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The Elephant in the Room

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 16/03/2016 Peter A. Georgescu

David Brooks had an interesting column recently on what he calls the "cancer" that has crept through our politics for the past three decades. The polarization of our parties has led to an inability to compromise. In a good negotiation both parties feel they lost something, while gaining merely a part of what they wanted. We've lost the ability to come to an agreement. Any agreement. Instead, we're looking to candidates who offer extreme solutions. As Brooks puts it, society changes itself either through compromise or brute force, and we've lost faith in compromise. We seem to be yearning for the expediency of a dictator.

The beauty of politics is that it involves an endless conversation in which we learn about other people and see things from their vantage point and try to balance their needs against our own.

An authoritarian tyrant can get things done without the complexities of legislative compromise by "clobbering" whoever gets in the way.
Enter Trump, stage right. He presents himself as dictatorial: a CEO with an obedient retinue. A throwback to royalty, but with a mannerless vulgarity. In reality, he's anti-political--he's arrived to sweep away the difficulties of politics. We can't ignore him and can't stop talking about him, but behind him is an elephant in the room that all the denunciations of Trump conveniently ignore.
The establishment wants him out of the political picture, but they don't want to understand what got him into it. His hard-core supporters are deeply dissatisfied. They are angry about being marginalized. They feel cheated, left out, without hope that our political and economic system will treat them fairly. Until now they kept playing the game and losing. They kept trusting it to work. A few other extremists have joined the ranks.
There's no mystery to it: the haves and have-much-less have been pulling apart for decades. In the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan nailed it. She says our current political uprising is a movement of the unprotected against those in power, insulated from the consequences of their own choices. And they are economically unprotected. Trump expressed the fears, frustrations and anger of people who have been left exposed by this laissez faire economy where we do the right thing and work out the details later. The middle class is wasting away. Jobs are scarce. Wages are low. Benefits are something you have to pay for yourself now. And, in the midst of this struggle to simply find a well-paying job, illegal immigrants pour into the country looking for their share.
As she points out, the protected class is fine with illegal immigration. It provides an enormous surplus of extremely affordable labor--exploitable labor might be a better way to put it. Living in gated communities, the protected class doesn't see what they have allowed to happen. The protected class doesn't have to worry about the quality of public schools. They simply send their kids to private ones. Problem solved.
What's the thread here? More and more of our citizens simply can't afford the education needed to lift them into the working economy or the life they need and want. More than half of American households are spending more than they make now. Meanwhile, we hear vague generalizations about their plight--the declining middle class, income inequality, the wealth gap--and yet no one is there to say, "here specifically is what we're doing to do to turn things around, step by step, the hard way." And anyone who is trying to get down into the practical weeds can't be heard above the deafening clamor of demagoguery. But it's so entertaining! We're going to entertain ourselves to the point of no return. Instead of spending our time watching the circus and wondering why the country has gotten so angry and impatient for change, our private sector leaders should be thinking about what they could do in their own companies to make the lives of their employees better. Let's just say, those steps are economic. If business leads, eventually our paralyzed government will follow.
Yes, by now we know who is the real elephant in the room--the one people should be talking about. Piling on with criticisms of Trump will do little good. He's an easy target: you can come at him from almost any direction and find fault. Better to acknowledge that his followers have good reason to be upset, and that you understand it, and you have compassion for their lives. Trump never misses a chance to tell his supporters that he loves them. Whoever wants to be President should tell them about plans to address their needs, because those needs are legitimate.
Peter Georgescu is the author of The Constant Choice. He can be found at Good Reads.

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