January 29, 2020

There’s a clip doing the rounds of American political twitter that sums up neatly in a few seconds how the America’s East Coast Brahmins view Donald Trump’s supporters. A contributor to CNN causes the news anchor Don Lemon to break down in laughter when he talks of the “the credulous boomer rube demo that backs Donald Trump”.

Impersonating these rubes in a mock southern accent the contributor carries on, “Donald Trump is the smart one and y’all elitists are dumb!”

Mr Lemon bangs his head on the desk. He is laughing so hard he cannot ask a question.

 

Un-noticed when it was first broadcast, this segment is now an internet sensation and a free advert for Trump’s re-election bid.

Laughing at Mr Trump — in particular laughing at his supporters — is cathartic for the American Left, but it’s a vice best practised at home, with the curtains drawn. Nothing annoys us all more than being mocked. Rubes — mocked all their lives — are probably even less likely than the rest of us to take it lying down.

It’s little wonder that the more people laugh, the more intensely focused the Trump campaign gets on its base and their concerns.

Take kitchen appliances.

Just before Christmas, The Donald gave a speech widely regarded as one of his oddest ever.  “Remember the dishwasher? You’d press it… Boom! There’d be like an explosion,” Trump said.  “Five minutes later you open it up, the steam pours out….Now, you press it 12 times. Women tell me …”

“You know, they give you four drops of water.”

And on and on and on. The thinkers of the liberal Left cringed. How could the holder of the office graced by JFK and Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt be standing in a hanger in Michigan wittering on about dishwashers? What is wrong with the man? And how extra-cringeworthy to add that women were telling him about them. Didn’t men stack dishwashers now?

The Washington Post sniffed that it was a “weird obsession“. Another Left-wing website called it “a bizarre sexist rant”. Surely the nation would soon rise as one and rid itself of this joker?

Not so fast.  As the American Institute for Economic Research puts it:

“He is 100% correct about this whole topic. It’s a big and important one too.  American dishwashers used to work. They were wonderful labor-saving devices. They kept our kitchens cleaner. They sanitized the dishes, helping to stop cross-contamination and generally improving health over the iffy process of handwashing.” 

Then one day they just stopped doing the work. The reason: regulations on water use.  To quote the AIER:

“These regulations have caused an infuriating and devastating degradation of the quality of appliances and the quality of life in our homes. Trump is a smart politician. He specializes in finding issues that no one else is talking about how they directly affect the quality of life.”

A smart politician. Tell that to CNN. But here’s a thought that might convince them, or at the very least cause Don Lemon to laugh less. One of the central dividing lines between Donald Trump and, say, Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, is that those two Democrats have grand plans to use the power of the Federal government to challenge what they see as the grotesque inequality of modern America, to change lives for many Americans. Mr Trump has no grand plans. He prefers to talk about immigrants and crime. And what the government has done to your dishwasher.

This matters. It is widely understood that Americans are suspicious about ‘big government’.  The truth is more complex: they are often rather keen on government schemes. From Eisenhower’s Interstate highways, through to George W Bush’s expansion of free prescriptions for elderly people, government can work in America. It can be popular. But for these schemes to catch on, trust in government has to be there first.

And here is the accidental brilliance of Trump. By trashing everything and talking only of the small stuff — stuff that seems close to people’s lives but doesn’t affect them in a grand way — Trump is damping down (destroying, even) the faith in government that has to be there for the grand schemes of his opponents to be feasible. And by focusing on federal government regulations that reduce the efficacy of kitchen appliances, Mr Trump is doing proper damage to many not-hugely-political-Americans’ sense that government can help them and improve their lives.

A fascinating piece of writing by a doctoral student in US politics seems to bear this out.

“Low trust in government,” says David McDonald of Florida State University, “means that people are less supportive of government doing ‘big things’ such as enacting national health insurance or raising taxes to fund large-scale social welfare programs. In other words, low trust in government means that Americans are less likely to support ‘more government’ even though they are dissatisfied with high, and rising income inequality. Low trust in government is preventing Americans from supporting more redistribution, even though they dislike high income inequality and know that it has been rising.”

By trashing everything. By reducing trust; by talking about dishwashers; by driving the media demented, and through the whole impeachment imbroglio, Donald Trump is reducing the ability of his Democratic challengers to convince people that they should support their grand thinking — people just will not accept that big subjects can be tackled convincingly by Washington DC.

Even those who have no liking for Trump are not in the mood to be voting for more power to the Brahmins who complain about Trump’s sexism, but actually employ Hispanic maids to fill their dishwashers.

The implications of David McDonald’s work are quite profound for the Democrats it seems to me: they need to get power first, with a modest small set of programmes. A call for civility and reasonableness above all else. And then, as the mood of the nation changes, come up with the radical stuff. It’s an argument for Biden or Bloomberg.  It is not going to thrill the Left of the party.

The alternative might be to go on giggling at the foolishness of the rubes. And see Donald Trump’s second term reduce American trust in government to lows from which it takes decades to recover. Dishwashers are no laughing matter.

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