Don't Waste Time on a Clown - End the Ills That Got Trump Into the White House

Given that the campaign for the election of the 45th president of the United States was a circus from beginning to end, it should be little surprise that a clown got elected.

But is Donald Trump just a pantomime villain with an arsenal of vile epithets and put-downs but little interest in anything but money, or a demagogue whose rise to power can be compared to Hitler’s in 1930s Germany?

Trump’s election has rightly horrified and sickened liberal-minded people in America, Europe and many other parts of the world. The revulsion at his views is correct - his misogyny, racism, Islamophobia and nationalism need to be called out.

But the next step of saying that his election is the end of the world as we know it, pace REM, is simply diverting attention away from the failures of the current political, business and wealth-owning elites across the developed world that have allowed people like Trump to win power.

As Mickey Levy, chief economist for the Americas and Asia at Berenberg Bank who held the same post at Bank of America for 22 years, put it in a conference call in the cold New York dawn of 9 November: “Trump’s election represents the electorate’s rejection of the establishment’s progressive agenda.”

This was clearly the case in the US where 45% of white graduates and even a quarter of black graduates - people who one would instinctively expect to vote for the establishment candidate - actually put a cross against The Donald’s name.

Of course, three-quarters of the white working class also went for Trump, providing the groundswell of his support as their British counterparts did for Nigel Farage and his fellow Brexiteers in June.

The immediate threat is that that same demographic provides the electoral support to lift Marine Le Pen of the Front National (FN) into the Elysee Palace next year in the French presidential elections. Germany has elections, too.

Trump, Le Pen and Farage have succeeded in tapping into a growing discontent among lower income groups that their living conditions have worsened at the same time that those of the ilk of Hillary Clinton with her $250,000 Wall Street speeches and old Etonian David Cameron have prospered.

Some translate this into a rejection of globalisation. But this is where there is a danger that liberals will try to start a fight on the wrong battleground.

People are not angry at globalisation - many appreciate the easier access to countries for holidays, the wider range of food and music, and the fall in prices of many goods that used to be out of reach.

the Trump victory will finally prompt a much-needed debate about the need to curb the power of finance

What they are angry about is the inequitable sharing of the proceeds of globalisation, the lack of investment in those communities that have suffered as a result of de-industrialisation, and the glaring rise in inequality of income and wealth has that flourished in its wake.

What the Trump, Brexit and FN voters were rejecting was the mantra that a rising ride lifts all boats - in other words that governments should not stand in the way of wealth creation as it will benefit everyone.

The mistake at this point would be to devote all the righteous anger of the liberals against Trump’s egregious claims and proposals.

Peter Thiel, the Trump supporter and billionaire investor, hit the nail on the head when he said that the media - and therefore Clinton supporters - erred in never taking Trump seriously but taking him literally. “I think a lot of voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously but not literally,” he said.

For example when he said he would build wall with Mexico liberals recoiled at the idea of recreating the Berlin Wall on the Mexican border. Trump voters realised he was saying he would toughen up immigration policy.

In any event a fiscally conservative Republican Congress will not sanction the spending of billions on a pointless wall. Equally there is no chance they will repeal Obamacare without sight of a viable alternative. There are checks and balances in the system.

The business people who funded Trump will not want to see trade barriers go up. Trump is a newcomer to Washington and will have to learn the system and find a way of using the 100,000 bureaucrats who actually run the US. Politics is all about firebrand rhetoric until you win power - then it’s all compromise.

That is not to say he won’t do something stupid - George W Bush launched the Iraq war - but worrying about walls, nuclear weapons in Korea, or a pact with Vladimir Putin is a waste of time.

Hopefully the Trump victory will finally prompt a much-needed debate about the need to curb the power of finance, ensure that everyone has a minimum standard of living, replace insecure work with decent employment, and build homes for all and not just the global super-rich.

The right response to Trump is not to attack the clown but to realise that unless politicians reform our circus economy, the next act will another more malevolent figure rising up in Europe.

More about the author

About the author

Phil has run Clarity Economics, a London-based consultancy, since 2007 and, before that, was Economics Correspondent at The Independent.

Phil won feature writer of the year Work Foundation Work World media awards in 2009, and was commended by the Royal Statistical Society in 2007.

He is the author of Brilliant Economics and The Great Economists.

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