Presidential Election 2016: How Donald Trump Pulled Off an Improbable Victory

Donald J. Trump’s Election Day upset defied polls and media expectations. Once the mud-stained curtain of innuendo and accusation is pulled aside, it becomes evident that the Republican candidate appealed to American voters on a diverse array of issues — some of which have been more pivotal than others. Here’s a closer look at how Trump managed to pull off the biggest Election Day surprise many Americans have witnessed.

Obamacare Backlash: Financial Life Support

Trump appealed to those who are grappling with Obamacare sticker shock. Despite the Obama Administration’s best-laid plans, very few cost-control provisions found their way into the Affordable Care Act. The ACA handed the health insurance industry more customers at the risk of levying tax penalties upon Americans who failed to purchase a policy. But the ACA did almost nothing to bring down the cost of prescription drugs, to limit triple-digit premium price hikes and to pare down the “administrative obesity” that has given rise to healthcare cost inflation in the first place. President Obama’s seeming indifference to the fact that the ACA would become increasingly less affordable in the waning days of his administration helped set the stage for a Republican victory. In this respect, candidate Trump didn’t undercut candidate Clinton’s chances of electoral success nearly as much as her presidential predecessor.

The American BREXIT: It’s the Economy, Stupid!

Trump appealed to Americans who have lost living-wage jobs. Trump also appealed to the trade-policy minded who recall then-presidential candidate Ross Perot’s 1992 predictions on NAFTA — which Perot famously characterized as a “giant sucking sound” of manufacturing jobs exiting U.S. borders. Despite the promise that “free trade” would be an economic growth engine for the United States, evidence suggests that corporations — not workers — reap the rewards of this and other trade deals that have pitted First World labor forces in the U.S. and abroad against Third World labor markets in which costs are a fraction of what they are domestically. With more than 20 years of hindsight, it has become increasingly apparent that while early efforts at globalization have indeed created more jobs on a global scale, offshoring has served to suppress wages, reduce the number of living wage jobs available to American workers and grow the national debt thanks to gargantuan trade deficits and the proliferation of corporate tax havens that are available to corporations that have offshored their finances in much the same way they have offshored jobs.

Never was the disconnect between the Establishment and the American people more painfully apparent, perhaps, then when President Barrack Obama squared off against a laid-off engineer’s wife on a videochat in 2012, during which the president’s support of H1-B (foreign) visa workers to fill science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs came under question. President Obama, on the advice of Bill Gates and others, expressed a belief in a shortage of American STEM workers — even though universities in the U.S. turn out more STEM-grads than anywhere else in the world — and despite the fact that high rates of unemployment continued in the aftermath of the Great Recession. The videochat went viral and the dirty little secret known primarily within the tech industry was out: Employment opportunity isn’t merely a product of entering an in-demand field — it’s increasingly a matter of competing within one’s own country, even, against cheap imported foreign labor. In the wake of a widening public appreciation that being properly trained to thrive in the 21st Century American economy is no guarantee of employment stability or success, Hillary Clinton’s campaign promise to invest in retraining American workers, while relevant, failed to resonate — particularly among displaced blue-collar workers.

Drain the Swamp: No More Double Standards

Trump appealed to those who refused to settle for a double standard of justice — one standard of conduct under the law for low-level government employees and private citizens and a more forgiving standard for the well-connected Elite. Many Americans refused to accept as the “new normal” a system in which the taint of corruption are dismissed for the politically-connected with little more than a nod, a wink and a hasty FBI investigation — even as others spend their lives in exile or prison. Likewise, Trump appealed to voters who perceive the undo influence of special interests as a factor in an increasingly globally-oriented government. For these voters, a vote for Trump was a vote against corruption — whether the corruption of a single candidate who found herself under FBI investigation in the midst of a campaign or the corruption endemic to the status quo in Washington, D.C. at large.

White Populists: Not Demographically Dead — Yet

Trump’s off-the-cuff, take-no-prisoners talk — in defiance of the usual method of wooing voters with political doublespeak — brought out a contingent of voters that included biker gangs, white nationalists and assorted characters who typically do not show up at polls in support of conventional candidates. Trump’s election was the last “Hail Mary” of a dwindling white majority.

Mainstream Media Revolt: Enough of the Hyperbole

Trump’s run appealed to those who sympathize with underdogs who are not endorsed by — or beholden to — the Establishment. From the outset, the mainstream media decided that Trump’s run for the GOP nomination was essentially a joke — and again predicted that he would drop out just as soon as the going got tough. While Trump’s outspoken behavior on the campaign trail certainly didn’t make the task of covering Trump’s campaign easy, mainstream media and celebrity personalities alike worked overtime to portray Trump as the bogeyman to top all bogeymen. Trump came to embody every sin of the “isms”: racism, fascism, sexism, isolationism, nationalism — and then some. In hindsight, media efforts to undercut Trump’s campaign legs through a relentless underscoring of his shortcomings backfired. Many Americans, already cynical about the mainstream media, became indifferent to the constant drumbeat of fear. It didn’t help to restore confidence in America’s gatekeepers when an editorial in a leading newspaper posited a loaded question: Why should journalists make any attempt to be impartial given how so obviously evil Trump, the opposing candidate, is?

