Trump’s Win: America’s Failures of Representation and Prospects for Democracy

By Robert Johnson, President, Institute for New Economic Thinking; Senior Fellow and Director, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute. Originally published at Project Syndicate; cross posted from the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

As the inauguration of US President-elect Donald Trump approaches, the best way to assess the incoming administration may be to focus on the ultimate factors that led to his victory. Trump was not elected in a vacuum, and, as his agenda takes shape, we can start to gauge its impact on the political economy whence his candidacy emerged.

Trump won by challenging the credibility of both the political and academic establishments, relentlessly highlighting discrepancies between their depiction of the United States’ political economy and the reality that many voters experienced. Like Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, he started drawing large crowds by breaking ranks with his party’s mainstream. While Hillary Clinton and Republican rivals such as Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio tried to build coalitions based on cultural issues and partisan traditions, Trump and Sanders set their sights squarely on what mattered most to voters: a political economy in which elected officials strongly promoted a broad-based prosperity that included them.

How did the other candidates miss this central theme? My sense is that they didn’t; rather, their efforts to attract a broad spectrum of voters were constrained by a system that makes it extremely difficult to fund a credible political campaign without catering slavishly to the wealthiest sliver of American society. That system invited rebellion, and Trump and Sanders – by self-financing and grassroots fundraising, respectively – were ideally positioned to lead one.

The other candidates were also constrained by party orthodoxy, which has long kept Democrats and Republicans alike from willingly addressing the structural inequities in the American economy head-on. Doing so would require candor about such hard issues as technological disruption and globalization. It would also require confronting the legacy of decades of lobbyist-written free-trade agreements, regulations, bailouts, and tax policies that have been funneling economic gains up the income ladder, while imposing budget austerity in response to the needs of most Americans. The story Trump told of a “rigged” system resonated with voters more than anything they had heard from their political leaders in quite some time.

This points to a second, closely related misrepresentation: for many voters, the “expert” consensus about globalization does not ring true. Economists, in particular, have touted free trade and global markets as an unalloyed good. With few exceptions, such as Harvard’s Dani Rodrik and the Nobel laureate Michael Spence, none pointed out that many workers would be displaced and receive little or no compensation, and that rapid globalization can thus stretch a country’s social fabric beyond its elastic limit. But any real expert on American political economy could see plain as day that the US would provide inadequate compensation to those disrupted by foreign competition.

Much of that disruption has come from America’s free-trade relationship with China, a very large country which has a far lower per capita income. In fact, a recent paper by MIT’s David Autor and others shows that the social distress caused by US-China trade has polarized American politics, and probably increased certain voting cohorts’ support for “nativist politicians” such as Trump.

In his 1922 essay “The Dismal Science,” H.L. Mencken suggested why economists would ignore the negative social effects that globalization can have on an advanced economy such as the US. Such misrepresentations, Mencken argued, reinforce the power of those who already hold it. Wittingly or not, experts know that they can curry favor and stay out of trouble by either keeping silent or affirming the policies that make the powerful better off.

But, eventually, something has to give. As wealth becomes ever more concentrated, a body politic suffering from widespread economic insecurity will begin to search for scapegoats – and the experts and pundits themselves were an ideal target this time around.

This dual crisis of representation – political and intellectual – has become a toxic brew. Critiques of Trump’s policies gain no purchase with his supporters, because they come from experts who have lost their trust. This credibility deficit gives Trump latitude, but it also poses a challenge for him as he moves from campaigning to governing.

As president, Trump will need to devise remedies to the social, economic, and political problems that he has described. But to do that, he will have to work within the same “rigged” system that he ran against, and he will have to craft policies that are actually feasible and will have a positive effect on Americans’ lives.

To be sure, the Republican-controlled Congress might work with Trump to implement a mini variant of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s. But, without reform of the “rigged” system, it is likely that Trump’s proposed fiscal expansion will again disproportionately benefit the wealthy, without “trickling down” to the rest of Americans. “Public-private partnerships” have been championed as a means to direct capital toward a national rebuilding effort; but such measures can be manipulated, and often lead to “heads, I win; tails, the taxpayer loses” outcomes of the type that have benefited Wall Street and Silicon Valley in recent years. Surely this is not what Trump supporters were attracted to when Trump declared he would “Make America great again.”

Twenty-three Democratic US senators (plus two independents who caucus with the Democrats), and only eight Republican senators, are up for reelection in 2018. If the Republicans pass a Keynesian growth package in the next two years that tightens labor markets and raises wages, they could secure their grip on power for many years to come. This, in turn, would enable them to appoint new Supreme Court justices willing to ignore or undercut women’s and workers’ rights, environmental protection, and public education. Such an outcome, given Trump’s campaign rhetoric, would be farcical, if it were not so tragic.

Trump, a child of inherited wealth, now has a chance to define his place in history. Let us hope that he can rise to the challenge, imagine his role as one of repairing the flaws of American democracy, and not settle for presiding over a set of “deals” with, and for, the powerful. An America that broadens economic prosperity and makes its political system more democratic will require reforms that reduce the power of money and increase responsiveness to citizens.

Anything less would constitute a failure by Trump to honor those who brought him to power. A failure to live up to America’s founding principles has long created a tension that provides impetus for the country’s political, economic, and social progress. If Trump refutes those principles – and if, in the despondency that follows, invoking them comes to be seen as a sentimental, romantic act – the price of the failures of representation that led to his election will be high indeed.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


    1. greensachs

      “Rigged system”, “globalization”, “heads they win, tails the tax payer loses, “repairing the flaws of democracy”.
      …all such misrepresentations.

