Trump will win in 2020 (and keep an eye on 2024)
In watching Democrats attacking each other again this week, I think it is important to put my gentle warning in writing as a nominally disinterested foreign observer:
Democrats have no serious chance of winning the presidency in 2020 because they still have not, by and large, understood why they lost in 2016.
In 2016, the "ballot question" was as clear and concise as it could have been:
Do you want the establishment?
Yes: Hillary Clinton.
No: Donald Trump.
That Clinton won the popular vote but lost the election is, to the urban middle-class, a sign of how broken the American electoral system is, that underpopulated states have a greater weight in the system than the wealthy, mainly coastal, metropolises. Democrats across the country cannot understand how voters could vote against their own self-interests. But they are missing the point by a country mile.
The trouble is, we, collectively, measure success by the value of the stock market and the growth of GDP; of the quantity of people employed and not of the quality of those jobs. We describe everyone as middle class, and we congratulate ourselves for defending them.
Right or wrong, these concepts are urban. When the GDP and the stock market go up and the jobless numbers go down, the communities outside the cities are not enjoying the benefits. Their costs continue to rise but their revenues do not. Their debts rise and their ability to repay them evaporate. The good union jobs of previous generations are long gone, nobody having defended them, and they are too busy trying to survive to contemplate why this is the case.
All they know for sure is that the establishment does not work for them. That "middle class" is a term urban denizens use to describe themselves and the people around them; that all the growth they hear about is not coming to their community. To them, that growth and prosperity is all just another lie. The simple, clear messaging of Fox News and the rising alt-right media is understandable; clear blame and simple explanations are offered to complex problems, and they are receptive because their problems are fundamentally not recognised by traditional media, who no longer serve small markets.
That Trump is known to be a liar is irrelevant, if not outright advantageous, in this context. That he has been impeached for what amounts to treasonous behaviour even more so, giving reason to the belief that the establishment is terrified of this man and will do anything to get rid of him -- and if that is the case, then surely he continues to be the anti-establishment candidate, there for the forgotten folks outside of town.
Make America Great Again was never a slogan to make Trump's old Manhattan neighbours feel better about their lives. It is about telling disaffected voters that they deserve a piece of the pie. When people see billions being spent on highway and transit projects in the big cities, and the countryside is told that a few million dollars is too much to get them connected to the Internet or to fix their crumbling infrastructure, it is clear who matters -- and who does not (see https://www.citylab.com/perspective/2018/12/rural-america-us-economic-future-new-york-times-wrong/578740/ for some good analysis). From there, the right wing message is an easy sell: 'Just cut our taxes and stay out of our way -- government doesn't do anything for us anyway.'
That he has only succeeded in raising the taxes of those who can least afford them, losing American jobs, hurting international relations and diminishing America's role in the world -- while greatly benefiting the upper class, and generally doing everything wrong from the perspective of the urban elite, is very much by design. Succeeding would be failing.
Reducing the hardship of the working poor now dependent on dollar stores for groceries would give them the opening to see the fraud being perpetrated on them.
Trump is indeed making America great again for these voters. He is keeping the urban elite on the run. His failure to accomplish substantive change is just further proof that he is still needed to keep up the fight. He is, himself, the very greatness that America will be implored to keep this year.
Campaigns matter. This year, Trump will win because Democrats will press all the wrong buttons, and he will portray himself as continuing to fight for the great forgotten masses; that he is robbing them blind while urging their support will not enter into the electoral calculus.
After the election, he will move quickly to consolidate his power. His pardon of accused war criminal Eddie Gallagher was not an accident. It served two purposes: it irritated the urban elite, helping the narrative that they are out to get him, the anti-establishment candidate. And, in the long game, it demonstrated, along with imprisoning and separating thousands of immigrant children and many of his other acts, his increasingly limitless power in the face of a Republican party more afraid of losing to a Democrat than of losing a democracy.
In 1979, Saddam Hussein famously performed a public purge of his Ba'ath Party, executing people that everyone knew had done nothing wrong for the specific purpose of demonstrating he could do it -- and there would be no consequences. Video was distributed to make sure everyone got the message. Make no mistake, Trump's actions serve the same ultimate purpose. Underestimate him at your peril.
The Republican purge of voter rolls and voter rights and the inevitable installation of a fifth Supreme Court justice unwilling to stop him will help him consolidate his power into retaking majorities in the House and Senate and more state legislatures in 2022 by whatever means are necessary.
From there, Trump will be in a position to move to repeal the 22nd amendment. With all the fixes needed in place, his physical health may be the only thing between him and a third term.
The Democrats will go after Trump for being a bad president, so bad he is only the third ever to be impeached, missing completely that the reasons are completely beyond the understanding and interest of most of Trump's accessible voters -- all of whom will turn out to vote, where turnout will be the most important deciding factor. And Republicans will stay firmly united.
Democrats will fight among themselves and centrist Democrats will stay home rather than vote for that evil socialist Bernie Sanders or excessive progressive Elizabeth Warren -- or left Democrats will stay home rather than vote for that quasi-Republican Joe Biden. The progressive centre through the hard left will not coalesce around a single candidate and get out en masse as they did for Obama 12 years ago. And when they do address the American people, they will only speak to those whose votes they already have, ignoring the industrial heartland, whose labour movements collapsed as corporate - read: urban - America raced to offshore every good job and break every union, and they will not address the severe rural angst that exists beyond the boundaries of every city in America.
It does not need to be this way. The progressive centre and left across the United States must start addressing rather than ignoring rural angst and culture and put aside their differences to fight as one -- for all American people, not just those who live within a country mile of a traffic light.
Don't blame the electoral system. It is there specifically to ensure that the vast underpopulated rural states do indeed keep their voices and cannot be forgotten; rather, solve the economic disparity between urban and rural, between wealthy metropolises and impoverished industrial towns, resource lands, and agricultural areas that gave urban its wealth in the first place.
American democracy depends on it.
Posted at 06:42 on January 21, 2020