Now that Trump is President-Elect - how long will he last???

Less than a year.
4 (7.5%)
Less than two years.
4 (7.5%)
Less than three years.
1 (1.9%)
He will serve out his term.
16 (30.2%)
Not only will he serve out his term, he will be voted back in for a second term.
21 (39.6%)
He will serve his term and Ivanka will take over to become the first Queen in US History.
4 (7.5%)
The Old woman's Prophecy will come true and Obama will be the 44th and last President.  
3 (5.7%)

Total Members Voted: 43


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Offline 360c

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The Roots of Trump’s Strength

Mar 07, 2016

Donald Trump appears likely to be the Republican candidate for president. This does not mean that he will become president, but it does mean that he might. It also means that the basic dynamic of the American political system has shifted, suggesting the behavior of the United States might change. And that makes Trump a matter of geopolitical interest.

These geopolitical consequences cannot be considered until we have looked at how and why Trump differs from other candidates and why he has emerged as a political power.

Let’s begin with a criticism that has generally been made of him. His supporters tend to be less educated, less well-off, and white. This has become a central, disaffected class in the United States, and while focus has been on other groups, Trump has spoken to this one. He has addressed their economic and cultural interests, and no candidate has done that in a long time.

This strategy is what has made him effective. Yet it also poses a challenge, as this class by itself isn’t large enough to give him the presidency. And it generates an almost unanswerable question: Did Trump plan this strategy or did it just happen? But let’s begin with why poorer, less educated white voters have flocked to him.

The Invisible Man—The White Lower-Middle Class

In the United States, the median household income is about $51,000. In California, a state with high taxes, the take-home pay would be about $39,000 a year. That translates into about $3,250 a month in take-home pay for living expenses. If we assume that a home in an inexpensive suburb, a car, and some limited annual vacation is what we mean by middle class life, it is hard to see how the middle class affords that life today.

The fourth quintile, the heart of lower-middle class, earns about $31,000 a year before taxes per household. I grew up in a lower-middle class household (my father was a printer, my mother a homemaker, and there were two children). We owned a house and a car and took a vacation.

Today, people in the lower-middle class are bringing home, at best, $2,000 a month, and they will not own a house but instead pay $1,200 a month to rent an apartment, with the rest going to food and other basics. The lower-middle class can no longer afford what used to be a lower-middle class life.

The Democrats have made a huge case about inequality, assuming that the problem is that the rich own too much. American political culture has rarely been triggered by inequality, but by the inability to acquire the basics of American life. The problem with the Republicans is that they have not noticed that the defining issue of this generation is the collapse in the standard of living of the middle and lower-middle classes. This is part of what brought Trump to where he is today, but only part.

The deeper problem was the perception of the white segment of the lower-middle class that their problems were invisible. They heard talk about African-Americans or Hispanics and the need to integrate them into society. However, from the white lower-middle class perspective, there appeared to be little interest in the challenges facing their demographic. Indeed, there was a perception that the upper strata and the media not only didn’t care about them, but had contempt for their beliefs.

The white lower-middle class is divided into two parts. One part has already been shattered by economic pressures, family fragmentation, drugs, and other forces. Another part is under equal economic pressure but has not yet fragmented. It retains values such as religiosity, traditional sexual mores, intense work ethic, and so on.

This is the class that has been deemed pathological by the media and the upper classes. Its opposition to homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, promiscuity, and the rest (which was the social norm a generation ago) is now treated as a problem that needs to be overcome, rather than the core of a decent society. The speed of the shift in the values of dominant classes has left this class in a position where those values taught at home and at church are now regarded by the broader society as despicable. Repercussions are bound to happen.

The simultaneous economic disaster and delegitimation of their values marginalized this class. When Mitt Romney referred to the 47% who were parasites in our society, he was referring to these people. When Barack Obama was elected, this group felt that the focus had shifted to the black community and saw itself as invisible (and to the extent seen, contemptible). Economic, social, and cultural evolutions had bypassed them.

Their perception of the political system has become intensely cynical. They see the political elite, bankers, lawyers, and lobbyists as a near criminal and entirely incompetent class. We speak of unemployment after the 2008 recession in terms of numbers. These are the people who were unemployed. They view this elite as claiming rights they haven’t earned. The lower-middle class can tolerate earned wealth, and even respect it, but cannot accept what they see as manipulated wealth and power.

They also see politicians as being dishonest in other ways: saying whatever they need to say in order to be elected. This is not a new view of politics. However, in this case, what the politicians have said is neither in the language of the white lower-middle class, nor does it address any of their issues. It is not only indifference to the economic problems of the white middle and lower-middle class, but obeisance to a political correctness that delegitimized their values. The politicians are implicitly and explicitly rejecting lower-middle class values.

