So, the election in America is done. Trump won – Clinton lost. And while this comparison is a strange one, I am reminded of something Gandhi said:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” This sums Trumps campaign up. At first he was ignored, then he was perceived to run as a joke, then he was the nominee (supposedly) everyone hated and then he won. Am I happy about it? – NO!, I am not. But instead of lamenting, I am more curious why he won, more importantly, why he actually got as many votes as he did. Forget that he lost the popular vote and forget the antiquated concept of the electoral college. Why did Trump get votes? That is the real question? And the answer to this question is – so I suppose – then also applicable, why populists are on the rise in other countries, Germany, France, Hungary, Italy.
In short it all has to do with education. Now why do I say this. I am not saying that people who vote for populists are dumb, but they are likely feeling left out. Their jobs did not recently leave for China, but they are stuck in dead-end jobs with low pay and few benefits and/or they are feeling that the political class has moved up a few floors in its ivory tower and is only talking to the populus, when it’s “voting time”. Politicians have simply forgotten their most basic mission – represent their voters. Your voters are your constituency. Not PACs, SuperPACs, corporations, lobbyists, it is about voters. Voters are not idiots. They may not all be rich or “sophisticated” or belong to exclusive clubs charging huge admissions, but the vast majority manages to live their lives on their own. They go to work, some of them to multiple jobs to make end meet. As a politician you are elected by exactly these people. They know that campaign is like courtship – you make promises you cannot keep, they know that. But, if they feel ignored by you and used and shut out, then frustration builds up.
And Donald Trump realized that he can take this energy of frustration and channel it to his advantage and benefit. Populists always know how to tap into the frustrations of the faceless masses and make them feel like they have a voice. In the Summer of 2015 Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel made the often with admiration cited statement regarding the refugee crisis: “We’ll manage this.” An encouragement filled with pathos and compassion, but no actionable plan, no expectations we set on how and why to manage the refugee crisis, specifically what to do to manage this refugee crisis. She did not see fit to provide a detailed plan and justification to the country and thus thus 18 month hence, the German right-wing populists are way up, entering city and state assemblies. In America, for decades there have been discussions, talks, fights, grand announcements and campaign promises around immigration reform, just as an example – all of them were hot air and broken. Politicians do not get much done of what’s important to their voters. Working people get something done – no matter how mundane, they have something to show for every day. “I stacked 2000 jars of tomatoes into a pyramid during my night shift.”; “I changed the diapers on an old gentlemen three times in the hospital today.” Outcomes are tangible and visible and they are always judged. So, when politicians talk and then fail to show clear outcomes with clearly laid out benefits and disadvantages for the people, the people see through it – sooner or later and that causes frustration and erodes trust in the “ruling class”.
The German right wingers, too, were first ignored, then laughed at and then fought to little avail to date. Don’t treat our voters like an undesirable, necessary evil, but honor them by working for them. Part of working for them is to set expectations, provide access to and set examples for education. And in a grander scale make it clear that things will continue to change – always. That as a nation or a community, we all need to be part of that change and ideally shape the change rather than reacting to it. Change sucks, if it is imposed from the outside. But if you drive change and you shape it you are the primary beneficiary. This applies to closed-door-deals o small groups of people as well as to national or international policy.
Donald Trump won votes because he does not have decades of baggage of broken political promises. Because he spoke a simple language. Whether right or wrong, he gave simple, memorable, quotable answers. If you want to connect with complex analysis of global situations and contexts, make sure you have an educated audience that will question your statements, that puts you on your toes.
We all know that manufacturing jobs that America or Europe lost to China will not come back. And if they ever did, who would fill them. People would have to be trained. Well, if we can train people to assemble TVs, stereos and radios, we can train them for many other things, too. The point is things will always evolve and that requires change – sometimes change is fun and sometimes not. 20 years ago, there were no social media, bit people wanted to change and they embraced the new technologies and they changed with the changing media landscape, in fact they drove the change. The good old days get better with each passing day, but they will never come back. In the words of Alice, of Alice In Wonderland fame:”I can’t go back to yesterday, I was a different person then.”
America is stuck with Trump for the next 4 years and so are the other governments as treaty partners, trade partners or adversaries. I would be very much surprised, if Trump turned out to be any different from any other politician. He just found a different path to power. A path that many populists worldwide will turn from a path into to an eight-lane highway.
Make sure you educate yourself, you provide education to others and you demand opportunities for all for education from the people you elect to represent you. And question authority and then hold the elected authorities accountable. Ask for specificity and reasons.
Sorry, I can’t give more of a profound insight, but I think it has been a long time coming. While I see myself as a beneficiary of globalization, I can also see many who are definitely less fortunate than me. And one of the main differences between them and me is access to education and the importance knowledge has to me, the value of education in my upbringing and the value my social circles place on education. I do no know it any different than to continue to learn and I do not always like it, believe me. Then again, I also don’t like gravity when it makes me wipe out riding me my bike. But that does not mean I just stop riding my bike or I start yelling at gravity.
In summary (and to close the narrative to the title of this ramble): Education, provides insight to better understand the things happening around you, it enables you to gain status and it enables you to secure a better future. Maybe we should reconsider that the answer why Trump was elected is a simple one and look at the larger context why his voters became so frustrated, that they listened and then voted for his simple populist message.
Stay sharp gang.
Cheers Markus \m/