Immigration Ban Poorly Thought Out

January 30, 2017

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In my last post, I questioned the wisdom of cutting off funding for international family planning agencies in an effort to reduce abortions. Since organizations like Planned Parenthood help women avoid the unwanted pregnancies that often lead to abortions, impeding their work is more likely to increase abortions than reduce them. In public policy, good intentions are not enough. Political leaders also need the expertise to assess the real-world consequences of ideas that sound good in speeches or fit neatly into some political ideology.

Experts on terrorism are raising analogous questions about President Trump’s executive order, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” No one questions the goal of protecting Americans against terrorism. Whether a ban on immigration from seven Muslim countries is an effective way to do that is questionable.

The administration issued its executive order hastily, apparently without much consultation with our own government agencies and experts. Although one of the objectives was to allow time to develop better vetting techniques, the administration did not conduct any review of existing vetting procedures before concluding that they are failing. The order was so broad and vague that it appeared to apply to green card holders who were already living in the country legally, but happened to be traveling abroad when the order was issued. The legal basis for the order is murky, since one federal law gives the President the authority to suspend the entry of some classes of aliens in the national interest, but a later federal law bans discrimination among immigrants on the basis of national origin.

The order singled out the Muslim countries of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for a 90-day ban on visas. In addition, it halted refugee vetting and admission for 120 days for all countries, but indefinitely for Syria, where the refugee crisis is particularly acute. Critics noted that the list of countries did not include any from which the 9/11 terrorists had come, such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt. According to Scott Shane’s analysis in the New York Times, “Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from…the seven countries targeted….” As Shane and many others have noted, the list also did not include any Muslim countries in which Donald Trump has business interests. The order may be something of an overreaction, because only 123 out of 230,000 US killings since 9/11 have been attributed to Muslim terrorists. Better vetting of Americans buying guns would probably do a lot more to save lives than keeping foreigners out, but the Trump administration is ideologically opposed to that.

Supporters of the ban defend it as a preventive measure. Even if immigrants from these troubled countries have not killed any Americans yet, they might in the future. Although we cannot rule out that possibility, we can reasonably ask whether the proposed solution alleviates or aggravates the problem it intends to address. Middle Eastern terrorists are political extremists who often try to justify their actions with an extreme interpretation of Islam. The United States cannot fight terrorism in Iraq or Syria–or at home for that matter–without the cooperation of the more moderate majority of Muslims. That’s why both George W. Bush and Barack Obama took pains to say that we are not at war with the Muslim religion itself. The new administration denies that this order is a ban on Muslims as such, since many Muslim countries are not included. But that distinction is likely to be lost on many in the Muslim world, since Trump is on record calling for a Muslim ban, and the executive order does make a religious distinction by exempting religious minorities (no doubt intending Christians) within the Muslim countries. Trump has expressed far more sympathy for the Christian victims of ISIS than for the larger number of Muslim victims. He has even claimed that Muslim refugees have been getting into this country easily while Christians have been kept out, but the actual numbers admitted are nearly the same for both religions. The order lumps all the Muslims together in these war-torn countries–the radicals and the moderates, our enemies and our allies, the terrorists and their victims, the adults and the children–and sends a message loud and clear that none of them are welcome here. Extremists can then use that message to advance their anti-Western agenda.

Alienating our friends and reinforcing our enemies’ talking points sounds like a formula for further radicalization, conflict and insecurity.




Abortion Gag Rule Likely to Increase Abortions

January 25, 2017

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President Trump has issued an executive order that prohibits foreign aid to any health organization that provides abortion, discusses abortion, or advocates for women’s right to abortion. This action is actually a reinstatement of a rule first introduced by President Reagan in 1984. Since then, Democratic presidents have cancelled it, and Republican presidents have revived it. Critics refer to it as the “gag rule.”

On the surface, the logic of the rule seems simple. If you are against abortions, then you should also be against financing organizations that have anything to do with them. The truth is much more complicated and suggests that the rule will have effects opposite to what is intended. Consider these facts:

  • Many major organizations promoting women’s health, such as International Planned Parenthood, will lose funding because they provide some abortion counseling
  • Activities related to abortion are often a very small part of what such organizations do, and those activities must already be supported by other sources of funding, by US law
  • Most health organizations working in poorer countries devote far more of their resources to fighting diseases and improving women’s access to contraception
  • Access to contraception reduces the unwanted pregnancies that are the main reason for abortions!

