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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Apple, America and the ‘China Problem’

The secret is out: Apple has a worm inching its way through its corporate flesh. January was a tough month on the Cupertino, California company venerated for its innovation and vision.

The controversy emerged when an Apple contractor in China, a manufacturing facility known as Foxconn where many brand-name electronics are assembled largely by hand, made headlines when dozens of workers threatened to jump to their deaths over a labor dispute. Foxconn’s solution? Erect netting beneath roofs and windows.

It doesn’t end there. For 12-hour shifts, six-days-per week and a live-in lifestyle workers allegedly earn just $17, the New York Times reports. Forbes and PC Magazine added their own angle to the news. One such detail described a high-level manager who, at a Chinese zoo, asked a zookeeper to provide advice on how to deal with his workers, drawing a direct comparison between factory workers and undomesticated animals. It gets worse. A NYT piece, “In China, Human Costs are Built into iPad“, refers to two dozen accidental worker deaths that have occurred as a result of unsafe working conditions. Finally, in “This American Life” the narrator of “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” recounts a first-hand meetup with underage Chinese workers, among scores of others who suffer permanent neurological tremors and ticks as a consequence of over-exposure to a chemical toxin.

For all the outrage, many argue such are the inescapable growing pains of a Third World labor force “coming up”. At one time, the United States, too, was known for worker exploitation, a chief reason child labor laws gained traction and unions became a bulwark against corrupt and abusive management practices. And yet, even at the height of the union movement in the US such organizations represented only a fraction of the workforce. Nonetheless, what began as labor negotiating with management to build a viable American middle class has transformed in recent decades to its polar opposite: a perception that unions destroy American prosperity.

Let’s turn these assumptions on their head for a moment. It may very well be in our best interest to support unionization movements in the Third World because only then will we stem the tide of human rights abuses and, at the same time, diminish the massive inequalities that allow US companies to do the math and abandon American soil —- our workforce — in favor of nations that are institutionally in conflict to American democracy, liberty and justice. Rather than live down to a Third World “race to the bottom” standard, we who have already been down the road to civil rights in the First World ought to raise the international bar: mentor up-and-coming industrial nations in “best practices”.

Our choice is clear: In the absence of such a push Third World manufacturing will remain attractive in much the same way the American South benefited from plantation slave labor. In the US we fought a bloody Civil War to become a civil society. For all the doom-and-gloom of the incensed Southern plantation owner, certain the loss of low-cost labor represented a death-knell, the United States thrived in the post-Civil War era, particularly so after World War II.

Why tolerate and excuse “separate and unequal” practices overseas?

Blind-eyed consumerism turns us into self-serving hypocrites. And yet the shame we bring upon ourselves is far from the only reason to care about what goes on on the other side of the globe. We, too, suffer at our own hand in a less overt but equally-destructive manner: wage stagnation, loss of social mobility and growing deficits that, in the years to come, will increasingly link to tax revenue losses associated with declining (taxable) American affluence. What began some 25 years ago as an offshoring, outsourcing rush sparked the rise of the “too good to pass up” Chinese-made bargain at Walmart and has culminated in a high price indeed. Today, unlike then, economic necessity drives many Americans to purchase Third World goods because our buying power has slipped in direct proportion to the wholesale acceptance of patently unfair “free trade agreements”.

Ross Perot was right when he warned of the “giant sucking sound” of jobs leaving North American soil.

There’s nothing wrong with free trade in the true sense of free-market intent. There is, however, something very wrong with the negative notion that the widening gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” represents a valid manifestation of such a market. Globalization isn’t the problem per se: bad policy is. At the international trade table our “partners” aren’t playing the same free-market game — and therein lies the problem. The United States is increasingly bested by communists, socialists and managed market capitalists! Will we ever come out of economic decline if we don’t perceive the need for a course correction? Take a long, hard look at our 2012 presidential candidates: How many of them propose a viable industrial policy, speak of a solution to the trade deficits or call-out the perverse tax incentives that are shooting America’s economic interests in the foot?

