In his book The Age of Turbulence, Alan Greenspan warns against economic populism in politics since it usually leads to disastrous results. One of the things he mentioned as a strong warning sign is income disparity. Since 1999, the average family’s income has declined $5,000 per household in inflation adjusted dollars. Household assets have declined almost one-third. Close to two-thirds of all households have debt, some very deep debt. These facts are the America of today and they have greatly shaken the foundation of this country.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Toqueville described two key elements that defined the emerging nation: the importance of religion in the lives of the populace, and the striving for wealth and social advancement. This latter dynamic can roughly be called the “American dream.” Yet today, the percentage of Americans who believe that dream is real has shrunk by 20 percentage points. Greater than 50% of Americans under the age of 29 no longer believe capitalism is a viable economic system. Regarding religion, despite the facade of platitudes, it has been relegated out of public life as church membership and attendance have steadily declined.
So it was inevitable that some people would come along and take advantage of these dynamics- Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. According to many pundits, pessimism today in America has risen to dangerous levels almost to the point that democracy itself is threatened and unable to constrain the forces at work. Both Trump and Sanders have seized on the moment in different fashions; Sanders through an embrace of European socialism, and Trump through a form of nationalist socialism.
Many here and elsewhere are fond of portraying Trump’s supporters using a variety of monikers. Admittedly, many of them are troglodytes. But the average income, according to exit polls, also show that in addition to blue collar support and the under-employed, the average income of a Trump supporter is $72,000 per year, higher than your average Clinton or Sanders supporter. Of course, income does not necessarily equal political intelligence, but Trump’s support extends beyond the caricature.
Unlike Sanders who bored ahead without apology for his socialist solutions, Trump instead took advantage of feelings of marginalization and isolation. He appeals to those who look at Wall Street and Washington DC and see a huge disconnect. The biggest cheers at a Trump rally are his insistence that a wall will be built on the Mexican border as the faithful shout “Mexico” when he asks who will pay for it. By saying that the country is the victim of bad trade deals and military alliances, he is tapping into that sense that his supporters are the victims of globalization and being left behind, just as the United States is being left behind. Thus the slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
Trump is not your traditional fascist, if he is one at all. But as others have noted, he is playing a dangerous game of totalitarian authoritarianism. He promises not to touch those at the very bottom of society- Social Security will be protected and strengthened under him, he says, and no one will starve in the streets. It is a domestic policy of social welfare plain and simple.
He honestly believes he can tell the CEO of Ford to move plants out of Mexico back to the United States, and tell Apple to stop making products in China. He honestly believes he will build this mythical wall and have Mexico pay for it. He believes the libel laws can be changed to silent dissent against him. And the list goes on. But these are the beliefs and proposals of a tyrant, not the leader of a democracy.
Honestly, Hillary Clinton is only slightly better. This is a woman who has been campaigning for the presidency for a quarter century now. She represents the dreaded “establishment.” Under Clinton, we get the status quo of the previous eight years in a pantsuit. And Clinton has become incredibly rich because of politics having never produced a thing in her life beyond hot air and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
Donald Trump may not be a fascist in the classical sense; he’s not going to shred the Constitution and start anew. But, he is dangerously close to being one and that is a scarier thought. Over 400,000 Americans lost their lives fighting fascism and defending democracy in World War II. What an incredible waste of lives when the country and ideals they defended are now at risk from within. A Trump presidency would render the Constitution a quaint relic of the past, simply words on an old parchment of paper- something to view visiting the National Archives.
Come this November, everyone must in the words of Ted Cruz “vote your conscience.” And for anyone with a conscience, that choice is any person BUT Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.