Trump Card


Def. – “A card in the trump suit, held in reserve for winning a trick.”

The Trump train is gaining momentum and I honestly don’t know how I feel about it.  That’s right, I said it…. me, a bleeding heart liberal, doesn’t know how she feels about the prospect of someone like Donald Trump being President of the United States.

Like practically every other Canadian I know, I thought Trump was a joke when he threw his hat in the ring.  His ‘Man of the People’ rhetoric, off-script comments and promises to run the country like a business reminded me of Rob Ford, another well-intentioned but Ill-equipped politician.

So it was with this cynical bias that, while on a business trip several months ago to Rochester NY, I tuned in to a Trump rally.  I had been watching Big Bang Theory on the Comedy Channel but when a lame cartoon was the program that followed, I began channel surfing and eventually landed on the rally in progress.  I paused, expecting that I’d watch it for a few minutes, quickly become appalled by its ridiculousness, and in short order be switching to another channel.

Twenty minutes later, I was still sitting there with the remote in my hand, transfixed.  Trump reminded me of some of my father’s friends, crankily complaining that the solutions to society’s ills were plainly obvious and occasionally crossing the line of political correctness.  He spoke about America as if it was in competition with the rest of the world, and pointed out all of the ways that America was failing.  And while I’m not a believer that society is a zero sum game, where one country has to lose in order for another country to win, I thought it was a brilliant way for Trump to connect with the competitive mindset of the American people.  Make America great again.  Who doesn’t want that?  I caught myself thinking… “Yeah!  Let’s start winning!  Make America Great Again!  …. Wait a minute!  What am I saying?  This is Donald Trump after all.”  Suffice to say, I suddenly, and viscerally, understood the attraction of Trump.

Last week I was obsessed with watching the Republican National Convention.  The speakers ranged from delusionary to profound.  At times the crowd seemed on the verge of turning into a maniacal, witch-burning mob.  It came to a must-see-TV climax, with Trump’s heated acceptance speech where he painted a bleak picture of the ills that plague America as evidence that choosing him as President is the only path to salvation.

The media have said that Trump’s characterization of America is inaccurate.  The average American’s economic position has actually improved in recent years, and although there are problems to be addressed, America is doing just fine, thank you.   But I’m not sure this is true.

Not so long ago, I was given “Legends” tickets to the Yankee’s game in New York.  These tickets entitled me to an all you can eat luxury buffet prior to the game where I ate shrimp, steak and fresh pasta to my heart’s content.  The dessert buffet was like nothing I’d seen before and I had great difficulty deciding whether one of the twenty flavours of cupcakes, five cheesecake varieties, multiple cookies, cakes or ice creams was my pleasure.   I sat at field level, in a cushioned seat with ample leg room at a civilized distance from the people on either side of me.  A waitress came to the seat and asked if there was anything she could get me (free of course).  Midway through the sixth inning, the guy behind me offered me an ice cream bar (he’d taken more than he and his friends could eat), and I accepted it.  After the fourth bite, I realized I was too stuffed to finish it and so I tossed the rest away.  The America that was with me in the Legends seats at that ball game was doing just fine.

However, the America that I saw out the window of the car service that drove me to the game, was significantly less fine.  Perhaps you heard on the news about the construction crane that toppled over on one of the bridges in New York last week?  Well it created a traffic snarl that meant my ride to the game took a detour… through the Bronx.  Row after row, street after street, concrete apartment buildings crowded the streetscape as far as the eye could see.  I had never before seen housing that was so incredibly dense.  Crappy stores at street level, working-age men sitting on overturned buckets playing cards on the sidewalk, and neon signs advertising daycare on the third floor of Chernobyl style apartment buildings.  Who knew that poverty existed on such a grand scale in such close proximity to those Legends seats at the Yankees game?  Certainly I didn’t.  It reminded me of the first time I visited my Grandmother in a nursing home and was stuck by how OLD the people were in there.  If you never visit a nursing home, you might think everyone dies at 85.  After all, how many 100 year olds do we run into at the schools, stores and gas stations where we spend our daily lives?

This motivated me to do a little research into the scale of poverty in America.  Take a look at this:

US Income Distribution

When you look at this chart, remember this is HOUSEHOLD income; the collective income of everyone in that household.  Line up every household in the U.S. in 2012, and $51,000 was the income of the household at the mid-point.  There are as many households in the U.S. earning UNDER $51,000, as there are over this figure and there are a whole bunch earning less than half that figure.

Way over on the right side of the chart we see those lucky few… roughly 4% of households who are earning more than $200K.  Regrettably, this chart doesn’t show increments beyond $250K because I suspect that there are some staggering incomes in this clump.  Some sources report that there are as many as 400,000 people in the U.S. earning more than $1 million per year.

This chart scares me.  It looks like a revolution waiting to happen.  ALL those people earning little…. versus a few people earning LOTS.

A few weeks ago, Craig and I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Requiem for the American Dream”.  The film is essentially an interview with Noam Chomsky, with concepts animated for visual effect.  I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that Chomsky was a name I had heard, but knew little of.  It turns out he was an American philosopher, historian, social critic and long-time political activist.  In sharp contrast to Trump, Noam was an intellectual.  A ‘wise man’.

Before watching the film, I had a vague sense of the inequity that exists in our current democratic system.  I understood that rich people get more chances at success than poor people.  Rich people get better education, better health care, and are less likely to face threats from the world around them.  Rich people know other rich people, which gives them more opportunities to build a great career.  I got those fancy Yankees tickets due to the fortunate circumstances of my life, not because I’ve worked any harder than that woman in the Bronx working two jobs to support her three children.  We all get that, right?  What I didn’t fully appreciate, was the extent to which the democratic system is designed to keep wealth in the hands of those who already have it, and power out of the hands of those who are poor.

It’s ironic that Donald Trump, a man who has clearly benefited from this system, is building a platform around breaking down the political system of insiders.  (The cynic in me still wonders what his angle is!)

But it’s always been this way, right?  Only a few people do very well, while most people do not.  It’s the American Dream…. Everyone has an opportunity to be rich, just work hard and it could be you.  The problem is that if you’re unlucky enough to be at the bottom end of that income scale, it’s NOT going to be you, because the system is built to protect the wealth of the people on top.  I highly recommend “Requiem for the American Dream” for anyone who’s interested in knowing the details!

The difference today is that the poor are no longer isolated, without access to information.  Facebook and Twitter threads travel like lightening across socio-economic groups and so the powerful can no longer expect that the secret will be kept.  Momentum is building for an anti-establishment movement and this is the sentiment that Donald Trump is tapping into.

I’m pretty certain that Trump isn’t the answer.  While I want to believe he is well-intentioned, I don’t think he’ll be able to work effectively within the system of government to action any of the positive change he’s promising, and I fear that his belligerence and ignorance could create much bigger problems with global consequences.

I predict that Americans will on balance take the safer bet, and that Hillary Clinton will be the next President.  And I hope that she pays heed to the discontented masses who are becoming increasingly organized to demand changes to a rigged system that favours the privileged few.  Because if someone doesn’t start listening…. Really listening… I worry about the long term implications of that ‘right to bear arms’ part of the Second Amendment.