      Capitalistism, the structure of elite capatalists enterprise’s and capitalist wholly owned agents and surrogates, along with these head/tail winners not being held to account for the ever worsening social costs in the wake of their destruction.

      …that would seem much less misrepresented.

  1. rich

    Trump won because people were sick of the NBC CBS and ABC nonsense promoting Hillary Clintstone. Simple !

    1. cm

      … and the well known hatred of Hillary. Older people remember Bill’s tenure (her travel-gate, health care shenanigans, and pretty-in-pink trashing of Monica Lewinsky), and younger people experienced her trashing Sanders.

      The entire time polls showed how the public had very little trust/respect for Clinton, but that is not a topic of conversation???

      This is not rocket science. The only interesting thing is the DNC’s refusal to see the obvious.

      1. John Wright

        “The only interesting thing is the DNC’s refusal to see the obvious”

        It has been suggested before that many did see that HRC was a bad candidate but DNC officials believed they, personally, would not do well if Sanders were elected.

        DNC officials hoped HRC was good enough to best Trump and even wanted to run against Trump.

        Thus mendacity, not failure to see the obvious, can well explain the DNC’s behavior with candidate Clinton and their current “the dog ate my homework” Russian election influence campaign.

        The DNC officials are currently desperately attempt to sell their value to future donors.

        For the country’s good, I hope the current DNC leadership fails miserably and is replaced with betters.

        But there are really only a handful of progressive Democrats, even the progressive Democratic candidate, Sanders, was only a Democrat for the campaign.

    2. Diane Pfaeffle

      Trump won because some of the people were tired of being at the end of the line instead in front of the line where they have been for the last two hundred years. They don’t care about Network News – they just want their place back in the line (Make America Great Again).

  2. Gaylord

    Trump would need to do far, far more than that, but his rhetoric and his background and demonstrated alliances thus far do not give one hope. He would have to unite the world in an herculean effort to stem the onslaught of climate change or the human species all will be rendered extinct due to lack of habitat. That basically means transforming the economy completely away from fossil fuel dependency and scaling back extraction of resources, drastically curtailing industry as well as the military, reversing the trend of centralized farming and widespread distribution of food and converting to mainly local growing, killing the automobile and trucking to build mass transit and rebuild the railroads to form the primary transportation network, allocating massive resources to carbon sequestration, and initiating a “moon shot” program of mitigation/adaptation to deal with the huge shocks that abrupt climate change will bring sooner not later. There is no way I can see the morons running the U.S. political system performing any of these transformations through any president’s leadership, let alone gaining cooperation from the rich and powerful elites that control industry worldwide for their own benefits. I simply recognize that humans are incapable of evolving, a fact that has been reinforced over at least the last half century of failure to respond to the obvious evidence of overpopulation, ecocide and climate disruption.

  3. Altandmain

    If the so called “experts” are losing power, then I am convinced that it is a good thing. Good riddance. These experts destroyed the middle class, got the US involved in many needless wars, and have made the world a far worse place.

    These finance people, economists, journalists, politicians, pundits, and other sycophants are the perfect example of “Little Eichmanns” that act as an army looting society on behalf of the very wealthy. Frankly, many of them belong behind a jail cell for the rest of their lives.

    However, that aside, I agree with the article that Trump is not all good and will betray his base. His base wanted the restoration of America’s manufacturing sector, improved healthcare so that senior citizens would not choose between healthcare/medication versus food/rent, and less immigration. Trump may deliver the third, but I’m very skeptical that he will do anything about the other two. Ideologically, the GOP is trying to turn the US into a feudal society, with a small wealthy elite and the rest struggling to survive.

    The Democrats are basically trying to do the same, only with a few socially liberal pretenses thrown in to cover that agenda. They relied on the experts discussed in the article and unless the left takes control and forces major reforms, are losing influence.

    I think that Trump’s election was the inevitable backlash of a society that has been screwed over repeatedly by the elite, but I am pessimistic that Trump will solve many problems. I expect him to worsen more than he solves I’m afraid.

    1. cm

      As I have stated before, I support the destruction of both R &D parties. Trump’s victory supports that goal.

      1. craazyboy

        It is a bit like choosing self-immolation as your best chance to avoid going to Hell. But what can you do. Vote or something?

        But, looking on the bright side, it seems public awareness that they are getting screwed over by the elite no matter which party is selected as the pretty face to deliver the deed is higher than it’s ever been. So maybe some effective democratic backlash may gain some traction.

        OTOH, that would be the point that the oligarchy decides to drop all pretense that we have some influence in our society, and the jackboots come out.

      2. Benedict@Large

        It is costly but necessary to rid ourselves of Hillary and the people she represents. Hopefully, current and future efforts to rehab her will come to naught, and in the end, the whole world will just look at her, yawn, and walk away.

        1. Binky

          Too busy in the death camps to worry about Hillary any more. Good thing Benedict et al thought it was so worth it to risk anything to get rid of a minor corrupt political figure. The best cure for any disease is total immolation, after all. Moral purity first! In the meantime, suck it, abortion junkies.

          1. OIFVet

            Right, because lesser evilism has worked really great. And what is so minor about a political figure who has been on the scene for 30+ years, has destroyed a country and laughed upon learning of its leader being sodomized with a knife, and whose husband oozes sleaze?

            1. sierra7

              I can’t think of anything more repugnant than that scene of HC cackling over Qaddafi’s murder. I truly believe it revealed her true character.

