Explaining Trump

2016-04-15

in Economics, Politics, Psychology, Rants, The environment

The often disturbing spectacle of the rise of Donald Trump as a leading Republican contendor in the presidential race prompts many emotional and analytical responses: about the long decline of America as a superpower since 1945, about the dysfunctional features of party politics and American politics in particular, and about the chasm between quality information on one side and public policy and (especially) public opinion on the other.

Many interpret the Trump phenomenon in terms of disaffected voters, as this passage from The Economist describes:

The reason evangelicals vote for Mr Trump has little to do with faith or specifics of policy. It is more a question of attitude. A study by the RAND Corporation, a think-tank, has found that the most reliable way to tell whether a Republican voter was going to support Mr Trump was whether he agreed with the statement: “People like me don’t have any say about what government does.” Trump voters feel voiceless, and whatever attributes Mr Trump lacks, he has a voice. He lends it to them, to express their grievances and their aspirations for greatness, and they love it.

All this at a time when people are prosperous and governments are making easy choices, at least compared with what is likely in coming decades because of our criminal unwillingness to stop burning fossil fuels.

We had better hope that worsening global conditions eventually have a rallying effect, rather than prompting a scramble of every state, region, and ideology for itself.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

. April 18, 2016 at 12:47 am
. April 25, 2016 at 5:26 pm

For the party of Lincoln this is a disaster. Mr Trump is disliked so intensely by so many Americans that the damage to the party wrought by his nomination could go far beyond failing to win the White House, to hurting Republicans’ chances in House and Senate races. That is why the Republican establishment (or what is left of it) is frenziedly searching for ways, from a brokered convention to supporting a third-party conservative, to stop the man who has mesmerised their party. Unfortunately, there are no good options.

But he is right that the taint of unfairness could poison the nomination. In a contested convention the delegates’ individual actions are central: they not only select the nominee, but they also vote freely on changes to the rules—which they can skew to favour their personal choice. So who picks the delegates? Rules differ from state to state, but the answer is, largely, the very establishment that electors have rejected. As if that weren’t complicated enough, the parties took steps in the 1960s to bind the conventions more closely to the results of the votes in primaries. Were the party to anoint anyone other than Mr Trump or the second-placed Ted Cruz, a divisive ideologue who is detested by his colleagues in the Senate, it would cause outrage. And rightly so.

The hard truth for the Republican Party (and thus, in a two-party system, for America) is that the lack of good options reflects a deep internal schism. The coalition between business, evangelicals, defence hawks and blue-collar voters has broken apart. The anger Mr Trump taps into is not unique to America: from France to Germany to America, between a fifth and a quarter of the electorate are tempted by populist parties. But in Europe that energy is channelled into seats in parliament and possible coalition governments. In America, the pipework narrows to a party’s nominee and then the presidency.

http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21695038-republican-party-has-run-out-good-options-what-now

. April 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm

An evening shift-change saw lines of men leave the Cooper plant, lunch-boxes in hand. Most felt that tariffs on China had helped them: one called them a “game-changer” that had saved jobs and prompted extra shifts. But, strikingly, praise for the president was mostly dwarfed by anger at the state of the country. Some workers said they were Democrats but felt underwhelmed by Mr Obama. Others, Republicans, expressed suspicion verging on contempt for the president. Mr Obama is “the worst fucking piece of shit in this country, he should move to China”, spat a bearded worker in a camouflage hunting jacket who declined to give his name, turning back to add, pre-emptively: “And I’ve got black friends, so it isn’t that.” Another worker, Josh Wilkerson, a Trump supporter, said that anti-China tariffs were good, but he shared his colleague’s belief that, mostly, “Obama is for the people who don’t work.”

Several workers accused Democrats of scorning traditional values. Jerry Eatherton said that tariffs on Chinese tyres have “helped a ton”, and voted for Mr Obama’s re-election in 2012. But this year he will support “anybody except Hillary”. Mr Eatherton is a hunter who feeds his family with venison and other game. Mrs Clinton, he avers, would like to take away the gun with which he puts “food on my table”. Several workers were for Mr Sanders (who on primary night won Hancock County, of which Findlay is the seat). A number declared Mr Trump “scary” and backed Governor John Kasich of Ohio, a Republican who won his home-state primary (Mr Kasich’s line on trade is Clintonesque in its nuances). Yet Mr Trump has won other rustbelt primaries in Illinois and Michigan, and dominates nationwide in exit polls among white voters without a college education.

