Post-Convention Thoughts, August 4, 2016

Post-Convention Thoughts, August 4, 2016

The Republican and Democrat conventions were intended to consolidate support for the two nominees and unite the Parties on the main issues to be debated, to convince a majority of voters to support one or the other in November.
American politics is polarized, but many individual voters have not yet decided which pole to support, because there are not two but a larger number of poles. The increase in independent voters is not coincidental but largely because the two major parties ignored large groups within them. Clearly, the Democrats lost many white males because it abandoned the working class, and its preoccupation with minority, women and sex/gender issues. Republicans lost voters because of its acceptance of extremists on gun rights, and a less-libertarian focus, but Trump was able to keep many of them in (his) party, perhaps because there was no other viable party for these voters.

An unusual “idolization” of both the Trump and Sanders “movements” has been pointed out by commentators. This was triggered by anger, discontent and alienation among most of the “special interests” in each of them. Whites in rural areas, and middle class Republican primary voters elsewhere were not impressed by most of the 17 Republican candidates, and enough of them were so angry that they chose an “outsider.”
Much of Sanders’ support came from young people, and working class people who believe that their’s and their children’s “opportunities” are not “equal,” in jobs, income, education, health care, or where they live and raise their children.
Trump suggests that the elections are “rigged.” Some Sanders’ supporters seemed to agree. However, this may be “indirection” by Trump, to attempt to blame elections for the “inequality” that he seems to support, despite his non-specific rhetoric. What is actually “rigged” (as Sanders does say) is the economic and social system that prevents equal opportunity and fairness. Trump supports tax reductions for the wealthiest and no minimum wage. An analysis of the character of his supporters would be interesting, but they seem willing to support him, regardless of his statements.

This candidate “idolatry” is new in American politics. No other candidate for President has ever attempted to win by asserting that only he with his own unique abilities can to do what must be done, as Trump has. His statement, “I, alone can do this….” has been identified as a warning by many as the way “demagogues,” (some have cited Benito Mussolini, and others Adolph Hitler) have done this in other nations. American politicians have never overtly tried to do this. The fact that Trump’s followers commonly say, “He can do no wrong,” is worrisome to an increasing number of observers, that he may be succeeding with more than a few American voters..

The conventions revealed that the “establishments” in both parties have had to deal with delegates who were willing to change drastically the directions of their Parties. The Democrats, surprisingly, had better control and were able to both select an acceptable candidate and to largely unite behind Clinton. Republicans could not do as well. However, Trump’s supporters were able to overcome the fragmented opposition of the other candidates. The outcome has been defection or refusal to support the nominee by some Party leaders, and a significant drop in the polls for Trump. The “never Trump” movement still exists, though it seems feeble. However, most US elections are close, and a few percent of support for the movement might change the outcome.

The “common denominator” in the Sanders and Trump supporters is the willingness to ignore the party in favor of “a new vision” of the future. Their promises differ. Trump promised “change,” and to “make America great again,” to lower taxes and provide higher incomes. He would put tariffs on cheap goods from China and Asia, and provide more jobs, produce more in the US, and change foreign policy from mutual cooperation among nations to requiring them to pay for a US commitment of support in case of aggression against them. No specifics were provided. This dismays international scholars, because it would automatically trigger work toward development of nuclear capability or increase dependence on it. Also, it would embolden nations like North Korea, Pakistan, etc. In addition, some nations who have launched “peaceful” satellites may pursue other uses for its rockets–and places like Taiwan and Japan, and others in Asia, who are threatened by China, may reconsider their willingness to “trust” a Trump administration.

Sanders promised, in exchange for major tax increases on the upper and middle classes, free education, free medical care, and major support to social and economic programs to increase prosperity and opportunities among all citizens, while reducing the inequality in income, taxation, and living conditions of every citizen. In short, a major move toward greater government support of each individual citizen. Some critics found this to be consistent with Sanders’ Socialist background, as well as almost impossible to achieve in the states with GOP majorities..
Sanders opposes trade agreements such as NAFTA and TPP, and the Democratic platform and nominee now agree that these, as now constituted, were unacceptable. The issue on these trade agreements, however, is not the agreements themselves, but their consequences. NAFTA did in fact improve trade, HOWEVER, what happened to the workers whose livelihoods were lost was never adequately addressed by either of the parties. This, not the agreements themselves, were the reason that they did not sufficiently benefit American workers.
Republican hostility to unions and labor generally caused them to oppose any kind of retraining, financial support, or other efforts to compensate workers whose loss of jobs enriched other elements (mostly investors and financial interests) of the economy of the country. ( incentives to business and investors and other assistance, “carry interest” etc.)
However, Democrat support of help for workers who lost jobs was minimal, half-hearted and inadequate. And, when Republicans took control of Congress, all hope of support disappeared. Thus, This makes Obama’s support for TPP seem to be a “betrayal” of the labor movement that supported him. To address this, Clinton has agreed to oppose TPP if it should come up for consideration in a “lame duck” Congress while he is still President.

