For Donald Trump, the U.S. establishment only has itself to blame

For years, the status quo has hummed along in Western politics. But the electorate is catching on.

Supporters wait for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a rally February 19, 2016 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Trump is campaigning throughout South Carolina ahead of the state's primary.  (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Supporters wait for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump to speak at a rally February 19, 2016 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Trump is campaigning throughout South Carolina ahead of the state’s primary. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s political success is “the greatest present threat to the prosperity and security of the United States,” Lawrence Summers wrote on Monday in the Washington Post.

Summers is the Charles W. Eliot University Professor at Harvard as well as a former treasury secretary (under president Bill Clinton) and director of the National Economic Council (under President Barack Obama). He is vexed by Trump’s progress toward the Republican presidential nomination. Trump’s election as president, Summers wrote, would “risk grave damage to the American project.” It would “threaten our democracy.” The mere prospect of a Trump election win, even if the event itself never comes to pass, could “tip a fragile U.S. economy into recession.”

Related: Inside the unprecedented rise of Donald Trump

Perhaps it is possible to agree with much of Summers’ argument while noting the response it provoked. Journalists warn one another never to read online comment boards, infested as they are with five-alarm nutjobs. But what the heck. Sometimes the people have a point. The comments under Summers’ article were full of contempt—not for Trump but for Summers. “Hey look, another 1%’er coming out trying to protect the 1% ruling class,” one reader wrote. “Quintessential evidence why the elites are completely detached from reality,” another added. “More likely is the reality that the worst thing that did happen to the U.S. was the foundation of the Harvard Business School,” wrote a third.

Now, I’m going to go along with the Washington Post’s comment board only so far. Nothing Summers ever did justifies Trump’s casual thuggery, the constant menace of violence at his rallies, the blanket slurs against Hispanic immigrants, Muslims, women, journalists and on and on. But if the American polity has grown so palsied it is vulnerable to Trump’s limited charms, the best ideas of Summers and his associates have had something to do with it.

Between 2006 and 2008, Summers made $5 million at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw & Co. while picking up another $2.8 million in speaking fees from firms that included Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup. Shaw survived all right when the U.S. economy more or less imploded at the end of 2008. Goldman Sachs and CitiGroup did much worse. But both firms were rescued, to the tune of billions of taxpayer dollars. The taxpayers themselves received no such rescue. Behold the fairness of what it pleases Summers to call “the American project.”

Summers then returned to the White House to help design many of Barack Obama’s economic policies. And while from the comfortable distance of Ottawa it’s easy enough for me to say they did a decent job, on the ground in the United States, the view is bleaker. Long-term unemployment spiked and remains high. Obstructionist Republicans in Congress—including some of the very people now running against Trump—ensured that Washington remained more or less broken as a vehicle for improving the lives of ordinary Americans, while continuing to function quite well as a deliverer of low taxes for the rich.

Related: What would a Trump presidency look like?

This helps explain why, according to a RAND Corporation large-sample Internet survey, Trump performs much better than his establishment rival Ted Cruz among likely GOP primary voters who agree that the rich should pay higher taxes and among those who think highly of labour unions. And RAND found that respondents were 86 per cent likelier to support Trump if they agreed with the statement that “people like me don’t have any say about what the government does.” Today’s GOP exists to cut taxes for the wealthy; bust labour unions, to the extent there are any left; and ensure that nobody has any say in what the government does because Congress is dedicated to ensuring the government doesn’t do anything.

Across the West in recent years, rejection of the creaky status quo has been a dominant political theme. It helps explain weird new governments in Hungary and Poland; the very different populist brinksmanship of Greece’s Tsipras government; and the looming referendum on British membership of the EU. In Canada, it helps explain how Rob Ford became Toronto’s mayor. For decades Republicans have valued simplistic solutions, and here comes one now to reward them. “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory,” William F. Buckley once wrote, “than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University.” Lately, the Boston phone book has been doing pretty well by Trump. Harvard can only look on in horror.


For Donald Trump, the U.S. establishment only has itself to blame

  1. This sums it up nicely. There are going to be Democrats, Republicans, and everybody inbetween voting for Trump, simply because he is the anti-establishment. Every single anti-establishment Democrat goes on to sell out the first chance they get. Trump is beholden to nobody, and everybody knows it.

    It’s really quite amazing to see the entire US media freaking out about Trump, and doing everything in their power to take him down… and they achieve absolutely nothing. Case in point, Trump denounces the KKK on a Friday, gets interviewed about it again on Sunday, doesn’t “denounce” them, and every single media outlet in the US is saying that he refuses to denounce the KKK, even though he very very clearly did.

  2. Trump “loves the uneducated”. Difference between Canada and the U.S. is that our country values and supports education. The U.S. establishment has catered to the elite, allowing the economic, social and educational disparities – which perpetuates ignorance. Rob Ford is gone.

  3. //Donald Trump’s political success is “the greatest present threat to the prosperity and security of the United States,” Lawrence Summers wrote on Monday in the Washington Post.//

    I’ll fix that for you. Larry Summers’ economic cluelessness has been the greatest threat to the prosperity and security of the United States. He is in the top 5 for responsibility for the global economic crisis. And he is a misogynist too boot. He lead the bullying in the Clinton administration of Brooksley Born, who was warned Clinton, Rubin, and Summers that the deregulation of derivatives, which they championed, in the repeal of Glass-Steagal would lead to economic disaster. A decade later, Brooksley Born was proven right, but the elites of the world keep paying attention to the economic lunatic that Larry Summers is.

