Why Is Trump Doing Well? It’s the Economy, Stupid, and That Makes Him Very Dangerous

Why Is Trump Doing Well? It’s the Economy, Stupid, and That Makes Him Very Dangerous

As someone who lives in New York City, and mainly runs in leftist circles, I see question after question on social media asking why it’s even remotely possible that Donald Trump is doing well in the 2016 Presidential election.

It’s not hard to see where this consternation comes from. By his own account, Trump:

  • Says terribly racist things.
  • Has no concrete plans about the policies he wants to implement.
  • Uses bullying tactics against his opponents.
  • Flip-flops minute to minute on his positions.
  • Shouts fascist propaganda on the stump.

He’s a horrifying mess, and no one seems to understand how he could appeal to any normal person.

Well that’s where you need to stop. He’s not making his case to normal people. He’s making it to desperate people, particularly ones that are white. And let me emphasize desperate, and not stupid.

Desperate? Really?

While the economy is certainly on the rebound since the Great Recession, there are a lot of lingering effects from the collapse. The two biggest ones (and the ones you’ve heard most often about) are stagnant wages, and the ever-increasing wealth gap.

Typically when the economy comes up, the left always brings up a variation of this argument: “Income inequality! Well then, people who are struggling should vote for a liberal who wants to level the playing field, and not some whacko billionaire.”

That’s all well and good, but get out of your own shoes for a minute and think about the harsher realities out there. For a white person who has a marginal education, skills that are becoming less and less relevant to the modern economy, and is being crushed by unending inflation, the last eight years under a liberal president have not been good. They’ve been pretty awful. Would that person really have any solid reason to continue supporting the policies of President Obama? No. They would want something different.

“But,” you say, “The policies of neo-cons completely wrecked the country! Why go back to THAT?”

Because face it, even the best of us have very little practical knowledge of public policy. Even those of us who claim to be educated on the issues wouldn’t, for example, be able to tell the difference between a Keynesian economic strategy and a Hayekian one, despite the great importance. Even you, dear lefty, are more concerned with your own day-to-day survival than the policy that effects the world at large. It’s human nature, which is why we even HAVE governments in the first place: to handle all the big societal things we don’t have (or want) the capacity to think about.

But Trump and the other candidates are so icky!

Of course they are. And dangerous, too. The people running for president on the Republican side are willfully against reasonable policy, and are generally just pandering to an electorate that feels frightened and hopeless. It’s a naked power grab, and here’s why it works:

Consider this: You live in a place where recession never really left, are a Christian (even if in name only), and white. You work a fairly inconsequential, low paying job, and getting a higher paying one is incredibly difficult. And a raise at your current job? Next to impossible. Oh, and get this, you have a president who’s NOT white, and is always talking about finding opportunities for minorities, while you get a sense that you’ve been completely forgotten.

What would that make you feel?

Anger. Pure, unadulterated anger.

Sound familiar?

If you’ve heard doomsayers compare our current situation to the one that brought Nazis to power in the 1920s and 30s, they’re onto something. Who do you think Hitler was trying to appeal to? Armchair leftists types, sharing cat pictures and pro-feminist clips on Facebook? No, he was going after the angry people. The ones who were struggling to survive. The people who didn’t understand politics or policy, because politics and polices don’t put food on the table or pay the mortgage.

So when Trump says how much he loves “poorly educated people,” he means it. A riled, uniformed electorate can be a powerful pawn when you want to become the leader of a shaky nation.

I mean, just look at the strategies all of the Republican candidates are using right now:

  • Racism.
  • Protectionism.
  • Fear.
  • Reversing everything Obama has done.
  • Clinging harder to Christianity.
  • Doubling down on gun issues.

Are you seeing a trend? If you’re struggling, and someone says your opponent will take things from you–things you barely have in the first place–how exactly would you react?

You’d vote against your best interest, because it doesn’t feel like that at all. Trump is big. He’s powerful. He’s a bully. He says anything that pops in his head. If you were feeling hopeless and weak, and saw someone like that, wouldn’t you be in awe? Wouldn’t you consider voting for someone who says ‘fuck you’ to the people you think are holding you down?

You bet your ass you would.

So what’s a good liberal supposed to do here?

You want to stop this? Get pissed, and move beyond general liberal talking points. Employ the strategy that Bill Clinton used in 1992, which I not-so-coincidentally included in the title of this essay:

“It’s the economy, stupid.”

