The Politics of Strange

It’s no surprise that the frontrunners in this year’s presidential election are two of the most unpopular in American history.  How did we get here?

  • The Politics of Ideology:  The American model of government is based on consultation and negotiation — people who can reason together to arrive of mutually acceptable policies.
    • The consultative model is based on placing the interest of “the country” ahead of individual objectives.
    • Ideology places a belief ahead of “country.”  It treats anyone who doesn’t share the belief as an enemy to be overcome, and not as someone whose cooperation is required.  Racism, ISIS, and Naziism are obvious forms of ideology; so apparently is greed.  Any idea or person promoted by one ideology is very likely to be hated by anyone not sharing that belief.  Sound familiar?


  • Mass disenchantment and the decline of the American dream.
    • We’re in an age in which families do not necessarily do better financially than they have in past years and children do not do as well as their parents.  Retirees don’t necessarily have financial security.  College graduates are smothered with debt and those not going to college have an uncertain future.  That’s not a recipe for joy, and people want someone to blame for their disappointment.
    • Frankly, that’s how Hitler got to power and the Jews became the scapegoats for Germany’s misfortune during and after WWI.  Gary Becker won a Nobel Prize in Economics for describing the economic roots of prejudice.  Prejudice reduces competition for jobs, raising wages.  Its a simple idea that contains much truth.

US society is divided into groups that really don’t have much to say to one another:

Large corporations, concerned with free trade and freedom to invest and sell offshore and move jobs to wherever labor is the least costly.  They also seek government subsidies for domestic development.

Small businesses, concerned with taxes and government regulation.  They don’t want their customers’ jobs sent offshore.

Retirees, concerned with the stability of investments and Social Security and with rising healthcare costs.

Unskilled workers, concerned with the threat to jobs posed by buyouts and automation, wage stagnation, and healthcare costs.

Minorities and immigrants, threatened by discrimination.  Wages may be stagnant, but are still better than where they were.  Healthcare is a concern.

Working mothers, concerned with gender discrimination in pay and childcare costs.

That brings us to why neither the Clinton nor Trump campaigns are working well.  Both campaigns have been trying to cobble together groups with conflicting interests to support their candidate — and that’s just naïve.

Trump has created the biggest problem.  Populism has no place in the GOP establishment.  His appeal is to common people who are concerned about their income, job stability and healthcare costs.  The GOP establishment is concerned about protecting big business (including pharmaceutical companies and doctors) at the expense of consumers.  There’s no way to combine those points-of-view that can even remotely make any sense.

Arguably, Trump could have won this election either as a third party or by jettisoning the GOP establishment as soon as he had the nomination.  The Democrats would have had Hillary, and whatever ideologue the GOP nominated would have been profoundly unpopular.  If Trump had not made other mistakes, he could have won that race.  Now, there is a real risk that the GOP will finish third in some states behind both the Democrats and the Libertarians.

Conversely, by dumping Bernie Sanders, Hillary would lose to almost anyone except Trump.  For whatever reasons, she wouldn’t buy into either Sanders or Warren as VP, and the left wing of the party may well stay home in November.

The election is rather like a basketball game in which each side commits stupid fouls in the closing moments.  No one seems really to want to win this fight.

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