It seems absurd to believe that America could make the same mistake again, to elect an ignorant and vulgar narcissist to the most powerful position in the world. But we can't underestimate the ability of the self-serving super-rich to convince millions of Americans that a surging stock market and a powerful military are essential to their livelihoods. All at the expense of jobs and health care and education.
There are at least three good reasons—strangely and sadly enough—why Trump could win again.
Delusion: A Booming Economy for All of Us
Real wages have decreased since just before the recession.
Despite these stunning facts about income disparities, people at the rich end share the Wall Street Journal's delusion about the economy: "Americans traditionally left behind...are reaping the benefits.." But that's far, far from the truth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Real average hourly earnings increased 1.3 percent, seasonally adjusted, from March 2018 to March 2019." But the cost of living went up 2.8 percent! Even Forbes admits that "real wage growth is actually falling."
Trump brags about the low unemployment rate. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics bases the official unemployment rate on employees "who did any work for pay or profit" during the week being surveyed. That includes part-time workers who are employed for just one hour a week. Tens of millions of Americans are limping along with part-time or 'gig' jobs that don't pay a living wage and usually lack retirement and health benefits. According to a New York Times report, almost a third of America's work force earn less than $12 an hour, nearly all of them without health insurance. An NPR/Marist poll found that 20 percent of American jobs are contract positions, and that within ten years contractors and freelancers could make up half of the U.S. workforce.
Fear: The Socialists Are Coming
Of course, this concern of the super-rich is minimized if Joe Biden wins the nomination, but then we're left with an advocate for whiteness, war, and Wall Street.
No matter who leads the Democrats against Trump, there's growing support for Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal and taxes on the rich. Conservatives use scare tactics to vilify social-minded programs because they fear the prospect of sharing the wealth. Forty years of a winner-take-all mentality has nurtured the greedy belief that 'social' is a dirty word.
But 'social' serves everyone, 'individual' serves only one. And true socialism is far removed from any government control. As activist Gar Alperovitz describes socialism: "It’s about decentralizing power, changing the flow of power to localities rather than to the center." It means firefighters and police and roads and public transportation and parks and libraries. And it means respect for the "social composition" of schools, especially in the early years of our children's lives, when successful patterns for adulthood are found in their kindergarten social skills.
Why is the word 'social' feared in America? One well-studied explanation is that rampant inequality has reduced the level of TRUST in our society. Coinciding with the expanding wealth gap has been a remarkable downturn in public opinion about the belief that "most people can be trusted." As a result, the two unequal extremes lose contact with each other. People at the wealthy end tend to become antisocial, less willing to support the needs of society, opposed to sharing their wealth, and determined to convince the rest of us that socialism in any form will threaten the cherished American qualities of individual initiative and entrepreneurship.
Nationalism: Keeping the "Wretched Refuse" Off Our Shores
Extreme nationalism is usually associated with white supremacy, and with the goal of minimizing the inflow of darker-skinned individuals. But it goes beyond that, to a long-held sense of American exceptionalism. A 20-something African-American man summed up the pro-Trump sentiment when asked his opinion of the president's behavior: "I love that. He’s for America 100%. It’s America or no way. I love that."
How to account for American exceptionalism? A theory called "voluntary settlement hypothesis" posits that "self-selection tends to produce groups of immigrants who are more autonomous, independent, and goal-oriented than their neighbors who stayed behind." The hypothesis describes the pattern of migration from Scandinavia to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Perhaps that helps to explain the resulting social-mindedness in Scandinavia and independent-mindedness in America.
Nationalism and exceptionalism have been accentuated by inequality. The U.S. has the lowest median wealth (as a percentage of average wealth) in the developed world. Studies show that people at the extreme high end of inequality tend to feel entitled, and superior to others. Ironically, poorer whites also feel superior, in the sense that they're reluctant to give up their long-time self-assigned position at the top of the racial hierarchy.
So maybe there's nothing we can do about American attitudes. But we can continue to state the facts, to try to keep Americans from voting against themselves.