Populist Revolt: Draining the Swamp and Refilling it With Old Swamp Water

A friend of mine texted me on Wednesday, “I’ve never been sadder to be proven right.” As someone who saw Hillary as the lesser of two evils and voted for her, I feel the same. Donald Trump, the vindictive, race-baiting, populist con man with authoritarian tendencies is our next president.

He wasn’t a joke or a clown. He’s the backlash against:

  • Elites taking all of the benefits since the 70s, and looking at the rest of their fellow citizens with disdain while calling them stupid, lazy or racists for complaining.
  • Politicians looking us in the eye and lying while promising to make things better.

He’s a big fuck you to the ruling class of both parties who made them the butt of their jokes and didn’t help as their lives got harder and in same cases shorter.  As I wrote two years ago:

As the US elites continue to amass wealth on a scale reminiscent of the years just before the Great Depression and continue to move toward Chilean levels and you see things like affluenza being used as a successful defense for drunkenly killing people and large corporations paying nominal fines and nearly zero taxes while normal people are punished severely for similar or lesser transgressions.

Solving these issues and putting the impunity index and Vautrin’s Law back into balance requires buy-in from government, politicians and most of all the elites that are currently benefiting from these conditions. I don’t believe that these conditions can last forever without some sort of reaction, whether its an economic reaction like the financial crisis or the election of a populist leader who will implement already disproven ideas that will punish the elites, but not raise the standard of the rest.

He’s also the backlash against social just warriors and bigoteers who have preached against and punished microagressions like asking someone “where are you from” the same as calling someone a racial slur. As I wrote in July:

Social justice warriors or bigoteers who have stifled debate with political correctness have made things worse. Going over board on political correctness paints people into a corner and doesn’t allow them an out. It becomes extremely hard for people to change their minds when exposed to new information and experiences once they’re in the corner. To make people comfortable in a changing culture, welcome them, educate them, don’t shame and vilify them for attitudes that likely rise from ignorance instead of hate.

As Dale Carnegie put it in How to Win Friends and Influence People, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

The toxic brew of rapid cultural change, being the brunt of jokes and bigoteering lead to alienation and a desire to harken back to the past when things were “normal,” or at least didnt change so fast.

Trump’s winks and nods, along with outright xenophobia, sexism and racism have shown real racists, sexists and xenophobes that it’s ok and allowed them back into the mainstream. Look at social media and see racial slur graffiti, teachers telling latinos that their parents will get deported, kids chanting “build that wall“, kids giving other kids fake deportation orders, people saying all the Jews need to leave the country, targeting Muslims, targeting women, targeting gays. The hatred that’s been unleashed is disgusting, despicable. Trump has enabled the worst of his supporters. He must condemn them. Immediately.

Trump Supporters are Not All Deplorable People

While there are certainly racists, sexists and xenophobes among his supporters, the vast majority are not. Most Trump voters that I’ve talked to are not idiots, racist, sexist, xenophobic or deplorable people reacting to a loss of white privilege. Many of them voted for Obama’s positive vision of hope and change twice and now switched to Trump’s change in 2016. Presented with any other candidate other than Clinton or Trump, they likely would have changed their vote.

They made a calculated choice that Trump was lower risk and would represent them better than Clinton. They saw this election as a lesser of two evils, where Trump was the lesser evil and made a a calculated choice that Trump was lower risk and would represent them better than Clinton would.

Clinton was a terrible candidate who:

  • Had high negatives
  • Was scandal ridden
  • Ran a terrible campaign (ie didn’t come to Wisconsin since April)
  • Was seen as screwing over Bernie Sanders in the primaries
  • Represented the ultimate status quo in an election where people wanted change
  • Represented the Bush-Clinton quasi royal family
  • Went along with the left’s insistence on saying things that defy common sense
  • Ran on continuing Obama’s legacy, which isn’t working for ~60% of our fellow citizens in a change election

The Lesser of Two Evils

Many on the left don’t understand how someone could see Trump as the lesser of two evils. But many did. When you voted for 8 years of hope and change and the politicans keep doing the same thing over and over, and your life exectency is literally going down, I can see why people would pull the lever for a racist, sexist demagogue thinking it can’t get any worse.

Many of my friends on the left see racism, sexism and demagoguery as THE issue in this election. It’s #1. Their view is that it’s more important than the Clintons’ money grubbing, influence peddling, corruption, lies and statements that defy common sense. Besides for the few people who thought that Clinton was the best possible candidate, they see Trump’s behavior as terrible and are willing to look past Clinton’s faults or make excuses for them.

My friends who voted for Trump believe that Clinton’s money grubbing, influence peddling, corruption, lies and statements that defy common sense are THE #1 issue and more important that Trump’s horrific rhetoric. They see Clinton as representing corruption, the elites, big banks, more Washington status quo that will keep making their lives worse. Besides the true believers and racists on the Alt Right who embrace his views, Trump voters looked past the abhorrent behavior and took a chance on Trump.

This disconnect is extremely important. Many Clinton voters now think Trump voters are racist, sexist, xenophobes for supporting him. Many Trump voters think Clinton voters are corrupt liars for supporting her.

