Yet he did get elected. And despite the lowest opinion poll ratings for any President at this stage of his time in office he still maintains rock solid support amongst the white middle-class voters of mid America. Indeed, I think that support level will rise in the next 12 months or more as his wild gamble on a tax cut boom plays out and the US economy roars forward. Expect to listen to a lot of nonsense as political commentators tell us with serious voices about how brilliantly his economic plan is working. Before the next bust comes and it all ends in utter chaos and misery.
The far right and its ideologues aren’t going away any time soon. Indeed there are some signs that they are still getting stronger and they are likely to continue to do so until Trumps project crashes and burns economically. One of the many promises he has made to the American people is that they can have tax cuts but won’t experience any economic pain. The immediate impact of these cuts will be that the US will run an even larger budget deficit than it currently does. Something which may well inject activity into the economy and therefore achieve rapid increase in economic growth and some increase in tax revenues. But the idea that this growth will be sufficient to plug the budget gap or that the wild upswing in financial markets it will create can be sustained is implausible in the extreme. As is the idea that the huge balance of payments deficit the US is running can be sustained. Or the debts it is acquiring to pay for it. Sooner or later the realities are going to have to be faced and all but the richest voters are going to notice the impact on services they use.
Just at the moment is relatively easy to see why Trump retains such a high proportion of support from the white middle class men and also a majority of the votes of white middle class women. Economic self-interest over-rode concerns about groping for a lot of female voters. But there was more to it than that. The psychology of far right politics is every bit as important as the economics. For many personality types the attraction of the strong man who is clear about what he wants to do is very powerful. That nice Mr Hitler was going to save a lot of German hausfraus from uncertainty and make the country great again and if a couple of Jews lost their homes in the process then so much the worse for them. That nice Mr Trump is going to make America great again and if a couple of Mexicans get their come uppance then who cares.
The left isn’t immune to this disease either. Uncle Joe Stalin was building the socialist paradise and if a couple of eggs needing breaking then that was a small price to pay. Anyone who criticised got told they were a petty bourgeois splitter who really should get serious about their politics and accept party discipline because we needed strong leadership to fight capitalism. The 30 million people who died in the gulags, purges and state created famines that Stalin instituted are still largely forgotten by many people in Russia and instead they admire the memory of a big strong man who made the country great. The small details like all those deaths or the pact with Hitler that led to the destruction of half of the USSR has become forgotten in a fog of misplaced national pride. The same kind of misplaced faith in the leadership of a strong man that allows Putin to run a mafia state whilst continuing to enjoy the support of the majority of his countrymen.
Rationality isn’t the point for those who like a strong national leader. The point is to share in the pride and to absorb the confidence that comes with knowing your place in the order. Which is why it is proving so hard to shift the opinions of those who feel they have found a safe home for their soul by identifying themselves so strongly with the new nationalists. It isn’t enough to provide rational arguments and win via putting forward better logic. The important thing for many is the emotional link. Donald Trump may be the biggest and most regular liar ever to occupy the White House – and that’s a hard ask - but that doesn’t matter if what you most want in life is to hear someone tell you what you’ve always longed to hear. That someone big and powerful is going to look after you and protect you. That someone is prepared to voice your deepest prejudices and tell you that they are good for the country. That you are on the side of the good guys who are going to clean up the country. That you can be a bigger person and feel more confident about your identity because you will share in the victory of your man.
Rationality is, however, the point not just for those of us who oppose all of this but for the vast majority of floating voters. Never forget that there are a lot of people who voted for Obama and also for Trump. There are some Trump fanatics who we will never persuade because their faith matters more than reality. There are, however, an enormous number of minds that can be easily changed by exposing the hypocrisy. By continually attacking the gap between the words and the reality. A gigantic gap between promises and actions is already opening up and as it gets wider there are going to be more and more opportunities to expose the extent of the con trick that has been worked. Provided we keep putting forward honest workable alternatives to the politics of nostalgia and fear instead of just shouting them down and trying to ban their expression.
There are a core of hard right fanatics who are incredibly hard to shift from their conviction that they are building the new order because it is deeply fused into their sense of identity. That group are likely to continue to shift further into certainty and towards violence and oppression whenever their ideas appear to be threatened. So we have to get used to conducting political life under the threat of far right violence and far right state oppression whenever they win political power.
There are, however, an awful lot more people who don’t hold such horrible views as part of their psychological make up and simply thought that something needed to change and Trump might be the man to do it. People like this can be convinced by a well-funded charlatan like Trump for a short while but are a lot more convinced by their owned lived reality. As that reality starts to bite those people are going to start deserting the far right in droves. Tax cuts for the rich can’t make life better for the poor. When the poor start to encounter the brutal experience of stripped down and failing government services then it won’t take them long to turn on Trump and all those who have tried to defend him.
The far right can only maintain any significant degree of widespread popular support during the period of the Trump boom and that support will go very quickly the moment we encounter the Trump bust.
I am therefore curiously optimistic about the political future. The majority of the young have easily seen through the falsehoods of the far right. The majority of working people don’t share a self-interest with multi-billionaires. The newly emergent economies are full of energetic optimistic people and these societies and their views are going to become increasingly powerful relative to the old lethargic economies and their fearful protectionist politicians. The social forces backing change are stronger than those backing reaction.
The main thing that worries me is the tendency of some on the radical left to believe that all they have to do is to articulate old ideas and old solutions and to look for a chance to put them into practice. That simply isn’t an adequate response to the serious fears that ushered Trump into power. A global economy and a global ecology can’t simply be wished away. Radicals need to put forward policies that can work in this new era and which offer hope. It is not enough to simply shout out our anger or to vote for old style left wing parties. There is a real need to explain how it is possible to live well within a global economy and to achieve liberty, equality and community within it.
It is only when we have articulated that successfully and communicated the new ideas and policies that it requires that we will have real grounds for optimism.