  4. Expat

    Trump doesn’t know what he wants. He is typical of extremely wealthy people in positions of power; he is searching for fulfillment and pleasure but cannot find it. The more he spends, the less it is enjoyable. Now he can spend the ultimate currency, power. But he he doesn’t know what he wants to buy. Make America Great Again? How? What? What is so great about America? What ever was? What is his Golden Age? And qui bono?

    The Democrats have long ago sold out (wow, sold-out politicians! What a shocker!). The Republicans can’t decided whether to pillage the poor and the minorities or just slaughter them wholesale. They also can’t decide if Trump is one of them or not (he is and isn’t).

    America continues to vote for rich, corrupt white men. The results are as expected. And frankly well deserved.

    1. Deathtongue

      Given the failures of Obama and the almost-certain failures of Hillary Clinton, I feel ‘white men’ isn’t so much the problem as ‘rich’.

      1. Expat

        Let’s face it. The world is run by rich WHITE men. If you think this is “identity politics” or racism, then so be it.

        1. IdahoSpud

          Ya know, Martin Luther King had a dream, that someday people would be judged by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin.

          Obviously we haven’t all arrived there yet…

        2. Jamie

          You can’t seriously think that an oligarchy of wealthy black women would be a kinder, gentler oligarchy? Power serves the powerful, no matter their color or sex. Yes, it is a fact that the world’s powerful at the moment are largely white and male. That is the culture endorsed by the Western mainstream these past several thousand years. But the dynamics of power are not different for different races or sexes. It is a tragic mistake (in my opinion) to point out our rulers are white males and try to make something significant of that, while ignoring the vastly greater numbers of white males (along with everyone else) systematically disempowered by the current arrangement. There are a sufficient number of countries ruled by males of various races to provide ample evidence that changing skin color does not effect the dynamics of power. Only wishful thinking could lead one to conclude that changing their sex would fix our problems (and we have Thatcher and Merkel as data points showing otherwise). So yes, trying to make the fact that our rulers are currently white and male somehow significant is identity politics… and in my opinion, a pointless exercise. (The fact that our rulers are white and male is a result, not a cause, of our systematic oppression, worth pointing out only as a sign that such oppression exists.)

          It is concentration of power (tyranny) versus sharing of power (democracy), not the race or sex of the oligarchy, that matters. This is not a denial of racist and sexist oppression. These oppressions are very real and hugely damaging to society. But trying to “fix” them without addressing the underlying class stratification of society will not lead us to Shangri-La. On the other hand, dismantling the system of class privilege and power concentration will go a long way toward ending these oppressions, since their raison d’etre is to keep the current concentration of power intact. It is all about power, how is it shared; how it is usurped. When you try to front the issue of who usurped it in place of the facts that it is overly concentrated in few hands, and that we would all be better off were it widely shared, you are inflaming a sort of racial conspiracy theory that only clouds the issue.

          1. Expat

            I am not arguing for the inherent goodness of man, far from it. I am simply saying that rich white men run the show and run it for their own benefit. If rich black men controlled the power structure, I assume they would behave the same way. The differences between white and blacks are cultural and environmental, not genetic.

            Sharing power is one option. Another option is doing away with entrenchment. Put term limits in place. Forbid second and third generation politicians (i.e. no sons or grandsons of any elected official may hold office ever, anywhere) . Eliminate lobbyists entirely or mandate that for every hour an elected official spends with a paid lobbyist (or “lobbyist”), he has to spend equal time with random voters and journalists. Forbid corporate financial donations.

            If you (Idaho) really think I am racist, then your own paranoia betrays your own racism. Do you feel whites are under attack? Are they at risk in America? Are minorities treated better? Is there too much reverse discrimination?

            I dare you to live as a minority for a few months. Then come back and tell me how great the inner-city blacks or chicanos have it.

            1. IdahoSpud

              If you substitute the word “white” in your original post with “black”, “brown”, “Jew” or “Asian”, what would you call such a person? You might call that person out as a racist.

              I think earlier you were engaged in identity politics, but have since moved on to projection (paranoia-thats a howler) and straw man arguments.

              Still trying to wrap my head around why you insinuate I am racist when *you* are the one broadly painting an entire gender and ethnicity as the problem.

              Suggest you read Jamie’s post above for a more nuanced and time-consuming reply than I am able to provide.

      1. Expat

        I suspected I was wrong and was too lazy to check. “Qui” is from french, my second language (first really since I live in France now). Shameful, really. Thanks for correcting (I appreciate the nitpicking).

  5. Sam F

    A very well stated article. Truly, globalization has potential for much good in redistribution of resources and reduction of militarism, but cheaper labor elsewhere has brought ruin to the US due to its oligarchy preventing domestic economic security.

    There is a strong progressive majority everywhere which is being deliberately fragmented by the oligarchs. In the US, Clinton supporters must unify not only with the critics of Dem warmongering for Israel and KSA, but also with the Trumpers who want economic security in a rapacious oligarchic state. Clinton supporters will have to admit their mistake and abandon the Dems as a scam of oligarchy serving only as a backstop for the Repubs.

    The solution is for a third party to align moderate progressives (national health care, no wars of choice, income security) with parts of the traditional right (fundamentalists, flag-wavers, make America great) leaving out only the extreme right (wars, discrimination, big business imperialism), use individual funding, and rely upon broad platform appeal to marginalize the Dems as the third party.

    1. ambrit

      The DNC is striving mightily to turn “him” into a Claudius. While, the other choice might be best characterized as a Tiberius. Does Epstein have a villa on Capri?

        1. ambrit

          We’re already fondly looking back on Dick Nixon as “Old King Log.”
          When will be America’s Teutoburg Forest battle? At least Varus had the decency to fall on his sword. Today’s commanders?