Abortion, gun control, racial equality, gay rights, and all those other issues are very important, but let’s face it: they aren’t as important as the issue of day-to-day survival. When your personal security and livelihood are threatened, how do you respond? Anxiety rises and you end up making decisions based on protecting yourself against further danger.

And that’s the operative word here: Anxiety.

A large segment of the United States feels incredibly anxious about their living situation and immediate futures. And that large segment of the Unites States is currently using their vote as a blunt instrument of that anger.

If you’re crazy enough to think that Trump and his ilk don’t know this, or aren’t actively capitalizing on it, you’ll quickly learn it’s not the GOP that’s deluded–

It’s you.

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Why On Earth Do We Still Have Age Limit Laws for Political Candidates?

It’s been talked about to death that young people don’t vote as often as they should. If they did, we wouldn’t have celebrities pretending to be concerned at “Rock the Vote” rallies every election cycle.

It’s no secret that youth voting is somewhat spotty. In this last midterm election, an abysmal 36.4% of ALL registered voters came out. And of that 36.4%, only 13% were ages 18–29.

To put this in easy (if not disconcerting) mathematical perspective, if you had 10,000 citizens able to vote in your theoretical election, only 3,640 would’ve bothered to come out to the polls. And of that small group, a minuscule 473 of them would be young people.

Ack.

So what is it? Why do so few people aged 18–29 do their civic duty? Why do they stay home? Are politics boring? Are they too busy thinking about themselves?

Or how about this–

Maybe they don’t have anything in common with the people they’re supposed to be electing.

Let’s be serious for a minute. If you’re 18-years-old right now, born in 1998 (ack), which presidential candidate do you really have anything in common with? Everyone in the current field is at least two generations older than you, and in the instance of pop-pop Bernie Sanders, over five (although I tend to think his appeal hinges upon acting like a young radical). How can you be expected to truly give a shit about people that don’t understand anything about your life, with whom you have no practical connection?

Which is why I’m willing to float this simple, yet ludicrously difficult to implement idea:

Let’s constitutionally lower age candidacy laws to eighteen.

Even if you only vaguely remember the Constitution, you probably still know that you have to be 25 to serve in the House of Representatives, 30 to go to the Senate, and 35 to be elected President. But the reality is this: The average age of a representative is 57, the average age of a senator is 62, and when first elected, the average age of a U.S. President is 55.

To 18-year-olds, their leaders are always people in completely different walks of life, whose concerns rarely mirror their own. I mean, could YOU get excited if laws on sex and reproduction were being passed by people way beyond the age of being able to even HAVE sex or reproduce? Of course not.

Age does not equal wisdom

Generally, we think by barring young people from becoming leaders in government, we’re somehow protecting ourselves from being led astray by inexperience and foolishness. That would be the case if we were electing Kylie Jenner, but do you honestly think the American people would be stupid enough to elect a young person that didn’t have SOME sort of qualifications?

But therein lies the problem. We’ve tied youth to capriciousness so tightly, that it’s been difficult to break this link. It becomes virtually automatic: Are you young? Of course you can’t be trusted with anything important.

Don’t trust the young and they sure won’t trust you back

Sadly, that’s the message that goes out to young people when it comes to government: “This matters too much for you to be trusted.”

Can you blame young people for not giving a shit? The system places so little value on their opinion or how they really think, and yet young people are somehow expected to vote anyway? What’s their motivation? A vote should go to someone on equal footing, and not be a permission slip for older Americans to run your life because you’re arbitrarily prevented by the Constitution.

Government by and for the (older) people

The way government exists today, young voters get nothing but depressing and demoralizing messages:

Hey young person,

  • You have the immense responsibility to choose who can lead you, yet you’re barred from leading yourself.
  • You’re asked to pay into the government with your taxes, but god forbid you want any control of how that money is spent.
  • You can fight and die for America, yet you can’t make decisions on whether you should go fight and die.
  • You’re free to start companies that fill the economy with billions of dollars (think Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Elon Musk, and other such entrepreneurs), yet you’re not allowed an elected position to govern America’s finances. I mean, it’s not like you’re experienced with money and job creation or anything.
  • You’re able to both have and rear a child, yet you have no say on laws that might affect their lives.

