Saturday, November 12, 2016

Can Donald Trump Deliver on His Promises to Rural America?

I was planning on waiting until after the election to do a posting on how America just dodged a bullet by finally sending Donald Trump home so we wouldn’t have to hear his toxic rhetoric anymore. It didn’t work out that way.
As the reader can guess, the results left me stunned and in the state of total despair.
But I tried to cope as best I could. I thought that he at least got the majority of the popular vote which as far as I’m concerned, conveys the will of the people whether I liked it or not. Then I found out that he indeed lost the national popular vote. That didn’t work.
OK, so we just elected an intellectual lightweight. But we’ve done that before. What can possibly happen that is catastrophic? Oh yeah, George W. Bush, who was elected in 2000 (also with a minority of the popular vote) transformed an inherited budget surplus into a massive deficit by needlessly and tragically starting a war with Iraq. That didn’t make me feel better either.
But reaching deep down, maybe – just maybe something good came out of this. Could this all have possibly been a blessing in disguise? Maybe. Just hear me out!
It’s been painfully obvious that America is not only deeply but bitterly divided. Looking at all of those maps on TV during the election returns, it showed states mostly covered with red colored counties with a few blue dots, those representing the urban areas.
It is safe to say that much of this bitter divide is between urban America and rural America. And although rural America commands the overwhelming amount of land area, the overall urban and rural populations are very close to being equal. And by no coincidence, the presidential election results have been cliffhangers in recent years.
So how do we compare the urban and rural American mentalities? That would take a book. And this is not that book. But with the reader’s indulgence, I would like to offer some general observations with the caveat that anything general can have its exceptions.
Urban dwellers live in close proximity to one another. This constant interaction with one another leads to an attitude that we are in this together. Having government to provide a safety net for those in need is the only right thing to do. Urban centers are typically melting pots where different races and ethnicities freely mingle.
On the other hand, rural people tend to live apart from each other or at the least, away from dense population centers. This tends to cultivate self-reliance and independence from what they feel is any form of government intrusion into their lives. For those in need, government is not the answer; charity is. And unlike urban America, rural America is a homogeneous white culture. Admittedly, it is difficult to have empathy for another race where few white people have ever engaged with non-whites.
This rivalry between the two competing worldviews is nothing new. But rural America has been going through some especially tough times lately. Job losses particularly in coal and manufacturing have been accelerating. This naturally has led to more widespread poverty.  These people are mad as hell, but whom to blame for their misery? Maybe it’s foreign immigrants. Or the black people. Or China with the government and their trade agreements that they feel caused much of this. When Hillary Clinton advocated moving away from fossil fuels like coal to renewables, environmentalists applauded but the coal miners were furious at her for wanting to take away their jobs. In short, government became the enemy. In their eyes, President Obama is the face of big government and Hillary Clinton represented continuation of the status quo. It took a demagogue like Donald Trump to harness all of this frustration and hate into a most improbable election victory.
And make no mistake, rural white America contributed greatly to Trump’s victory. While Trump strongly outperformed Mitt Romney in 2012 among rural voters, Clinton underperformed President Obama in 2012 with blacks, Latinos, and even women. With many of the crucial swing states being decided by razor-thin margins, this alone was likely enough to deliver the victory to Trump.
If Hillary had been elected, this bitter divide would have continued to the detriment of our nation. Perhaps the only way to settle this was to give rural America what they wanted. But as they say, be careful what you wish for!
Donald Trump has made what liberals like myself feel are a lot of outrageous promises to get elected that he will never be able to keep. It’s easy to boo and do catcalls at the performer when you are one of the spectators. But soon, he will be on center stage with the world watching him. And now he will be expected to perform.
Where do we start?
He has promised to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with “something terrific”. Will the people with preexisting conditions continue to be insured? The idea of forcing people to buy health insurance may seem wrong to these people. But if only sick people buy health insurance, how does he expect the insurance market to avoid a collapse? Now he can show us.
He promises large tax cuts benefiting mostly the rich along with in his words, making the military great again. And while not touching Social Security or Medicare, he has promised a balanced budget. Previous tax cutters like George W. Bush have given us exploding deficits. Can Trump do better? Let’s find out.
Will the Republican Congress authorize the money to build that wall on the Mexican border? If this somehow happens, will he really be able to get the Mexicans to reimburse us for the cost? This is not to mention the cost and manpower to round up and deport the millions of undocumented immigrants as promised.
He has promised to bring back the jobs that have left America. Coal and steel jobs will return. And to those companies who plan to move jobs outside of America, he promises to impose steep tariffs. How would he explain the likely resulting trade war that could decimate world economies? He has promised repeatedly that through the threat of tariffs, he will prevent Carrier from moving its Indiana manufacturing plant to Mexico.
He claims he can negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to keep world affairs in order. What will he do if Putin gives him the finger and causes more mayhem elsewhere?
If he can fulfill his promises without harming people, that would prove that the change his voters demanded was the right medicine for what ails America. But if he can’t, maybe it will expose the fallacy of all of these ideas which may result in his supporters turning on him. And while the next presidential election is 4 years away, the Congressional midterm elections are only 2 years away which may result in significant Republican losses if they fail to deliver. And those Carrier workers in Indiana expect action from him to save their jobs from moving to Mexico. Or else.
And only a few days past the election, some fascinating developments are already taking place as the Trump Administration is taking shape. He is already hedging on some of his major pledges including the repeal of Obamacare and the building of the wall with Mexico. He had strongly condemned lobbyists during his campaign. Now they're on his transition team.
As one of Trump’s many skeptics, I can assert that much of what he is advocating for has already been tried and found wanting. But memories are short. Unfortunately, for all too many, the only way to show what works is to conclusively prove what doesn’t work.
And maybe, just maybe if more of us can agree on what works, we can work together to promote the common good instead of prolonging this toxic divide between rural and urban America. At least it’s something to hope for!
I would like to conclude with this NY Times reader comment by Matthew Carnecelli:
...what they fail to understand is that Trump's victory is merely the rope that they will use to hang themselves, and that his presidency will be the final nail in the coffin of their toxic ideology.