Let us now consider the downside of Donald Trump losing the November presidential election.
The downside of his winning is obvious, and not just to liberals and Democrats. House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republicans’ highest elective official, agonized Hamlet-like before endorsing Trump, the party’s presumptive standard bearer.
I share those jitters at the prospect of a President Trump, but my rejoicing, should he be defeated, will be tempered by a sobering thought: We'll be right back to a status quo that isn’t working for millions of Americans.
A President Hillary Clinton isn’t likely to fix it. Neither would Trump, but he has the political instincts to claim that he would.
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Even as a candidate, Clinton couldn’t master the rhetoric. Campaigning in Ohio, she promised to “put a lot of coal miners” out of business. Considering the Rust Belt setting, it would seem a dumb thing to say. The region has been hemorrhaging the kind of jobs requiring a strong back and hands. The nation lost 11,000 coal-mining jobs last year.
But it wasn’t an inept choice of words if you assume Clinton’s message was intended for voters on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and in Beverly Hills, who are passionately interested in environmental issues.
That difference bespeaks a dirty little secret about America today: It’s the scene of class warfare.
Democrats deny it when Republicans accuse them of fomenting it. Yet it’s real, and it doesn’t pit Republicans against Democrats. Rather it’s a struggle between the world of corner taverns and that of country clubs – with the ranks of the latter reinforced by NPR’s listeners in a strange-bedfellows alignment of the wealthy and the well-educated.
To see how little this struggle has to do with party preferences, recall that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and congressional Republicans are allied in advocating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multinational trade deal that is a corollary of globalization.
It is true that Clinton changed her position on TPP, which she formerly hailed as the “gold standard” of trade agreements. She saw which way the wind was blowing – but that was when Bernie Sanders was breathing down her neck. Will she stick to her resolve should she win the White House?
Wall Street is betting she won’t. They didn’t pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees expecting her to recite favorite passages from the “Communist Manifesto.”
She was, after all, a Goldwater Girl, and went to Wellesley College. It’s the kind of elite college where students more likely ruminate on holes in the ozone than on what it’s like to pull the lever on a punch press until you are bone tired. Or, to feel it like a punch in the stomach when told that production is being moved – punch press, time clock and all – overseas.
Then Clinton became a Democrat. At one time, that would have put her on the side of working-class men and women. Under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Democrats enacted Social Security, providing old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and minimum-wage legislation.
In return, organized labor became the Democratic Party’s foot soldiers. Union activists rang doorbells at election time. That made for a truly two-party system: Republicans representing the affluent, Democrats representing work-a-day folks.
More recently, that alliance has been in tatters. President Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Agreement over the strenuous objections of organized labor that it would cost Americans their jobs.
The middle class has been dividing. Its college-educated section has been expanding, its incomes rising; the incomes of its blue-collar section have been stagnant, even declining.
The Democratic Party threw its lot in with the college-educated, whose interests include the environment and women’s rights. Those without a college degree were left without a party to advocate for their interests: decent paying jobs.
And into that void, Trump plunged, kicking and screaming about building a wall and deporting Mexicans. To public-radio audiences, that probably sounded like the high road to fascism. To many unemployed blue-collar Americans, Trump seemed a messiah attuned to their grievances.
If he loses, the potential path to power he laid out will still be there. Someone will try taking it. Perhaps he or she will tone down Trump’s fiery rhetoric, appealing to suburbanites with college-graduate kids sleeping on their couches. Huey Long, Louisiana’s senator in the 1930s, noted that, in troubled times, a smoke-and-mirrors gambit can work. Long – who knew something about demagogues, being one himself – once said:
“When fascism comes to America, it will be called anti-fascism.”
Ron Grossman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.