Thursday, 3 March 2016

Baffled by Trump's popularity? - neither am I

Donald J Trump appears to be sweeping all before him in the GOP primary, so much so, that pundits are claiming he has the party nomination nailed on. This has lead to shock and surprise from many on the left, centre and even centre-right. How can some one who spouts offensive bigoted views, refuses to condemn the KKK, and appears to have little in policy other than making Mexico pay for a 1000 mile border wall possibly do so well? Why has he got so much support?

Here's why. It can be explained in a word - Neoliberalism. I've blogged extensively about neoliberalism on here but this is a very brief summary: in the 1970s a combination of falling profits and a resurgent 'free' market ideology led to the crushing of organised labour in the West and an all out attack on welfare. In addition, the public sector was asset stripped by corporations and the population burdened with debt.

Wages in the USA for most workers - the 'Middle Class' have remained stagnant for decades and jobs have been outsourced abroad creating a situation where most Americans are a couple of paychecks away from destitution. This destruction of the 'American Dream' has lead to fear, anger and resentment in a large section of the population and a disillusionment with the democratic political process, because whoever you vote for nothing changes, you just get more cuts and greater poverty. Does this sound familiar to people in the UK?

So, all that anger has to be directed somewhere and the triumph of the political right has been to make sure it's focused on the wrong targets. Instead of blaming the real culprits - the super-rich, corporations and their tame politicians - many people have been blaming just about anything else - the most obvious example being 'economic' migrants.

Then along comes Trump. He's an anti-establishment figure, a 'strong' leader who shows contempt for his rivals and articulates the fears and prejudices of his supporters. He says he will make America great again and proposes simplistic solutions. He identifies himself with his supporters. In addition, the harsh reality is that there are many people in every society who want an authority figure. They want simple answers to complex issues. Don't believe me? Then read Chris Roses's excellent book 'What makes People Tick' which is based on years of research. It doesn't have all the answers but it will give you an important insight into what people's values are and how they think

Is it surprising that Trump is doing very well and that he appears immune to attacks from the establishment? Not at all because many people have stopped listening to the establishment. Trump is playing a clever game and I don't believe he's as extreme as he makes himself out to be. Also, I don't think he'll win the Presidency.  I hope I'm right about that. But the key to this is if you want to influence people you have to understand their values and 'what makes them tick'. As the book says:
'If you want to communicate effectively with people - especially if you want to persuade them to act - you need to start from where they are, not from where you are.'
This has always been a failing of the left because we think our better analysis and arguments will win the day. We communicate in policies not values and always start from where we are. We don't take into account the feelings of people we want to mobilise. History shows that this approach has failed. Things need to change very soon.

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