          1. Norm

            The Western Roman Empire survived Teutoburg Forest by almost 500 years and the Eastern Empire by almost 1500 years. Military setbacks on the fringes of an empire don’t necessarily signal its immanent collapse as is demonstrated by US debacles in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and, most recently, Syria.

  6. Sound of the Suburbs

    Why will trump’s fiscal stimulus help?
    Yes, for the same reason the “New Deal” got the US out of the great depression.

    Money and Debt.

    A tutorial with tips for Central Bankers.

    Money = Debt

    The most important and fundamental equation.

    Wouldn’t it be good if we paid off all the debt?
    No because there would be no money.

    Wouldn’t it be good if the private sector paid off all their debt?
    No because it would lead to catastrophic debt deflation.

    Wouldn’t it be good if the Government paid off all their debt?
    No because it would lead to catastrophic debt deflation.

    Central Banker’s pay attention.

    How to read the money supply to judge the state of the economy and what needs to be done if certain conditions occur.

    It’s a delicate balancing act where the ideal is a steady rise in the money supply (debt) showing a healthy and growing economy.

    When this increase is too slow or it is flat-lining, the economy will be stagnant. Like most economies round the world today.

    When the money supply is going down you are heading into debt deflation. The private sector is not borrowing enough to maintain the money supply and this is a very serious problem. The Government is the borrower of last resort and need to step in to fill the gap and keep the money supply up.

    Now, if the Troika had looked at the money supply in Greece they would seen the money supply decreasing as the private sector wasn’t borrowing. Cutting Government borrowing with austerity was just going to make the situation worse. In this situation the Government needs to step in as the borrower of last resort to keep the money supply stable. The Troika did the opposite of what they should have done and killed the Greek economy.

    The Maastricht Treaty actually prevents the only known solution being applied.

    What about when the money supply is increasing very rapidly and going exponential?
    A credit bubble is forming and the economy is running out of control, e.g. US money supply leading to 2008.

    No, it wasn’t a black swan and if the FED could have understood what the money supply was telling them they could have nipped it in the bud.

    Christina Romer made a fundamental mistake analysing data from the Great Depression leading her to think monetary policy got the US out of the Great Depression.

    This mistake has propagated around the world.

    She forgot the equation:
    Money = debt

    Richard Koo explains:
    First 10 minutes.

    She didn’t look at the debt side of the equation.

    1. Sound of the Suburbs

      When the money supply is controlled by debt, letting bankers maximise profits with their debt products can only lead to disaster.

      They don’t want to be regulated but control the money supply.

      If they don’t want to be regulated we need a different form of money, we can’t let them run riot when they hold the nation’s economy in their hands.

      Central Bankers, like the FED, understanding the equation:

      money = debt

      should help to keep things under control.

      The money supply should just rise at a steady rate, keep ‘em peeled Central Bankers and run your economy well.

      You can spot when the bankers run wild with their debt products by looking at the money supply.

  7. Carolinian

    A good article and one that dares to state the thing that must be said: “let us hope.” There will be plenty of time to oppose and condemn Trump once he actually does something. The innumerable lefty pundits who feel the need to trash Trump in advance merely cause me to stop reading. One has to say that when it comes to the Left, Chicken Little is their mode. Less complaining, more problem solving would be welcome. Pretending everything is some giant contest of good versus evil isn’t going to solve anything.

    1. mtnwoman

      “Let us hope” reveals ignorance or naïveté. Trump has already shown us who he is over the decades.

      Has the author not paid attention to whom Trump is choosing to surround himself with? From Breitbart to his “fox” appointments of billionaires guarding their respective Departments/”chicken houses”.

      Everyone but the wealthy are about to get royally screwed. And thousands WILL die when he and the GOP repeal ACA without a replacement.

      1. Carolinian

        Or you are totally wrong. Easy to be sure about events that haven’t yet happened.

        I didn’t vote for Trump but am willing to take a wait and see attitude. At this point the country desperately needs a change of direction, even if it’s from a “short fingered vulgarian.”

        1. mtnwoman

          Of the millions of Americans Trump could have chosen for his Chief Strategist, he chooses Steve “dark is good” “turn on the hate” Bannon of Breitbart. Nazi Party and David Duke endorsed!

          Seesions for AG. Devos for Education. GoldmanSachs at Treasury. Rick Perry (!) at Energy. Price at HHS. Pruitt at EPA. All foxes guarding the henhouse.

          Sorry, I’ve seen enough already.

          1. Carolinian

            Yes, quite a difference from Ash Carter, John Kerry, Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner/Jack Lew and of course our beloved HRC. No foxes there. Somehow I don’t remember too much complaining when Obama took office re the company he keeps. One of the few places was right here at NC.The prob with the Dem’s high dudgeon is that it’s all “do as we say, not as we do.”

            1. JL

              I think your recollection is mistaken, there was plenty of complaining from everyone who was paying attention, such as plenty of commentary on this site. Turbo Timmy was a big deal, not just because of his personal tax history but he also signified that neoliberalism would continue to be the dominant ideology in the Obama administration.

              Obama was the Hope and Change candidate so this wasn’t played up by any Obama supporters, and Republicans wouldn’t draw attention to it either because they know where their bread is buttered, but people who cared knew exactly what it meant.

          2. sd

            Let me guess. “Hillary would have been a better choice.” Which is hilarious given recent history in the Ukraine. I encourage you to read up on the topic.

