understanding of our own cultural origins or how our culture is transmitted through the mind and brain– it is totally dumbfounded by the emergence of the Donald and falls back on viewing him simply as an opportunist because of its own narrow economic determinism.


    1. flora

      “…the Donalds capacity to activate a particular code of Jacksonian honor that has long existed within in American culture: consisting of a strong sense of self-reliance (independent of both inherited wealth and government assistance), a deep skepticism of authority, a strong belief in equality(no one who is part of the American community is better than anyone else) and a powerful individualism expressed through a continued drive for individual self-improvement.”

      Yes. Thanks for this comment.

    2. Ulysses

      Good point on the 16th century English intellectual currents, that eventually helped to topple the Monarchy– in the Revolution of the 1640s and 1650s. These currents owed much to Italian thinkers too, of course, as Pocock points out in the Machiavellian Moment.

      Yet monarchy and aristocracy were restored in England, where they still thrive today, albeit with a huge infusion of new wealth, and new blood, into the upper reaches of society.

      The 18th century American revolutionaries did include some genuine egalitarians, like Thomas Paine, but were mostly deferential to the plantation and merchant elites. Most of our founding fathers explicitly hoped to preserve elements of classical monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy in the Presidency, Senate, and House. They tried to devise a scheme of checks and balances that would prevent these elements from deteriorating into despotism, oligarchy, and mob rule.

  29. Pelham

    ” … President Trump will be in office for four years, with a Congress in which both parties despise him, and he will accomplish nothing …”

    Not sure about that. This is one guy who would be willing to use the bully pulpit as a bludgeon. Repeatedly. And that might get Congress off the dime.

    1. cm

      As has been stated before, there are many executive powers he can enforce, specifically Dept of Justice. We can look forward to actual enforcement of SEC regulations. Bonus points for enforcing monopoly laws vs. the “Health Care” industries.

      Heck, he could force the Dept of Justice to enforce violations of FOIA and handling of classified information!!!

  30. Quantum Future

    Some interesting comments. The first few seem to capture the current mood and Trump popularity. That mood is nationalism. Global governance by CFR and BIS is obvious oligarchy, fascist and feudal. The US has been at the core in the pecking order, representation of following the will of the people (at all) has dissapeared.

    Why would people feel they will get better representation with global governance? They feel representative governance in there interests will.move away from them further. They are right.

    So Trump is a symbol of the issue of Representation. Above that are concepts that people crave such as justice, liberty, equality. I dont agree with some that say equality hant been a focus, it has been a focus for divide and conquer politics while justice has been thrown out the window.

    And when thinking of injustice here at NC we think of bankers. Especially massive Investment Banks and the private Central Bank, the Fed which instead of taking away the punch bowl, spiked it. Meanwhile ignoring blatabt fraud of the IB’s, and then supporting them which is definately collusion.

    Donald Trump has mentioned only in passing he supports an audit of the Fed. Andrew Jackson made it a major plank to end the second Central Bank which he did do. Trump benefited from the FIRE economy. He may restore some justice but dont expect him to jail anybody for the bank fraud. Trump is no Jackson.

    The depression wasnt caused by Andrew Jackson as someone stated here.

    The Central Bank as a model guarantees one based on how much leverage is permitted and interest rate tampering. It accelerates natural cycles of boom and bust for profit. It is an asset stripping scheme where govvie also loves it as a tax scheme and fig leaf to spend far beyond means.

    I think supporters expect too much of him to reign in corporatism at least in the short term. But if he does follow through on nationalism and blocking foreign labor out he will have massive public support. Congress would be under a lot of pressure and they want to keep there seats so saying no once in awhile to lobbyists will happen.

    While Trump may be a sign of a slow but inevitable reversable trend (think a decade or two) what people expect and what can be acheived at least short term are two different things.

  31. Norb

    The article has an underlying tone of elitism that the author seems unaware of. Once again, the educated, thought showing a sense of compassion for the downtrodden, prove themselves incapable of actually making a difference to improve the lives of the many. Without saying it, the implications of his arguments lead to an everyman for himself society. It is the classic love hate relationship of the mob.

    What is driving politics today are people are tired of being left behind and driven to poverty. It is the elite who don’t get it. It is interesting that he mentions Sanders not once. People are ready for a leadership actually interested in making their lives better and more secure.

    The best outcome for this election cycle would be to expose the rot in the system and a new leadership class gaining the influence and credibility to actually begin making positive change for the many.

  32. Deloss Brown

    Um–Norb–I don’t think “elitist” is the right tarbrush for somebody who successfully rescued another human being from a dead end. We could call him a “do-gooder,” or “Christian,” or “knee-jerk Liberal,” or “visionary,” or some such more precise dismissive thing. And he apparently did make a difference at least in one life, and if he was working with “Dani,” he was probably working in a similar way with others–although it’s tough to take on more than one other human being at a time. It takes a lot of time and thought, which Pettis might have been lavishing on himself.