The conflict within the Republican party seriously endangers its future, whether or not its candidate wins. Threats of a third party arose during the primaries, but no single candidate was capable of financing it, and the Party itself was equivocal about opposing a candidate with strong support, even though he did not support many of the basic principles of the Party. However, Trump will be the leader of the Party, win or lose, and unless he is replaced somehow, many of the defectors from the Party will remain outside.
The Democrats had similar, but not so extreme, policy disagreements with Sanders, and did move further toward his programs, thus defusing much of the conflict with his supporters. The differences in supporters was significant. Republican primary voters were confident, apparently, that Trump would “change” enough from his belligerent and assertive approach to acceptable ways of campaigning; that is now in question, causing more defections and outright endorsements of the other party. A few Sanders’ supporters appear to be turning to third parties, or not voting but a large majority will support the nominees. A few, though less than in the other party, were so “ego-involved” that they will never be satisfied to support Clinton. As of early August, The post-convention “bump” for Trump was about 5% in the polls; which he lost to Clinton’s “bump,” which is increasing now to almost 10%.

Trump has resisted “toning down” his abuse of veterans, minorities, and a continuing practice of “lying and then ‘walking back’ the statements,” when he is confronted by the media or other questioners. Often he “doubles down”–that is repeats what he asserts—assuming his supporters’ willingness to believe whatever he says. His media described “abuse” of a “gold star” (killed in action soldier’s parent) mother and father is still a perceived “blot” on his conduct. But it is not unusual. He has abused war hero and Senator John McCain, as well as other political and social critics and has never apologized, though he expresses regret for some of what he has said while trying to justify it. His continuing efforts to punish anyone who criticizes hime or does not support him . increasingly disturbs “establishment” Republicans. They had hoped, even after events seemed to doom that hope, Trump would in fact change, and refrain from what is increasingly being identified as bigotry, racism, and ignorance of the facts when he addresses rallies and gives interviews to the media. His most surprising targets, though, were Republican candidates in primary elections, who at first he refused to endorse. How this plays out will be significant for this election. Most Republicans, though, seem willing to “wait out” the election because no option seems attractive enough except individual action–“follow one’s own conscience” (or common sense?).

The next major “milestone” in the campaign is Labor Day, in early September. Until then campaigning will be competing with the world Olympic Games for three weeks, and a public who are tired of electioneering and will be traveling or on vacation. How the election will be decided is still in doubt. It will certainly be, however, a major test of the character, intelligence and common sense of the American voter. Usually about 65-70% of the public vote, with fewer from young people and minorities. This election should bring out more, but whether young people will vote in larger numbers is still a question.

A singular aspect of this election is that for the first time in American history, a woman is a candidate. How women will respond to this is still unclear; but preliminary indications are that it WILL be a factor, perhaps a deciding one. (Women’s wages averaging 20% less for the same work is a major issue.)

The election is less than 100 days from now. The results are likely to be a major turning point for the country, regardless of the outcome. Actually, what has already occurred is significant, and will affect both parties and the nature of our democracy for many years. The outcome will be clear indication of what kind of people a mojority of American voters have become. Have large numbers lost their confidence in their own ability to act, and will they choose a leader who says, “Only I,(not we) can…., or will it continue to be divided but prefer NOT to be led by that type of person? And will the GOP Congress continue to mindlessly obstruct necessry actions (substituting for its hidden bigotry an misogynist one)? A party that met on inauguration day in 2013 to say, “nothing (this President) proposes will get through the Congress” does not deserve to be called American. If that party continues to control the Congress, we can expect more of the same.

Finally, in my opinion and those of many thoughtful people, there is one most disastrous scenario. If Donald Trump is elected with a Republican Congress, America, and the rest of the world, can expect things to become even worse then can now even be imagined. (Perhaps, though, better for the wealthiest few percentage of Americans– temporarily.)

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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