Trump Populism Gerry O'Shea July 2017
Donald Trump has created consternation, especially among Republicans, as he veers away from some of the traditional orthodox positions of the Party in favor of populist rhetoric that has won him the nomination. Populism can be understood as a set of beliefs that highlight the neglect of and disregard for the hopes and fears of broad swaths of the population by elites who take care only of their own interests.
Mr. Trump's core constituency seems to be drawn from white males with low achievement in formal education. One study showed that a stunning 80% of these blue collar workers voted for Trump in the primaries. They believe that he listens to their stories and understands their disgust at being left behind, many of them earning less than they did twenty years ago. They resent that the elites of both Parties seem to dismiss their concerns.
Let's look at two of the populist themes that Trump has been dealing with and making vague promises to remedy.
Income inequality has to be number one on the list. Workers see that the improved company profits caused by major increases in production have gone disproportionately to the top echelon of managers and to shareholders. The salaries of most blue collar workers have dropped or at best remained static.
They have good reason to be peeved and frustrated by this unfair situation. By comparison, German workers with similar qualifications have seen their salaries rise by 25% in recent years because in that country the Government mandates that representatives of management and labor must agree on a system of distribution of company profits where the needs of all workers are considered.
Donald Trump has no plan to alleviate the lot of this category of workers. In fact, he says workers' salaries are too high and he is against raising the minimum wage. He subscribes to the Republican economic program of giving more massive tax breaks to the richest people in the country in the hope that somehow that will lead them to loosen their purses. This is the same trickle - down theory that has been shown to widen the income gap and increase the level of inequality even more.
Unfortunately, the trade union movement, which plays a major role in Germany and other European countries, has very little influence in the United States, leaving most blue-collar workers without a voice in company decision-making. These workers need a Mike Quill to fight their case and not a Donald Trump.
The Republican nominee points the finger of blame at immigrants who allegedly are taking the jobs of local workers. His twofold response involves building a wall along the Southern border which, he says, the Mexican Government will have to pay for - an astonishing assertion by a candidate for the highest office in the country. Secondly, he will hire a new militia to round up and deport the eleven or twelve million workers who are here illegally, including the estimated hundred thousand undocumented Irish people. Do aggrieved blue collar workers really believe that a Trump Administration will implement these populist but unrealistic pie-in-the-sky policies?
Populism, like the Roman god Janus, has two faces. On the one side is the legitimate demand for fair treatment by masses of disgruntled people; the other side is represented by Trump bombast and bluster, blaming immigrants or minorities for complex social and economic problems while offering no coherent solution.
Gerry O'Shea Yonkers New York