Is it any wonder that our anti-liberty competitors — nations, like China, where government puts to death anyone who attempts to unionize — successfully defend their competitive advantage through currency manipulation, taxes on US-made goods and government-backed “private enterprise”? How nonsensical is it that we Americans glibly say it is “protectionist” to fight fire with fire!? Let’s call it what it is: a leveling of the playing field. It’s a necessary evil lest we become impoverished to a Third World degree!

This much is true: We can’t keep sitting complacently on the wrong end of the see-saw with the flat-earth expectation that we will maintain a fighting chance to compete through pure creativity or educational prowess. Now that our productive capacity exists primarily overseas, engineers, skilled machinists, prototype builders, and venture capitalists will increasingly take up residence there, too. That doesn’t leave much room for even the most highly-educated American student to succeed short of relocating to greener pastures. And therein lies the second problem: what we take for granted here — freedom of speech, religion and association — are criminal offenses in much of the world.

For all our romanticizing, the mobile, global “citizen of the world” is not one who can take the pursuit of life, liberty and justice for granted.

Change may be inevitable but it need not be an all-or-nothing proposition fraught with quasi-religious political dogmas. A large part of the solution lies in bringing Third World manufacturers into the 21st Century so that working conditions are not so dissimilar from our own. To do anything less than revisit and renegotiate the world’s FTAs is akin to running a hockey or football game with one set of rules for the home team and another set of rules for the visiting team. Nonsense! It’s time we got over our apparent death wish, stopped parroting the usual partisan talking points and rallied the courage to institute pragmatic trade reforms. In the long term, that reform needs to include incentives — if not sanctions — for “world citizens” (multinational corporations) that exploit vulnerable populations. Another crucial aspect to such reform is the diversification and development of affordable energy resources that will trim the cost of doing business: here, there and everywhere.

For any real improvement in the quality of workers’ lives we can’t simply point to economic opportunity in isolation. The individuals who live and work in China and elsewhere in the Third World must have some basic assurances in addition to their material needs: namely, that they are innocent until proven guilty and endowed with certain rights. Without the backbone we in the United States take for granted, the potential for such individuals to enjoy social equality, and therefore social mobility, are limited at best.

All too often, the Western view is that China and much of the Third World will go through a wayward period of industrialization and human rights abuses, to emerge one day with the same protections and freedoms enjoyed by Americans. And yet, in an increasingly connected world, making change within one’s borders is becoming more difficult as globalization exerts greater external pressures. When the United States made its greatest strides we were separated by entire oceans — a buffer that was instrumental to our independence but increasingly nonexistent today. In the US, moreover, we had a values system in place to sustain and uplift what would ultimately promote civil rights: namely, the concept that “all men are created equally” with the right to freedom of assembly and association. These precepts allowed early-American workers to unionize in order to further represent their interests. Gradually we have come to see unions as an overreaching force, but at the time they were a much-needed countervailing influence in a period of our history when worker abuses were far too common.

Without an existing framework of liberty, the social gains Americans achieved would scarcely have been realized as early or as completely. If we think that a repressive regime with whom we freely trade on the global market can be altered through the sheer force of modernization and economic progress — which apparently was the hope when Nixon opened up relations with China — we may have another thing coming. If and when that evolution or revolution comes to the Third World, it may come through such a degree of unrest, if not civil war, that it will come to look painfully short-sighted to stow so many of our manufacturing “eggs” in a single regional basket. In fact, the over-specialization and concentration of manufacturing capacity, in general, may come back to haunt us in a manner never before seen in human history. (A war or natural disaster concentrated in or near where the developed world manufacturers most of its critical products from prescription medications to electric grid components could have the same effect.)

