What happens when the factories and the steel mills don’t come back? When the coal mines fail to reopen? When both a tightfisted Congress and the government of Mexico refuse to pay for his boondoggle of a border wall?
When the president-elect, Donald Trump, takes office and has to confront inconvenient reality, how will he react? “We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead,” Hillary Clinton said Wednesday, and of course she is right. But I wouldn’t be honest if I pretended, at this point, to be hopeful. My fear is that the man we saw on the campaign trail is the same man we will see in the White House.
He proved to be a tremendously effective demagogue. He stunned the world by energizing and mobilizing legions of “forgotten men and women” — white, working-class Americans living in small towns and rural areas across the nation — who bought into his pledge to “make America great again.” Instead of serious policy proposals, he gave them scapegoats: immigrants, Muslims, people of color living in “inner cities” that he imagined as circles of Dante’s hell.
His promises were of the non-serious variety, in that they cannot be fulfilled. Surely Trump knows full well that globalization and technological change cannot be reversed. The millions of manufacturing jobs that have been shipped overseas or eliminated by automation will not magically reappear; many assembly lines are “manned” by robots these days. The coal industry is dying not because of government policy but because oil and natural gas are so cheap and plentiful. The huge infrastructure projects Trump says he will build, including the border wall, have essentially no chance of being funded by a Republican-controlled Congress determined to cut spending, not boost it.
Promises to keep
How, then, will Trump keep his “forgotten” supporters from becoming disillusioned and disaffected? One way would be to continue to stoke their anger and resentment. To be black, Hispanic, Asian-American, Muslim or an immigrant today is to feel oneself potentially a target of white grievance and rage.