The System Doesn’t Work

by Berck

The following is a Facebook comment. I’m putting it here to see if I still think the same way in a few years, and Facebook is a black hole where things go to die. None of this is saying anything much I haven’t said before, but I like to go back and see what I used to think. For context, the comment that spawned it was:

I’m just amazed that Trump got elected by working/middle class folks on a campaign about catering to them and not the rich, and then passed one of the biggest tax bills for the rich ever. And then said it was a great thing for them.

I’m not surprised at all. This is the fallacy of democracy, especially our democracy. The premise is that an informed electorate will elect representatives that they believe will represent their best interests. But that’s not how it works at all.

First, the electorate is not informed. I think until this election, there was a lot of hope that the “democratization of information” brought about by the internet would lead to a better-informed populace. Instead, it’s lead a populace that better misinformed. The vast majority of Americans (including, from what I can tell from my Facebook feed, lots of people I know, both liberals and conservatives) are completely unable to distinguish fact from fiction from propaganda from click-bait. The hardcore conservatives are somewhat worse in that they truly believe that news organizations that actually work really hard to vet their stories (The NY Times, The Washington Post) are simply spewing liberal lies. But I see plenty of insanity from liberals as well. We have a large number of conservatives that believe Hillary was running a child sex trafficking ring, and liberals will believe any amount of insanity that has the word “Russia” in it.

Second, I think we all know that representatives don’t work in the best interest of the people who elected them. The best of them truly believe they’re making the country better as a whole, but spend most of their time accruing actual and political capital which they can then spend in furtherance of those (often-misguided) goals. The worst of them act solely in their own best interests.

Next, the motivations of the electorate is also a complete fallacy. In general, we vote for people that we believe are part of our in-group, our tribe. Sometimes that comes down on racial, ethnic or gender lines, but more often it’s far more subtle. But when you say that Trump got elected by a working/middle class on a campaign about catering to them, you miss their actual motivations.

They didn’t vote for Trump because they believed that they would be better off personally if Trump were elected. (I think they did believe this, it just wasn’t important.). They sincerely believed that:

(1) Hillary is a criminal who will destroy the country.
(2) Their way of life is under attack from those who are not like them.
(3) Trump is highly authoritarian, and Trump voters really, really like authoritarianism. (Don’t get confused, they call it freedom, but what they’re talking about when they say “freedom” is actually exactly the opposite.)

So, really, don’t be surprised. Trump voters are not upset because they believe the story that this tax plan is good for them, and even if it’s not, the Democrats would have done something worse. And Trump voters don’t hate the rich, and aren’t bothered by a tax plan that is a gift to the rich. They truly believe that as long as *someone* can get rich, they can, too.

I was hoping Trump would win so we could stop pretending like our system works. Sadly, we’re still pretending. Our democracy doesn’t work, and I think Trump has made it clear that it doesn’t. I’m almost as annoyed at “The Media” as Trump is, because they continue to cover Trump as though he has an actual grasp on reality when he makes it abundantly clear, every day, that he does not.

I told you awhile ago that I don’t believe it will genuinely matter whether or not Trump is elected, and I think I stand by that. Nothing much has happened except that now you’re angry instead of the Trump voters, who were angry and aren’t now.

Things that Trump has done that are bad:
(1) He’s basically decimated the workforce of every federal agency. Fortunately, those agencies were already doing a fairly terrible job, so the fact that they’re now doing a much worse job isn’t that noticeable. Thus far, I can still get a passport, send mail, and get an ATC clearance.
(2) He’s damaged what remaining foreign good will we had in a lot of places. By blocking refugees (including thousands of people who worked for the U.S military in the middle east), he’s pretty much insured that no one in the middle east will help us again on our next ill-fated quest to spread freedom. Fortunately, he hasn’t actually done anything to go spread freedom, and I’m pretty sure Hillary would have by now (since she said she would. Trump did too, but not even he knows what he says.)
(3) The refugee thing is terrible in lots of other ways. Many people that we could have helped have died, and countless more will die, because he doesn’t like Muslims. This is one point where Trump has actually managed to do real harm in ways that Hillary wouldn’t have, and Dubya didn’t.
(4) This tax bill. In the end, it’s probably going to make wealth inequality a little worse, but it’s so bad already, how much difference will this practically make? The deficit shortfalls are way worse than Hillary could have managed with a republican congress, but I’m not sure that matters in the long run. It’s still nowhere near the damage Dubya did with the unfunded wars. Since we’re never going to pay back the debt much less balance the budget, I don’t think the fallout (if there ever is any) is likely to be much different as a result of this. I do think cutting the corporate tax rate is a good thing, but doing that without compensating by raising the capital gains tax is pure stupidity.
(5) He clearly doesn’t understand freedom, and has supported, enacted, and tried to enact countless measures that are blatant violations of fundamental rights. This isn’t a surprise. It differs slightly from, say, Obama who talked the talk about civil liberties, then quietly executed american citizens by drone without due process. Hillary was pretty much in line with Obama on this, so it’s a net neutral. Still nowhere near anything on the scale of what Dubya managed with the powers he got under the Patriot Act.

Those are the major things, and really, in perspective, it’s just hard to get that upset about them. I do think that the United States (and, in fact, humanity as a whole) is not on a sustainable path. That said, I think it’s a very slow decline and Trump is such a small part of the big picture that it’s just not worth getting upset over.

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