The Champion of the White Lower-Middle Class

Enter Trump. He is rich, but he is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to have earned his wealth—not stolen it through financial trickery. That was one of Trump’s first assertions. The fact that he is a billionaire has helped, not hurt him. The Democratic fantasy of class jealousy doesn’t work where Trump is concerned. The lower-middle class admires his wealth.

Trump spoke against Mexican immigrants (and implicitly a broader grouping of Hispanics). He is not seen as having his statements vetted by marketing people. And he says things the way his supporters would say things. Trump made it clear that he heard their cultural concerns. Even his debating style—pugnacious, insulting, unapologetic and frequently preposterously wrong—is not fundamentally different from the lower-middle class style of arguing.

It is the very lack of polish that endears him to his followers (and makes him seem like a man from outer space to the upper-middle class). His occasional cursing and threats are part of the entire package. Trump maneuvered himself into the position of a man who, though he may be rich, thinks and feels like the lower-middle class. More important, he shows that they are not invisible to him—not because he speaks to them, but because he speaks like them.

The fact that Trump had never run for office is also a powerful factor in his favor. To this group, the political class is the problem, not the solution. The Republican establishment did not grasp that a career politician groomed to run for president has become anathema to this class.

That Trump was successful as a builder also helped him. The claim that he built things is essential to a class who sees construction as real business… and hedge funds as legalized fraud. The bottom half of society is hurting, and Trump is not seen as one of those who helped bring the pain, as Romney of Bain Capital was seen.

And Trump is perceived as a tough guy, who is willing to lie, insult, or threaten to get his way. From the lower-middle class point of view, nothing else will get them the solutions they need. The very idea that he might get the Mexicans to pay for a wall or tell the Chinese a thing or two might not be practical. But the thought that he would deal this way with the two nations they see as responsible for their misery is overwhelmingly seductive.

Finally, and in some ways most important, he says the things they all think but are no longer permitted to say. When he accused Fox News anchorwoman Megyn Kelly, implicitly, of being offensive because she was having her period, observers thought the world would end. For the white lower-middle class, this was a common assertion.

When Trump claimed that John McCain was not a hero just because he had been taken prisoner, he was speaking to the class who has served in the military going back to Vietnam… and never been called a hero for it. Observers thought Trump had destroyed himself. To many of these voters, McCain had carried his burden, but many knew men who had chosen to die for their buddies. Nothing taken away from McCain, they’d say, but let me tell you about a real hero. For the lower-middle class, McCain had done his duty and endured great hardship… but their definition of a hero was more demanding. They were not appalled by what Trump had said.

This is Trump’s strength. It is also his weakness.

Can Trump Win?

The Republican Party is complex. It is more than a party of the wealthy. It is also the party of lower-middle class whites who reject the current cultural tendencies that have marginalized them. Trump got the marginalized white lower-middle and middle class out over cultural issues. But it is difficult to see how this translates into the presidency. This class is not large enough to give him a victory, and his running will energize his opponents to go to the polls.

The culture wars have been won in the Democratic Party, so there are few voters to win over on that basis. Any Democratic candidate will counter Trump on the economic issue. And those in the Republican upper-middle class are no friends of the Republican lower-middle class. It is not clear how he bridges the gap.

I don’t think Trump can win the presidency. But he has revealed a serious structural weakness in the American polity. As Americans who earn below the median income are increasingly unable to live the life they could have expected a generation ago, they will join in with resentment against the upper classes. That resentment will be built around cultural issues, as well as economic ones.

The issue is not the gap between rich and poor, but the fact that the lower-middle class is becoming part of the poor, and the middle class is moving that way as well. As in Europe, the inability of the political and financial elite to see that they are presiding over a social and political volcano will produce more and more exotic alternatives.

When those people who have skills and are prepared to work can’t get a job that will allow their families to live reasonably well, this is a problem. When statistics show that vast numbers of people are entering this condition, this is a crisis. When there is a crisis, these people will turn to politicians who speak to them and give them hope. What else should they do?

Whether Donald Trump planned this brilliantly or was simply extraordinarily lucky doesn’t matter. He has found the third rail in American society. The lower-middle class doesn’t make enough to live a decent American life, and the middle class is only a little better off. Whether supporting or opposing Trump, it is essential to understand the foundations of his power and its limits. Trump makes no sense until his appeal to the lower-income white demographic is understood.

George Friedman
Editor, This Week in Geopolitics

Offline mondi

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I just wasted 5 minutes of my life reading an article about Trump being a high ranking member of the illuminati.......

Warren Buffett is the head of all Illuminati operations and apparently Barack Obama is not a member of the Illuminati, but something much, much worse.