    I agree with Yves that Trump’s election–while I cannot fully imagine its awfulness–cannot be ruled out. The arguments about how he has tapped into populist anger at the system may be true, but to me they’re a waste of time. Explain to me why so many people voted for a brainless and destructive boob named Ronald Reagan–twice, yet!–and why they still hold that pig up as a model President, even though we’re still suffering from the destructive effects of his terrible incumbency. One can only shrug one’s shoulders and Laff.

    Yes, I’m a Bernie supporter.

  33. washunate

    So many great comments. So I think I’ll add something on the very last line.

    The awful events in Brussels will not only strengthen Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin and a host of others, but their increased strength will raise the number of domestic recruits for terrorist organizations.

    That is a remarkably sloppy construction dripping with elitist dog-whistle code, likely to such an extent the author doesn’t even realize how much of a bubble he is in. First of all, if anything we’re being told publicly is to be believed, the perpetrators weren’t Taliban or Al-Qaeda or ISIS or some other far off non state actor that is the authoritarian Bogeyman of the Year. They were guys who grew up in Brussels that were known to western governments. Secondly, the rise of organized international terrorism is caused by the policies of the politicians in the west against whom Trump, Le Pen, and Putin have positioned themselves. Third, that’s an interesting guilt by association tactic, implicitly calling on the reader to subconsciously associate the worst qualities of each of those three individuals with each other and suggest they are acting together in some concert rather than three very different reactions to domestic political developments.

    Of course what those three really have in common is that they have each advocated nationalism in their own way as a response to the atrocities of American empire, which (even if they aren’t genuine themselves) makes them highly dangerous to the whole fascist interventionist and paternalistic mindset that has permeated all aspects of intellectual discourse in western civilization.

    1. EoinW

      It’s difficult to write an objective article from such a biased position. Pettis can get away with it when his audience shares such a bias. For me, I’m not sure I was comfortable with a single sentence he wrote. Trust issue I guess, but my red flags were waving right from the opening. That final bit is a nice highlight on how important social conditioning is to such a writer. Thus we move from the goal of reaching truths to the goal of manipulating readership. It is incredibly arrogant and elitist. But hey, Trump, Le Pen, Putin(Axis of Evil) I can hear the bells ringing. Time for Pavlov’s dog to bark.

      1. Norb

        How to break free of the conditioning? Even talking with family members and friends, it is difficult sometimes to make them see. The elite use the carrot and stick approach since they control the means of production and manipulate intellectual understanding through the MSM which they also control.

        Breaking into small isolated groups of like minded people seems to be an effective countermeasure to corporate dominance, but that strategy forgoes the power of numbers.

        Creating a new culture is what is needed, and that is a tall order. Seeds of a new subculture are being sown in the barren landscape of our neoliberal nightmare. The trouble though is that in order to survive, these isolated groups must somehow be brought together in a unifying manner. Appeals to nationalism is just one way to form this unity. Although powerful, nationalism is too ambiguous in its meaning to break free of corporate control. Corporate power easily coopts challenges brought about in a nationalist manner.

        Moral courage and righteousness will prevail. Clearly defining what is morally right and living by those standards is a powerful countermeasure. The elite push the notion of national exceptionalism to undermine individual moral righteousness. The goal is to convince the citizenry that the national goals and their individual goals are one. If this is true, fine. However, for decades this has not been the case and people are finally catching on.

        At its core, this leads to a moral drive for self-sufficiency.

  34. Richard Thompson

    Overall this is a very good descriptive piece but some of the givens need to be commented on further.We read that:”(Dani) was never able to explain to me why he supported Trump”…..and then later “(Trump) allows us to feel the way we most eagerly want to feel,unified and justified outrage.”I have noticed the same thing from my friends who are Trump supporters….they can’t explain it,they just feel it.We go to Chris Hedges writing about the rise of fascism in 1930’s Europe:”Fascism is about an inspired and seemingly strong leader who promises moral renewal,new glory and revenge.It is about the replacement of rational debate with SENSUAL experience”. Rationality is the enemy. In a world with packed cities and AR15s, making excuses for Dani’s political orientation is dangerous. Why do we progressives always have to understand people like Dani while they have no obligation to understand us.Why do we have to know about the Jacksonian period while Dani does not?Why do we have to know about the rise of fascism in the 30’s and how that turned out. Does Dani have an obligation to learn a little history in order to be the “full fledged American” he would like to be?

    “Dani,and the millions like him,have every right to be enraged by the past three decades of rising income inequality” Before Occupy Wall Street had they even heard of the term “income equality” or the “1%” .Or were they too concerned with their gun rights,gay marriage and the looming threat of terrorism to realize that they were being screwed over by the big banks and business monopolies ….not by the government.Do they have any obligation to understand their own predicament or can they just get away with feeling “outraged”?

