Updated: Dec 20, 2020
My name is Mark and I am an Obama, Obama, Trump voter. It has been four years since I voted and I still do not regret it. My vote for Trump was premised on the belief that America’s regular political order had become stagnant and dysfunctional. I was looking for an alternative, someone different. As I approached voting decision time I looked for guidance within my personal conceptual framework. The best I could come up with was;
“When a system is broken there are three alternatives:
1 – Fix it
2 – Ignore it
3 - Smash it and start again.”
Option 1 was not available, our political order was too far gone. Not voting or voting for Clinton would have been taking option 2. So I went with option 3 which was Trump. My mantra at that time was “Elect, Impeach, Reset”. I had a hunch he would be either the greatest or worst president ever. Either outcome worked for me. You gotta love a democracy!
Robert Heinlein said democracy is a lousy way of governing but it is eight times better than any other governance system known. Democracy itself is a pretty tricky thing to maintain given the grandiosity of the human spirit (and excesses preferred by old white men) but it has lasted since the Greeks and seems pretty settled. The challenges facing America are not innate to democracy as a political system, rather it is the economic engine that comes along with democracy…capitalism.
Capitalism is premised on, and its very existence depends on, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer. In a mature country this dynamic is problematic. For America, it is just the way we roll. Based on this engine we would expect a hollowing out of the middle class which is exactly what we have been seeing.
According to the Pew Research Center study between 1991 and 2010 the portion of American adults living in middle class homes fell from 62% to 59%.
Based on a 2012 study by Pew Research Center that looked at the average annual change in mean family income between 1950 and 2010, the middle class peaked in the 1970s. This loss was confirmed in a later study showing continued losses in the middle class households.
Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.
In addition to economic polarization, the body politic has become more ideologically divided. The Brookings Institute reported a shift in America’s ideological center.
At or Near the At Right and Left
Ideological Center Extremes
1984 41% 10%
2004 28% 23%
This polarization continues today with 27% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans viewing the opposing party as a threat to the nation’s well-being.
Morris Fiorina, a political scientist at Stanford, believes it is the party leadership and elites that have been polarized and that the rise in independents is due to the middle’s refusal to buy into the polarization. Fiorina states,
The case for optimism here is that my sense is the system is blowing up. To people like me who went to graduate school in the 1960s, things have that same feel today. And I hope that out of the wreckage of these sclerotic ideological parties, a new generation of leaders will emerge who package issues and solutions in a way more appropriate to our times so we can move on. (Vox.com)
Due to increasing dissatisfaction with American economics we have two visions of capitalism. The first is Crony Capitalism which is what we have today. The Rich Get Richer. There are generations upon generations of laws, rules, and regulations supporting and propagating the economic gulf created by Crony Capitalism. Lots of folks continue to think this form of capitalism is a good idea. An alternative to Crony Capitalism is Compassionate Capitalism. Compassionate Capitalism creates new ways for corporations and elites to think and act in ways that benefit society as well as stakeholders. Core planks of Compassionate Capitalism include a basic income for all, protecting the environment, reducing inequality and achieving gender parity.
For me, Trump was simply a symptom, not the cause. He is a symptom of a failing economic order and a stagnant and sclerotic political order. Trump rode the “good old boys club” mentality straight to the White House while failing to represent large swaths of American citizenry by putting in economic incentives to benefit economic elites. Trump’s base of “forgotten Americans” found a populist hero despite proof to the contrary of his true leanings i.e. the tax break for the rich and wholesale regulatory and economic rollbacks putting Americans at risk.
Hopefully Trump is the last of the old white men to access their traditional entitlement to the presidency. It is almost as if the American people choose Trump to exemplify everything that is wrong with our political order. Joe Biden built his campaign on and won the presidency being a transition president ushering in an era of younger, more diverse and progressive leaders. If these new leaders move us toward Compassionate Capitalism my vote four years ago was not wasted.