            1. Anonymous

              Yes, in fact Hillary would have been a better choice, since she would have actually left office at the end of her term. What are people not understanding about what Trump is all about (i.e., maximum money and power for himself and his immediate family, and all the rules and all the rest of us “losers” be damned)?

    2. wtf

      Obama was a Kenyan, socialist, muslim atheist. One has to say that when it comes to the RIght, Chicken Little is their mode.

      “Less complaining, more problem solving,” Yes, just as the Right did over the last 8 years.

      1. Carolinian

        So you’re point is “we’re no worse than them”? The Russian hack accusation is in Kenyan Muslim territory. The Left are supposed to be the sensible ones. It’s possible the country has grown weary of the shenanigans from both sides and want to see some grownups.

        1. wtf

          Don’t assign a quote to me that I did not make. My point is they are worse. You criticize what you call “the Left” when the Right has done worse. The Russian hack accusation is coming from multiple intelligence sources. Trump openly called for hackers to find and release Hillary’s “emails.” He has repeatedly praised Putin and has refused to release his tax records. Reasonable minds can suspect there’s fire, as they wait for further evidence. Only a fool or a liar would say after the last 8 years that Obama is a Kenyan socialist, muslim atheist. Reasonable suspicion v. delusion. No comparison.

          Trump is your idea of a grownup? Interesting.

    3. Tigerlily

      I don’t think the hysteria many people have exhibited over a Trump presidency is particularly helpful but can you honestly look at the people with whom Trump has filled his cabinet and still feel even a flicker of hope? Plutocrats and generals, people who are determined to privatize education, health care and social security and further deregulate the FIRE sector (including abolishing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae), cut taxes even further for the wealthy (i.e. themselves), and who seem eager to bomb Iran? Trump’s national security advisor, a former army general no less, was forced out as head of the DIA in part because of his determination to make the intelligence conform to his ideological preconceptions (hmm, where have we seen that before?). His son was dropped from the Trump transition team because his relentless flogging of pizzagate finally became too embarrassing even for this sorry band of hardcore ideologues.

      All the indications so far are that the next four years are going to be very, very bad. I’m not counseling incipient panic, just saying that the tea leaves say President Trump is shaping up policy wise to be a very different animal than candidate Trump was.

      1. sd

        To be honest, yes. I actually think we might stand a chance of surviving the next four years. Mostly because Trump isn’t threatening thermonuclear war with Russia.

      2. different clue

        I have read that the Obama Administration was conspiring to privatize Freddie and Fannie. If my memory is correct, perhaps you might wish to drop “wants to privatize Fannie and Freddie” from your bill of particulars against Trump.

  8. David S

    I agree with most of this article. It would seem that the bar you are setting for Trump should have been met by Obama.

    In 2008 election, Obama had the support of the people including many Republican voters. People handed him a Democratic House and Senate. The 2008 credit crisis helped create an environment where the people were demanding not just change but structural change. The betrayal of the Democratic Party in 2008-2010 in bringing about this change is what ultimately led to Trump and Republican control. The Democratic Party and MSM tried to force upon the American people Hilliary who they saw as more of the same, if not worse in some respects, than Obama. Propping up the status quo with more of the same wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Hence the repudiation of both Hilliary and Jeb.

    In 2016, I don’t believe people are asking for Hope and Change out of Trump but rather the bar is just change in whatever form it ultimately takes. Good or bad, Trump will do that.

  9. RenoDino

    I vote Augustus and your point is well taken. The expiration date has run out on our great republic. “Americans founding principles” are now nothing more than a rhetorical flourish harkening back to a past era. This is an empire and we finally have an Emperor to run things. Trump is a lot of things, but he is not a phony, that is, pretending all is well, when it isn’t. Like all great emperors, he thinks everything he does is great, but he can turn on a dime when things go wrong, instead of doubling down.

    The big question is can he survive the defeated globalists’ attempts to take him down. To save their dreams of a unipolar world with them in charge, they will try anything, as we have seen recently, like trying to start WW3. Without weapons of mass destruction at their disposal, they may resort to crashing the world’s economy to sweep themselves back into power. That’s why Trump has surrounded himself with Wall Street sharks to protect his rear flank. He is, after all, a tactical genius having survived everything the old ruling families have thrown at him so far.

    The best the little guy can expect from this new ruler is world peace, the one thing everyone says they want if they had only one wish. That would be huge.

    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      Don’t let Gibbons (the 18th century creator of many of our terms), an aristocrat bemoaning the growing power of the House of Commons, cloud your views of Augustus. He restored traditional powers the Senate had usurped from the plebes and dramatically expanded citizenship. It’s SPQR, not the Senate. The late Republic was no such thing.

      It was said centuries later that someone said “sic transit Gloria mundi,” upon the death of Augustus Caesar.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Octavian never stood at the Rostra (an actual enemy ship) and pulled a Palpatine. It was the same polity*. What is being called the Roman Empire is essentially the Grachian party taking power. Even with the death of JC, Marc Antony and Octavian were still in charge because they had already won on the street and defeated the Senate’s hired legions.

        If you want to pick a point where the Republic falls, I would go with the Praetorian worried about their spot after the death of Caligula declaring the handicapped and cowering behind a curtain Claudius as the new emperor. Without Clinton largess, where are the Clintonistas? They should have been purged under Obama. Could they risk another Democrat winning the White House and keeping them around?

        *Mehmed II declared himself Caesar after he took Constantinople and maintained much of the practices of the “Eastern Empire” with the same peoples. In a way, the polity founded on the banks of the Tiber survived until after World War I.

