TERRY PRONE: Trump’s inadequacies pile further misery on disgruntled voters.
Trump’s own supporters, though, will have been rocked by watching their man look like a traitor, writes Terry Prone.
A friend of mine sees Trump’s supporters as akin to the Orange Order; an historical anachronism, desperately hoping for are turn of power and control when their world is gone and they will be soon.
It is equally possible that they’re just hoping for a return of jobs to their area, and let us not forget that job-creation has radically increased on Trump’s watch. It just hasn’t significantly impacted on the areas and people who most voted for him. At least not yet.
People in their 70s in the US remember a genuinely great America. The baby-boomers, born after the return of the GIs from the Second World War, grew up surrounded by male relatives who had recently fought on what was seen as unequivocally the right side of history.
Their female relatives had done Rosie the Riveter tasks on the home front. Their parents, in short, were what Tom Brokaw calls the ‘Greatest Generation’.
Those children grew up in a world where education was newly valued and newly accessible. Hundreds of thousands of former soldiers who would never otherwise have experienced third-level education went to university because of the GI Bill. Economically, they were part of the best years of the American economy.
A child born in 1950 would, bythe time they were eight years old, belong to a nation producing and consuming 40% of the total global output — a nation remarkably self-reliant when it came to meeting its own needs, importing, in those years, less than 3.5% of America’s gross national product.
“America became the richest country in the world without particularly needing the rest of the world,” Bill Bryson has pointed out.
“It did so partly by being massively more efficient than its competitors. General Motors, with 730,000 employees, made a profit in 1966 of $2.25bn. To equal this figure it would have been necessary to combine the total profits of the 40 largest firms in France, Britain and Germany, which together employed about 3.5m people.”
However, by the time a child born at mid-20th-century point reached the age of 30, the entire picture had been turned on its head. In that year, almost everything America had made at home, just a little more than two decades earlier, was now being bought from overseas.
The US was importing cars, radios, TVs, music players, cameras, and myriad other products. The upended reality generated what Bryson calls “a volume of disquiet that sometimes verged on the irrational”.
The example he gives of this irrationality is of a Yale professor of economics asking his students to make a theoretical choice.
They could have a theoretical America experiencing 1%economic growth while Japan experienced 1.5% growth, or they could go for an America — theoretical again — which underwent a downturn of 1% downturn while Japan’s economic growth failed, they preferred America to be poorer if Japan were poorer still, rather than a situation in which both became more prosperous. It was a whole new lack of generosity, borne of fear and uncertainty.
Some of the fear, over time, ledto bitter certainty. Workers in the furniture industry, for example, learned that China could produce the same dresser they made for less than the price of the wood of which it was crafted, before the cost oflabour was added.
The American job losses that followed were worse than job losses. They were job losses in areas that had been sustained for generations by the large lumber mills, which were notre placed by anything else. The areas went broke slowly and then quickly, and workers who had never been paid much found themselves on welfare, queuing for free past-its-best food.
They believed that what had happened to them was the result of illegal support of their competitors by China’s government.
The financial support that allowed China’s factories to produce the same goods cheaper than America could produce them, even if American workers were paid not a cent for their labour, was therefore seen, not as ramped-up competition,but as a big power setting out to exterminate an entire industry in another big power. It was, the workers felt, allowed to happen by American governments too focused on other things to care about the industry or its workers.
Trump was, they believed, going to fix all that. He was going to set tariffs that would halt imports at the US border. He was going to face up to foreign leaders and show them what was what.
He was going to recreate a self-sufficient America where an honest day’s work generated an honest day’s pay and American workers were once again the most efficient and profitable in the world. In addition, he was going to stop all this nonsense about using neutral terms such as ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’, so Americans could exercise the old points of pride: Flag, faith, and freedom of speech.
To those who said that the American economy of the ’50s and ’60s could never be restored by the imposition of tariffs, Trump voters’ response was:
“Yeah, well, let’s try it anyway.”
To those who said that the president was eroding respect for the highest office in the land by his inattention to detail and instant nasty reactions, Trump voters’response was that this was a man who talked in a way that they understood and that “respect for the highest office in the land” was irrelevant to them as they stood in line for leftover food.
The first dent in their faith may have come about as a result of their president’s meeting with the Russian leader. Trump, in the filmed portions of the meeting with Vladimir Putin, did his usual intimidatory handshakes, deploying those randomly applied facial expressions he uses to portray himself as manly, firm, or whatever is the desired mood of the moment.
Putin, on the other hand, made no particular effort to look manly or firm. Real tyrants don’t have to. He looked at Trump with the amusement of a man on top of his game, watching someone who neither knows the rules of the game nor spots the other player running rings around them.
The Russian leader may have been surprised to find Trump going, hook, line, and sinker,for the outrageous proposal that Russia interview the 12 Russian intelligence officials identified by the FBI as “persons of interest” in the email hacking scandal. He will not have been surprised to find the president backing off within a day. In Putin’s long game, none of this waffling matters.
Trump’s own supporters, though, will have been rocked by watching their man look like atraitor by sucking up to a foreign leader while rubbishing his own agencies, and look like a fool when he claimed to have “mis-spoken” and used ‘would’ when he meant ‘wouldn’t’. The fact that they have been rocked is unlikely, however, to reduce his chances of a second term. His voters live with grievous disappointment every day. What’s one more?
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