    And then:”they value fair play and a level playing field……and oppose on principle government actions that attempt to redress social wrongs by favoring any group.” Yet we are told that Dani expects Trump to fix the income inequality problem for him and for his family even though he supposedly opposes such favorable treatment
    Finally:Why isn’t Dani attracted to Bernie Sanders? Perhaps because he has to think a little bit….try and understand complex issues.Not feel what’s right but know what’s right.Dani”worries about immigration because he is worried about his daughters’ education” Hello Dani….immigrants aren’t the problem….Bernie Sanders would like to help your daughter afford an education…..but maybe you don’t feel it and it would be a case of the government trying to level the playing field.We can’t have that! Dani wants to have in 20 years what it took my family of immigrants 150 years to get.And he wants the government, through Trump, to give it to him.

    Trump has cleverly protected his billionaire buddies by making government the problem(hello Ronnie). Remember how government caused the financial meltdown…not the banks.Government is the only solution in a democracy……public universities ,highways,the internet,clean water,the electric grid and on and on…Understanding stupidity does not make it any less dangerous.Trump,Dani and the millions like him are very dangerous to a functioning democracy.

    1. Norb

      The elite reap the benefits of power but have divorced themselves from accountability and responsibility.

      Blame the ignorant underclass all you like, but that position has done more harm to our democracy that anything else. Blame and exploit the weak is the go to position of authoritarians. It addresses multiple problems in one go.

      The panic finally reaching the comfortable middle class- what is left of it- is the result of their tacit support of corporate takeover of everyday life. As long as you are a winner in this twisted system, everything is great. But deep in your gut you know that we are all destine to be losers.

      Life is complex and until we have a leadership willing to take responsibility for our collective social future, we will have violence and division. This responsibility extends to all citizens, even the most ignorant and poor. The solution is not maintaining a corporate prison complex or granting monopoly power to private corporations. An Oligarchs perfect society.

      What is your response to the ignorant Dani when Sanders endorse Hillary Clinton if and when he looses the Democratic nomination? My family struggled 150 years for our success so be patient? This is the problem of the weak left. Your position, our position, was gained through violence and bloodshed. A truly radical movement protected by force. This revolution has been successfully put down by the corporate counter revolution. The corporate coup d’etat. We are all serfs to the corporate will. Challenge that relationship and the iron fist of corporate power will come crashing down on your head. Trump promises to cut them in on the deal. What is the deal coming from the left? A return to a patronizing welfare society? Until the left is willing to challenge corporate agenda they are in a downward spiral. Guarantee a jobs program paying a living wage and you will see the industriousness of the ignorant poor.

      The way forward is not mocking the stupidity and ignorance of our fellow citizens. It is finding common cause with them and demanding corporate accountably for their numerous illegal activities and misdeeds. This seems like a no brainer to me. If Trump is elected, his failure -he still believes in unlimited corporate power-will have to be follow up by something else. What is your plan then. Mock the underclass even more for their stupidity? The powerful elite joined with an ignorant laboring peasantry. How do you challenge that relationship- mock the peasant? You have the luxury of that position only if you can stay out of the peasantry- good luck with that if you support our current system.

      For anyone wishing a more just society, starting by taking care of the weak and exploited. Any force that can accomplish that will be unstoppable- until it is corrupted from within. Wasn’t that the way Christianity defeated the Roman Empire in the end. Doesn’t that explain how the mighty American Military cannot ultimately defeat its numerous foreign enemies. American culture is based on a bogus winning hearts and mind campaign that is running out of influence because it is a sham. All branding and propaganda.

      Challenging the status quo means challenging corporate power. That leads to devising new ways for providing everyday human needs. The working poor are to tired, stressed, and overworked to respond to some subtile reasoned argument of incremental change in government- especially when they have been betrayed time and time again.

      Our corporate elite are charging full steam ahead- they are convinced in their righteousness. What truly frightens me is the fragility that underpins this entire system.

  35. TomD

    I was thinking about this article, and talking politics at the bar the other day. This is downstate Illinois, where it’s about a 50/50 split between Ds and Rs. Most are pretty moderate on both sides. There are a lot of R leaning voters who really like Sanders though. There are also a lot who like Trump.

    Anyways, I was thinking about the corrupt nature of modern politics, and what people want from their government. The last thing most voters around want is anything perceived as a “handout”. Most people don’t want special attention, or getting something other than what they worked for or deserved. Likewise, very high taxes on the rich are not well supported because it feels unfair. Yet on the otherhand, everyone wants to see the bankers jailed. They broke the rules and deserved to be punished, not the law abiding billionaires.

    Sorry this is such a meandering post, it might not even make sense when read, but I get the impression the thing most voters want most of all is the government to enforce the rules. They want an environment where they can succeed through hard work.

    So there are my $.02 about fly over country politics and why politicians are having trouble even pandering properly these days.

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