        1. heresy101

          Do you have recommendations for a comprehensive book on Rome/Roman Empire?
          Having just returned from a trip to Italy, the accomplishments of the Romans are amazing (their use of concrete, for instance). We didn’t have an in depth background when we went and putting all that we saw on a historical spectrum would be useful.
          Also, we didn’t cover much history in Latin class in high school other than read De Bello Gallico.

          1. craazyman

            You can’t get much more comprehensive than Gibbon. But get a snicker’s bar — if anyone remembers the old TV commercial. It’s brutally long winded.

            If you want “dish and gossip” then Plutarch’s LIVES OF THE NOBLE GREEKS AND ROMANS is a really good read. You don’t have to sit there and plow straight through, you can jump from psycho to psycho and see what vainglorious ambitions motivated them, who they killed and how they did it.

            When you’re done you can use either one as brick.

            I’m actually optimistic about Mr. Trump. His inner pragmatism may intrude itself into his faculties and prevent the meretricious analysis and ideological invective that has sickened the common sense of the American people and our collective consciousness, with its worst manifestions in our so-called universities and bi-polar political group thinks. Ideas have a power beyond the people they come through. The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a Machiavellian stratagem of Warcraft, but it kicked open a door. There are energies that kick, sort of in a disembodied way, doors open and they are so much bigger than the feet through which they kick, and what comes out is so much more than almost anyone can conceive at the time. We’ll see. But there’s no guarantee, that’s for sure!.

          2. NotTimothyGeithner

            No. Just read more. Gibbon is comprehensive for the basic gist. He just has a set of values all his own. Historians have greatly improved on Gibbon style, but Gibbon used all the classical historians. He has a few problems because he has prejudices except of course totes woke Democrats. The prejudices aren’t obvious, but when he is discussing the loss of civic virtue, he is echoing the arguments of his own age by his class and religion. Short of time travel, we can’t do much better.

            Part of the problem is there aren’t regular competing daily newspapers until 1700, so it’s almost always guess work. Gibbon in many ways compiled all of the newspapers available. He has an editorial slant based on being Anglican.

            It’s more recent, but you and I both know only males (often erroneously with the white qualifier which comes later) who owned property could vote in early America. Gosh, look at those oligarchs. What percentage of the population outside of the South was an adult, property owning male? 3%, 12%, 45%. What that means is people fresh off the boat didn’t own land, and everyone else was basically a farmer which meant agricultural policy was the main issue. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, there were 40,000 people in Boston, the biggest city. By the time Adams was President, they were discussing the arrival of French 50,000 refugees in Philadelphia alone.

            As far as JC, he was writing for the home audience with his own political issues. The Sulla/Pompey crowd wanted to undo his land reforms and change other laws he passed as consul. JC wrote in a plain, easy to read Latin that informed everyone of all the glory he was winning. He even saw a unicorn.

        2. animalogic

          “If you want to pick a point where the Republic falls, I would go with the Praetorian worried about their spot after the death of Caligula declaring the handicapped and cowering behind a curtain Claudius as the new emperor. ”
          I suspect you mean that it was the last chance for the restoration of the Republic. For myself , the Republic was officially moribund from the (unofficial) First Triumvirate. Regardless of “when” exactly we say Empire emerged out of Republic, we know that the Republic political forms were increasingly unable to adapt to material reality from at least the days of Marius.

  10. The Donuld

    a system that makes it extremely difficult to fund a credible political campaign without catering slavishly to the wealthiest sliver of American society. That system invited rebellion, and Trump and Sanders – by self-financing and grassroots fundraising, respectively – were ideally positioned to lead one. The other candidates were also constrained by party orthodoxy

    I feel like we have been watching different versions of US politics entirely.

    The whole astroturf Tea Party “movement” has been about a faux populist “rebellion” of just the sort Trump offered. Half of his stump speeches sound cribbed from exactly the same playbook. Johnson mentions Rubio and Bush, but many of the other GOP candidates, and even moreso the House and Senate candidates (including those who won) sell this same stuff. And like Trump (and unlike Sanders), when they sell it they are lying. They claim to want to “expand economic opportunity” for “people,” but their polices are just accelerated versions of the same GOP platform points we’ve had for half a century: cut taxes, cut welfare programs, attack and blame minorities and the poor, expand the military, & favor the wealthy.

    Which is exactly what Trump appears to be doing, based on both his post-election statements and his cabinet appointees.

  11. tongorad

    Looking at Trump’s appointments, one can easily see the through line. For example, public K-12 education. Bush’s cynically titled No Child Left Behind began the aggressive charge to discredit, dismantle and privatize public education. Obama picked up the ball with his Race to The Top, which public education analyst and advocate Diane Ravitch described as more aggressive and punitive than Bush’s NCLB.

    Now we have Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos, an unabashed privatizer and anti-public education billionaire as Education Secretary.

    Just one example of the narrative being played out. Who’s in charge does not matter. We need a new narrative and a transfer of power or it’s game over.

  12. Horatio Parker

    I’m tired of being told to be hopeful wrt Trump.

    I’m keeping my expectations as low as possible.

  13. Synoia

    As the wag said:

    “Cheer up, things could be worse”

    “I did cheer up. And things got worse.”

    Some cultures do not practice sunny optimism, but the ability to endure without hope coupled with gallows humor.

  14. jake

    Any expectation Trump will pursue policies which benefit anyone but Trump would seem to be folly….

    The one meager consolation in these end of times for the sensible, principled, fearful and cautious — the idiots among us who won’t (for example) put money in the stock exchange because it doesn’t make sense, despite knowing the market is rigged for returns by both government and self-interested corporate officers, meanwhile collecting net 1.5% on a five-year CDs, morsels for mice — is that the rich and successful are apparently even sicker and more miserable than we are.

