The Appeal of Trump
At a town meeting in Concord, a woman asked Donald Trump what he planned to do about the meager job prospects for young people. He said he would get the jobs back from China. He would do it by getting smart people to negotiate trade deals—not the incompetent government negotiators who simply don’t get the art of the deal. Yet trade deals that get jobs back from China are inevitably protectionist. And on that issue, he may have more common cause with Democratic candidates who have opposed recent free trade deals.
Protection is a big part of Trump’s broader appeal to what the liberal Robert Reich has called the anxious class. Reich has written that “the odds of falling into poverty are frighteningly high, especially for the majority without college degrees.” I could imagine the anxious class looking to Trump for help. Trump promises to get jobs back from China. He pledged to protect Social Security— not cut it. He even touted help to those suffering from drug addictions. On these issues, Trump sounds like a Democrat.
At the high school gym in Concord, he also made his infamous call to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border—paid for by Mexico he adds! Here he is the loudest voice in a Republican anti-immigrant chorus. Liberals condemn this idea, but they should also consider his appeal to an anxious class who sees immigrants as a threat to their shaky status. The white working class has fled the Democratic party and the Republican establishment because no one speaks persuasively to their anxieties. For Republicans, their message of broad tax cuts and limited government does not resonate. For Democrats, free community college and universal health care would seem to be a tremendous balm, yet much of the anxious class goes to Trump. Democrats will never favor mass deportations or building a wall on our southern border, but they need to develop a more persuasive message of protection. If they do, they could become the majority party again. Mainstream Republicans face the same challenge.