When the gag rule has been in effect in the past, organizations that have lost funding have closed women’s health clinics and reduced the number of women receiving contraceptive assistance. According to the NY Times, “A study of 20 sub-Saharan African countries by Stanford University researchers found that in countries that relied heavily on funding from the United States for reproductive health services, abortion rates rose when the Reagan-era policy was in effect.”

The ill effects don’t end there. By promoting safe sex, the same organizations play a major role in reducing the spread of AIDS. Cutting off foreign aid will impede those efforts as well.

The most charitable thing I can say about this policy is that it is a well-intentioned but overzealous and poorly thought-out attempt at reducing abortions. However, I’m not so sure it is even well-intentioned. This policy has been debated and researched long enough for its ineffectiveness to be known. If Republicans persist in pursuing it, that suggests that the real motive is simply to score points with religious conservatives here at home, without regard for the consequences for real women around the world. Now we also have a president who not only changed his position on abortion to help gain the Republican nomination, but is obsessed with “America first” and has far less interest in global human rights or global well-being than his predecessor or his Democratic opponent. I doubt if he will lose any sleep over cutting off assistance to international health initiatives.

Inaugural Address Sells America Short

January 23, 2017

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The first inaugural address I remember listening to was Dwight Eisenhower’s in 1957. My parents took me to see his first inauguration in 1953, but I was too small to get much out of it. I can only remember seeing the tips of the flags going by in the inaugural parade. Over the years, I have liked some of the speeches more than others, but I can honestly say that President Trump’s was the worst inaugural address I have ever heard. For future historians, it should mark a low point in American politics from which I only hope we recover.

The address presented a grim view of America, a country of unemployment, poverty, ignorance and crime. “Rusted out factories scattered like tombstones,” families “trapped in poverty in our inner cities,” and an educational system that leaves students “deprived of all knowledge.” None of these things is actually as bad as it was in the fairly recent past (remember 10% unemployment?), but Trump is not one to let inconvenient facts get in the way of the story he wants to tell.

Why is the country in such terrible shape? Well, for two reasons, in Trump’s view. First, “a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have bore [shouldn’t that be “borne”?] the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.” And second, “we’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.” We’ve given too much in military and non-military aid to other countries, while allowing our own military power and infrastructure to deteriorate. American has gotten poorer and weaker, while Washington politicians and foreigners have gotten rich and powerful.

The solution is as simple as the problem: “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first.” Trump’s vision of a great America is a country with the strongest military (which he doesn’t admit we already have), a good transportation system (lots of room for improvement there), and strong borders to protect against foreign labor and goods. “Buy American and hire American….Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.”

I have read the speech over and over, asking myself if I’ve missed anything. But that’s really about it. There’s nothing else there besides this simplistic view of our problems and economic nationalism as the solution.

No lofty vision here

Other presidents have identified American problems, and many have criticized specific domestic or foreign policies. But they have generally framed their issues within some overarching positive vision, a vision of democratic government, the free-enterprise economy, and/or international cooperation. Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” was one in which government worked to abolish poverty and racial injustice. Ronald Reagan’s more conservative vision was based on a faith in free markets to create prosperity for all. And every president since Franklin Roosevelt has accepted America’s leading role in promoting global democracy, peace and prosperity.

Such lofty goals are conspicuous by their absence in Trump’s address. He ascends to the presidency at a time when much of the public has lost confidence not only in government, but in free markets and global democratic progress as well. Trump and his hard-core supporters seem to want to throw in the towel on building a better world, and just revert to a nineteenth-century nationalism in which each country just looks out for itself. That nineteenth-century nationalism ended badly, by the way, in the world wars of the twentieth century. American global leadership in the postwar era was supposed to prevent that from happening again. Trump’s neo-nationalism appeals to the most reactionary elements in Europe, especially to autocratic leaders like Putin, who  prefers old-fashioned nationalism to international cooperation led by the world’s strongest democracy. Similarly, Charles Lindbergh’s “America First” in the 1930s suited Hitler just fine.

What Trump leaves out of his short address is as revealing as what he includes. He does not mention human rights, social justice, environmental protection, or racial and gender equality. For a man preoccupied with economic problems, he has surprisingly little to say about economic inequality. In his simplistic story, the enemies of working families are Washington politicians and foreigners. He fails to mention that we have the greatest class inequality since the Gilded Age. I guess he has no problem with that, which is why he can staff his administration with billionaires and Wall Street bankers. His extraordinary hostility to the political establishment coexists comfortably with an extraordinary complacency about the corporate establishment.

