Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Losing It

Just exactly how Hillary Clinton managed to lose to Donald Trump is going to be endlessly analyzed for the next four years, if not much longer. There are lots of culprits to blame, some of them, like FBI guy Comey, deserving a lot of blame, but in the end the Candidate has got to be the person most responsible. Losing the key rust belt states, when she was heavily favored in most of them, was crucial. James Hohmann, writing in the Washington Post, takes a close look:

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio—Back in May, the longtime chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party sent a private memo to leaders in Hillary Clinton’s campaign warning that she was in grave danger of losing not just Ohio but also Pennsylvania and Michigan unless she quickly re-tooled her message on trade. His advice went unheeded.

“I don’t have to make the case that blue collar voters are, to put it mildly, less than enthusiastic about HRC’s positions on trade and the economy,” David Betras wrote in his 1,300 word missive, citing her struggles in recent primaries.

Donald Trump’s protectionist message was already resonating very strongly in this epicenter of the Rust Belt. Gov. John Kasich may have won Ohio’s Republican primary as a favorite son, but Trump whipped him in more than a dozen counties along the Ohio River. More than a quarter of the people who voted in the March Republican primary in Mahoning County were previously registered as Democrats. In fact, Betras had to kick 18 members off his own Democratic central committee for crossing over to back Trump.

I don't think that protectionism is going to bring back those jobs, but it was an appealing narrative, and Clinton failed to come up with a persuasive alternative. Of course socially conservative voters were also persuaded that Clinton cared far more about her coalition of outsiders than them.

The local chairman feels very strongly now that Clinton could have won Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan if she had just kept her eye on economic issues and not gotten distracted by the culture wars.

“Look, I’m as progressive as anybody, okay? But people in the heartland thought the Democratic Party cared more about where someone else went to the restroom than whether they had a good-paying job,” he complained. “‘Stronger together’ doesn’t get anyone a job.”

Getting jobs is going to be the problem of the next half-Century, I think. As robots take on more and more of the world's jobs, a huge further influx of the unemployed is all but inevitable. Of course the robot revolution will continue to increase production, but the way the world is structured today, the vast majority of the additional wealth will accrue to a tiny minority of capitalists. Trump's answers, focussing on transferring ever more wealth to the super rich, will not help employment.

He does have one semi-sensible idea: borrowing to finance infrastructure. One reason that this is sensible is that infrastructure construction tends to produce jobs. Of course, highways to nowhere are a terrible waste, even if they do buy some expensive jobs, but there is a lot of critical infrastructure that we really need, like preparing for the consequences of climate change. Probably no investment is more important than our human capital, but it's hard to see much hope in Trump.