    Look at Trump, fuming with rage, blood pressure and girdle distress or the thought of Social Security payments to the indigent keeping up the Kochs at night. If you had to be those self-infatuated fools to own a jet and live in a triplex on 5th Avenue, who would want it?

  15. ChrisFromGeorgia

    The author is of course correct that Trumps win cannot be viewed in isolation. It’s a good article and very civil, but I would call out the current occupant of the White House who had a historic opportunity to change things, and completely fumbled the ball.

    In January 2009 the economy was still in a free fall, many banks were insolvent including Citibank, and probably BoA and JPMorgan as well. The entire financial system stood exposed as a vipers den of fraud, embezzlement and criminal racketeering. Greenspan, Rubin and Summers were shown to be naked fools that they are. Obama could have used this opportunity to change the “rigged system,” but instead for reasons unknown (cowardice, weakness, corruption?) he left the current system in place. Actually, he did something far worse than that. Merely letting events play out would have likely resulted in some change, as some banks like Citi would have failed, bondholders would have gotten haircuts, and lessons learned. Instead, he put the very same cast of characters that created the crisis back in power (Geithner, Summers, Bernanke.)

    This prevented a “release” of some of the pressure that had been building up over a period of 30 years where neo-liberal policiies and free trade doctrine had reigned largely unchallenged.

    I am of the mind that the elites and the academics who benefit from these policies really are not that smart, after all. Having Obama implement a “mini” new Deal in 2009 would have been politically possible (Democrats controlled all branches of government, as the GOP will in a few days) and given the crisis atmosphere, it would have been an easier sell than it will be eight years later with the Dow approaching 20K.

    And it would have released pressure and allowed some sense of “fairness” to be restored to society.

    Instead, we got basically nothing in terms of real change. More bailouts, free trade and neo-liberal policies that created essentially a third term for Bush (or for Bill Clinton, or Bush I.) That allowed the pressure to build back up. The political result was Sanders, who probably would have one the Democratic nod if it wasn’t rigged, and Trump. If Trump does not truly learn from Obama’s failure, the pressure will continue to build and the whole thing may really blow apart soon.

    I am not optimistic, other than in the foreign policy area, where I believe Trump will attempt to change course from the current neo-con policies. Even there, he will be opposed at every turn, as we see with the current laughable hysteria being ginned up in the press over Russia “hacking” the election.

    Happy New Year.

  16. RickM

    Trump is analogous to the poison before the stem cell/bone marrow transplant. Without the transplant you will certainly die a predictable, miserable death. With the transplant you will probably die, still. But it’s worth a shot, because you just might be restored to health. Good idea to get your “affairs in order,” though.

  17. susan the other

    Here’s one thing that bothers me a lot. Many political economy watchers, like today’s link to Ann Pettifor and this piece, take a negative view of populism. As if populists really were running amok with their pitchforks. I think we should give populism a new lease on politics. All of politics and economics are now so traditional and buttoned up that it is almost impossible to make any significant change. Unless people come together in large numbers and cooperation. Disregarding people, the population, creates populism. So nobody’s to blame but the people who try to prevent populism by sidelining it. Pettifor today said economic malfeasance which has crushed most ordinary people has caused our current rash of populism. I think that is true. Our current politics comes down to the inequitable economics. We need something like equity economics. Equinomics. And fast.

  18. Vatch

    We need to push Trump in the correct direction. One way to do that is to block his worst cabinet nominations. Since the Republicans control the Senate, that will be difficult, but it is possible. My suggestion is that residents of states which only have one Republican Senator should call their Republican Senator’s office, and express opposition to the worst of Trump’s nominees. Who are the worst? Scott Pruitt, the advocate for dirty water and poisoned air, Trump’s choice for EPA Administrator, Steven Mnuchin, whose OneWest Bank illegally foreclosed on many, Trump’s choice to be Treasury Secretary, and Tom Price, who wants to privatize Medicare, and it Trump’s choice to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

    Gardner, Cory – (R – CO) Class II
    354 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-5941

    Rubio, Marco – (R – FL) Class III
    284 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-3041

    Young, Todd – (R – IN) Class III
    B33 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-5623

    Collins, Susan M. – (R – ME) Class II
    413 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-2523

    Blunt, Roy – (R – MO) Class III
    260 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-5721

    Daines, Steve – (R – MT) Class II
    320 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-2651

    Hoeven, John – (R – ND) Class III
    338 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-2551

    Heller, Dean – (R – NV) Class I
    324 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-6244

    Toomey, Patrick J. – (R – PA) Class III
    248 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-4254

    Johnson, Ron – (R – WI) Class III
    328 Hart Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-5323

    Capito, Shelley Moore – (R – WV) Class II
    172 Russell Senate Office Building Washington DC 20510
    (202) 224-6472

    It won’t hurt to contact your Democratic Senators, either.

  19. VietnamVet

    This is a good article but the world has become unhinged; especially Democrats. War supporters and corporate media are in a huge rush to delegitimize Donald Trump’s Presidency by blaming Russian hacking for his election. Last night the charge to use Virginia’s Hot Lanes to commute home was $30. The costs of the Oligarchs’ looting and political payouts are unaffordable. Catastrophic; if a nuclear war breaks out with Russia, the middle class revolts or sea levels rise 10 feet without mitigation. I should know better; but, I still hope that the forever wars will end, student debt forgiven and the promised jobs reappear. I wonder how foolish I am.