Building up, or just tearing down?

If we are to move forward in solving our problems, we need a new vision for the global, postindustrial era. We will need to find the right balance between government and markets, between nation states and emerging global institutions, between new technologies and human labor. Reactionary economic nationalism cannot provide that vision.

Without a positive but realistic vision of the future, this administration is likely to accomplish little besides undoing what governments have been trying to do. President Trump can tear up trade agreements, weaken NATO, encourage the breakup of the European Union, halt Obama’s clean energy initiative, repeal the Affordable Care Act, abolish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and so forth. He can select administrators with little respect for the agencies they are appointed to lead, such as an EPA head who opposes most environmental regulation, a Secretary of Education who doesn’t support public education, a Secretary of Labor who places a low value on working-class labor, or an Attorney General with a narrow view of justice. All of this has the potential to aggravate rather than alleviate social problems.

Attacking government is easy. What is much harder is getting it to work better for the ordinary people Trump claims as his constituents. He says, “Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.” That would be wonderful if it turned out to be true, but just trashing the federal government won’t be enough to make it so. On their first day in office, Trump and his spokespersons demonstrated their willingness to use “alternative facts” (formerly known as falsehoods) to portray the inauguration as a more successful event than it was. Whatever Trump does, he will probably assure us that it’s the greatest, assert some “alternative facts” to support that, and attack anyone who says otherwise.

America is better than this, and deserves more in a president.


Trump’s Peculiar Populism

January 17, 2017

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A headline in today’s Washington Post says, “Trump will take office as least popular president in at least four decades.” And yet Trump is widely characterized as the leader of a new “populist” movement. How unpopular can someone be before we have to question his populist credentials? I guess the answer depends on what we think a populist is.

Two brands of populism

In our democratic system, we select presidents by popular election, so every winning candidate is supposed to represent “the people,” broadly defined. Beyond that, a populist leader is one who supposedly represents “ordinary people” in their struggle against some sort of “elite”.

Bernie Sanders is a leader of a populist movement directed against the economic elite, the wealthiest 1% who have received most of the increases in national income since the Great Recession. He calls for higher taxes on the wealthy and government measures to create middle class opportunity, such as free college tuition. I would call this “progressive populism.” It is in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, who had a similar dim view of economic elites:

Concentration of wealth and power has been built upon other people’s money, other people’s business, other people’s labor. Under this concentration, independent business…has been a menace to…American society.

…and a similar concern for creating economic opportunity:

These unhappy times call for the building of plans that build from the bottom up and not from the top down, that put their faith once more in the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

Donald Trump has attacked Wall Street from time to time, but judging from his cabinet selections, he is very comfortable with giving power to Wall Street bankers and millionaires. Wall Street seems to like him in return. Stocks are up since the election, as investors salivate at the prospect of corporate tax cuts and financial deregulation. So what “ordinary people” does Trump serve, and what “elite” does he attack?

Trump proposes to save people from an elite defined mainly as Washington insiders, the political establishment, and especially Big Government liberals. They are people who derive power and sometimes wealth from government positions. The Clintons fit the bill perfectly, since they have been Washington insiders for so long, and have also made a lot of money giving speeches since leaving office. (Conservatives like Ronald Reagan did too, but their anti-government philosophy seems to protect them from being tarred with the same brush.) In this view, the elites include government bureaucrats, regulators and the Washington press corps, as well as liberal intellectuals and policy wonks who give them their ideas.

“The people” Trump represents have to be defined more narrowly than the great majority of Americans who are not wealthy. The Trump constituency does not really include the people who welcome progressive government initiatives like Obamacare to level the economic playing field. Instead, it includes many people who blame government for their economic problems. The ones who get the most attention are those who attribute job losses to government polices: immigration policies, bad trade deals, excessive taxation and environmental regulations. I would call this “reactionary populism.”  There is some overlap between the two brands of populism on trade policy, since Sanders also opposes trade deals that hurt workers. But in general, progressive populism emphasizes what government can do for ordinary people, while reactionary populism emphasizes what government should stop doing to people.

Reactionary populism raises an interesting question in a democratic society: How much can you claim to love the people, if you hate the democratic government that is supposed to represent them?

Not the underprivileged

While Trump does represent some struggling working-class families, and may owe his margin in a few key states to their support, he is not in general the leader of the underprivileged. The most disadvantaged groups tend to be more progressive. According to the exit polls, voters with incomes under $30,000 went for Clinton, 53% to 40%. On the average, Trump’s supporters were somewhat better off than Clinton’s currently, although more of them said they were worse off than they had been four years ago. A large part of Trump’s support came from political conservatives who are doing okay themselves, but oppose using tax dollars to help people who are worse off than they are.

