The last few months have left me dazed and confused as to why the American people love Donald Trump. I’ve written about it, I’ve unfriended Facebook friends who asked me to endorse him, and I’ll admit I have even learned a few marketing tricks from his campaign.
By anyone’s playbook, Trump is a bully, a narcissist, a misogynist, and a racist. Plus, he’s attracting dangerous followers like members of the Ku Klux Klan. Even his right-hand salute was compared to Hitler’s hand gesture. Despite his politically incorrect behavior and self-bravado, again and again Trump comes out on top.
American people are loving Trump in record numbers. Why?
What we are seeing now is a passionate rift between those who like Trump for his brashness, and those who fear what could happen to our country with a man like him in power. This is what prompted me to take a deeper look at what exactly Trump says that resonates with Americans. It didn’t click until I read Thomas Frank’s article, which you can find here.
At the very bottom of this election sits a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with our systems. Let’s go through the list of what wiped out the American middle class and the hard-working, blue collar employee who used to be able to support his family.
- We were told our children need college degrees. With rising tuition, shorter classes, more requirements, and schedules that keep our kids in school an average of one year longer, the stress of such an education puts families in debt, often for life.
- The promised land of gainful employment that a college degree guarantees may as well be Shangri-La. In my daughter’s circle of friends, the picture is dire. They are disillusioned, unemployed or working less than part time, living at home, and fighting over minimum wage jobs just to stay afloat. One friend shares a single waitressing job with a woman who used to be a manager until her company laid off their middle-aged women.
- Parents put a second mortgage on their homes to support their kids. If they were able to hold on to their houses during the big recession, they still have a long way to being mortgage-free. Many will die in debt. Parents used to be able to lean on their children for financial support in their later years, but now their children don’t have any money to spare. The slide into poverty seems inevitable.
- Healthcare is out of control. How is it possible that an outpatient procedure like an Epidural that lasts 10 minutes can put you back $15-25,000? Insane deductibles and co-pays add to the issues. Can anyone actually afford to get sick? If you do, you could be paying back those expenses for the rest of your life.
- Corporations are under pressure. Americans can’t afford to buy as much now that production jobs have been outsourced to cheap labor countries like China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Fewer jobs at home means less disposable income for Americans. Suddenly, organizations are in trouble and the middle class is wiped out. Right now you want to be either young with a great, sexy idea that disrupts the market, or already financially set for life. If you are anywhere in the middle, you are screwed.
- When this country was doing well we opened the borders, as Reagan did, to invite farm workers. It made sense because we needed cheap laborers to do the less desirable jobs that we don’t want to do. We are college educated, after all. This works great when things are good. It falls apart when there are no jobs in the middle for Americans; the top and the bottom are already occupied.
And this is where Trump comes in.
People are tired of losing. They are afraid the little they have left could be lost at any moment. And who isn’t disgusted when a CEO gets fired and is given a multi-million dollar parting gift bonus? Trump nails these pains and fears and dissatisfaction. He promises to be the bully who will shake things up. He has no problem blackmailing, negotiating, or forcing the other side to relent to his wishes. And why wouldn’t they? He’s the Almighty Trump and this is his track record. Truly, he has no plan other than to “change it.”
The American people support Trump because they want to send a message to the system. This is his appeal. Trump will tell the establishments what we want to tell them ourselves, and Americans believe the establishments will listen to a bully.
The bank bailout did nothing for the people, or so we believe. Of course, we didn’t live through the outcome of not providing the bailout, so we don’t really know how bad it could have been if banks were allowed to fold. What we now witness is the effect on our lives and the people around us. Like my girlfriend who lost her house at 62-years-old after battling with the bank for five years. The refinancing they offered was merely an extension of her debt. Total fail. She can’t get back on her feet financially, is such an emotional mess that she can’t focus on work, and the stress of her fight for survival has literally paralyzed her—she awoke one morning unable to move her left arm. There are millions of stories like my friend’s.
That is why Trump is so popular—he promises to be strong enough, independent enough, and crazy enough to take the system on. He will send a message to anyone, anywhere.
Who wouldn’t want that? In some ways I do, too. Let’s shake things up.
On the flipside, those among us who look into the future and carefully examine the past know this type of populism comes with great danger.
History shows that great fear based leaders who understand pain-point marketing can rise to unprecedented heights when people are unhappy. And once they are in power, they keep manipulating the system, like Putin, Hitler, Castro and many other dictators have done before. In the long run they can cause irreparable harm to a country and its people. And that worries me more than anything else.
And as we are beginning to see in unsettling images of violent clashes during preliminary elections we need to wake up, because we have much to worry about.