The whole ascent of the US Presidential candidate Donald Trump has been an interesting, if not a scary development. Living on the West Coast within the technology sector bubble, I’ve struggled to understand his appeal.
In my lifetime, I’ve voted for 5 Republican presidential candidates and 4 Democratic. In this year’s election, however, the issue is something beyond political platform differences.
In my research to understand, I’ve come to realize that Trump’s appeal is tribal at a time when the white middle and lower classes feel highly vulnerable to the rapid changes in America. Without question, a large portion of this group has been left behind the great modern US economic advances through globalization and innovation. The blue-collar workers have seen wage stagnation as well as increased uncertainty over their livelihood while the business owners, bankers and those in the innovation industries make tremendous gains. Consequently, they feel that their way of life based upon traditional judo-christian principles are under attack.
As people, we tend to measure our lot in life relative to those around us. For this reason, I can understand the anger that Trump has scratched to the surface. In such situations, people tend to look for a figurehead to deliver them from their plight. At this point, it is less about facts but more about a strong personality who is seen as a leader of the tribe. Therefore, what I consider rational, logical arguments have no impact on these followers.
The lesson is that we need to understand what these people are feeling and come up with viable solutions. For example, innovation is the leading cause of the disappearance of good-paying blue-collar jobs, not offshoring. Isolationist legislations will not bring back most of these jobs. Automation drives efficiency and profitability and will only improve with or without globalization.
Therefore, re-educating workers, and more importantly, ensuring better math and computer education throughout the US school system is critical to long-term US middle class success. Colleges need to be made more affordable and not be incentivized to bring in a disproportional amount of foreign students for their higher tuition rates. We actually need effective universal healthcare while this middle class goes through the current transformation. We need direct policies addressing the specific needs of this segment of the population.
If we as a nation do not, Trump will only be the first of many more figureheads to come and their isolationist and anti-immigration policies will lead to world-wide conflicts and further national racial tensions, as well as retard our economy.