What Trump and Republicans Ignore at Their Own Peril

The economy is good—perhaps the best it has ever been—at least by the standards of the stock market, GNP, and unemployment rates. Yet Democratic Presidential candidates claim that Americans continue to suffer economically and apparently large blocks of voters agree. So what is the problem? Interestingly, the answer was given in 1951 by a self-educated longshoreman with a philosophical bent. In The True Believer, Eric Hoffer argued that the direction of a society is largely determined by its highest and lowest achievers. At the low end are those who are frustrated by feeling disenfranchised and are susceptible to the suggestions of mass political movements. 

These were championed in 2016 by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and had the latter been the Democratic nominee, it is uncertain that Trump would have been elected. Trump’s approach to the disenfranchised has been to champion a meritocracy, in which success at the top benefits all, and to some extent he has been successful. But he remains vulnerable to the frustration of an emerging voter bloc that is burdened by college debt, a paucity of high-paying jobs, and the inability to achieve the American dream of owning a house in the costly suburbs of our large cities. As Hoffer recognized, this group views itself as entitled to that dream. Individuals chafe at their failure to achieve it. To avoid the shame that accompanies failure, they are susceptible to socialist ideas like the ones that Sanders and his Democratic mimics are offering. Sanders &Co. are frankly disingenuous; they are by no means disenfranchised; instead, they are part of the very elite class that is to blame for this situation, no matter how much they advertise themselves as “working class heroes.” But they are offering the disenfranchised a dream, which they may be willing to buy into. But as Sanders is fond of saying, “We must think big!” even if the ideas are impractical and most likely to fail.

Polls suggesting that socialism is increasingly popular in America, evidence of a growing aversion to individual failure and the wish for the collective anonymity, offered by an egalitarian ideal, in which there are no winners or losers. Meritocrats like Trump find it difficult to comprehend such trends, especially in what had traditionally been capitalist America. But the complaints are real and must not be ignored. The wealth discrepancy in America is a genuine concern that needs to be addressed, by whomever is governing. The breakdown of traditional societal supports, including family, religious communities, etc, and the insistent heightened emphasis on individuality only heightens the sense of failure felt by the disenfranchised.

The Democratic idea of increasing taxes on the wealthy to reduce income inequality is not the solution; however, addressing the huge discrepancies in salaries between CEOs and workers might be, and this is especially true when they are based on pervasive levels of corruption. Capitalists like Trump and the Republican party need to address these issues and make genuine efforts to develop solutions, lest the country take a large swerve towards collectivism. They might begin by reading Hoffer.

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