Populism wins, focus group-driven politics loses

What a difference a day makes. I feel much better today about the election. I still cannot stand Donald Trump, president-elect Donald Trump. But Warren Buffett, who backed Hillary Clinton, says everything is going to be just fine.

I’ll get back to that, maybe, but the reason I feel good is that I have come to the realization that populism won. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think this is the first time in our history populism has won. William Jennings Bryan lost.

(And I’ll just get lazy here and paste in part of the Wikipedia entry for background: William Jennings Bryan (March 19, 1860 – July 26, 1925) was an American orator and politician from Nebraska, and a dominant force in the populist wing of the Democratic Party, standing three times as the Party’s nominee for President of the United States (1896, 1900, and 1908). )

We had a unique situation this time around. We had a populist candidate on the left, Bernie Sanders, and one on the right, Trump. Heretofore populism was seen as a leftist movement.

(Another backgrounder: Populism is a political ideology that holds that virtuous citizens are mistreated by a small circle of elites, who can be overthrown if the people recognize the danger and work together. Populism depicts elites as trampling on the rights, values, and voice of the legitimate people.)

With all of the election post-mortem going on now it is becoming apparent that Trump won because his message, strangely enough, sounded populist, whereas Mrs. Clinton’s sounded focus-group and contrived and her revealed actions (via email and leaked Wall Street speeches) sounded like tell the people what they want to hear and meanwhile you go for it Wall Streeters.

I still think she had good intentions for the most part but she was stuck in the old politics and too tied to ideology at the same time.

You see, I’m thinking a majority of voters probably are not as ideology driven as public opinion analysts might think. Those analysts studied political science and they see the world as right wing (conservative) and left wing (liberal). The average citizen just wants what he or she thinks is good for him or her and hopefully for the nation as a whole. Some may be be more self-interested than others but they are all looking at what they think works.

And when so many people have lost their jobs to foreign competition and when the big investors keep getting richer and richer but the middle class keeps getting smaller and smaller and when the two least liked people run against each other for president, something has to be wrong.

The hopeful sign with Trump is that as narcissistic as he is, he is at least intelligent enough to know when he is out of his league and will have the good sense to delegate his authority and defer to people with more expertise. Meanwhile he can strut around and proclaim what a genius he is.

Not all of the people he chooses will be good but that is the case with most presidents.

And while it is somewhat galling that once again someone who did not get the majority of the popular vote becomes president nonetheless, we all knew this going in, that is we knew the rules of the game (or should have). The election is decided by the electoral college system. The side that lost would not be complaining if it had won.

Maybe we ought to amend the Constitution and either go to popular vote decides it or some other alternative. I even wonder if we would be better off if we had a parliamentary system, then third parties and beyond could have more input. But that is for another discussion.

And by the way, I hate focus group things. I mean I once worked at a small daily newspaper and they did a focus group and found out that what the readers really wanted was a good sports page, comics, and want ads. Okay, actually I am not sure if that is 100 percent accurate or a composite of things I found out — this was decades ago. But the point is that a newspaper’s role was supposed to be to inform the readers (about civic affairs and other things) and uphold a civic responsibility in doing so. Even though it was a private business and had to figure out how to appeal to its customer base, it retained that civic responsibility. So the trick was how to do both. Politicians need to see it that way. Yes, they need to sell themselves to voters in order to get elected but they have a moral imperative not to sell their soul in the process and thus sell-out the public.

Oh, back to Buffett. It is so ironic that the Republican establishment would have you believe that business people are against better income distribution in society. Buffett praises our nation as the mightiest economic engine in the world but says that our one flaw is that we don’t distribute the wealth as equitably as we should. And Buffett is one of the richest men in the nation and world.

He also said the number-one job of the president is to keep us safe from nuclear attack. He did not say if he thinks Trump can do that. But he did say that as far as economics goes, that great engine that is the American economy will keep growing.

I say, Democratic Party (and Republicans) get back to the people. Drop the focus groups. In groups people say one thing but it is not always what they think and it is not even always what is good for them. Leaders represent the people but people in turn depend upon them to have independent thinking and judgment and not to just always hedge and put their finger to the wind of public opinion.

Also, I think the political parties have lost their role as an aggregator and vehicle for coalescence of public opinion and ceded it to special interests who fund candidates individually. The parties need to jump back into the game for the good of us all.

My one fear is the tone of bigotry and anti-diversity the Trump campaign promoted. I can only hope it was hyperbole. I mean like warning against criminals coming over the border, not good people, and realizing the threat of so-called Islamic extremists, not all those who follow Islam (Muslims), and an over reaction to social change. If it really does portend a return to racial and religious and other social strife then I don’t feel good.





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