The reactionary nature of Trump’s populism goes a long way to explain the racial divide in the voting. I do not charge his supporters with racism, at least not in any obvious sense of the term. But the country remains seriously divided between people who want government to help the racially and economically disadvantaged, and people who are more complacent about the situation. The latter are more likely to deny that racial discrimination is still a problem, and less likely to see the racial implications of voter ID laws or stop-and-frisk policies.

Even if we give Trump the benefit of the doubt about his own actions, such as his attempt to cast doubt on Barack Obama’s American citizenship, his reactionary populism leaves him unlikely to confront racism. By default, he becomes the candidate who will protect white privilege, if not by racist actions, then by his indifference to the need for any action at all. His pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is well suited to implement this policy of racial indifference.

The Russian connection

Progressive populists despise the Putin regime and the economic oligarchy it supports. Trump’s approval of Putin indicates that he has little problem with either authoritarian rule or monopolization of wealth by the well-connected rich. His wrath is directed almost exclusively at liberal leaders. His ability to portray Hillary Clinton as a corrupt elite while overlooking Putin’s far more obvious corruption and elitism is astounding and deeply disturbing for the leader of a democracy. If the Trump campaign did collaborate with the Putin regime to destroy its opponent by illegal or unethical means, that does cast doubt on the legitimacy of his presidency.

In the end, the American people will have to determine if Trump’s brand of populism makes sense to them at all. Is he a true man of the people, or an enemy of too many of the people?

Why Trump Won: Economic and Racial Interpretations

December 5, 2016

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Following an annual tradition, strategists from the Trump and Clinton campaigns met at Harvard’s Institute of Politics to analyze the election campaign and its results. This year, the discussion quickly degenerated into a shouting match, as each campaign promoted its preferred account of how Trump won.

A particular bone of contention was the role of Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News in the Trump campaign. When David Bossie, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, called Bannon a “brilliant strategist,” Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s director of communications, replied, “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am more proud to have lost.” Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, rejected the suggestion that the campaign had appealed to white supremacy and shifted the discussion to Hillary Clinton’s weaknesses. “Do you think you could have just had a decent message for the white working-class voters? How about it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about they had nothing in common with her? How about you had no economic message?”

As Clinton herself charged during the campaign, Clinton’s team felt that Trump won by appealing to such ignoble sentiments as racism, misogyny and xenophobia. Not surprisingly, Trump supporters preferred a narrative emphasizing Trump’s economic appeal to struggling working-class families. Each narrative contains an element of truth, but they leave us with an explanation that is both incomplete and misleading.

Win, lose or draw?

First, a note of caution. Because this election was so close, commentators need to resist the urge to over-interpret it. Sweeping statements about what the American people are saying or assertions of popular mandates to take the country in a particular direction are likely to overstate the facts. Does the election of Donald Trump mean that most Americans want to build a wall on the Mexican border? Well no; exit polling found 41% for that, but 54% against it. Does it mean that they want to deport immigrants working illegally in the U.S.? No, only 25% are for deportation, and 70% are for offering some form of legal status. And in spite of the fact that both candidates expressed concerns about job losses due to trade deals, voters are quite split on the issue, with almost as many saying that international trade creates U.S. jobs as saying it takes away jobs.

This election even tells us less than usual about what people think of the winner. According to the exit polls, fewer voters had a favorable view of Trump than Clinton (38% vs. 43%); fewer viewed him as honest and trustworthy (33% vs. 36%); fewer regarded him as qualified to be president (38% vs. 52%); and fewer felt he had the temperament to be president (35% vs. 55%). With regard to Kellyanne Conway’s contention that Clinton doesn’t connect with people, Clinton beat Trump by a margin of 23 points among voters who said that the quality mattering most to them was that the candidate “cares about me.” She won by even bigger margins with voters who placed the highest value on having good judgment or the right experience.

All this makes one wonder how Donald Trump could win the election at all. A flippant answer is that he didn’t, at least not the popular vote, which Clinton won by 2.8 million votes and about 2 percentage points. Another answer is that voters overlooked Trump’s deficiencies because of something else they liked about him. He won by a 68-point margin among voters who were looking most for a candidate who could “bring change.” Among voters who regarded Trump as unqualified to be president, 17% voted for him anyway! That probably means they were more interested in rocking the boat than steering it in a sensible direction.

