My friends and acquaintances here in Europe are mystified by how the citizens in the richest country in the world, the USA, could have elected a person like Donald Trump as their president. Obviously, it’s a complex situation with a complex answer. There are many reasons—including voters who were single-issue focused—anti-abortion, anti-Obamacare, anti-immigration, anti-Hillary, pro-free trade, etc. But I think a really important factor is poverty. I do realize that not all the people who voted for Trump are poor, but it is true that the Electoral College votes that put him in office came from the poorer states in the US. That there is poverty in the USA usually surprises my European friends because Europeans don’t see poor US citizens. The reason is simple: poor US citizens don’t travel and Europeans don’t travel to the poorer areas of the USA, either urban or rural.
I know a thing or two about poverty, so here is an introduction to some of the poorer areas of the USA for my European friends. I grew up in the southeast corner of the state of Kansas—the very center of the continental USA. The county I lived in ranked as either the lowest or nearly the lowest in per-capita income for the state, and Kansas ranks well below the national average for the USA. Chautauqua County is historically poor because there is little or no industry, and the farming and ranching that it depends on is small in scale. This is due to the geography of the county, which is beautiful and diverse but unsuited to large-scale farming and ranching.
It is also poor in human resources because nearly every young person of intelligence and talent who grows up there moves away to richer areas with more opportunities, depleting the county further. By the time I reached high school, my eyes and those of the other top students were firmly set on the horizon. I left the county within days of my graduation from high school and never returned. Of the people left behind not out of choice but from lack of choice, they resent their poverty, and they need someone to blame. Donald Trump told them who to hate—their government, “illegal aliens,” people of color, etc. “Drain the swamp in Washington” was his rallying cry.
There is another kind of poverty in the USA and that is urban. Many areas, particularly in the center of the country, were once rich because of manufacturing and are now poor because the big corporations have moved elsewhere. Of course, the corporations are only doing what any corporation does: seek to maximize profits. They do this by trying to make the goods they manufacture more valuable and by lowering the costs of production. Near the top of the list of production costs is the cost of employees. Corporations can lower production costs by moving to places in the world where labor is cheaper and by increasing automation in their plants. They have done both, which leaves the formerly rich industrial areas of the USA poor and the people without jobs. Donald Trump appealed to those people by promising to bring their jobs back.
That, in the opinion of many experts, is simply not possible. Even if Trump were able to force the corporations to move their factories back to the so-called “Rust Belt,” there would be few jobs for anyone who isn’t highly skilled in the latest technology. The semi-skilled assembly line jobs that fueled the prosperity of the Rust Belt in the 20th century are never coming back.
That a person who was born rich and flaunts his wealth every chance he gets could sell himself as a savior to people in some of the poorer areas of the USA is amazing. He did it by appealing to their baser instincts and by posing as “one of them.” He puts on a great show, with headline-grabbing feats of sheer bravado. And he knows the right slogans to toss out. He says “trust me” in every other sentence, and he got the majority of the people in the poorer areas of the USA to trust him, even though he lies with every breath.
Now President Trump will have to come through with his promise of jobs for the unemployed, which is impossible, or keep the population distracted, which is what he appears to be doing quite successfully. We’ll see how long he can keep the show going.
“Maybe a little war or two would do the trick.”
“Yes, that will keep them distracted.”
“And use up some military materials, which will need to be replaced. That will make the military/industrial complex happy.”
“And it will thin the population a bit. That will be good for the employment figures.”
“It’s a win-win! Now we just have to wait to see which refugee from the ‘group of seven’ Muslim nations commits the first act of terrorism.”
Sounds eerily familiar? Remember, you read it here first.