The political economy of Trump

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The United States can protect itself against turbulence, but doing so against a great recession is a lot more difficult, and that is the danger if the Democrats get to the White House but fail to win the Senate

Four years on from 2016. On the eve of a historic American election, it is worth asking: What did the Trump phenomenon consist of and what does it tell us about America today?

It starts, of course, with Trump himself: Narcissist in chief. Reality-TV president. Bad-boy throwback to the seamier side of the baby boom. But the president would be nothing were it not for his base: white, male, small-town Americans. In rural areas, even the women like him. Then there are Trump’s shock troops, the self-appointed citizen’s militia that rallied in 2016 to Trump’s call to “build a wall,” the heavily armed men who marched in Charlottesville in 2017. Add to them the white evangelicals, stalwarts of conservative America. In the Reagan era they were the avant-garde of a new wave. Now they are on the defensive, clinging to Trump as their unlikely defender. Trump also inspired the culture war ideologues of the right, figures such as Steve Bannon. And since 2016 he has attracted a bevy of 80 right-wing billionaires, 9% of the super-rich in America. Not the tech giants of Silicon Valley, but hedge fund types, construction, casinos and oil money. In Washington DC, Trump relies on the Republican party, most prominently Mr Mephistopheles himself, Mitch McConnell. Trump is no party loyalist. He did not come up through the party ranks. Between 2001 and 2009 Trump was a registered Democrat. McConnell’s priority is first and foremost to defend his grip on power. That depends on pleasing his donors and on securing the right-wing base which, in America’s rigged electoral districts, is the only possible threat to most sitting Senators. It is the base not the GOP leadership that loves Trump. Finally, last but not least in the Trump coalition, you have the lobbyists and interest groups of American business.

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