Sunday 24 March 2019

Don't rush to judgment just yet - Trump may still reveal himself to be the smartest guy in the room

Ivan Yates is travelling around the United States
Ivan Yates is travelling around the United States
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

Universal outrage abounds about Donald Trump. He's a clown, misogynist, buffoon, nutter, dangerous disaster, racist, not fit for office. This presupposes that 60 million Americans don't vote in their best interests, are readily duped and so stupid as to imperil their nation.

Having observed first-hand the US general election over 14 weeks across 30 states, I must deconstruct this fake consensus.

US media, print and broadcast bears no comparison with BBC-style news, imparted impartially, fairly and with balance. From the get-go, CNN, NBC, CBS, HBO and ABC were visceral, vicious and vitriolic about Mr Trump's candidacy. They favoured any other GOP nominee, predicted he couldn't win, and delegitimising his victory after November 8.

Since 2004, TV other than Fox News is unashamedly pro-Democrat. Accept it for what it is. US analysts on Irish media never voted for Mr Trump; they will always be utterly hostile to him. It's mutual. Hence, the diet of disinformation. Stories of recounts, Electoral College dissenting votes and Russian manipulation were sold as real Trump obstacles. They amounted to a denial of reality.

Arguments that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote only tell half the story. Big blue coastal states such as California (25 million people) weren't even visited by Mr Trump. He couldn't win them, so disregarded any potential votes there. He could have picked up an extra few million votes in the biggest population centres under different rules. The battleground seven swing states were the same for both sides. Republicans won them all.

The presidential election was a binary choice. Hillary lost because she ran as a proxy third-term Obama candidate. When Bill openly criticised Obama-care as cost-crazy, he was silenced. Despite personal favourable ratings, Mr Obama's policies were discredited. "Hope and change" were rhetorical slogans - inner-city lives were unchanged. National debt has doubled to $20 trillion, while eight million people survive on food stamps.

Her stump activity was distinctly lethargic (not even visiting Wisconsin), either due to much rumoured poor health or complacency. Posters declaring 'Hillary for prison' were evident in Vermont. Neither FBI investigations nor WikiLeaks revelations caused the most damage. Clinton Foundation fundraising was perceived as 'pay for play' from dubious donors. A key unanswered question is how come they left the White House in 2001 impoverished, but now are worth $200m?

Media analysis of three televised presidential debates exclusively focused on Mr Trump's abrasiveness rather than stark specific policy alternatives. Punters absorbed points of difference where Mr Trump had specific new initiatives: renegotiating trade agreements, imposing tariffs on imports; lowering corporate tax rates from 35pc to 15pc; restrictions on illegal immigration, particularly Mexicans, Cubans, Latinos and Hispanics; billions of extra infrastructure investment, notably needed transport.

Presidential Supreme Court appointments are crucial in tipping the judicial majority on two game-changing issues: the Second Amendment on individual rights to bear arms - gun control; and restrictions on abortion - the Roe v Wade judgment.

Conservative voters' priorities related to protecting traditional values. Mr Trump's campaign was more about making America American again than making America great again.

Official unemployment numbers published by the Department of Labour in November revealed live register unemployment at 235,000; a monthly drop of 19,000 and the lowest since 1973. A comparable figure to Ireland's, yet with a population of 320 million. Full employment statistics are not mirrored by the blue-collar reality in Michigan or Ohio. Manufacturing plants remain closed.

Mr Trump's war of words with the giants of the auto industry and Carrier air-conditioners epitomised three key emotive sentiments - modern economic patriotism, practical protectionism and anti-globalisation. It was win-win-win strategy.

Mr Trump redefined campaigning. Twitter displaced conventional media. With more than 20 million followers, he discarded filters in communicating his message. He utterly dominated the news cycle. Everyone covered the latest Trump story. He started with impossible prospects: only 12pc support amongst Republicans, facing 16 opponents, derided by the GOP hierarchy.

Some $7bn was fund-raised for the entire general election - $3.4bn by Republicans, $3.1bn by Democrats and $400,000 by Independents. Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush spent more than Mr Trump. He put up $56m of his own cash, but spent a mere $130m - a third of Ms Clinton's cash firepower. He survived a relentless blitzkrieg of unprecedented negative TV advertising smearing him as a sex fiend. Surely it's the most incredibly successful electioneering feat ever, never having contested an election, let alone holding public office. It's some performance from a 70-year-old rookie. Dig deeper into his personal life and you will find he's devoid of alcohol and drugs; is a workaholic; a competent parent, too.

Despite previous setbacks, his branded towers of apartments, offices and hotels are omnipresent. His billionaire business acumen and success may be rubbished on this side of Atlantic, but are respected by average rust-belt Americans.

"Draining the swamp" was an effective campaign slogan. Washington DC's Capitol Hill is perceived as an incestuous, insider-dominated cesspool of self-interest, lobbying and dubious dealing. His anti-establishment aggression resonated as a breath of fresh air. He turned his inexperience effectively, becoming the outsider sheriff.

Mr Obama was completely stymied by Congress during his second term. Mr Trump now heads Republican control of every facet of central government. He can get things done in ways his predecessor couldn't with neutered presidential executive orders.

America is profoundly divided. Some 43pc of the electorate didn't vote. Absentees were the poorest, the homeless, the disabled. Their prospects are probably diminished by a Republican government. US politics has minimal dependency culture, latently accepting inequality, whereas Mr Trump's empathy with military personnel worked, rallying 25 million veterans, plus 35 million dependents.

Mr Trump's tenure as president will benefit from appalling expectations - bookies will only give stingy even-money odds of him surviving four years without resignation or impeachment. His stances on climate change, being pro-Israel, reforming Nato financing or even his cabinet appointments will not determine his re-election prospects. The economy will.

In the short-term, he'll undoubtedly stimulate economic growth, trade, investment and jobs. This will probably induce inflation, with raised interest rates. The downside is he risks overheating the economy in the medium-term, representing greater danger to us all than his temperament or tweets.

I believe he's not a warmonger, rather a pragmatic businessman who'll do deals based on expediency. Right now, respect for democratic results is a one-way street amongst not-so-tolerant left-wing liberals. Reserve judgement. Trump may yet prove to be smartest guy in the room. And keeping an open mind is in our economic interest.

Irish Independent

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