Donald Trump’s Rigged America
It’s not what he thinks.
The rise of Trump has pulled back the curtain on a huge swath of the American populace, revealing the GOP’s fetish for family values and supply-side economics to be nothing more than a smokescreen for misogynistic, nativist, and racist sentiment. A party swept up in proto-authoritarianism has no moral high ground from which to lecture about marginal tax rates.
Indeed, Trump has shown the precise threshold of abhorrent behavior Republicans will tolerate, so long as a candidate dogmatically promises not to raise taxes. It comes somewhere after calling Mexicans rapists and advocating mass deportations, insulting Gold Star families, proposing shutting down Muslim immigration, consistently re-tweeting Neo-Nazis, ogling your daughter, lying about basically everything, stonewalling media about releasing taxes while complaining about your opponent’s commitment to transparency, and personally insulting establishment rivals (ahem: Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and John McCain), but apparently right at wide release of a video bragging of your sexually predatorial behavior, provided that tape’s release all but assures you’ll lose a general election.
That video gives a clear picture of Trump’s worldview because Trump’s comments in it are, in a certain sense, correct or at least true to his experience. Powerful men are afforded carte blanche — certainly sexually, but more generally in public life, and especially in their own minds when merging lanes in a BMW — because many people treat wealth and fame as tautological evidence of wisdom. Trump is not the first politician to rely on wealth and stardom, but unlike previous iterations like Kennedy or Reagan, he has literally no other qualification for office. His fame and supposed success are essentially his entire argument for why he would be a good president.
To take Trump at his word relies on a dangerous and incorrect assumption: that the rules of the world are fundamentally the same for everyone. Look at the way the Republican Party venerates wealth and wealth creators, a Nietzscheian wet dream where the market truly dictates a man’s worth. In truth, Trump is wealthy because he comes from a wealthy family and had a father willing to frequently bail him out. Yet, Trump and his followers treat his overstated wealth as if it’s proof of his brilliance because the Republican Party, whose slogan was already a mocking “You Didn’t Build That” last election cycle, is obsessed with the myth of the self-made man. The GOP has wholly attached itself to a brand of deterministic, Calvinist economics to justify lowering any government interference in the private sector. If we just let markets work unfettered by needless regulation, then the cream will necessarily rise to the top, just like Adam Smith said!
Trump, of course, benefited precisely because the rules were different for him. His wealth let him take massive tax write-offs and not pay his fair share. He legally bullied contractors into accepting little or no payment for their work because they could not afford to lawyer up. He bankrupted businesses and enriched himself in the process. He probably drove like an asshole in a BMW. He also serially harassed and assaulted women with no sense of accountability. If he had any self-awareness, Trump would realize how much the world has favored him.
But Trump and the GOP at large have long targeted a different type of favoritism: any government program that advantages people traditionally disadvantaged by the government. Look at the hatred of welfare and affirmative action, at the framing that always casts these programs as other people benefiting from an unfair system. These are coded attempts to cast the world as objectively in favor of African Americans or poor people or women or any other disadvantaged group. The world is against common (White) Americans like me. Even the Romney campaign, supposedly the sober and moral side of the GOP, traded in these types of theories; Romney’s “47%” comment was designed to stoke exactly this sentiment. Trump has simply amplified this feeling without any code or decorum. (He’s also, by the way, one of the 47% who don’t pay federal income taxes.)
By percentage, many more people of color rely on welfare to meet their basic needs, because centuries of American history from slavery to sharecropping to Jim Crow to lynching to redlining to predatory lending to white flight to the drug war to voter suppression have made it so. If you’re upset that minorities disproportionately rely on welfare, then you should be upset at the very history of America. If you’re upset at welfare because you think other communities are getting something you’re not, you’re willfully ignorant of the world.
That lack of curiosity, that lack of empathy — that’s a moral failing. It’s put the country on the brink of electing a fascist. And it didn’t arise out of nowhere. Trump mined a vein that already existed within the hearts of GOP voters. They were primed for a message that they, White America, were doing worse because others were getting one over on them, because others had it better. All we needed to do was to make everything fair again. The world was supposed to be fair, because when it was fair, Trump’s supporters won. That’s when America was great, and it could be made great again.
Like Trump, his base never examined that maybe they had won because the game was rigged for them all along.