Offline andecorp

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I just wasted 5 minutes of my life reading an article about Trump being a high ranking member of the illuminati.......

Warren Buffett is the head of all Illuminati operations and apparently Barack Obama is not a member of the Illuminati, but something much, much worse.

Pffftttt... Shack is the Illuminati leader!
You make something idiotproof, they'll make a better idiot.

Offline E7ITE

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Fascinating read, thanks 360c.

The issue is not the gap between rich and poor, but the fact that the lower-middle class is becoming part of the poor, and the middle class is moving that way as well.

What does AE think about this quote ? Is this what is also happening here?

Offline 360c

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Fascinating read, thanks 360c.

What does AE think about this quote ? Is this what is also happening here?

I agree 100% that this is happening here as well.

Offline dodger

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I agree 100% that this is happening here as well.

To much personal debt, too much tax, it's all going to hell.
A huge fuck off recession will sort a lot of it out.

Offline Clive005

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I really can't see Trump winning over Clinton not even Americans are that crazy well not enough of them anyway
it's a interesting circus atm though

Offline 360c

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I really can't see Trump winning over Clinton not even Americans are that crazy well not enough of them anyway
it's a interesting circus atm though

Never, ever underestimate the stupidity of the average man in the street. Fortunately the President of the USA is by and large a figurehead and the dumb shit Trump comes out with would never come to fruition.

Offline Fil-Ski

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I really can't see Trump winning over Clinton not even Americans are that crazy well not enough of them anyway
it's a interesting circus atm though
I can. Clinton is the establishment. Trump is anti-establishment. His not backed by special interest groups or Wall Street.

Offline 360c

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Why the President Isn’t All That Important
Feb 15, 2016

As an outsider to the investment community, I am constantly struck by its obsession with politics… and particularly with the role of the president. Attention and money flow to candidates in the belief that there is a unique importance to the president in shaping the republic’s future.

I find that interesting because, in my view, the American president is one of the least powerful national leaders in the world. This is particularly true in domestic affairs where he is a very visible, but a rather minor player in crafting policy. Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping are obviously more powerful than the American president. But so is British Prime Minister David Cameron, who operates in a parliamentary system where his ability to pass legislation is far greater than the American president’s.

The 3 Branches of Government

The president represents one of three branches of government, presiding over 50 states, which also have their own rights to legislate. All legislation must pass through Congress.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have the power to determine whether legislation is adopted or rejected. The speaker of the House can frequently choose simply not to allow a bill to come to a vote. In the Senate, any senator can prevent a bill from coming to a vote by speaking incessantly, and a handful of senators can take the floor and block the vote.

The president can veto legislation, but Congress can override the veto. The president cannot compel action or control the outcome.

So for example, while President Barack Obama got healthcare reforms through Congress, the final legislation was far from the bill he wanted. He had to bargain away some of the rest of his legislative agenda just to get these reforms through Congress. The level of effort required to achieve anything is enormous.

Then there is the third branch of government, the Supreme Court, which has the power to invalidate any legislation or presidential decision. For example, the court blocked implementation of Obama’s plans to cut power plant emissions.

The US federal government is composed of these three branches. However, we should also mention the Federal Reserve, which is the government body that has the most influence over the economy. Like the Supreme Court, the Fed was designed to operate independently of the president and Congress. Although the members of its Board of Governors are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, the Fed is not answerable to either.

The president ultimately has limited powers over Congress and the Supreme Court. He can nominate Supreme Court justices but only with the concurrence of Congress.

Justice Antonin Scalia died this weekend, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already declared that he wants the next president, not Obama, to appoint Scalia’s replacement. There is good reason to believe that he can make that happen.

The president may propose any legislation he wishes and nominate any candidate to the high court he wants. Whether his bill becomes law, and whether his nominee takes office, is not up to him.

Planned Paralysis

The US was designed to be this way. The founders feared an efficient government. They did not believe in the goodness of man… but in his corruption. They understood the need for government but wanted its authority to be limited.

When necessary, they wanted the government to act with general conviction among the people that something had to be done. Barring that condition, they expected gridlock.

It is interesting that Americans now regard the paralysis of government as pathological, and a government that gets things done as healthy.

There is frequently discussion of government being run in a businesslike manner. This misses the obvious point: government is not a business. The purpose of business is to make money. The purpose of the American government is to contain the worst impulses of human beings by making the drafting of legislation as difficult as possible, without rendering it impossible.

Businesses want efficient decision making. The founders feared an efficient government. Government is designed to thwart rapid decision making, while business thrives on it. The founders valued business. They feared the government. So business methods and government methods aren’t even vaguely connected.

