Friday, March 17, 2017

Trump Democrats in Macomb County, MI

For the last two days, I've discussed Trump's scandals and how they do or do not impact him.  My feeling is that the scandals - tax evasion, corruption in Azerbaijan, you name it - essentially will not impact him all that much.  The scandals get his opponents riled up, but his opponents were already riled up.  Meanwhile, the scandals do not deter his supporters in the slightest.

This study by Democracy Corps and the Roosevelt Institute on white Democrats in Macomb County, MI - the famed home of the "Reagan Democrat" - who voted for Trump teaches us much about what is going on in the mind of the average Trump supporter.  I regard it as a study that should be taken very seriously, so I'm going to try to break it down for you now.  I apologize in advance, as my thoughts below ramble a bit.  Emphases added mine throughout.

All participants in  this study were white, non-college educated, none younger than 30 years old, and all from Macomb County, MI. 

Barack Obama carried Macomb County in both 2008 and 2012, but this time many of those same Obama voters voted for Trump.  They are not suffering from Trumpgrets.  They are standing by their man, they see the protestors as engaging in unfair behavior, and they think President Trump deserves a shot.  Like many on the left, they hold shaky, extreme views of reality.

Some fear growing unrest and some even worry "we're going to end up in a civil war".

I'd heard about coups, but not civil wars!
It's worth noting now that we have several months of President Trump under our belts, and these Trump voters do not regret their vote.  Despite the flap over the "Muslim Ban," the whole "Obama wiretap" thing, the desecration of Jewish graves, tweet after tweet after tweet of this or that inflammatory statement - none of all that matters to these voters.  They do not care.  They have expectations of President Trump that make all these concerns irrelevant.  As such, I personally doubt any tax scandal that might afflict Donald Trump is unlikely to dissuade these voters substantially.

Now, this might seem odd, but many of these folks do not care for congressional Republicans!  They are supportive of Republicans totally controlling government because they want President Trump to have a free hand to pursue his agenda, not because they especially value the GOP agenda or hold the GOP in high regard.

These voters see Donald Trump as a "strong leader".  To many of us, he appears to be a petulant, incompetent crybaby, but strength is in the eye of the beholder, and to these Macomb County Trump Democrats, he is a strong leader.  Therefore I suggest that standing on soapbox and ridiculing Donald Trump's statements as ridiculous, whiny, desperate, out-of-touch, demented and so forth will not sway his supporters - they see the very same statements, tweets and so forth as strength.  This is a key point to grok.  They also view Trump's (often crazy) statements as "not being afraid to be unpopular," which I think most of us would argue is a good trait, all other concerns aside. 

These voters really do not like immigrants.  No issue came up more in the study.  The mad-on towards immigrants is so intense that a few of the folks in the study blamed immigrants for problems in modern healthcare.  In this view, somehow, immigrants are getting good health care and that is what is driving up premiums for hard working Americans.  It's a totally insane belief, but it's a deeply held belief.

One of the women was really “hoping that [Trump will] fix our healthcare situation, but that comes back to the immigrants.” 

It's interesting to note that "Reagan Democrats" from Macomb County used to regard African-Americans as the bogeyman, but those views have shifted.  To the extent blacks came up in this study, the study participants expressed vague pity, not anger or fear.  They were proud, ostensibly at least, of the process made in race relations and multiculturalism over the past few decades (although they argued that Obama had made race relations worse in this country, which is a head-scratcher to me).

Their problems with the first African American president are rooted in a fairly complicated, but not particularly racial or racist framework. Very many of them were “proud that we finally had a minority president” and they were quite proud of their vote for him. They were hopeful that this meant “we can break that tension, the prejudice and everything, because it wasn’t just the black people that voted for him.”

It seems, then, that perhaps this group - as with most human groups - perpetually needs an enemy, an external foe, an other, and that once upon a time Blacks had been this foe, and now it's Immigrants.

That is why one-in-four participants said that Trump’s commitment on the border, immigration and refugees was one of the best things about him and fulfilling that commitment is one of their greatest hopes for his presidency. Some say “I don’t really care about the wall, as long as we can get a grip on the illegal immigrant problem.”

It goes without saying that the old canard of "legal immigration is good, but illegal immigration is bad" came up.  There's not a lot of reflection on this topic that perhaps immigration laws in earlier periods of American history were much better, and more welcoming, than they are today.  You have to wonder if the Polish-, Iraqi- and Albanian-American families surveyed would even be here today had walls been erected against them.  But it is likely they might take offense if you pointed this out to them.

Their views of Barack Obama I found quite interesting.  They thought well of him, generally, as a man, and did not regret their votes for him; in fact, they said they faced a lot of pushback from friends and family for their Obama support, that they felt more judged for voting for Obama than Trump.  They also said that they felt Obama did not put black people before white people, but at the same time, that he was more of a divider than a uniter!  If this seems incongruous, it's because it is.

These voters felt that Donald Trump will fix health care and that the Affordable Care Act d/b/a Obamacare was responsible for driving up medical costs in recent years.  This is a very serious disconnect from reality.  There's some dispute about whether or not Obamacare bent the "cost curve" of medical cost inflation.  So-called conservatives generally argue it did not, and so-called liberals generally argue that it did.  There's evidence both ways, but there's certainly no evidence that it made medical cost inflation worse.  Medical coverage was the problem addressed - more or less successfully - by Obamacare.  Medical inflation remains to be addressed as an issue.  (I'll let you google "obamacare cost curve" on your own).

These people do not like paying for health insurance.  Understandably so.  I don't like paying for it either.  Private health insurance is fucking rubbish, pardon my language. 

