Inequality won the electoral vote for Donald Trump in 2016.
Four writers in the Nation admitted as much the day after the election. “Inequality created the presidency of Donald Trump,” they wrote. But the president’s antagonists generally appear loath to admit this. They speak of inequality in relation to nations across the globe, the inequality of transgenders, inequality between races or the sexes, and climate change inequality necessitating wealthy nations to pay a tax to offset natural disasters in poorer nations ostensibly caused by the consumption and emissions of the First World.
The inequality that elected Donald Trump president involves trade deals that left industrial towns shuttered, unchecked immigration that flooded the labor market with workers eager to toil for less, and a sense that “elites” looked down upon much of the country from below. This last point, more symbolic than substantive, nevertheless generates the most enthusiasm for Trump, who became for much of the country a Ricky Linderman, My Bodyguard-character punching back at bullies imagining people they do not know as racists or sexists or gun nuts or, in a word, “deplorables.” Trump rubs raw all of these sores as part of his strategy to win the Electoral College in 2020.
Michael Moore, who predicted Trump’s 2016 victory, again bets on the Republican. “The problem is, if the vote were today, I believe, he would win the electoral states that he would need, because, living out there, I will tell you, his level of support has not gone down one inch,” Moore told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! “In fact, I’d say it’s even more rabid than it was before.”
Two words explain this: peace and prosperity.
People who felt left behind now feel as though they move ahead. The 3.5 overall unemployment rate, and the 5.5 black unemployment rate, matches the lowest figure since 1969. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has increased by more than 10,000 points since Election Day 2016. Gross domestic product rose 2.1 percent in the third quarter and continues to grow at a healthy clip throughout the Trump presidency.
The Industrial Midwest, the key course in the Electoral College, rebuffed Hillary Clinton in 2016 and likely turns its back on the Democratic nominee in 2020 should the party drift further left. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, in particular, seek to regain the portion of the working class that abandoned Democrats in 2016 through taxes on wealth, Medicare for All, and a forgiveness of student debt and free college tuition.
But working-class voters do not seek to punish the rich. They seek to become rich, and intuitively grasp that higher taxes benefit bureaucratic tinkerers more than the people bureaucratic tinkerers purport to aid. The two-thirds of the country without a four-year degree regard the free tuition and loan forgiveness as welfare for rich kids — and for rich colleges already flooded with federal money. And for the half of the electorate with medical coverage through their employers, particularly those in union households, Medicare for All amounts to subtraction rather than addition. Even in the manner in which they address inequality through a class lens, the senator from Harvard Yard and other from the Peoples Republic of Burlington show that they do not know the people they purport to lead. They are too caught up in abstractions to understand the very real people harmed by a lack of opportunity.
To ensure that the defectors from blue states stay red in 2020, Donald Trump should reform the tax code to encourage employee ownership, allow education savings accounts to provide for choice and opportunity, and make a real effort to make healthcare more affordable (as opposed to Warren and Sanders’s emphasis on universality). Running on his record, and reforms to make America greater, Trump wins. Ranting about impeachment or Russia or any of the number of distractions, Trump loses.
Working Americans still want freedom more than free.
Hunt Lawrence is a New York-based investor. Daniel Flynn is the author of six books.