Let’s be clear up front, I love America. I’m married to an American, my kids are dual nationals, I’ve lived there twice and visited nearly 70 times for work or pleasure. And I admire America. I love it’s energy, it’s optimism and it’s achievements. The people are, generally, fantastic. Generous, successful and kind. So how could 70 million of them vote for Donald Trump when he was clearly totally unfit for office. What happened?
I believe that the answer is more complex than dismissing these people as crazies and has real implications for democracies all around the world. Without a dash of socialism, I’ll argue, a democracy may well be doomed. Further it seems to me that Trump is not the cause of this chaos, he is a symptom.
But first, who are these people? It’s important to segment this 70 million to understand them. First there are the crazies. There are crazies in every country but in a country of 330 million there are plenty. They can coalesce into groups of like-minded people and in the US, they can arm themselves. Jerry Springer, a very intelligent and articulate former lawyer and politician turned shock talk show host, when asked why his guests would embarrass themselves the way they did, (‘My husband slept with our cat’ type of stuff.) once famously replied that, in a country of 330 million, -there are always some people who are ready to go further than the rest of us for a few minutes of fame. He’s right. So they are dangerous but how many white extremists are there? I don’t know - enough to be a problem but not 70 million.
Next there are the immutable Republicans, people who were born Republican, always vote Republican and could never bring themselves to vote any other way. 25 per cent of Americans called themselves Republicans in 2020, as opposed to 31 percent who called themselves Democrats and 41 percent who call themselves Independents (yeah sure). A good swag of those voted for Trump. My father-in-law was a classic example (although sadly he died just before the election). While Trump was a candidate in the primaries in 2016 he dismissed him as ridiculous, once he had the nomination he forced himself to find reasons to support him, even though he hated some of the things he did. A reasonable swag of that 25% probably voted for Trump but, again, not 70 million.
What about the rest? Where did the rest of Trump’s support come from? Here is where we get to the need for a dash of socialism. Ask an Australian or a European about their Government and most understand why it’s there. It may be too expensive, too slow or too bureaucratic but it has value. There is an unspoken social contract that says there are some things we are better doing together than individually. Roads, police, health, the military, foreign relations, tax collection, prisons and so on. Every time we try to outsource one of these services it goes wrong. Deep down, we all understand that we need government to make life tolerable and that it has value.
That is simply not true in the US. A person living in Chicago doesn’t experience government the way we do. It’s just a cost, and in Illinois too often a corrupt one. Other than the interstates, it does very little for the average citizen. The police, education, roads, fire etc are paid for from local taxes (what we call rates). Health is a private expense. Many other services have been privatised. The Federal Government levies tax for no discernible reason, spends it all somewhere else and doesn’t deliver any tangible value. Why should we prop up Nato if we live in Chicago? So Russia might invade Germany. Let the Europeans pay the bill. Why should we support Obamacare? That should be obvious to anyone who can’t afford health care or has great health care but then tries to use it but it isn’t.
The Federal Government has no value to the average American. The army is nice, foreign affairs is irrelevant and patients in Canada are sleeping in the corridors aren’t they. (No, it was a deliberately misleading public relations campaign from the health insurers.) Socialism is a dirty word. The next step is Communism, government control, limits on freedom. Get out of my life!
So perhaps democratic government is doomed to fail or be severely disrupted unless it is doing things demonstrably valuable for its citizens and this means a dash of socialism.
So is this the end for the Republicans? Not at all. Hopefully it is the reset the party and the country needs. America needs a strong Republican Party. A party which promotes hard work, individual achievement and reward and small rather than non-existent Government. I’d vote for that party.
Sadly the growing discontent amongst an aging white group that is losing its place in the world, worried about retirement and not sure what is going to happen next is the catalyst for change. Make it like the 1980s again. The 1950s was a great time to be born white, Western and, later, educated but you’d better have done something with what you were given because now the rest of the world wants their share and there are lots of them. Trump, and before him the Tea Party, were not the cause of the decline in the Republican Party, they were simply cancers that found a host they could grow inside.
Perhaps the riots of January 6 and the ensuing national shock, cancelling of donations and realisation amongst lovely, normal Americans that something’s has gone badly wrong will be change that will really make America great again.