Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tip O'Neill is commonly credited...

Strange bedfellows?
...with the saying "all politics is local," but I would go the former speaker of the House one better and say "all politics is personal." And by that I mean that voters are most influenced by their own personal situation in life. And by that I mean mostly their own personal financial situation.

In other words, I believe the average voter -- whether he knows it or not -- mostly takes into consideration his own perception of the economy when deciding on whom to vote for. (They say, by the way, that it's okay to end a sentence in a preposition nowadays.) People don't follow the latest economic releases like GDP, inflation numbers or even the unemployment rate -- those are all abstract as far as they're concerned. "How do I see the economy?" is more like it. It's probably unconscious, and people don't actually ask themselves these questions, but if they did they'd be saying things like:

How's my job going? Is my company/industry doing well? How are my prospects for a promotion/raise/bonus in the near future? Can I afford the things I want? Can I pay off my mortgage some day? Can I afford to send my kids to college? And will they get a good job when they graduate? And be able to pay off their student loans? And get their own place and maybe get married and have a family of their own some day? (Or will they have to take some minimum wage job after graduation and be back at home living in my basement?) 

And what about my personal wealth? Is my IRA or 401(k) appreciating in value? Will I ever be able to retire? And what about my house? Is it increasing in value? Will I be able to sell it some day and take some money out of it? Are my neighbors selling their houses relatively quickly and at higher prices? (Or are theirs languishing on the market forever?) 

And what about the financial picture of the rest of my family, friends and neighbors? My brother-in-law must be doing really well to put that addition on his house or redo his kitchen or buy that new boat! (Or, why is he still out of work?) Gosh, my neighbor just sold his house for more money than I ever thought possible! (Or, why can't my neighbor sell his house?) My best friend just retired at age 65 from the job he had since he graduated from high school; I can't wait to join him! (Or, why did my best friend get laid off from his good-paying job ten years ago and is now working harder than ever and making half of what he once made and has no plans to retire?) This town is growing like crazy! (Or, why are all the stores on Main Street closing and why did the largest employer in town move its operations to Mexico? And why is everyone around here driving a beat-up, old foreign car? When I was a kid everyone's family had a brand-new Ford or Chevy.) When I was in high school we dominated our conference in sports almost every year! (What's happened to the schools in this town?) Oh, and did you hear about the guy on the next street over? He retired/his daughter just got married/he's now a grandfather! (He died of a drug overdose.)

You get the idea. And I think you know where I'm going with this: this is how Donald Trump got elected president. Life for the white working class in America is getting worse, not better.

Now I know what you're thinking: What about other factors like social issues, i. e., abortion, gay marriage, etc.? And what about racism, directed at Mexicans, blacks, Muslims, etc.? That stuff was definitely important, but I would maintain that these sorts of things only come to the fore when one's own personal financial picture looks grim. (When times are good there's no need for a scapegoat.)

So now that I've explained how I think voters make their decisions, and how Trump in particular won in 2016, consider this:

Republican senators, such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and a few others, are finally starting to feel a little more "independent," but House Republicans, led by Paul Ryan, are still toeing the Trump line. And I think the reason for this is twofold. The triumvirate of Ryan, Reince Priebus and Mike Pence is still hoping to send bills to the president's desk for his signature and willing to put up with just about anything to see this right-wing agenda enacted into law. The second reason is a lot more prosaic: Trump is still popular in many, if not most, Republican House districts. So most of those members are just plain scared of their own constituents.

President Trump's overall approval ratings may be sliding, but he's still wildly popular with the Republican base. For now.

And that's the point of this post. Because at some time in the future -- I don't know when -- the average Trump voter is going to wake up one morning and say to himself, "Hey, where's that high-paying job I was supposed to get after voting for Trump? How come he hasn't made (my) America great again?"

And if the Democrats are lucky (and Paul Ryan & Co. are unlucky) it could come as early as the 2018 midterms. According to a piece in the Daily Kos, 23 Republicans hold congressional districts that voted for Hillary Clinton. So if Trump's popularity falls even further, the House could actually be in play in 2018. And, believe it or not, Nancy Pelosi could replace Ryan as speaker in 2019.

So what's the moral of this story? I'm not sure. Act fast, Paul Ryan and House Republicans, before Trump's schtick wears out? Don't get in bed with a con artist in the first place? (Too late.) Impeach Trump and make Mike Pence president? (Can't, remember? Trump is still too popular with the base.) Democrats, don't lose heart; you may be running things sooner than you thought? Or all of the above?

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