Those so deluded they hold Trump, awash with torrential deceit and undelivered promises, more trustworthy than fact-based sources – even their own family and friends – are beyond the pale of persuasion. In the end, bitter we trust for the cornered Don, his presidential standing looks not to come down to obstruction of justice, illegality, or crushing blunders, not even Russian conspiracies. Rather, what supremely counts by year’s end is whether Trump keeps Republicans in office. That is, how long before the great middle gags at endless braggadocio, to wit, taking credit for “the greatest economy in the HISTORY of America and the best time EVER to look for a job!“
NOT if we use this simple measure: the greatest gains for the greatest number (especially absent real wage increases). Or who and what is really responsible. Or better times after WWII and during the Clinton years – with less inequality. Instead, Trump’s billionaire bluster worships the greatest good for the smallest number. That means his fate, the future of democracy, and the size of any blue midterm wave distill to a few epic questions: 1) Has Trump, in actions and appointments, confronted the elitist swamp, let alone drained it? Is his cabinet not iconic swamp? 2) What immediate, visible gains has 18 months delivered for centrists caught by the ’16 Trump circus?
Don’t bother talking climate change (an abstraction demanding knowledge) or abortion (debate is done), or immigration (deadlocked, thus insolvable) – or the most erratic, ludicrous, misfit style ever. The great November Repudiation comes down to domestic bread and butter economics, not culture wars, Trump slanders, even clownish tweets. A definitive return to rationality turns on irate Democrats aligning with contrite centrists liberated from the Trump con. Where are better-paying, pensioned jobs repeatedly promised? Or taking from the ruthless super-rich to give to outsourced, impoverished millions? Certainly not resurrecting coal (decreased miners, weak market, automation) or recharging red-state management positions. Not less national debt, higher interest rates, or zero tax reform that reverses democracy-killing inequality.
The single most potent indictment of Trump’s fake populism is this colossal failure: no one but the top 10% (or less) is prospering. A president guaranteeing better jobs for ordinary folks turns out to be drastically anti-worker: if not deregulation of worker safety or reduced benefits, then truly idiotic, inflationary tariff wars or slavishly orthodox GOP trickle-down folly. What happens when prices surge (consumer inflation, the stock market, urban real estate) while real wages stagnate, with likely layoffs? Instead, Trump’s regressions signal old-style throwbacks that, despite white supremacy rhetoric, leaves his favored tribe out in the cold, flooded with demagoguery, not job training. The Don has, however, manifestly enriched the rich, especially the owner of Trump Tower.
Thus the basis of my guide to chatting up redeemable Trump voters: to wit, “Where’s the beef”? Where’s any economic beef? Not simply bottom-dwelling Walmart greeting jobs. What federal incentives prompt new industries, fund well-paying infrastructure projects, or restore the industrial dynamo that once did make Americans more affluent, with wider career choices, for three decades after WWII and during the Clinton years? What retraining programs, generous tax credits – even cheerleading (per campaign stunts) against outsourcing – or helping desperate families relocate? Item: 65,000 national truck driver openings exist, right now, starting at twice minimal wage – and old gender lines are broken. Instead, Trump the tweety bird disgraces himself slandering black athletes.
Overall persuasion mindset: 1) identify the most amenable audience (avoid the fixated sloganeers, center or right), 2) stick to blatant shortfalls in job/health/life impacts (is your daily life better? is this your idea of populism? and 3) avoid abstractions, hot button loaded language, even Trump’s peculiar personality (too many still revel in “defying authority,” however irrational, fraudulent, counterproductive). Ask why Trump the billionaire gets to profit massively from threatened domestic companies and foreign delegations packing his hotels to curry favor?
Target your audience
Focus on working (often single) women, younger people, and those beyond high school education (alas, less training and knowledge isolate Trump supporters). White, suburban women (surprise!) are abandoning Trump in droves – gosh, soccer moms can’t stomach anti-women/anti-minority slams or gruesome WH policies that immorally (and illegally) rip children from their mother’s arms, then expel wretched parents seeking family safety.
Validate whatever anger surfaces, especially justified outrage against predatory fat cats, political and financial. Agree the soul-draining status quo (now reinforced by deregulated banking, Wall Street biases, businesses too big to fail, plus more bloated trade imbalances) all exploit regular people. Avoid the traps of whether mass media, high technology or secularism ruin traditional moral values. Endorse the idea of disrupting the establishment (however much a Trump straw man) but question whether this wrecking ball president isn’t the worst messenger.
Overall pitch: calmly total all the unfulfilled promises (for better, wider, cheaper health care coverage, less national debt, fairer taxation and workable immigration policies, overseas deals that make America First, even the illusory return to some golden age). Avoid facile liberal rhetoric and stay away from endorsing socialism (Medicare and Social Security aside, Trump voters aren’t ready). Find common ground with all those anxious folks locked out of, or demoted from the middle-class.
Keep it simple – and local
Stick to compact moral and economic frameworks:
- what make you think Trump is on your side?
- are they, their children, family, or neighbors, better off now than two years ago?
- what exactly would “make America great again,” and what “greatness” has emerged?
- what nasty changes (like slashing Food Stamps, injuring his own poor, white voters) has Trump wrought?
- do they really think all media but FOX TV (or Trump critics) are “enemies of the people” – deserving to be vilified or violently accosted at rallies?
- what about Yankee free speech? Constitutional checks and balances? Legacies that defend dissent?
- is Putin (or Trump) more trustworthy on election hacking than every federal intelligence agency?
- are Canada, Mexico and close European allies suspect in “national security terms” (the Trump justification for unilateral tariff disruptions)?
In short, attend to Paul Waldman’s striking headline in the Washington Post, “Trump says you’ve never had it so good. Do you believe him?” – and his summary: “Wages, for instance, are essentially stagnant . . . Health-care costs keep going up, despite [promises] of ‘something terrific’ . . . that would provide better coverage at lower cost. If almost anyone can find a job – but the only jobs in your area with your skills offer low wages and skimpy benefits – is this the greatest economy in history for you?”
Finally, ask how many more months or years we should patiently wait for even initiating improvements to the lives of regular folks? Query if whether they plan to vote in November, conscious that still Trumpers who stay home equate with voting Democratic. The electoral field, thanks to history’s most vulnerable president, is wide open – handing the left a great opportunity for a stunning harvest. But hard work must be don to reverse the constant miasma of a great hustler with a malicious bully pulpit. No bully more fully manned that pulpit. What’s the alternative – let the pathological loudmouth own the primary microphone?