We are not yet even a full month into the new president's term and it is abundantly clear that he intends to use the powers afforded to him by the office to the fullest extent possible. As someone firmly in the political middle, it is quite interesting to watch current events unfold. Some of Trump's political appointments strike me as sensible and sound. I approve of his selection for Secretary of Defense, Education Secretary, and his choice to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonine Scalia. Some of his other appointments are far more disturbing, his inclusion of Steve Bannon not only on his staff, but also on the National Security Council should give everyone pause, and the choice of Jeff Sessions as the next U.S. Attorney General clearly was not intended to build any bridges.
Trump's supporters applaud him being a "successful" businessman (though one could question the veracity of his success) and point out that the country will benefit from having such a person at the helm. While I would normally agree that a political outsider with business experience would be a welcome new face to the office of the president, Trump seems to lack some basic understanding of the office that is a prerequisite to his (and our country's) success. The reason a libertarian, such as myself, would normally welcome a businessman to the White House is to introduce fiscal responsibility. However, Trump campaigned on the promise of a number of wildly expensive projects with little to no return on investment (think the wall). What's more, most truly successful business people surround themselves with sage counsel and top-notch professionals. But Trump has already refused to receive regular National Security Briefings, he has removed the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from his National Security Council and he has no actual economists on his staff at all. This is all clearly because he is far more interested in advancing his own agenda, and his own best interests more than the best interests of the country.
But how did this happen? How could a man with such an obviously self-centered agenda have won the the candidacy? How could a man who ran on policies based in fear, nationalism and xenophobia have won the presidency?
Simply put, the political left in the United States is woefully out of touch with nearly half of the United States voting public. American voters can generally be split into two groups, the highly educated left who have good intentions, want to care for and educate people, and believe that a paternalistic government is the best way to achieve that goal. The left tends to believe in the innate goodness of people and believe that most people will choose greater education and better opportunity if it is offered (by the government). The voting base on the right tends to have less formal education. Their lack of formal education and their propensity for religious belief tends to make them more apt to view their loyalty to their political party almost as a religious experience. They tend to be tribalist and nationalist in their views. In the minds of the uneducated right, their country is ALWAYS on the right side of history and "Made in America" is always better. The educated right are more than willing to take advantage of the less educated voting base to stay in power. For decades, this system has worked well enough for both sides, as the left got voted into office by giving away more entitlements to the masses, and the right got voted in by appealing to the fears of their base. Until recently, the educated members of the right were able to ensure they were the ones who remained in power, and kept the ignorance of their base in check by ignoring their most heinous promises once elected. The left, seemed to never truly believe that the ignorance spouted in the world was shared by anything more than an overly vocal minority.
No one expected that a living caricature of the worst traits of human ignorance would ever actually be elected. Because the left believed the fearful, xenophobia of the uneducated voting base of the right was a meaningless minority. The leadership on the right never thought they would lose control of that very same base. Since at least the 1980's the American right has been growing ever more anti-intellectual. And as always happens with all anti-intellectual movements, they became more and more religious. In the absence of reason, they sought meaning in superstition and nationalism. This all happened as the American left became ever more intellectual, artistic and cerebral, making them more and more an anathema to the American right.
The inability of the American left to understand or even acknowledge the beliefs and fears of the voting base of the American right left them in a position unable to adequately respond to those fears. The left was unable to empathize, and show a road forward in a meaningful way; where those on the right, with more traditional beliefs still have a role to play. Rather, the political right was left to believe that they had been abandoned by the "elites." All while while they elected a rich, Ivy League educated billionaire to office simply because he has the vocabulary of an ill educated sixth grader and is willing to feed their fears.
The question that remains is, what must be done to move ALL Americans more toward the political center, to vote-in consensus building candidates before too much damage can be done to our great republic?