Politics  •  November 6, 2016

It’s the Whole Political System, Stupid

Trump supporters are like the third-class passengers on the lower deck of the RMS Titanic. They see the water leaking into the ship, so they are panicking. But the upper deck passengers, or the educated liberals in the urban areas, are oblivious to it. They are aware of the commotion in the lower deck but haven’t bothered to look into what it’s all about. Meanwhile, they are still debating among themselves whether the ship should turn left or right.

These rural white Americans feel like nobody is listening to their cries of help. The world is evolving rapidly, leaving them behind. It’s difficult, if not impossible, for the rural Americans to keep up with the pace of the change created by the technology-driven disruption. The fear they are feeling is real. If you are a truck driver, you’d be correct in worrying about the ideas like self-driving cars. Blue-collar skills involve muscle memories, so they are not flexible. They would need many years to re-train before they can start making the same amount of money as before. They cannot afford such a re-training period; they have a family to feed. White-collar skills like computer programming are versatile. They allow you to hop from one industry to another easily, but where could a coal miner hop to? The educated liberals like Bill Maher don’t understand this. So, they keep making fun of them, telling them to learn something new. The politicians might offer a token amount of re-training programs just so that they can claim they did something for them, but they are unrealistic and inadequate.

For these rural whites, the current election cycle is about fighting the entire political system. It’s beyond left and right. Their intent has been made clear by what they did to their own party. They are supporting a candidate who they know is destroying their own party, because they are sick of the whole system. Some of them would have supported Sanders because he had the same potential.

The rural whites and the urban liberals are not on the same page. The former is concerned about the whole ship sinking whereas the latter is still concerned about which way to sail.

Among John Podesta’s emails on Wikileaks was one from a Citibank executive named Michael Froman. It contained a list of cabinet members for Obama a month before he won the election. Why is an executive at Citibank (which received the biggest bailout in 2008) involved in such a discussion? Their close relationship explains why Obama did virtually nothing to punish Wall Street after the crash of 2008. (In contrast, Iceland allowed their banks to fail and sent the top bankers to jail.)

As other leaked emails reveal, Hillary Clinton has a cozy relationship with Wall Street who is her major funding source. Over the course of her career, she and her husband have built a powerful network of political and financial allies. 

The concept of “term limit” was designed to prevent any single person from consolidating power indefinitely through a political system as it can grow to monopolistic or even totalitarian power. But through nepotism, which is rampant in both parties, the political elites have found a way to hack around this. If you evaluate the power structure, not the individuals in power, we realize that they keep consolidating their power while changing the public face of the same structure. Clinton will continue to strengthen the oligarchy with her numerous connections to the rich and powerful of this nation and the world.

Trump, on the other hand, has no connections to these establishments. This is what the elite politicians are scared of. Trump is not going to play by their rule book. He’ll do and say whatever, and destroy this type of carefully crafted and coordinated relationships that took many decades to build between various interests. They make deals with political currency, but if someone who does not honor this currency were to be at the helm, it would cause chaos.

After Trump officially became the nominee, GOP lost control of him because he would not accept any of their usual operatives to manage his campaign. The only people who could get through to him were his own inner circle of friends and families. This unprecedented situation left them helpless. The same will happen to the whole political system if he were elected, which is exactly what the rural whites are looking for. Trump has already fulfilled half of their wish by destroying the Republican party.

Clinton’s leaked emails and speeches reveal where she draws the line between what the American people want and what her funders want. This is why she is unable to propose any radical ideas like Sanders did. She has to be concerned about her donors. Sanders was like Trump; he had no dependency on Wall Street, so he was free to propose any ideas to reform Wall Street. He didn’t have to worry about upsetting any bankers.

The Republican voters were willing to sacrifice their own party for the sake of fighting the oligarchy. The Democratic voters, on the other hand, have failed at this attempt with Sanders because Clinton already has monopolistic power over DNC. He stood no chance of winning as it was rigged from the start.

Also, the urban liberals are better off economically than the rural Americans as the leaking water hasn’t reached their deck yet. This is particularly true for us, New Yorkers, thanks largely to the bailout of 2008. The rest of America had no choice but to bail us out because we held everyone’s local economies hostage through our banking system. Without the bailout, New York would have looked like Detroit today. Nobody I know defaulted on their mortgage and were evicted from their own homes while the average Americans who supported the bailout did/were.

The desire to fight the whole system existed on both sides of the political spectrum in this election but, for these reasons above, the Left’s attempt failed.

In order to understand what motivates Trump supporters, we have to separate what they are saying from what they are feeling. For the matters of value, the reasons people provide to justify their choices almost always come after the fact. It is very rare to come across people who choose a position purely based on a thorough logical analysis. (You would probably have to be a bit autistic.) Most people are not aware that this is going on inside them. They think they base their opinions on reason. It’s only after they are forced to confront their own contradictions through a logical debate that they realize reason had nothing to do with their choices. At that point, they shut down. They’ll say something like, “Whatever”, “Blah blah blah,” “Sure, you are always right,” “I don’t wanna talk about this anymore,” etc.. Logical contractions never lead to changing their minds because reason had nothing to do with their choices in the first place.