In dozens of interviews at the tyre plant, one person backed Mrs Clinton: Rod Nelson, president of the Cooper plant’s union branch, Local 207L of the United Steelworkers, and that was in the “realist” belief that she will be the Democratic nominee. At Lexington’s request, Mr Nelson gathered ten Cooper workers for a group interview. Asked to sum up Mr Obama, the men replied variously that he was a good man, a disappointment, a “great speech-giver”, a victim of Republican obstruction in Congress and a man who had failed to rein in the super-rich and their influence over politics. The president was praised for bailing out the car sector and other industries soon after taking office. He was thanked for tariffs on China, but his support for the TPP caused baffled dismay. Mr Nelson ventured that perhaps the president is using trade as “a diplomatic tool” to win allies.

http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21695075-even-workers-protected-trade-tariffs-feel-angry-and-neglected-view-rustbelt

. May 4, 2016 at 4:22 pm

A majority of Americans now narrowly approve of Mr. Obama’s performance — a big improvement from his standing in surveys ahead of the midterm elections, when his ratings were decidedly negative. An ABC/Washington Post poll found that just 24 percent of Americans were angry at the federal government

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/04/upshot/trump-would-have-uphill-battle-against-clinton.html

. May 6, 2016 at 11:17 am

Why is clarity passing? Because it appears Trump is actually going to be the Republican nominee. It’s really happening. And the US political ecosystem — media, consultants, power brokers, think tanks, foundations, officeholders, the whole thick network of institutions and individuals involved in national politics — cannot deal with a presidential election in which one candidate is obviously and uncontroversially the superior (if not sole acceptable) choice. The machine is simply not built to handle a race that’s over before it’s begun.

In short order, Trump’s obvious unfitness for office — today widely acknowledged across both parties and in the mainstream media — will become a partisan observation, something Democrats say. Consultants from the two parties will sit across from one another on cable news shows and squabble about it, as nature intended.

Just as the media will need to elevate Trump, it will need to bring Clinton down. Going after Clinton will be journalists’ default strategy for proving that they’re not biased. They will need opportunities to be “tough” toward Clinton, or at least to engage in the kind of performative toughness valued in campaign journalism, to demonstrate their continued independence.

Trump will give them opportunities. And it’s not going to be through policy critique, a domain in which Clinton towers over him. It’s going to be through tawdry, nasty shit.

http://www.vox.com/2016/5/5/11589262/2016-general-election-is-going-to-suck

. May 6, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Your assessment of the fractious condition of America’s political parties concluded that “it is impossible to imagine a big democracy staying healthy without them” (“The party declines”, March 5th). But the current state of many large democracies suggests exactly the contrary. The polarisation of politics in America; the entrenchment of party whips in Britain; complete dysfunction in Italy; and institutionalised corruption and class prejudice in India: all of these result from the misplaced importance accorded to political parties.

America’s Founding Fathers focused on representation, not parties. This year’s presidential race shows how the parties have become so out-of-step with that ideal. The parties now represent the various interest groups they have cobbled together to justify their existence and have become part of the “establishment”, whose raison d’être is self-preservation. It is little wonder that voters are swayed more by the superficial emotional appeal of simple anti-establishment rhetoric than by serious consideration of the issues facing the country.

Where, for example, is the debate on the role of education when it come to competing with the surging skills of India and China? Where is the serious analysis of how best to return the economy to surplus and manage the crushing burden of national debt on generations to come?

Ultimately voters get the representatives they vote for. Sadly, too few give too little thought to this crucial right and duty.

MIKE RAVEN
Buffalo, New York

. May 6, 2016 at 6:21 pm
. June 1, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Mr Trump does not have a majority among wealthy Republicans. But the idea that it is mostly poorer, less-educated voters who are attracted to Mr Trump is a myth. Only 13% of the votes in New York’s Republican primary came from New York City; the vast majority were cast upstate. Statewide data show that he won 52% of those earning under $50,000 and 64% of those earning over $100,000. Mr Trump may seem to be a champion of disaffected blue-collar whites. But there are not enough of them among Republican primary voters to account for his success.

. June 1, 2016 at 6:11 pm

Exit polls in the three biggest states, Connecticut, Maryland and Pennsylvania, offered some familiar explanations for Mr Trump’s success. It was above all fuelled by resentment of the ways in which America’s economy is changing and of the political-business elite presiding over it; more than four in ten Republican voters said Wall Street hurts the economy and Mr Trump won two-thirds of them. Yet the polls also suggested deepening support for Mr Trump, who has now won 26 of the 41 states that have voted, across the Republican electorate. He beat Mr Cruz handsomely among evangelicals and strong conservatives, the Texan’s biggest fans. Given that he also outperformed his poll ratings in every state—reversing a former habit of underperformance—the impression was of a Republican electorate that has, rather suddenly, decided to plump for Trump.