A few other findings from the exit polls indicate why the election was so close. Trump won white voters by a 20-point margin, men by 9 points, voters 45 and over by 8 points, non-college graduates by 7, Evangelical Christians by 64, veterans by 36, rural voters by 27 and suburban voters by 4. Clinton won black voters by an 81-point margin, Latinos by 38, Asians by 38, women by 13, voters under 45 by 14, Jews by 48, voters professing no religion by 42, union households by 9, gay lesbian bisexual or transgender voters by 63, and urban voters by 26. Demographically speaking, Trump represented more of what the country used to be, and Clinton represented more of what it is becoming.

The economic interpretation

Trump’s narrow victory in the so-called “rust-belt” states has led many commentators to imagine the typical Trump voter as a downwardly mobile worker, especially someone who has lost a manufacturing job. Trump beat Clinton by a wide margin (56 points) among voters who described their financial situation as worse than it was four years ago, but only 27% of voters were in that category. Slightly more voters felt that their situation had gotten better, and Clinton won by a 49-point margin there. I do think that Clinton could have done a better job addressing the concerns of the downwardly mobile. But I also respect her refusal to lie to the people of West Virginia by claiming she could bring back their lost coal mining jobs. Her opponent had no such inhibitions. (Coal jobs are being lost to automation and competition from cheap natural gas, not just Obama energy policy.)

Income data do not support the generalization that Trump supporters were especially economically distressed. Based on a crude classification by current income, they were not worse off than Clinton voters. The median income category for both Trump and Clinton voters was $50,000 to $99,000, although less than a third of voters were in that range. A higher percentage of Clinton voters than Trump voters had incomes below $50,000 (39% vs. 32%), while a slightly higher percentage of Trump voters than Clinton voters had incomes of $100,000 and up (36% vs. 33%).

Other data call into question the idea that Clinton lost by failing to address economic distress. Clinton led Trump by 11 points among voters who cited the economy as the most important issue facing the country. Trump led among those who cited immigration as the most important issue (by 31 points) or terrorism (by 17 points). Trump’s tough talk on immigration and terrorism may have done him more good than his promise to save manufacturing jobs. Without denying that certain voters supported him for purely economic reasons, there are other elephants in the room, especially Republican ones.

The racial interpretation

A very disturbing development in this election was the embrace of Donald Trump by white supremacist groups. However, focusing too much on overt racism can distract attention from the much subtler role that race plays in today’s politics. In particular, I want to call attention to the racial implications of the small-government conservatism that motivated so many of Trump’s supporters.

Trump did not only win the white vote by a 20-point margin. He won even more handily among voters who described themselves as conservatives (a 65-point margin), who disapproved of President Obama (83 points), who believed that Obamacare “went too far” (69 points) and who said that in general, government is “doing too much” (50 points). These views are very widely held, and they account for a larger share of the Trump vote than the specifically economic factors. They are especially widespread in the South. Yes, Trump won Michigan, but by less than one percentage point. He won Alabama by 28 points.

I had a good reminder last week of the connection between race and small-government conservatism, when I attended a lecture by Nancy MacLean, Professor of History and Public Policy at Duke University. She pointed out that the first manifesto in favor of school privatization and vouchers was published by economist Milton Friedman in 1955. Instead of running a public school system, the government should just give each family a certain amount of money and let them buy education in the marketplace. Coming just one year after the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Friedman’s proposal found its most enthusiastic audience among Southerners who wanted to close public schools rather than desegregate them. Friedman defended himself against charges of racism by saying that he personally regarded integrated schools as preferable, but that the government couldn’t impose them without infringing on freedom of choice. This kind of opposition to “Big Government” has become a key argument in defense of traditional privileges and injustices that only government may have the power to fight.

As the Democratic Party gained support among minorities and women by advocating strong government measures to combat discrimination, Republicans discovered that they could gain the allegiance of white males, especially Southern white males, by placing limits on those efforts. In the name of freedom and limited government, Republicans became the party of resistance to such measures as affirmative action, the Equal Rights Amendment, and most recently, key enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In the latter case, racism and political gamesmanship are hard to distinguish, since Republicans in states like North Carolina have so much to gain by putting obstacles in the way of black voting.

Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton among white men by a 62% to 31% margin. True, many white men, especially the less educated, have suffered losses of jobs and income, and a few even crossed party lines to vote for Trump. But white men as a group remain the country’s top earners, although women and minorities have been gaining on them. And as a group, they have been reliably Republican for some time. Only 8% of Democrats or Republicans crossed party lines in their vote for president. The core of Trump’s support came from the white men who usually vote Republican, not because they are worse off than minorities or women, but because the Republican Party is more respectful of existing privileges. It is less likely to upset existing race/gender hierarchies. Trump won college-educated white men by a 14-point margin, and non-college-educated white men by a 48-point margin. The economic distress interpretation has some validity, especially in the less educated group. However, sociologists have long argued that status as a white man may be especially important to a man who lacks other sources of status, such as education. He may vote for the party that appeals to him as a white man, overlooking that party’s failure to address his needs as a working man.

When Democrats try to address issues of racial or gender discrimination, conservatives can accuse them of ignoring economic issues to pursue “identity politics.” Critics like Kellyanne Conway can claim that Democrats lose because they don’t have “a decent message for the white working-class voters.” Without denying that Democrats need to strengthen their economic message, this does not have to be an either-or. Democrats shouldn’t have to abandon their commitment to racial and gender equality in order to support a stronger economy. Many Democratic proposals, such as universal health insurance and affordable college education, are intended to help people of all races and genders. Yes, Democrats need to appeal to working-class white men, but those men must be willing to reach across racial lines to make common cause with minorities and women in similar circumstances. The mentality that forces politicians to choose between “us” and “them” just perpetuates racism and sexism.

Reconciling conservatism and change

How do Trump voters reconcile their conservative belief that government is “doing too much” already, with their desire for a president who will “bring change”? How can any president strengthen the economy, if government isn’t supposed to do very much? Voters may be managing this in several ways, either within Republican orthodoxy or outside of it.

Within Republican orthodoxy, they can fall back on the classic Reagan position that government is the problem, and not having government do certain things is the needed change. If government will just stop taxing and regulating so much, the economy will thrive. Whether that’s what most of the voters want or not, that will probably be the guiding philosophy of the Republican Congress, supported in most respects by the new president.

Beyond Republican orthodoxy, voters can make an exception to their anti-government position in the case of jobs programs. Government spending is okay as long as it puts people to work rather than helping people who aren’t working. Similarly, obtaining health insurance through your job is okay, but having to obtain it through a government exchange is socialism. However, public works programs are hard to pay for if you exempt too much of the country’s wealth from taxation.

For other conservatives calling for change, change can mean changing things back to the way they used to be. This is one way that economic nationalism fits in. Government can try to reverse the trend of manufacturing jobs flowing out or immigrants flowing in. That appeals especially to people who have lost faith in the economy’s ability to create new jobs. I suggest that economic nationalism is a form of conservatism that flourishes when more mainstream conservatism has failed to produce the promised growth in jobs and incomes, and when economic progressives have not yet come up with a convincing alternative.

In many respects, the Trump coalition is just a familiar Republican coalition, with enough extra votes in a few key states to win the election. To the extent that the Trump phenomenon is different, it may be an expression of a conservatism gone sour, a hostility not only to Big Government but to global forces that threaten the economic supremacy of the United States and other wealthy nations. It thrives among the downwardly mobile, but appeals to enough other people to fuel a revival of right-wing nationalism.

Why Trump won

The simplest generalizations about Trump voters–that they were downwardly mobile blue-collar workers or deplorable racists–do not stand up very well. Here are a few statements about why Trump won that I think the evidence will support:

  • Although Trump lost the popular vote, he won the electoral college vote by winning battleground states by small margins. Clinton won the most urbanized states by unnecessarily big margins.
  • Although Trump voters were not as a group economically worse off than Clinton voters, he did especially well among voters who said they were worse off than they were four years ago. That may have made the difference in states with big losses of manufacturing jobs. Overall, however, voters who cited the economy as their #1 issue favored Clinton.
  • Most of Trump’s support came from the groups that usually vote Republican, especially white males. This has little to do with any Republican policies favoring the working class, and much more to do with the party’s resistance to government activism, especially activism on behalf of women and minorities.
  • In addition to standard Republican hostility to Big Government, Trump appealed to voters who blame America’s problems on immigrants or foreign trade. This is not a majority view, but an increasingly popular one in troubled Western economies.

President Trump will have his hands full trying to meet the expectations of his various constituencies: traditional small-government Republicans who are interested primarily in tax cuts, deregulation and privatization; economic nationalists who want to deport immigrants and erect trade barriers; and unemployed or underemployed workers who want jobs programs.