2016 Elections

Good Times, Not Anger, Led to Trump's Rise

If the U.S. were facing more serious problems, voters would want a more serious candidate. Instead....

What's the problem?

Photographer: Andy Buchanan/AFP/GettyImages

A Catch of the Day to Kevin Drum at Mother Jones for pointing to polling showing that, no, Republicans in 2016 aren’t especially angry about the economy. And HuffPollster notes that Republicans aren’t really angry, period, at least compared with the 2012 cycle. Drum puts it this way:

People aren't more angry, or more bigoted, or more scared than usual. It's just that we didn't have a guy like Trump fanning these flames quite so crudely in past elections. This year we do.

My view is that Trump is doing well precisely because things aren’t particularly bad for the U.S. right now. In difficult times, voters take their responsibilities more seriously, and wouldn’t embrace the buffoonery of a reality-television star. People can indulge in Trump's fantasies in a period of (more or less) peace and (sort of) prosperity. 

Or perhaps it’s just a consequence of cartoonish characterizations of the Barack Obama administration. Republican politicians (and talk-show hosts and pundits) have been telling their constituents for seven years that Obama is a full-fledged disaster. Yet unemployment is way down since he took office, and tangible signs of foreign-policy losses are difficult to identify.

For people with a strong ideological point of view, Obamacare -- with its principle that access to health care is a responsibility of the federal government -- represents a disaster by itself, but most voters don't care about the principle. They care about health care, and for the most part they are unaffected by the Affordable Care Act.

This doesn't mean you can't make a sensible case against some results of Obama’s policies. It’s just that the apocalyptic view of Republican and conservative leaders doesn’t correspond to the lived experience of most Americans, including Republicans. So if you’re going with a fictional portrait of America, you might as well (perhaps) go with a candidate who does fiction well. 

Of course, this isn't a joke. Some real bigots are on Trump's bandwagon -- no surprise given his rhetoric. And some voters are genuinely furious about the nation's direction. There's some evidence that voters going through personal hard times are more drawn to Trump.

Overall, however, the Obama years haven’t resulted in recession, soaring inflation or a foreign misadventure with major American casualties -- in other words, anything that produces serious political reaction. Barring that, an entertainment version of politics has some appeal. And Trump puts on a good show.

Nice catch!

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