The unfairness is staggering. Last time I checked, it was a fifty-six year old man that sent thousands of Americans to their graves in Iraq with shoddy intelligence. And believe me, that’s only one of countless examples that I could dredge up.

We need a mix of young and old in government, not old and old

Which leads me to my last point. This isn’t an attack on the capabilities of older Americans. Experience isn’t a bad thing when combined with acumen and judgment. But wisdom isn’t just the provence of the old. As David Bowie so accurately sang (and The Breakfast Club quoted), …these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.

Young people are extremely able and smart, yet they’re given so few opportunities to be trusted with anything that matters. Is it any wonder they completely check out of the political process? “YOU DON’T BELONG” is practically emblazoned on the Capitol steps.

The American government needs young perspective. But let’s combine that perspective with the abilities of public servants from ALL walks of of life. Think how fresh and innovative American leadership could be again with that kind of diversity.

And let’s go even beyond that. Let’s have a government that represents the real make-up of America. Young and old people live and work together NOW in our union. By finally integrating the young in our governing process, that union can only get much stronger, and dare I say, closer to being truly equal.

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Unless You’ve Been Poor, Shut the Fuck Up About Your Ideas for the Poor

As this excruciating 2016 election cycle rolls on, I’ve been hearing loads and loads about each candidate’s “solution for poverty.” Generally by people who’ve never been poor.

Poverty remains one of the least talked about problems in America, and for good reason: It’s a horrible thing to admit when you’re living in a land of supposed excess.

The American Dream, ostensibly, is homeownership, supporting a family, affording general luxuries, and having a job. So when you’re unable to hold any one of these things, a certain shame is attached to it—a feeling of complete failure and detachment from the world at large.

Other people have stuff. You don’t. It blows, and it feels like you can’t escape.

How do I know about this? Because for three years, between 2009 to 2011, I lived below the poverty line. It was a brutal experience, and the costs are so much higher than you can imagine. Let’s get into it.

Poverty is a VERY difficult cycle to break

I was your run-of-the-mill middle-class office worker between 2005 (when I entered the white collar workforce) until 2009, when I lost my job due to the “Great Recession.” I had a relatively decent amount of savings, but as you can imagine, it was quickly depleted. I had a difficult time finding work (like so many others), and simply ran out of money.

I was living with a long-term girlfriend at the time, and she was making a very small salary as an administrative assistant. The only reasons, in my estimation, that I was able to get out of poverty at all were:

  • Having a college degree.
  • Having grown up in a world devoid of poor people.
  • Being white.

When you aren’t born into poverty, you have certain advantages that can bail you out, namely a network of people who AREN’T poor who can eventually throw you a rope (even if it takes a while).

In general, chronically poor people don’t have that. Their world is poor, and virtually no one makes it out.

Oh yeah. You didn’t know that? Despite all the grand ideas we have that poor people can just simply stop being poor if they really feel like it, they don’t.

In fact, the rate of “working poor” is on the rise, and for a few years, that’s where I was trapped.

What’s it like to live in poverty?

As I said before, brutal.

The easiest way to described poverty is this: Your needs far outweigh your means, and there are no means anywhere in sight.

And not needs like “I need a new iPhone.” It’s more like, “I have one pair of pants and it’s developing a hole—and I just don’t have 40 bucks to replace them.”

When I was at my worst, I was making 8.50 an hour at a book store in New York City (which is a punishing place to live on so little money). Let’s tell this story in numbers, because they can paint a much clearer picture:

8.50 an hour, after taxes, is 6.38. Multiply that by eight hours (if you’re lucky to have an 8 hour shift), is 51 bucks a day. If by some miracle you work five days a week, your net pay is 255—a week.

So in a month you make 1,105. In a year that’s 13,260 (and that’s 40 hours per week of your time just to even get THAT much. Try adding a second—or third—job on top of that).

This is where the fun begins.

Want to get to work? That’s 116.50 a month just to fucking show up to your job (unlimited MetroCard). So basically, you have to work 30 minutes a day just to pay for your commute.

Want to have lunch? That’ll run you a minimum of 5–6 bucks, meaning you need to work one hour just to have a meal during your shift.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

So after commuting, you have 988.50 for ALL of your bills. In my case, I was half on the hook for a 1,700 per month apartment, meaning 850 of that measly 988.50 was automatically gone, leaving me 138.50 for EVERY OTHER EXPENSE I HAD.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that this isn’t sustainable. In order to pay your bills you need more money. To get more money you dip into credit. Credit you can’t repay. Your debt becomes a new bill, which you already don’t have the means to cover.