“There are people that can’t work for a living that collects welfare, gets the insurance paid for them 100 percent including prescriptions, dental and everything and you got me that works for 25, 30 years straight, I get hurt on the job and then I have to pay for my healthcare insurance, I have to pay for my prescriptions and everything else while we got all these other people that can work that's sitting back and collecting it all for free.” was clear to them that the law was not benefitting them and their families, and Democrats should take that seriously.

The voters in the study want medical costs brought down.  They believe, wrongly, that a repeal of Obamacare will accomplish that, but they could live with Obamacare continuing as long as the cost of health care comes down.

Therefore, as GOPcare / Trumpcare rolls onward, and it becomes clear that the result will be millions losing their insurance and rising premiums for the rest of us, the result could be the first major bit of political trouble for President Trump among these voters.

These voters, for all they like Donald Trump, do not like or trust Congressional Republicans.  They view them as slimy, dishonest, lackeys of the ultra-rich, all the bad traits we associate with run-of-the-mill politicians.  They also warn that they better move swiftly to get health care and the immigrant situation sorted out:

“I want them to pass all of Trump’s ideas in the next hundred days,” said one man. “I want all these things, and they have the power. …They should have their replacement for Obamacare right now, they've had eight years to do it.” Several warn: “they better get together or they're going to end up getting beat out again too if they don't do something and work with Trump. And we have the Congress and we have the Senate. Let’s get something done.”
This is another possible area of trouble for Trump and his GOP allies in Congress, who have been unable to accomplish much to date.  Another potential third rail would be any attempt to privatize Social Security or turn Medicaid into block grants to the states, which GOP though leaders have long dreamed of:

When voters learned about the position of Trump’s cabinet secretaries on Medicare and Social Security, alarm bells went off. Many are upset by the prospect of working later in life. Others are skeptical about vouchers: “The voucher to buy private insurance is kind of a joke, because if you can’t buy insurance on your own, then the voucher is not going to do you any good whatsoever.”

At the same time, however, these voters have no problem with the Trump cabinet being filled top to bottom with millionaires and billionaires.  They think that Trump himself will overrule them as needs be.

Of course he wants rich and successful people in his cabinet and of course he has the last word, not his cabinet secretaries. 

Still, it's all a matter of phrasing:

When his cabinet is described as full of campaign donors, Goldman Sachs bankers (bailed out by the taxpayers) and people who use undocumented workers in their homes, they question whether this is the Donald Trump they voted for. “That right there seems to be two-faced,” and Trump is now “just the puppet” doing what Goldman Sachs want. Most important, this means they won’t get the changes they wanted and it’s possible “we’re in for another four or possibly eight years of the same old same old.”

Donald Trump's proposed tax plan, which these voters do not seem to understand, did not sit well with them.  Finding out that his proposed tax cuts heavily favor the rich, a few of the voters began to characterize Donald Trump as just another standard politician after all; a return to the same old "bullshit" (their word, not mine).

So - what have we learned so far?  These voters don't care about scandals, Trumps' taxes, or Twitter dust-ups; they do care very much about their health care and whether or not rich people are going to come out on top of the little guy yet again.

The trope about many Trump supporters having positive feelings for Bernie Sanders was more or less confirmed by the study.  Several said that Sanders "would've won" and that he "sounded like Trump."  

A majority of these voters were very open to Democrats like Senators Brown, Sanders and Warren who oppose trade deals, want to protect consumers from Wall Street, oppose corporate tax breaks, and will bar secret campaign money so government works for the middle class. That’s the kind of change they were hungry for.

I'd go out on a limb and wager a guess that many of these folks would be big fans of single payer, if it was framed as a solution to the overarching greed of the fat cats running the health insurance industry. 

I've gone on quite long enough and I need to get back to work.  I'll just leave you with this closing thought for now:

It's been the presumption among most Trump opponents that one of two things will happen over the next eight years: either (1) Donald Trump and the GOP will both suffer colossal defeats, first in 2018 midterms and then in 2020, with Donald Trump falling at the ballot box, as America wises up to the pro-corporate, working-class-be-damned agenda that Trump and the GOP are jointly pursuing; or alternately (2) Donald Trump and the GOP will just absolutely dominate for eight entire years, with Democrats cosigned to obscurity the entire time.

I'm going to propose a third alternative, which I can't say I'm a fan of but which seems eminently possible to me.

Voters, beginning in 2018, hold the GOP's feet to the fire for whatever we get out of GOPcare / Trumpcare, their regressive tax policies, their attempts (successful or not) to kick millions off their insurance, their cuts to valued rural programs, and more.  By the time 2020 rolls around, Democrats retake Congress and make huge advances at the state level.  

At the same time, Donald Trump wins re-election because voters do not link him to the GOP agenda. The Democrats spend their time attacking Trump over various scandals and character issues and nominate yet another pro-corporate candidate in the mold of John Kerry or Hillary Clinton (I hate to always pick on Cory Booker, but he seems to be the current poster boy for this sort of approach), who fails once more to sufficiently fire up the progressive base.  Meanwhile, Trump's supporters - the people who see him as his own man and a strong leader - show back up to show their support for their hero, while at the same time voting for Democrats on the local level.

And as such, we end up with a reversal of the Obama years - a hamstrung Republican President with a Democrat congress.  Of course, in this scenario, the President will have the Supreme Court on his side.  It often seems we doomed to a perpetually hyper-conservative Supreme Court.

Have a great weekend everyone!  Soon I will get to budget discussion and finally a look at THAAD.

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