The 2016 presidential election, if nothing more, ought to serve as a wake-up call to members of the Fourth Estate: The more alarmist the tone and tenor of campaign news coverage, the more it risks alienating readers, listeners, viewers and voters who resent being told how to think. Overt attempts to paint a “Good” vs. “Evil” narrative, particularly when the narrative relies so heavily on subjective interpretations and stylistic criticisms above and beyond hard-news policy analysis — the latter of which took a backseat to high drama in this election —  only raises suspicions of bias, if not accusations of baldfaced propaganda. For journalists, editors and publishers, the election of Donald Trump delivers a clear take-home message: Rightly or wrongly, Americans want to be treated as if they are intelligent enough to make decisions for themselves.

Backlash, if not social unrest, is the risk mainstream media runs in overplaying a negative message ad nauseam. If reporters and pundits do not wish to perpetuate a “Cry Wolf” revolt against the messenger, they must resist the impulse to play off of social media sensationalism or to strip the context from a statement as a means to amplify controversy. Dispassionate coverage — even if a candidate’s own behavior makes a case for sounding the alarm — is required for the messenger to avoid being tainted by the individual the coverage seeks to expose. Put another way, a transparent effort to stoke outrage towards a particular individual or issue makes the messenger’s role in the story newsworthy in its own right — if only for having lowered the bar. Democracy is not stronger for a Fourth Estate that slings as much mud as the candidates themselves. For media professionals, the 2016 presidential election must serve to reaffirm that the best course, while not sexy or even particularly morally satisfying, is the dispassionate approach.

The Antiwar Crossover Voter: Give Peace A Chance

Perhaps the least-appreciated contingent of voters candidate Trump appealed to were those whom the DNC underestimated. In working, as the DNC hack illustrated, to sideline the presidential hopes of the Democratic nominee with the most grassroots support — Sen. Bernie Sanders — the DNC left Sec. Clinton as the flip-flopping Establishment candidate in contrast to Trump, the “Change candidate”, on the ballot. On its own, that might not have been enough to compel a portion of disaffected Democrats and Independents to back Trump. But Clinton’s record as a War Hawk — who not only backed the Iraq war but pretty much every attempt at foreign intervention before or since — cast her foreign policy judgment in doubt.

Voters were urged by the Clinton campaign to fear Trump’s temperamental fitness with the nuclear codes. But at the end of the day, Clinton’s promise to do the very thing that could place the U.S. in a catastrophic situation in Syria also appears to have given voters pause. In Trump voters have an “unknown” who spoke of mending fences. In Clinton, voters have a “known” who renewed fears not only of a Cold War — what with all the talk of Russian interference in our Election — but renewed concerns on the part of Gorbachev and others for a hot war. For antiwar voters, speculation over what might go wrong under a Trump presidency failed to outweigh what is well documented about Clinton’s interventionist foreign policy aims. Clinton sealed her foreign policy fate when she pledged during the final presidential debate to back a No-Fly Zone in Syria despite testimony from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and others, that such an effort would be tantamount to a declaration of war on Russia.

Concluding Thoughts

Although any post-electoral analysis would be disingenuous to imply that president-elect Trump is appealing on all fronts — in reality, much of America finds him anything but — nearly half of those who turned out to vote found Trump grounded on enough fronts to cast a cautiously optimistic vote. With any luck, the candidate who came to embody the quintessential bogeyman will instead prove to be a leader ready, willing and able to promote the more positive aspects of Change Americans desire. For a Trump presidency to unite more so than it divides, Trump must promote a leadership style that demands higher expectations for the office. Trump must remain mindful from start to finish that defying the doom-and-gloom pronouncements by Establishment partisans in government and media requires him, to a greater degree than many of his predecessors, to inspire everyone around him to excellence so that the nation’s interests — the people’s interests — can be more visibly served. Do this, and the Trump legacy will not be that of the inexperienced, authoritarian disaster much of the electorate fears. Fail this, and Trump may go down among the worst presidential frauds in U.S. history.

President-elect Trump must hit the ground running in January 2017. He will need to work tirelessly to improve the economy. He will need to follow through on healthcare and tax reform on behalf of ordinary Americans — for whom the combined cost burden amounts to as much as 40-50 percent of wage earners’ annual household incomes. As president, Trump must deliver better care and treatment of America’s veterans. He must never lose sight of the needs of inner city residents and the needs of minorities. He must make good on American infrastructure improvements rather than falling back on feel-good, “shovel-ready” slogan-making. He must work to reduce the risk of domestic terrorism while improving the path to legal citizenship. In short, the work is just beginning for president-elect Trump. But if Donald J. Trump can hone his focus — and steer clear of bungling his way into still more ill-fated wars abroad — even his detractors may come around.

