If Hillary Clinton loses the election, it is because she has nothing much to say in response to Donald Trump’s most incendiary issue—how globalization has devoured American prosperity, especially for the working class.
If Donald Trump loses the election, it is because he forgot to take his meds before the first debate with Hillary.
The media consensus says HRC demolished Trump, and maybe so. But I remember how many times the media consensus has been wrong about Trump. Instead of pretending to be presidential, Trump stayed in character—the rude egomaniac who enjoys dropping ugly slurs on his rivals or Mexicans or women or even Muslim gold-star mothers. Trump sprinkles poison over everything he has to say, even as his advisers try to paper over his bigoted insinuations.
Instead of scolding Trump or praising him, I want to talk about the great debate we didn’t get to hear. Trump delivered his usual zingers about American companies abandoning the United States and taking good jobs elsewhere. America, he says, is “being ripped off by every single country in the world,” he declared. Some of his proposed solutions are plausible; many are over the top and dubious.
Hillary Clinton brushed off his accusations with I-feel-your-pain solicitude for losers. Give her this much: She is steadfast and loyal in evading any admission that her husband’s presidency spilled a lot of the blood in the deindustrialization of American manufacturing. So long as she refuses to acknowledge that political connection, she feels no obligation to propose plausible remedies. She has little to propose about disassembling the fierce engine of maldistribution generated by the US version of globalized industry.
Her campaign platform, pulled leftward by the Bernie Sanders challenge, includes many worthy social measures to reduce inequality and support family life (social protections that have existed for decades in Europe). But Clinton’s reforms would treat the symptoms rather than confront the causes of deteriorating income security. So long as the US approach to globalization generates still greater downward pressure on US jobs and incomes, the bleeding is bound to sow greater distress and future seasons of political rebellion.
Trump’s remedies mostly speak to nostalgic longing—wishing for a return of the good old days—but give him this: He, along with Bernie, managed to restore the injury and anger of the working class to a central preoccupation of the political system. For the first time in decades, alienated Americans heard a presidential candidate who talked like them.
Furthermore, he achieved this by mashing together a unique mix of issues. Some days he sounds like a labor Democrat railing at the trade deals that gutted US manufacturing. Other days he is a frothy right-winger building a wall to keep out the Mexicans. Or a Reaganite conservative determined to cut taxes for big business and billionaires. He also sounds like bleeding-heart liberals defending Social Security against attacks by the money-hungry financial industry.