Trump is the Republican nominee apparent. We can reasonably expect many more stories on how “voters are angry”. According to a Rassmussen poll 67% of voters are “angry”, including 38% who are “very angry”.
But angry about what? Angry at who? How was the question asked? It’s not that simple, especially since this very high reading is down from 75% in 2010. None of it justifies the orange tinted reality show host without looking deeper into it.
The easy way out for most commentators is to say it has something to do with the economy. It’s been in the tank for a long time – by any appreciable measure it hasn’t worked well for 16 years. That’s an easy cop-out that doesn’t really add up without a lot of further thought.
We have to start with the poll, since that is what drives the analysis. Numbers are great, after all, even if they sit there like dead men and tell no tales on their own. The actual question asked by Rasmussen was, “How angry are you at the current policies of the federal government?” That doesn’t mean that two out of three people are angry – you might sit down and chat with them at a bar or a coffee hut and find they are perfectly happy and well adjusted. It means that they think the federal government has lost its way.
Worded that way, it’s shocking that we only have two out of three who are “angry”.
In particular, a much larger share, 83%, say they are “angry” at Congress. This suggests that the overall anger is fueled by inaction, which is about all that Congress has been generating for a long time. It’s not any particular policy which is making people angry, it’s the lack of … well, anything.
Still, we see a tendency to punch first and ask questions later rising at rallies for Trump, clearly an expression of anger. His share of the electorate, which may be as high as 41% by a CNN poll, is large enough to be worried about. If they are the majority of the “angry voters”, who are they angry at?
I’m going to state categorically that they are driven by racism. Not all Trump supporters are racists, but the loudest ones are, for sure. They woke up one day in a nation they didn’t recognize and they don’t like it one bit. We can talk all we want about declining opportunity for advancement and trot out job numbers, but the simple fact is that when they going got tough they focused their blame on people who have nothing to do with it. That’s inexcusable.
There has been a terrible failure of leadership in this nation for a long time, so blaming non-white people for our problems comes far too easily. That’s an indictment of Republican politics, yes, but it’s also an indictment of Democrats for not providing an alternative.
But let’s set aside the rather obvious racism and the clear position that what voters are angry at most is indeed the Federal government. What is our government supposed to do? Have we become so socialist that we look to the public sector for jobs? If it isn’t gridlock itself that makes people angry, what has gone wrong?
I think the answer lies deep in the great strength of the nation that was once much paler and ruled almost entirely by men. Whatever it is that we want to go back to in the call of “Make America Great Again” is a world that was defined. You didn’t have a lot of choices to make. College was cheaper, yes, but very few people could get in. Women stayed home and had babies, men were expected to slave away at a factory or an office as part of a cog in a great machine.
In that description of a world that was once “great” by some twisted reasoning, life was in many ways easier. Identity was handed to you at birth. But that life was also brutal. Everyone was a part of a machine in some way with most of their choices in life laid out for them. Advancement was possible, sure, but was it really much more available than today? If you were black, what could you reasonably expect for your life circa 1960?
That machine broke down for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is this – it didn’t provide real happiness. It was just a machine, it wasn’t human. We have been living in a legitimate Age of Anxiety which finally burst forward when the one thing that the great mechanism of this nation provided, rising material wealth, finally stopped being produced.
It comes down to this – what is it that we expect our Federal government to honestly produce which it isn’t now? With a great body of laws which reinforce the mechanical identity of workers it is the lack of serious reform that is holding us back. Millenials may back Sanders because of a promise of a government that can do great things again but how many of them honestly trust that the Federal government is capable of providing things like health care, college education, or new economic opportunities?
I will argue that the sense of stagnation is the real problem. The economy has not picked up because it has not been fully re-invented yet. Laws concerning hiring and taxing labor remain rigid hold-overs despite a need for more flexibility from both workers and employers alike. Health care is still, bizarrely, tied to employment for most people.
The great machine that produced a truly powerful nation after World War II had fatal flaws at the heart of it. They have been exposed as the machine has broken down. We are naturally anxious to know what will replace it. In the meantime, the electorate is splitting between those who want the old machine to work again and those who want it sent to the junk heap in favor of something better.
That split forms along mostly generational lines, but not exclusively.
For the first group, it comes down to asking “Who broke the machine?” For the other, it’s asking, “Who is standing in the way of the new machine?” Both are interesting questions, but neither is rooted in the future. Working towards a new system smashes both arguments and will almost certainly force a consensus after a period of time. That the government is not working is the real problem – and I think that is what most voters do indeed understand.
That doesn’t mean that a lot of voters aren’t racists who blame innocent people. That doesn’t mean that a lot of voters aren’t naive about how a new system is put together. It means that instincts in our Democratic Republic are still pretty good – if you dig down deep enough and get past the focus on blame for what happened yesterday.
Anger? Yes, we should be angry. But we can’t dwell on it. As Clinton turns towards the nomination herself there are great lessons to be learned from the angry voters. The Sanders team has to be shown clearly that there is a path for genuine Progress, capital “P”, and the racists have to be called out for who they are.
There’s a lot to put together, but that’s what a campaign has to be for. It has to demonstrate that all this experience on Clinton’s resume is really worth a damn. Putting it together now is only a prelude to the hard work of putting it together as a President – and then moving us all genuinely forward.
Sure, voters are “angry”. There are many ways it is expressed, but it seems to come down to stagnation. We wouldn’t have time to stand around and be angry if the work ahead of us was obvious. That’s what leadership is for, and it’s been sorely lacking at the Federal level.
Let’s do us all a favor and not focus on the anger any more. Let’s focus on what a happy tomorrow should look like.