Essentially, you’re fucked.

Welcome to the world of the working poor.

So what does it feel like to be poor?

In a word, it’s demoralizing. Imagine a world where this is your everyday reality:

  • You can’t afford ANYTHING.
  • Debt is inevitable.
  • Debt is inescapable.
  • No one wants to hire your under-employed (or unemployed) ass.
  • You live on the razor’s edge. Everyday.
  • You have bank accounts in the tens of dollars.
  • All setbacks are incredibly punitive.
  • You’re penalized by all institutions (bank fees for low balances, etc).
  • You have to make decisions about whether or not you’ll have healthcare.
  • You suffer a mental cost from thinking about money all the time.
  • You fight with your significant other all the time about cash.
  • You feel left out (friends can go out, you can’t).
  • You can’t save anything.
  • You live in a float (you need future checks to cover current expenses).
  • You live with broken things you can’t replace.
  • You live with a general feeling of being trapped.

This is the hardcore truth about poverty. Being poor costs so much more than money. You make withdrawals from your sanity, your pride, and all the energy you have yields so little a return.

So what are a few things that can help?

That’s a lot to tackle in one article, but there are a number of things that I’d like to see happen.

Stop stigmatizing public assistance

Considering how much fucking food we waste in the United States, let’s stop defunding Food Stamps and similar programs. There is absolutely no reason ONE person in this country should go hungry for even five minutes with the gigantic food supply we have. It’s unconscionable.

Keep socializing medicine

Yay America for being ranked 37th in global healthcare. A country of such wealth should have the most well-funded and sensible healthcare system available to anyone who wants it. There’s no real reason anyone in the U.S. should be buried in medical costs.

Raise the minimum wage

Companies cry, “We’ll go out of business if we have to pay our workers more!”

Then go out of fucking business. Appropriately compensated employees are the lifeblood of the economy. You get more money in the hands of workers, they’ll spend it. Deprive them of money, and guess what. NO MONEY IS SPENT AND EVERYONE SUFFERS.

Rationalize campaign finance

When it costs one billion dollars to become the President of the United States, you know you’re screwed. But that’s not even the real problem. It costs millions to become senator or congressperson, too. This money has to come from somewhere, and it usually comes from wealthy donors who have no stake in curbing poverty.

Stop the financial influence, and you might be able to have a real conversation about poverty.

Realize that the cheap shit you buy has real costs

Walmart. Target. Amazon. All those low low low low prices. How do they do it? Oh right. By not paying their workers a living wage (for Amazon, I’m talking about factory workers, who make 13% on average less than the national average.)

I’m not saying these stores are completely evil, but we’re paying a price for their cheap products. Spend your money where workers DO make a living wage (Costco, for instance, is one of the fairest companies around). Reward places that are part of the solution.

Reform credit card companies

When you’re poor, you arguably need credit the most. That’s why it’s downright punitive when companies charge an APR anywhere between 14 and 23 percent. But that doesn’t even really spell it all out. This article from About.com gives a better explanation, which I’ll quote:

With credit cards, APR tells you what interest rate you pay, but it doesn’t include the effects of compounding – so in reality you probably pay more than the APR.

If you only make small payments on your credit card, you’ll start paying interest not only on the money you borrowed, but you’ll also pay interest on the interest that was previously charged to you. This compounding effect can raise your cost of borrowing higher than you might think.

This sucks if you make a decent living, but is absolutely crippling to poor people. Essentially, you start to work for the credit card company. That 100 bucks in credit ends up costing you more than what you borrowed in the first place. The Credit CARD Act of 2009 helps a little, but there are enough loopholes to drive a truck through.

Final thoughts

Poverty is a real problem in the United States, and it effects everyone. Poor people aren’t just folks in the bad part of town. They’re you and me, and we’re everywhere.

I managed to escape poverty, but I’m lucky. And I know it. Many people don’t. Before you turn your nose at people in Section 8, people in meaningless, low-wage jobs, or people who don’t have the nice things you have, think of how they got there—and what keeps them there.

While it doesn’t seem possible, the next poor person could be you, or someone you care about.

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