. June 1, 2016 at 6:19 pm

The Republican nominee
Fear trumps hope

Donald Trump is going to be the Republican candidate for the presidency. This is terrible news for Republicans, America and the world

. June 1, 2016 at 6:22 pm

A survey of American military personnel found that Donald Trump was the preferred presidential candidate among people on active duty. Support for him was twice that for the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton. On a negative note for both, over a fifth said they would rather not vote in November if the choice was between the two.

. June 16, 2016 at 2:37 pm

The rules of the Republican convention don’t exist in advance. They are crafted by the rules committee before the convention meets. If it wanted to, a majority of that committee could change the rules of the nomination process, unbinding delegates from their respective candidates and allowing the party to choose a different nominee. As procedure, it’s straightforward. As politics, it’s dangerous

The only way this happens is if Republican leaders sign onto the effort. And if they do, they will have voted to throw the convention—and the GOP itself—into complete chaos, opening the door to a massive backlash from Republican primary voters, who cast ballots with the expectation that the party would respect their choice. It’s a huge gamble that could (and likely would) destroy the career of anyone who touched it. Which means it probably won’t happen.

If it’s not going to dump Trump, then the most the party can do is distance itself as much as possible. And it’s already happening. On Tuesday, top Republicans like Paul Ryan and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker condemned Trump for his response to the Orlando shooting. “I do not think a Muslim ban is in our country’s interest,” said Ryan, who a week ago was lamenting the “textbook” racism of Trump’s comments about Curiel. “I do not think it is reflective of our principles, not just as a party but as a country.”

Between now and November, there’s a good chance we’ll see something almost unprecedented in modern American politics: a world where the elected officials and elites of a political party are either indifferent to the fate of their party’s nominee or outright antagonistic to him. Where Republican lawmakers disavow their endorsements, where Republican office seekers obscure their ties, where the whole firmament of Republican electoral politics—operatives, activists, fundraisers—take leave for the season to let Trump flail on his own

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/06/trump_s_polling_is_catastrophic_what_does_the_gop_do_now.html

anon June 17, 2016 at 2:38 am
. July 9, 2016 at 2:28 am

. July 9, 2016 at 2:37 am

“He’s trying to defeat hate with hate and hate doesn’t beat hate it’s never fucking beaten hate. It just makes more hate.

Now this might be the most hippie thing that ever comes out of my mouth but it’s true the only thing that can beat hate is love. No love doesn’t always beat hate. It doesn’t always beat hate, but it does do something.

Right now think about your own personal life. Think about a person who hates you and you hate them. From now on just show that person nothing but love. Now I’m not saying for a second that that person will start loving you. They’ll probably still fucking hate you, but one thing will happen: eventually everyone will see them as the asshole. Don’t be the asshole.”

. July 25, 2016 at 7:37 pm
. July 28, 2016 at 1:58 pm

OK, so, I am glad you asked about that because this is the conflict that I am currently having: The U.S. media is essentially 100 percent united, vehemently, against Trump, and preventing him from being elected president. I don’t have an actual problem with that because I share the premises on which it is based about why he poses such extreme dangers. But that doesn’t mean that as a journalist, or even just as a citizen, that I am willing to go along with any claim, no matter how fact-free, no matter how irrational, no matter how dangerous it could be, in order to bring Trump down.

You interviewed Chris [Hayes] about Brexit and I just want to submit to you that the mistake the U.K. media and U.K. elites made with Brexit is the exact same one that the U.S. media and U.S. elites are making about Trump. U.K. elites were uniform, uniform, in their contempt for the Brexit case, other than the right-wing Murdochian tabloids. They all sat on Twitter all day long, from the left to the right, and all reinforced each other about how smart and how sophisticated they were in scorning and [being snide] about UKIP and Boris Johnson and all of the Brexit leaders, and they were convinced that they had made their case. Everyone they were talking to—which is themselves—agreed with them. It was constant reinforcement, and anyone who raised even a peep of dissent or questioned the claims they were making was instantly castigated as somebody who was endangering the future of the U.K. because they were endorsing—or at least impeding—the effort to stop Brexit. This is what’s happening now.

Do you think the people voting for Donald Trump because they feel their economic future has been destroyed, or because they are racist, or because they feel fear of immigrants and hate the U.S. elite structure and want Trump to go and blow it up, give the slightest shit about Ukraine, that Trump is some kind of agent of Putin? They don’t! Just like the Brexit supporters. The U.K. media tried the same thing, telling the Brexit advocates that they were playing into Putin’s hands, that Putin wanted the U.K. out of the EU to weaken both. They didn’t care about that. That didn’t drive them. Nobody who listened to Trump could think that was genuinely a treasonous request for the Russians to go and cyberattack the U.S. government.