The President as Commander in Chief

The exception of course is in foreign policy. The founders understood that it was a dangerous world, and whatever system they developed for domestic governance, and whatever provisions they made for signing treaties and other formalities of the state, the need to go to war might arise suddenly. Therefore, they gave the president another post in government: commander in chief.

It is that post that causes people to think the president is powerful… because in that role he is. That role didn’t come to define the presidency until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency. Roosevelt managed to introduce some significant reforms through the New Deal, but it was his response to World War II that brought the commander-in-chief role to the fore.

World War II set the stage for a new type of republic that has endured. It was the republic at war, near war, or preparing for war. From 1941 until today, the primary responsibility of the president has been to prepare to act as commander in chief.

The advent of nuclear weapons made this role central to the presidency. In the event of a nuclear attack, decisions would have to be made that simply did not permit the time needed for the political system to function. The declaration of war became obsolete.

This declaration had never been as respected as the founders may have wanted. The wars against the Native Americans (recognized by treaty as nations) did not involve declarations of war. Countless interventions in the first half of the 20th century, from Haiti to China, had no such declarations.

The use of the declaration of war petered out after Roosevelt, and the constant state of war and near war elevated the role of commander in chief to the prime function of the president. As commander in chief, and without the tool of the declaration of war, the president became enormously powerful—outside the United States.

The great symbol of this power was the passing of the nuclear codes from the outgoing president to the new one—something both symbolic and very real. And the power he derived from the threat of nuclear war was extended to all other aspects of foreign policy.

Congress could intervene by withholding money or blocking an agreement. However, what the founders wanted worked here, too. As difficult as it was to get legislation passed through Congress, it was equally difficult to block presidential initiatives in foreign affairs. And the Supreme Court repeatedly ruled that the president’s actions in foreign affairs was outside its sphere of authority. Congress couldn’t act and the Supreme Court wouldn’t. The president’s power in foreign affairs and matters of war became, after World War II, unchallenged.

Since then, the president has filled two roles. One related to domestic policy, the other as commander in chief. Transfixed as the country was by the Cold War, the president’s major role became the owner of the nuclear arsenal. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the United States became the only global power in the world. Even as the nuclear threat declined, the role of the president in managing this new reality increased. This was in spite of Congressional attempts, through the War Powers Resolution of 1973, to boost its decision-making abilities regarding foreign interventions.

George H.W. Bush invaded Panama and intervened in Somalia and Kuwait. Bill Clinton intervened in Haiti and went to war in Serbia. And of course following 9/11, when war became what appears to be a permanent feature, the president’s role as commander in chief became central.

The founders always wanted a paradoxical president: weak in domestic politics but not in foreign policy or war. What shifted was not the office… but the world.

The president had not been regarded as a decisive figure before Roosevelt. Roosevelt spoke of the bully pulpit as the means of compensating for the lack of power in the office. But as the United States entered a state of permanent near war, the president’s role in foreign policy became the core of his authority.

The Illusion of Power

As it became the core of the presidency, this illusion of the president as enormously powerful grew. And the financial community became obsessed with who would become president. Whether Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, or whomever.

A careful reading of a presidential candidate’s policy papers is one of the most pointless exercises imaginable. Even assuming that a candidate has read these documents and believes in them, he is not in control of what his own policies look like.

In terms of domestic proposals, a candidate’s options are profoundly limited. And in terms of foreign policy, a candidate is limited by not knowing what the US will face in the next four years. George W. Bush opposed nation building during the campaign. Bush did not anticipate that 9/11 would render all his positions meaningless. Obama assumed that he could reverse the hatred of the Islamic world for the United States by being conciliatory, but he was forced to become involved in the region’s conflicts.

In thinking about presidents, it is essential to remember they not only make history but history makes them. History causes us to remember FDR for his role in World War II. It causes us to remember Lyndon B. Johnson for his role in Vietnam. LBJ did not expect to be remembered in that way.

In the end, policies, like plans in war, die the first day in office. But the character of the president might make a difference. It’s not that the president doesn’t matter. It is just that he doesn’t matter nearly as much as the financial markets and others think. And if we ask why almost half the country doesn’t vote in presidential elections, it may be that they are on to something.

The intentions of the president are unimportant. They are subject to many forces that can block and overpower him. They are hostage to events that might make his intentions pointless. The obsession with the American president is partly due to the fact that he is the only official directly elected by all of the people. It is partly due to the role of commander in chief, in an age of nuclear weapons and global presence. In domestic affairs the president can be influential or a bystander. But he is never, by himself alone, a decision-maker. The presidential election is interesting, but it does not define the future of the republic.

George Friedman
Editor, This Week in Geopolitics

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