When we are scared of any particular situation, we write a logical narrative to explain why it’s happening to us because it allows us to feel that we have some degree of control. This narrative, however, is often misguided or plain wrong. It is particularly difficult to correctly analyze our own fears.

Trump supporters are scared of their bleak economic future. By the absolute measures, they are not actually poor, but they are fearful of their declining trend. Their mortality rate is rising. Unfortunately, they misidentify the causes, misunderstand the mechanics, and misinform themselves through the media that spoonfeed bite-size, simplistic answers for everything. In reality, the cause of their suffering is too complex and abstract for them to comprehend, but they need explanations just like everyone else in order to ease their fears. Race, for instance, becomes a handy concept because they can see it. Out of desperation, they jump at any explanations they can understand, like “It must be those Mexicans who are making our future so bleak.”

If we are to understand their true concerns, we need to ignore what they are saying. Their misguided explanations do not invalidate their fears. They support Trump, not because of his policies, but because they feel he could address their fears and concerns. Whatever Trump says to them to excite them have little or nothing to do with their true concerns. Everyone needs to feel like he is a reasonable and intelligent person, so politicians must supply explanations their audience can understand.

But this does not mean Trump supporters are stupid. Intelligence is relative. Someone like Noam Chomsky could corner you into admitting that you are wrong on many issues, but this does not mean that your choice is fundamentally wrong or that you are stupid. It simply means that he is smarter than you are. Someone who is even smarter than Chomsky would be able to corner him into admitting that he is wrong too. Think of how scientific knowledge evolves over time; we are constantly proving our past assumptions wrong. In other words, intelligence is not the ultimate arbiter of truth. When it comes to matters of value, it’s stupid to believe that intelligence can give us the right answers.

I believe that the fear of the rural whites is real and legitimate. It’s not paranoia or hysteria. They have good reasons for rising up and revolting at the whole political system.

It’s not so much what Trump will do on purpose that matters to his supporters. Simply sending someone who is not connected to the oligarchic power structure of Washington would do serious damage to it. (Michael Moore describes it as throwing a molotov cocktail.) It’s like taking out Saddam Hussein and replacing him with Kevin Bacon. It does not matter who. The politicians would not know what to do because their leader wouldn’t be playing by their protocol anymore. Everyone would be left to their own devices to improvise.

Trump is particularly well-suited to create this chaos because he is uniquely unqualified and because he cannot control who he likes or dislikes. He does not discriminate based on how rich or powerful someone is. We’ve already seen him piss off countless rich and powerful people. Even if some executives from Citibank or Goldman Sachs wanted particular people to be in his cabinet, Trump has no reason to listen to them. He owes them nothing and they owe him nothing. There is no basis or leverage for negotiation.

No doubt, he too will abuse his political power for his own gain, but at least he would be starting from scratch, and his consolidation of power must end in eight (or four) years. That is what term limits are for.

Trump supporters are excited about his potential to demolish the power structure of Washington. They are not particularly interested in vilifying Hillary. For them, she is just one of many who control the oligarchy. Trump supporters are not voting against Clinton, so they are not interested in comparing what’s wrong with her and what’s wrong with Trump, like Democrats are doing. For them, Trump represents someone who can break up the monopolistic power structure of Washinton D.C. to which Hillary Clinton, as well as many Republican politicians, belong. 

Trump supporters are not angry at Hillary specifically but at the whole system. Given today’s political system, Clinton is what a politician has to be. If the system necessitates you to raise millions of dollars from wealthy donors to win an election, you would have no choice but to keep them happy. It’s not actually the fault of the politicians. If we change the system, the politicians too will change.

What I share in common with Trump supporters is my desire to change the system, but personally, I do not believe that sending Trump to Washington is a good idea. I’m pretty sure he can break up the monopoly without intending to do so. It would be like telling Godzilla to visit the White House; he would destroy everything along the way without intending to do so. But the question is: What comes after that? It’s like the invasion of Iraq; the Bush administration had no plan for filling the power vacuum they created.

Slavoj Zizek says he would vote for Trump if he were an American, but he offers no solution either. I suspect that Peter Thiel is voting for Trump because he too shares the same desire to change the system. He is a major investor in sea steading, floating islands that would allow people to experiment with different political systems. Although I cannot say it’s a bad idea to destroy the current power structure, there is no guarantee that something worse would not take its place.

I’m not voting. I love democracy but what we have in this country is an oligarchy, and I would rather focus my energy on how to implement a new system and leave my fate to others. What is happening in Iceland with Pirate party is inspirational, and I think we can work towards a solution similar to that. But we are far behind Iceland. A party equivalent to Pirate in the US would be deemed so obscure, unrealistic, and naive that it will be relentlessly made fun of and attacked for taking the votes away from the major parties. Given the enormous peer pressure to conform to one of the two parties, I’m not sure how we would be able to grow a party like that to be a real contender. But that’s another discussion.