If and when the Chinese people revolt against working 12-hour shifts, six days a week and living and eating in the factory barracks, change may come in the form of such disruptions to the supply chain that the world economy will feel pressured to aid the Chinese government in a return to the status quo for the sake of minimizing mass economic disruption and lost profits. Perhaps it is too late but it still needs to be said: Unless we successfully export democratic liberties and fair-trade principles to our trading partners and their labor forces before we come to rely on said nation for our own economic cohesiveness, we will be beholden to a ticking human-labor time bomb. Should the Chinese say “Enough!”, only for the government to react in a heavy-handed Tiananmen Square manner, it is entirely possible that China’s globalized trade partners will be so overly concerned for their respective strategic interests and losses that support for a human rights uprising, past overdue though it may be, will be found lacking. Cries for better compensation and treatment will go largely ignored, and any instability in those regions of the world will be minimized in the American media so that we can go on telling ourselves that globalization has lifted more people out of misery and poverty than not.

Fair trade is in our best strategic and economic interest. It’s not a matter of “if” but “when”. Therefore, the sooner we get to the “when”, the sooner we minimize the harm — to all concerned.

If you are inclined to feel pessimistic, don’t. Consider the growing market for fair-trade coffee, non-GMO and organic foods. A growing number of consumers are willing to pay a premium for health and the satisfaction of being on the right side of the fence when it comes to labor practices. Scores of Americans, too, are more than willing to fork over a premium for a Chinese-made Coach handbag at no real cost savings for its origin simply because the brand carries a perception of value even though it is no longer domestically produced. I am arguing that the same market potential exists here. The assumption that Americans won’t pay for peace of mind or premium-branded US-made products remains largely untested in today’s climate of “conscious consumerism”. Anyone who prefers name-brand over store-brand pays a markup willingly, regardless of country of origin. It stands to reason there is a broader market for products created under fair trade conditions that remains largely untapped. It’s time to invest in symbiotic international relationships that actually work — not the dysfunctional thinking that crudely passes for globalized free trade.

In the spirit of thinking differently it is time to challenge the myth that US-made merchandise corresponds to massive price hikes. A modest 20-35 percent increase for the satisfaction of owning a few more US-made goods is likely to receive greater acceptance as the “jobless recovery” lingers, consumers become more quality conscious, and news of foreign-worker abuses in our hyper-connected small world begin to hit closer to home. There’s reason to believe that the competitive advantage of Third World manufacturing is itself unsustainable.

Why might the affordability gap between foreign-made goods and US-made alternatives narrow despite cut-rate overseas labor costs? Because gasoline and transport prices are on the rise. As energy prices increase, it becomes less cost effective to manufacture products thousands of miles away from their intended market. A push to “go local” and “manufacture Green” will mean that more First World consumers will value products that help their own communities in the perception that this is also the environmentally-responsible way to rebuild the social contract.

To manufacture products closer to one’s target market is not infeasible: one need only look to foreign auto manufacturers that have set up US plants to see that such arrangements are workable. Volkswagen, Honda and Toyota, among others, provide the proof that taking one’s manufacturing plants to your market — in this case to manufacture foreign automobiles with US labor — does not harm the bottom line. In fact, the decentralization of production may very well be a security investment against assembly-line disruptions that might otherwise occur when productive capacity is concentrated in a single geographical region where war or natural disaster can prove disastrous. Make no mistake: This is not an argument to move all production to the US. Rather, I argue equally that products destined for the Asian or European markets should be assembled closer to their respective consumers. In so doing, consumer electronics and appliances that are destined for the US consumer can and should be made here for reasons of economy, environment and quality control. After all, when more Americans are gainfully employed, upwardly mobile and fully equipped to participate in the global economy the more likely it is to benefit the profitability of manufacturers.

This argument comes down to a simple truth that the policymakers, CEOs and MBAs apparently overlooked in their haste to go global: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Corporations have a responsibility: to understand that an investment in their market is an investment in their bottom line. If this isn’t the quintessential definition of “rational self-interest” I don’t know what is.

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RESOURCES

Making It In America | The Atlantic

Globalization’s Achilles’ Heel | The Daily Beast

Reporter’s Roundtable: Apple’s China Problem | CNET

Apple Wrestles with its China Problem | MarketWatch

Are Walmart’s Chinese Factories As Bad As Apple’s | Mother Jones

Globalization, Inequality and the State | Thomas Pogge

Is China a Threat to the US Economy? | Congressional Research Service PDF

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