The vast majority of Trump voters viewed him as the lesser of two evils. And it’s not crazy that they did.

When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them – Maya Angelou

Unfortunately, I think Trump supporters are wrong. Trump represents a much larger downside than Clinton does. Clinton was a corrupt politician as usual, but Trump, if he behaves like has during the rest of his life and does what he says he will do, will be a threat to our democracy. Not right away, but it will happen.

Like populist demagogues in Latin America, he will likely make life worse for the people who supported him. If Trump insists on tariffs or anti free trade policies, US firms will invest in robots and AI at their #1 priortiy, using super low interest rates and massive cash on balance sheets to finance tech improvements, allowing them to move expenses (salaries and employee benefits) onto the balance sheet, where they can be investments depreciated over the long term. Just like Hugo Chavez, a populist demagogue who wanted to help poor people, Trump will actually makes life worse for the people he’s proporting to help.

Here’s what I’m most scared of:

1. Racist, Xenophobic Demagoguery Continues to go Mainstream

Trump is already showing he’s not capable of governing without demonizing. He’s yet to denounce the rise in racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti semetic attacks. And he continues to lie and denounce people exercising their first amendment rights: protesters, the NY Times, political critics. So when something goes wrong he will lie and blame others for his failures. And because of how social media and the internet has cocooned people into their own echo chambers and hyper-normalized disinformation, it will be easy to whip up his supporters against “others.” That leads us down a terrible path.

Bringing racism, sexism, xenophobia, alta right, white supremecay into the mainstream. I’ve seen real attackts on social media, and have heard of some first hand. If Trump really follows through on his plan to deport 3m illegals, how do you think he’ll do it? He’ll have to do bad things to people who are here legally who just happen to look hispanic. And if the person doesn’t have their “papers” on them, they might be arrested, put in jail or even deported, even as a US citizen.

While I can understand some concern for accepting more refugees so we can avoid a Europe style mess, imagine if you’re a Muslim who loves the US. If Trump follows through on his muslim ban or registry, imagine all the people who are going to suffer the consequences? And how that’ll make us less safe?

That’s not ok.

2. Trump won’t be able to keep many of his promises because of tech and will blame his opponents

Many of Trump’s promises are not possible. Adding huge growth, bringing manufacturing jobs back and “making america great” in the eyes of trump supports will not be possible. Most of the job losses are because of technology. If Trump insists on tarrifs, US firms will implement robots and AI at the #1 priortiy, using super low interest rates and massive cash on balance sheets to finance tech improvmenets, moving costs (salaries and employee benefits) onto the balance sheet, where they can be depreciated over the long term. Trump will be like a populist authoritarian who acutally makes life worse for the people he’s proporting to help.

Tech has decoupled the elites from the land where they’re based and a populist demagogue will only push this separation even faster.

3. Trump won’t be able to keep his promises because he never intended to and will blame his opponents

Trump people are going to be disappointed. Trump is surrounding himself with hard core old style republicans like Rudy Guiliani, Newt Gingrich and Chris Christie. These are corrupt people who are not, as Dan Carlin put it, “draining the swamp, they’re refilling it with old swap water.”

4. Trump and his advisors in charge of the national security apparatus

In addition to old style, hard core, power hungry republicans, Trump is brining in Steve Bannon, the ex-CEO of Brietbart, who is an antisemite and probably worse. Trump, with access to our security state, the IRS, drones, the FBI and our military, has the potential to make Richard Nixon look like a saint.

His advisors so far all share something in common: they’re vindicitive people out for personal power. Liberals who have supported Obama’s ever increasing power because he was on their team are going to look like morons now that they’re going to be up in arms about Snowden revelations reading our emails, calls and texts, killing people, including american citizens, with robots (drones), and more. The only good thing is that the left and hopefully people on the right with a spine will see that concentrating so much power in the federal government is not a good idea.

All is not lost. The world will not end. Yet.

We’ve got our populist backlash. Unfortunately it came via Trumps racist, sexist and xenophobic rhetoric. While four years is a long time and Trump has the potential to do massive amounts of damage, there’s also the potential that he moderates himself. Or that he’s so bad he shocks the system and we get a centrist third party, or real change on things like fighting foreign wars, government power, drone killings and more. Our institutions are strong, so we have the chance to help limit the damage if he goes down a bad road.

If Trump can learn to behave himself, which I don’t think is likely after seeing who he’s surrounding himself with and his continued Twitter behavior, he has the chance to actually do some good:

  • A little populism is good
  • Tax reform
  • Infrastructure
  • A pivot away from endless war
  • Pushing people to see a third party as a reality

If a Trump presidency goes the way that I think it will, we must be ready to take action to protect not only those that are most vulnerable in our society, but our democratic institutions, and democracy itself. As Bernie Sanders put it:

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, [I am]…prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, [I] will vigorously oppose him.”

Further Reading

American Spring

American Fall

Chris Arande, 1, 2, 3, 4 – 100k miles talking to Trump voters

Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit

Hillbilly Elegy – Best book I read in 2016

Balaji Srinivasan – Land vs. Cloud in Tech

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