And united we may yet stand.

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High Contrast: Thomas Kinkade’s Art, Life & Controversy

There is something attractive about defrocking a figure of faith-and-family-values virtue, particularly one of great commercial success who has endeared himself to an endangered minority: the American middle class. The late Thomas Kinkade, who died of unnamed causes Friday, made an easy target. The self-anointed “painter of light” specialized in idealized scenes hearkening to a more innocent and bucolic time. Such art might be expected from a pastor’s wife or a bookish introvert yet it was the high degree of contrast between the artist’s placid and peaceable imagery and his real-world foibles and flaws that made him an irresistible subject for personal and artistic attack.

In the wake of Kinkade’s untimely death at age 54, the Los Angeles Times rehashed a 2006 exposé in which the painter was portrayed as a drunken, ruthless and foulmouthed hypocrite.  Whatever one may believe about the man, the art world has stood firm about his vision: Kinkade is a commercial success but his paintings do not merit creative or historic memory.

Kinkade’s artistic legacy is as much in question as his personal one.

The flurry of reader comments and criticisms at the news of Kinkade’s death belies the ire of Kinkade’s many collectors and fans, befuddled that the art world has yet to embrace the prolific painter as one of their own. And it brings into sharp focus the growing disparity — and the unresolved debate  — between what the public buys and the critics praise. Andy Warhol was and is an immense commercial success. Clearly it is not the act of being wildly successful that makes an artist a pariah. Rather, it is Kinkade’s idyllic vision that rankles the art world elite. Somewhere the meme took hold: paint something inscrutable or obtuse —  a Rorschach test on canvas — then and only then does it possess merit in the contemporary context. It was only a matter of time before the self-taught, folk artists and mainstream “populists” fell out of favor.

Even among casual onlookers the aesthetic battle lines are well established. Art enthusiasts and collectors who fancy themselves “in the know” mimic the art world’s shock and disdain at those who dare defy the convention that one must be wholly unconventional — perhaps even emotionally disturbed — to enjoy critical acclaim. All the while, consumers who enjoy art from the gut rather than the head continue to ask why art critics are so very, very harsh. Indeed, there is something to the question to be asked.

The fine art world has successfully indoctrinated would-be artists and the culture at large: Artistic themes that portray a simplicity a child can appreciate don’t constitute “art”. Themes that favor innocence over angst don’t merit discussion. Depictions of widely-held ideals over cynical self-revelation are unworthy. Even the time-honored practice in which artists interpret the social issues of the times are in short supply. The Great Recession, and the 21st Century in particular, is notable thus far precisely for how little the arts and entertainment community has managed to reflect or acknowledge a faltering American Dream nor a social criticism of globalization at large. Instead, art critics and creators-of-the-moment exude the idiosyncratic and the narcissistic. And therein lies the “Kinkade paradox”: the esoteric, quirky and self-preoccupied art that is championed for its creative singularity carries an equal albeit opposite potential to be culturally out of touch — if reinterpreting the “real world” through a myopic lens is in fact the sanctioned goal.

The emotive loss of color and character within the art community is a loss to each and every one of us. For every wall of conformity that goes up, diversity goes down.

Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. The market spoke and the market liked Kinkade. The art world elite have done more than spur a debate. For years, generations even, they have kept a lot of creative people in jobs they have even less talent for because the thought of going up against non-art creating critics and cutthroat collectors and curators offends the sensibilities of sensitive, creative or contrarian individuals.

This is how the creation of art becomes a closeted pastime. This is how art is abandoned in childhood, in dumpsters and in storage lockers, too.

More people should be invited to partake of art, not fewer. Nothing could be further from the aim of creative expression than to place aspiring creators in a box consisting of a “right” and a “wrong” way to go about pursuing a personal form of expression. The art world has been dominated far too long by cultural snobs and professional critics who have erected academic dogmas and creative doctrines, who have codified styles and themes — quashing the pure and simple joys of creative expression and aesthetic appreciation. If the art of Thomas Kinkade translated to the masses an appreciation for beauty, the painter has, in fact, invited and inspired more people to appreciate that which only the imagination can conceive.

If anything can be gained from Kinkade’s lifework, it ought to be the art world’s willingness to see itself in a new and more honest light.

Art is not what someone says it is — or isn’t. Art is about people. By people. For people.

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RESOURCES

Thomas Kinkade, Painter for the Masses, Dies at 54 | NYT

Painting, Still Lively in the 21st Century | NYT

Where Are Today’s Steinbecks? | BBC News