. July 28, 2016 at 1:59 pm

“The media has used Trump as this kind of once in a lifetime threat, like Hitler, and there is this kind of moral exercise that you engage in when you say, “If I were a German in the 1930s, what would I want history to have recorded that I did? I would want history to record that I did everything I possibly could to stop Hitler.” I think that is now translating into everything and anything goes when it comes to stopping Trump. I think journalists are now of the mindset where they are saying, “Anything we can use against Trump, we can.” And I think that in and of itself is pretty dangerous, and I am just not comfortable with that, notwithstanding how much I share the view that Trump is this sort of unique evil.

I am asked that a lot, or asked why I won’t say that I endorse Hillary or whatever. I see my role as being a corrective to whatever consensus emerges that I don’t think is being subjected to enough critical scrutiny. Just pushing back against that is the most you can hope to do as a journalist, against unquestioned assumptions embedded within the conventional wisdom. I am not a political prognosticator, but I always thought and still think that the chances are overwhelmingly high that Hillary is going to be the next president. I always thought that and still think that. So when I think about the outcome, and what the ultimate result is going to be, I generally look past that, and think about things that can be accomplished before that, or things that can be accomplished once that happens.”

. August 2, 2016 at 5:05 pm

Channeling his constitutional law professor past, Obama then went into a lengthy disquisition questioning why so many prominent Republicans who seem to recognize Trump’s unfitness for office continue to support him.

“I think what’s been interesting is the repeated denunciations of his statements by leading Republicans. Including the Speaker of the House [Paul Ryan] and the Senate Majority Leader [Mitch McConnell] and prominent Republicans like John McCain,” he said. “And the question, I think, that they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him?”

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/08/02/obama_to_republicans_why_haven_t_you_renounced_trump_again.html

. August 2, 2016 at 5:06 pm

Obama then made a fantastically cogent argument for why Republicans should pull their support for Trump:

There has to come a point at which you say somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn’t have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding to occupy the most powerful position in the world. …. I recognize that they all profoundly disagree with myself, or Hillary Clinton on tax policy or on certain elements of foreign policy. But, there have been Republican presidents with whom I disagreed with. But I didn’t have a doubt that they could function as president.I think I was right and Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues. But I never thought that they couldn’t do the job. And had they won, I would have been disappointed, but I would have said to all Americans, they are—this is our president, and I know they’re going to abide by certain norms and rules and common sense. Will observe basic decency. Will have enough knowledge about economic policy and foreign policy. And our constitutional traditions and rule of law. That our government will work. And then we’ll compete four years from now to try to win an election. But that’s not the situation here.

. August 5, 2016 at 11:38 pm

“Over the past few days, Trump has destroyed this middle ground. He’s exposed the wet noodle Republicans as suckers, or worse. Trump has shown that he is not a normal candidate. He is a political rampage charging ever more wildly out of control. And no, he cannot be changed.

He cannot be contained because he is psychologically off the chain. With each passing week he displays the classic symptoms of medium-grade mania in more disturbing forms: inflated self-esteem, sleeplessness, impulsivity, aggression and a compulsion to offer advice on subjects he knows nothing about.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/05/opinion/trumps-enablers-will-finally-have-to-take-a-stand.html

. August 11, 2016 at 4:57 pm

Trump’s algorithm is to say semi-random things until his crowd roars its approval, then he iteratively modifies those statements, seeking more and more approval, until he maxes out and tries a new tack.

This is one of the core strategies of machine-learning: random-walking to find a promising path, hill-climbing to optimize it, then de-optimizing in order to ensure that you haven’t plateaued at a local maximum (think of how an ant tries various directions to find a food source, then lays down a chemical trail that other ants reinforce as they follow it, but some will diverge randomly so that other, richer/closer food sources aren’t bypassed).

It also betrays one of the core problems with machine learning: bias in the sample-set. The people that Trump relies upon to give him his success feedback are the people who show up for Trump rallies, who are the most extreme, least-representative group of potential Trump voters. The more Trump optimizes for this limited group, the more he de-optimizes for the rest of the world.

. August 12, 2016 at 3:04 am

Polls show that Trump has failed to grasp one of the essential truths about this extraordinary contest: in a race between the two most unpopular major-party nominees in modern history, it’s in each campaign’s interest to train the spotlight on the other. Clinton wants the race to be about Trump. Which is what the publicity-addled Republican wants too. And why not? It worked for him in the Republican primaries. “I got 14 million votes and won most of the states,” he boasts. “I’m liking the way I ran in the primaries better.”

. August 12, 2016 at 4:09 am

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