  20. pissed younger baby boomer

    Where was the author of this article,been lately ,Trump broke all campaign promises to the voters.Who voted for him only to be taken to the cleaners : ( .

  21. skippy

    I think the problem runs a bit deeper…. the talent pool and dominate memes over the last decades pretty much negates anyone changing the playing field more than a few degrees if not a fraction of a degree.

    To date the only solution has been to authoritatively exercise more force on a continuing disintegration of social society to make it conform and preform as neoliberalism dictates, completely ignoring or oblivious to all the evidence of its failures. It is completely path dependent because other wise all its agents would be relegated to the ash pile of failed human social templates.

    This is evidenced by old neoliberal polices like a UBI to fob off the responsibility onto the individual and Positive Money to control the nations currency because CAD panic merchants lose the plot when they forget that financial net investment is included in the external sector, not just X-M which is another element which balances the equation – more should be made of it imo considering our propensity to run external deficits.

    disheveled…. something will eventually break… lets just hope people don’t do a drowning panic or reach for the first thing they think will save them without deeper due diligence…

  22. ChrisPacific

    Very well written (I wish I could express things this clearly).

    I agree Trump has a chance to make history and he seems to make a virtue of being unpredictable, so I suppose the chance that he will become a champion of democracy is greater than zero. I am still pessimistic for a few reasons, most notably that for all his rhetoric, his outlook is still deeply and fundamentally neoliberal. He still thinks that privatization and unregulated free markets solve all problems, and I don’t think he has any particular issue with inequality. The only part of it he has a problem with is the poor being set up to fail and then told that it’s their own fault. I suspect the best we can hope for from him is a return to a system where the poor and middle class are (usually) able to sustainably eke out a living. While that would be an improvement over the current approach of burning them as fuel to power the economic engine, I think it would represent more of a consolidation of power by the elites than any kind of triumph for democracy.

  23. ChrisPacific

    Incidentally, I had somehow missed noticing the Institute for New Economic Thinking until now, so I did a bit of Googling to get up to speed on its history, contributors, past mentions at NC and so on.

    By and large it seems to be saying stuff I agree with, which means of course that it’s an honorable and worthwhile endeavor that contributes to the overall body of knowledge. (This is in contrast to the sites I disagree with, which are fronts for large corporate and political interests that disguise self-interested positions under a cloak of pseudo-scientific legitimacy). But if I was a cynic, I might suggest that it’s not entirely obvious from the site why “new economic thinking” is necessarily going to turn out any better than the old version. If we are to genuinely improve on what’s gone before, it’s critical to address the issue of why traditional economics has failed. A full treatment of that requires mentioning some concepts that aren’t considered fit subjects for polite conversation in economic circles – such as fraud, corruption, the scientific method or lack thereof, and the difference between evidence-based and faith-based reasoning. I see passing references to some of these on the Web site, and I imagine that if I was to dig down into some of the articles then I’d find some longer form discussions, but if it’s a core focus of the Institute then it’s certainly not apparent from the Web site. I also see some evidence that topics like this have been raised in the past and have not been well received (Galbraith, 2011). Absent this kind of focus, I think there is a risk that we will end up simply trading one kind of orthodoxy for another. If it is a core focus, then I’d like to see it featured more clearly. Someone like Bill Black would no doubt be able to punch up the language a bit.

    I would also like to see a bit more transparency on funding sources. If the institute was a thinly-veiled front for corporate interests, rather than the honorable and worthwhile endeavor that it clearly is, that’s where the evidence would be found. If the answer is that Soros is paying for it all, then acknowledging that up front would be useful. I am beginning to think that economists should take the same approach as historians, admit that there is no such thing as a truly unbiased position, and simply disclose as many of their possible sources of bias as possible.

  24. John Ware

    One of Yves’ more significant posts. I’ve done a little research of my own within the investment groups I head up. I totally agree that the parties missed the overarching bent of why Trump and Sanders campaigns resonated. However, most people tell me that they were just tired of campaign rhetoric that seemed to simply promise to do things when elected, and then not being able to deliver on said promises.

    Many point to two things in the Obama years. One, he promised so many things and, as a relative “outsider,” voters glommed onto his message. But it soon became abundantly clear that he was a poor governor of his agenda and a much better campaigner and rhetorician. For example, nobody really liked LBJ that much when Kennedy picked him to be VP, but many people knew back then that his “in your face” style that has been posited on film and stage in recent years would, if nothing else, ensure the Kennedy era would be extended.

    Secondly, it was just a total pushback on what actually could be done vs what would be done had anyone in the political mainstream been elected. Intelligent people could separate the bombast and lies from Trump and, as such, didn’t vote for him. But the uneducated and unprincipled did; they believed his wild-ass claims of doing strange and wonderful things like the Mexican border wall, locking people up, and punching people in the face who were on “the other side.”

    Simply put, Sanders had no support from the Democratic powers-that-be, while Trump had little, but just enough to gain some traction early on. And while I don’t agree that not making pit stops in places like Wisconsin and Arizona truly hurt Clinton, they didn’t help, either. One thing that is being overlooked in Hillary’s loss was the fact that she didn’t copy Obama’s campaign ground game, esp. with social media and targeted demos and the like. In many ways, she made the same mistakes she made in her 2008 campaign, sans the “don’t look at me like a woman” thing. I think that, in many ways, she’s been on the front burner so long that she could have been any gender and people were just tired of her and what her ilk represented.

  25. sierra7

    Great piece…
    And, what do we do about the approx 80M registered voters that chose not to vote?
    That is an, “Army of rebellion already organized”.

Comments are closed.