Uncommon Common Sense – January 2017

Uncommon Common Sense

By Bill Frayer
billfrayer@gmail.com

What Have We Learned?

 

Bill Frayer 2010So this is the first column I have penned after the 2016 US election.  Many of us were stunned and troubled by the election of Donald Trump as President. Of course, many others are presumably happy to see Obama go and the Donald arrive. So what can we make of this result? How did the conventional wisdom fail so miserably?  What does it say about the United States and its role going forward? I think we can draw conclusions about the emerging economy, about the media, and about politics itself. 

It is increasingly clear that the economic dislocation felt by many rust-belt families is profound. Trump and his minions like to blame international trade agreements for the loss of US jobs, and it certainly has cost precious jobs in some areas of the country.  But I believe that the economic evolution away from manufacturing and towards a data-based economy is a greater reason for job loss.  As more jobs become automated, through robotics and sophisticated algorithms, more jobs will disappear, particularly jobs for men. The male, working-age unemployment has already risen dramatically.  The electoral backlash in rural and rust-belt areas should have been expected. Trump has vowed to bring back coal mining and steel-manufacturing jobs.  That is disingenuous, to say the least.  He will likely face some push-back when these jobs fail to appear. 

This election also speaks volumes about the role of media: especially social media and television.  Trump used social media to his advantage, and Facebook assisted him by providing a rich environment for the dissemination of “fake” news stories, usually benefiting the Trump campaign. It is clear that many voters, alarmingly, see social media as a primary source of news. The “mainstream” media was accused of being biased against Trump. Fair enough; they probably were. 

But it was Trump’s celebrity status, first established through his Apprentice television show, that made people think of him as a plausible leader. The media obviously found Trump’s raucous campaign rallies to be profitable because he was saying such outrageous things. For the media to profit off of his irresponsible demagoguery, and to ignore those candidates who were trying to make a rational case for their candidacies, was grossly irresponsible and certainly helped elect him President. I hope the networks have learned from this experience and will consider providing more balanced coverage of the next election cycle. (Why am I skeptical?)

Finally, I think it is obvious that when it comes to politics, having a clear, understandable message matters. Bernie Sanders and Trump both understood this. Hillary Clinton’s focus on the unsuitability of Trump as a possible President did not work. She was right, of course, but her nearly exclusive focus on this drowned out the message she was trying to convey. 

Say what you like about Trump, he didn’t have an ambiguous message.  It may have been insincere and full of untruths, but it was clear. Voters have always liked clear simple messages over complicated ones. Maybe Bernie could have won with his clear message, although he surely would have been branded a communist by the Trumpistas. We will never know. 

Now the good news: Trump is unlikely to be able to accomplish many of his more outlandish proposals. The election is likely to have focused the Democrats’ attention on making the structural and policy changes it will need to compete in 2018 and 2020.  The pendulum does swing. As history has proven, democracy is messy, and often gets bad results. But in a crisis, it is more resilient than any other system. That’s good, because I think the US, and the world, is indeed headed for a crisis!

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Ojo Del Lago
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