  4. Watching Hillary give her victory speech shows why old thinking and political elites are out of Trump has been getting traction with ‘Make America Great Again’. One of Hillary’s new messages is ‘Make America Whole Again’. Which resonates more?

    There is a palpable anger from any number of groups who feel marginalized. Sarmishta Subramanian called it the “Offense Factory Model”. Who is that anger directed at? Whites, men and more narrowly white men. When people are direct angry at anyone the natural instinct is to direct that anger back.

    Clinton is pandering to the Offense Factory Model crowd and Trump is pandering to those being targeted. How much of the ‘constant menace of violence’ at Trump rallies is due to the people who believe in this model angrily protesting at the rallies? Not all of it, but why aren’t you seeing angry hecklers at Hillary rallies? If Trump supporters are all angry, white men shouldn’t some of them angrily protesting at Hillary’s rallies?

    72% of Americans are white. If you look at Hillary’s speech at just past the 9 PM eastern point this evening about 16% of the people behind her were white. That was a conscious by her media team. That is a real part of the reason there are large numbers of people who won’t talk about it publicly but are quietly planning to vote for Trump. Not only in the nomination, but in the general election too.

  5. Good article. It’s nice to see a Canadian journalist that’s starting to see the big picture. There is a growing unease in America stemming from the mounting evidence that one of the three greatest threats to the American project is the American government.
    Any number of federal agencies are out of control, and their behaviour is increasingly lawless. Spend a few hours reading about the excesses and legal dodges employed by the EPA and IRS, for example. Lois Lerner is a criminal, and she knows it. So is the head of the EPA. Both agencies are known to have broken federal laws regarding e-mail accounts.
    The Obama administration has imposed hundreds of thousands of pages of new regulations against the American people in the span of seven years. The current federal government is responsible for creating an environment where it has become almost impossible to start, let alone operate, a new small business. Without new small businesses, there is no feedstock for mature, larger businesses. Meanwhile, the gap between pay/job security of federal employees and those in the private sector widens by the day.
    The federal government and its institutions increasingly insulate themselves from the realities of everyday life faced by privately employed Americans. Regulations against business and commerce generally don’t apply to members of Congress. In the instance that they do, it’s a simple matter to requisition more money to hire a new staffer to track pay equity based on race and sex. The private sector has to absorb those costs, often at an existential risk. A congressional office never goes out of business due to a gap between what’s coming in and what’s going out. Businesses don’t necessarily have the option of raising prices to cover non-optional costs imposed by nameless and often brainless regulators safely ensconced at a desk in the capital.

  6. Finally a reporter has the sense to admit that there might be something more to Trump’s rise other than being a racist. That 99% of the media wants to reduce Trump down to playing him as a simple bigot appealing to KKK types shows either plan ignorance or the possibility that the media really is just a puppet of the corporation. Give American voters more credit, maybe there are some out there that truly do watch the documentaries, that read between the lines of what mainstream media is reporting and maybe they actually are smart enough to see through the hypocrisy that is running America. Does the media really think that the $800 billion TARP bailout was so easily forgotten? Are Americans really so clueless to not know what Super PACs are? Does George W. get a free pass on invading Iraq for the quest for ‘weapons of mass destruction’? What may shock the establishment is that the American public isn’t necessarily entirely focused on the Kardashians and NFL game day. Maybe there actually is resounding, real anger at Goldman Sachs committing criminal fraud and yet no one went to jail for it. That the Donald finally said ‘Bush lied, people died’ wins him more respect with me than anybody else in American politics right now. If he hadn’t brought that up, who would have? Certainly no ‘respectable’ GOP candidate.

  7. So, basically, Trump should be called The Last White Hope.

    I agree he’s a product of the Republican Party–their monster. It started with the election of Barack Obama. Many thought the Reagan-era racists were dead, and then they emerged from the woodwork. The Tea Party and the Birther movement (which Trump insists he’s the leader of). Fox News pandered to them, telling them their problems were a consequence of Mexicans, Arabs/Muslims, Blacks, etc. It’s finally come to a head.

    Trump is an egomaniacal bigot who is feeding off the fears/bigotry of these “uneducated” people to acquire his shiniest toy–the white house.

    His “uneducated” supporters don’t see. It’s similar to the way Hitler used anti-semitism to rise to power.

    Trump does NOT care about these people, but they believe he does, which is what matters. He’s good at branding/selling his image as a shrewd businessman. The truth is that he’s had more business failures than success (Trump university, vodka, airline, etc).

    Most of the Trump tower buildings are not owned by him (he’s branded his name for use).

    He’s largely smoke and mirrors/bluff, and thinks he can purchase the White House the way he purchases everything else in his life, including his robot, mail-order bride from Eastern Europe.

    His supporters are too dumb/desperate to see through the mirage of his image.

  8. There are far better examples of what rejection of the creaky status quo – and what that phenomenon produces – in recent Canadian politics than Rob Ford. Strange the reluctance to note them.

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