If you listen to some of Trump and Steve Bannon’s rhetoric, you might think at first that they were leftists. They decry globalization and the role of corporations in essentially robbing the lower and middle classes, taking their jobs and giving them to people in foreign countries who will work for less. The government, they say, isn’t making the average American a priority. And as far as that goes, it’s true. Republicans and Democrats alike have sold out the people to corporate, multinational interests. Bernie Sanders said the same thing, as did Ralph Nader.
The average American knows this: their wages have stagnated, it’s harder for high school-educated people to earn a living wage, college debt is unaffordable and unsustainable, and it’s all too easy to be bankrupted by a health crisis — at least, it was before the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.” Traditional liberal values would provide the answers to these problems, but “neoliberal” values have abandoned them. This is what most Democrats (except Bernie and a few others) don’t understand. The status quo cannot continue.
The other leg on this stool is the changing world around us. More specifically, the changing neighborhoods around us. White middle- and lower-class Americans are not just suffering more than their parents did, they’re looking around at very different neighborhoods and towns. Hispanic immigrants bring their restaurants, food stores, and culture with them. Likewise, so do immigrants from the Middle East and Asia. Coincidence? asks the aggrieved white man, struggling to survive.
Like many a populist demagogue before him, Trump exploited the racial underpinnings of white working-class anxiety. The people whose best interests would have been served by socialist Democrats (if more than one existed) put their lot in with the loud man who said, “Here’s who to blame for your problems.”
But Trump and Bannon are frauds, speaking out of both sides of their mouths. While decrying Wall Street and the “elite,” they have joined forces with them. Trump says, “Drain the swamp” and fills his cabinet with Wall Street billionaires and con artists who shill for corporate industries such as the fossil fuel industry. They offer the rich corporate elite tax breaks at the expense of the white working class that they fooled. They will kick many of those people off of their insurance and tell them they’re doing them a favor. They will tax them to build a wall, and then tax them again with a border tax on Mexican trade goods, which will hit poor people the hardest. They will trumpet “choice” in education while depriving free public schools with air, asphyxiating them slowly, continuing the cycle of poverty.
Congressional Republicans, at least, are more “honest,” in that they have never promised to be kind to the average American. They have always been willing to cast them adrift to be hungry, unhealthy, and possibly homeless. Paul Ryan is so completely unrepentant about kicking people off their insurance that he could qualify as sociopathic. He just doesn’t care, along with many of his ideological brethren. But Trump promised something else. Instead, Trump has snuggled into the cozy bed of Republican “bootstrap-ism,” which doesn’t believe in such a thing as luck or systemic inequality. If you’re poor, then you have done something to deserve your fate. So fuck you.
Does Trump know that he’s screwing his supporters? That he’s doing the opposite of what he claimed? Does he care? It’s hard to know a man’s motives. Maybe he just wants to run the show and be adored. Bannon, particularly, is inscrutable. Does he really believe that he can build a white man’s (definitely not woman’s) paradise, where only the chosen few rule (he being one of those)? Does it matter what he believes, if the outcome is the same — the destruction of government as a force for good; the disenfranchisement of minorities, including women; a harsh society where the strong survive, and the weak are exterminated or forgotten?
We can only hope that the false gods of populism are revealed for what they are — self-serving, self-aggrandizing, would-be dictators. They don’t have your interests at heart, Trump voter. It was always a lie. Unfortunately, we will all suffer the consequences. Be vigilant. Resist.